Pork belly is, obviously, the source of one of the most beloved and delicious foods in existence: American-style bacon. In order to make bacon (commonly referred to as “streaky” bacon outside the U.S., to differentiate it from leaner back bacon), the belly is salt-cured, either dry-packed or in a brine, and then smoked, sliced, and cooked.
While bacon is a near-perfect food with no need for embellishment, the possibilities are virtually limitless when it comes to the myriad other delicacies one can make with pork belly, and some of America’s leading chefs have made the versatile protein their own. You can slice and fry it, you can braise it, you can slow-roast it, you can do just about anything to it, and thanks to its hefty fat content, the results will usually be tender and full of flavor.
Yes, you can argue that the pork belly “trend,” just like baconmania, is waning — but that doesn’t mean that the cut of meat isn’t still worth celebrating. If anything, its trendiness in recent years has introduced more people than ever to its charms, and pork belly has taken its rightful place among loin, ribs, and shoulder as one of the most prized and popular cuts on a pig.
Pork belly still isn’t a super-popular primary protein in home-cooked meals, however (it takes a little more finesse than, say, pork chops), and the best place to experience it is in restaurants, guided by a chef with a deft hand. Read on to see 10 of the best pork belly preparations out there.
Momofuku, New York: Pork Belly Buns
These buns were one of the dishes that started it all for chef David Chang. He uses pork belly that’s been brined for 12 hours and slow roasted, and tucks it into a steamed bun with cucumbers and scallions. A true masterpiece.
Chego, Los Angeles: Chubby Pork Belly Bowl
You may have heard of Roy Choi thanks to the success of his Kogi BBQ truck (which we recently named America’s best), but he also runs a handful of restaurants in L.A., including Chego, a perfect spot to visit after a night of drinking. The most hangover-busting dish on the menu is the Chubby Pork Belly Bowl. To make this dish, thick chunks of pork belly are spiced with a Korean chile paste called gochujang, charred over an open flame, then tossed with spinach, Chinese broccoli, pickled radishes, and Thai basil. The whole mess gets piled on top of a mountain of sticky rice, then topped with crushed peanuts, salsa verde, sambal sauce, and a fried egg.