Pork marinated in sweet barbecue sauce, threaded into bamboo skewers, and grilled over hot coals. Served hot and fresh from the grill with a plate of pancit and, of course, steaming hot rice, these handsome pork barbecue skewers are definitely another birthday staple and one of my childhood favorites. Whenever there’s a reason to celebrate, even in the middle of the hottest summer or the wettest monsoon, my mom would take her tiny hibachi outside and grill pork barbecue for everyone. I remember a trip back home in rainy July. It was a welcome-back-home get-together with the family. I can clearly recall my mom and two of my sisters squatting uncomfortably yet happily around the hibachi outside by the patio. My mom was basting and turning the skewers. Liz was fanning the flames with an abaniko while Dinna was keeping them all three dry by holding up a huge umbrella. It had been raining steadily all afternoon but that didn’t stop us from grilling pork barbecue and enjoying a simple yet intimate home-cooked dinner together.
Two things are key in making perfect pork barbecue. One is choosing the right cut of pork with the right amount fat and the other is the barbecue marinade. My mom likes to work with a combination of kasim, pork butt, and liempo, pork belly. She combines both to get a roughly uniform distribution of lean meat and fat in a stick. Pork that’s too lean would make the skewers too dry and too tough. Too much fat wouldn’t be good, either. I can’t believe I said that.
Making the barbecue marinade is key in getting the right sweet, a little sour, and sometimes spicy flavors. I have seen recipes that use 7-Up or Sprite. Some use rice wine. But almost always there’s soy sauce, brown sugar and plenty of garlic. My mom makes her pork barbecue with pineapple juice, kalamansi juice, soy sauce, banana ketchup, brown sugar and garlic. I had never made them before because of my natural fear of the grill but since it was my blog’s first birthday I mustered enough courage to face the grill once more. I phoned my mom and jotted down the rough proportion of the marinade ingredients. Before hanging up, she reminded me to use the proportions only as a guide and to taste the marinade! Add more or use less depending on how it tastes. And when I finally made them last week, the flavors immediately transported me back to that rainy July evening with my family.
Pork Barbecue Skewers Recipe, makes 8 servings
1-1/2 pounds pork butt
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup banana ketchup
8-inch bamboo skewers
Thinly slice the pork into 1/2-inch-thick, 1-inch by 4-inch pieces. Trim the extra fat.
Peel and finely chop the garlic. In a large bowl, make the marinade by combining the pineapple juice, lime juice, brown sugar, soy sauce and banana ketchup. Add the pork pieces to the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Before cooking the pork let it rest at room temperature for over an hour. Do not discard marinade but set aside for basting.
Soak the bamboo skewers in water for at least an hour to keep them from burning while grilling the pork.
Thread the marinated pieces of pork into the bamboo skewers. Make sure that each skewer has a roughly uniform distribution of meat and fat. Start with the pointed end of the stick and thread one piece a few times at a time.
Grill over high heat until cooked through, basting occasionally. Serve fresh off the grill.