Sweet, salty, charred and fragrant, try this recipe for Vietnamese grilled pork (with imperfectly perfect caramelized edges).
I often serve this dish as a snack or appetizer – cutting the chargrilled pork steaks into smaller pieces that people can grab with a toothpick for a salty, umami bite. The thing that surprises most people is that it’s made using pork butt (shoulder). Traditionally used for pulled pork or other braised recipes, people often dismiss pork butt as tough, and only suitable for recipes requiring a long cook time. As with other tougher cuts like brisket, the chew-factor is greatly lessened by how thick the meat is to begin with. Korean Chadolbaegi uses the robust brisket muscle by shaving it very thin, grilling it briefly over high heat. To simplify – when a tough cut it sliced thinly, it gives your jaw less work to do, so we perceive it as being more tender.
Pork butt works the same way. It is rippled with flavorsome fat, and when you slice it thinly, it’s actually phenomenal when grilled. You will need to put it a little care when trimming and slicing the pork butt. Since you are not cooking to break it all down, you need to get rid of any exceptionally fatty seams, gristly bits and also keep an eye out for the gland which is buried deep within the shoulder. You’ll know it when you see it – it’s shaped like a fat jelly bean and is a greyish yellow color. Just cut it out and discard it.
Charcoal is everything when it comes to this recipe. Meaning – if you can, ditch the propane and break out the briquettes (I use Kingsford Original). This recipe is inspired by the colorful markets of Vietnam and Southeast Asia, where vendors grill meats over small charcoal grills. The aroma of the live burning coals dances around the meat and lends it an unmistakable flavor. The best part? Arguably the darkened lacy edges that are caramelized by the charcoal. On that note, this marinade has quite a bit of sugar in it. Crispy edges can turn to burnt slices really quickly, so you’ll need to keep a keen eye on your grill. To start, the process will be slow as everything begins to heat up, but once the caramalization begins it’ll start to move really fast.