PORK belly is a cut of meat that has captured the imaginations of chefs and restaurateurs in recent years - notably in a "twice-cooked" form, often poached and braised before being crisped up for serving. Not bad.
But it is also - provided you have a butcher you can trust - a fine cut for the barbecue, and one that may even teach you things you didn't know about your grill's capability, or at least teach you how to use it more effectively.
First, source a slab of pork belly from a good butcher who you can rely upon to sell you the belly from a small to medium sized sow. Large male bellies are simply too much of a challenge for a single cooking.
The size matters little, as it is the thickness that will establish the cooking time which, with a belly, is probably less than you expect, and almost certainly less than most cookbooks suggest.
First, carefully score the skin crossways. Do this with a Stanley knife with a sharp, new blade. Ensure the cuts are parallel and about 1cm apart, and cut through the skin without cutting into the flesh. Practice!
Now, fire up your gas burner to achieve maximum head, or get a full load of charcoal roaring in your Weber Kettle (indirect) or Big Green Egg and add wet hickory chunks to generate a good head of smoke. Now, rub my standard barbecue rub into the underside of the belly, and rub coarse sea salt unto the slits in the skin.
Place the belly, skin side up, on an oiled trivet (over a rectangle of foil in the case of the BGE) and place it in the middle of your barbecue or, in the case of a gas grill, over the centre burner. Your internal temperature should be over the 200C mark. So, once you have dropped the hood on the gas barbecue, turn off the burner under the meat. Leave it alone for at least 20 minutes, in which time the underside should become quite well cooked, and the skin should start to blister and firm up.
Unfortunately, barbecue heat is seldom enough to effectively crisp up and blister the meat but, if it works in your barbecue, take full advantage of it by simply continuing to cook and ignoring the next step.
If, however, the skin remains soft to the touch, flip the belly on the trivet and move the trivet over direct heat. This will blister the skin in 10 to 15 minutes, but keep an eye on things to ensure it does not burn the skin. Move it around as necessary. Flip the belly back over to finish the cooking over indirect heat, lowering the heat slightly if you are using gas.
Cooking time is hard to be precise about as barbecue temperatures, meat thickness and other things are factors, so go by feel. You will sense when the meat is cooked through but, as a rough guide, 40 minutes in total should ensure it is ready to go, provided you then rest it for at least 15 minutes under loosely tented foil.
Slice the belly along the cuts you have made through the skin, and you will have fine, succulent slices to serve either on their own to eat in your fingers with either a touch of your own barbecue sauce or a sweet jelly, such as red currant or quince, or to serve on a bed of stir-fried veg, on mashed sweet potatoes, with a classic cowboy beans recipe, or on a section of split baguette as the world's best sanger.