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.
Vietnamese Grilled Pork with Lemongrass
5lb pork butt
1/3 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons sambal chili
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups of water
- Start by cutting the pork butt up into thin steaks. Not all pieces will be the same size, but you can make them the same thickness, between 1/4 or 1/2 an inch. When cutting, remove and discard any larger seams of fat, or gristly pieces.
- Combine all remaining ingredients and stir with a whisk to combine well. Pour the marinade over the pork steaks and then place into the refrigerator for at least 6 and up to 24 hours. Overnight is best.
- Fire up a grill to medium high heat, about 450f. Usually, you cook pork to a “safe” temperature but in this case we’re looking to achieve great color and crust. When we have that external sear, the meat will definitely be safely cooked.
- Remove the steaks from the marinade, and lay them on the grill. You may need to work in batches. Flip the steaks every 1-2 minutes. Initially, they will develop a slight color, but as they cook and the sugars caramelize, the color will start to develop very rapidly, so keep an eye on them. I personally prefer a bit of char and crust around the edges. Cook the steaks, flipping frequently, until a deep brown grilled appearance has developed on both sides.
- (Optional) Serve with sweet chili dipping sauce or Nuoc Cham