Pork Belly Sous-Vide Time and Temperature Experiment

Cooking sous-vide can be confusing, as recommendations for time and temperature can vary considerably. Personal preference plays a role in this, as well as misconceptions about food safety (i.e. using higher temperatures than necessary). For pork belly I’ve seen recommendations ranging from 7 to 48 hours for time, and 57C/135F to 80C/176F for temperature. I cut a slab of pork belly into 8 pieces, and tried 8 different time and temperature combinations from various sources. None of them came out terrible, but some were clearly much better than others. I will describe them in order of temperature, and end with a conclusion. I would have to do more experiments to come up with the ‘ultimate’ time and temperature combination, but I’m very satisfied with the two best ones.

Here are the 8 pieces of pork belly with supporting ingredients. As you can see it was a relatively lean slab of pork belly, which makes it more prone to dryness.

For about 1.8 kilos (4 lbs) of pork belly I used 1 Tbsp (22 grams) salt, 1 Tbsp ground fennel seed, 1/2 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper, and 1/2 Tbsp garlic powder.

I mixed salt and spices in a small bowl, and spread this rub evenly on all sides of the pieces of pork belly.

Then I vacuum sealed them and labeled them with the various time and temperature combinations I wanted to try.

The piece to be cooked at 57C/135F needed to be submerged in hot water for 10-20 seconds after vacuum sealing to kill any lactobacillus on the surface of the meat. The water needs to be at least 77C/170F. This procedure is required to prevent a bad smell when cooking below 60C/140F.

After cooking sous-vide, I seared the pork belly in a very hot frying pan with just a bit of oil.

I reduced the bag juices and served them alongside.

57C/135F for 48 hours. Very good: tender and juicy. As you can see only a bit of the fat has rendered (it floats on top of the juices). 8.5/10

60C/140F for 48 hours. Tender but not as juicy as at 57C/135F. 7.5/10

64C/144F for 24 hours (as recommended by Great British Chefs). Quite dry and only still nice because of the fat. 6/10

68C/155F for 36 hours (as recommended by Serious Eats). Very tender and flaky, but slightly dry. 7.5/10

70C/158F for 16 hours (as recommended by Anova/ChefSteps). Dry and not as tender. 6/10

74C/165F for 24 hours. Tender and juicy. 9/10

77C/170F for 7 hours (as recommended by Anova). Quite firm and slighly dry. 7/10

80C/176F for 7 hours (as recommended by ChefSteps). Quite firm and slightly dry. 7/10

Concluding remarks

Although I would have to try more combinations of time and temperature to be absolutely certain about the ‘ultimate’ combination of time and temperature for pork belly sous vide, it is clear that a longer cooking time provides a better result. Just like I showed in this post, the dryness caused by a higher temperature can be offset by the additional tenderness from a longer cooking time. I expect that at 70C/158F, 77C/170F or 80C/176F better results would have been achieved with a longer cooking time. It also seems that temperatures between 60C/140F and 70C/158F are suboptimal; as my best results were 48 hours at 57C/135F and 24 hours at 74C/165F. Which of those you prefer is a matter of preference: at 57C/135F less fat will have rendered (which you can consider an advantage or a disadvantage) and the meat is not as flaky than at 74C/165F.

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16 thoughts on “Pork Belly Sous-Vide Time and Temperature Experiment

  1. Great post. I wonder the difference that one might experience through using high quality, free range pork versus the unfortunate supermarket stuff, across the range too. Like so much research, it sets up more research. Great post indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Apart from high quality and free range it would also need to be a breed of pork that has more intramuscular fat (marbling) to get better results, as that intramuscular fat will make it seem more juicy.
      And you are so right; these results make me curious what would happen with longer times at 70C, 77C and 80C. It is interesting though that the recommendations for short cooking times at those temperatures come from reputable sources.

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  2. Great post! Thanks for doing is. Maybe we should brine the pork before sous vide cooking at higher temperature? e.g. 80c should be cooked in a bag of soy sauce like a traditional chinese braise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve explained this phenomenon in this post: https://stefangourmet.com/2019/01/05/beef-blade-steak-sous-vide-time-temperature-experiment/
      If you cook meat to a high temperature (above 65C/149F or so), it will initially contract and become very firm (and appear dry). It will then take a long time for the connective tissue to break down so the meat can relax again. 16 hours is simply too short. I expect that with 24 or 36 hours at 70C, the result will be a lot better. In my experience most meats turn out best either for 24-36 hours at 55-57C (firm but tender), OR for 24 hours at 74C (flaky). Anything in between is usually a disappointment (although lamb shank or veal shank is good at 62C).

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  3. Good solid info. As a novice sous vide cook, I’m frustrated by the variation in time and temp you find online. Pork belly is on my radar screen to cook so your post is timely. I’ll be giving your 74C/165F for 24 hours cook a try. Thanks for going to the trouble to experiment and share your results.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are welcome. I understand the frustration; it is through 8 years of trial and error that I have build up my experience and now usually know what time and temperature combinations will and won’t work. Often temperatures are too high and times too short. By now you should be able to find reliable time and temperature recommendations for most stuff you would ever want to cook sous vide on this blog, but let me know if you need any help.

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      1. agree with both- thanks stef so much for all this (sort of ruined a batch of sous vide rhubarb last week – sources vary sooo much/it is just acceptable for some fruit, but with meat and fish the whole thing becomes frutstating and that is why perhaps I use sous vide only for yogurt and creamy desserts— sad, I know 🙂 )

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent post and very helpful. I will follow your results/advice when I next prepare pork belly. Your experiment took a lot of effort and time. I appreciate your working knowledge of this popular meat.
    I wonder if beef brisket is another dense meat that might also benefit from this treatment? It is normally smoked “low and slow” and can be difficult to do well.
    Great post and thanks for your work.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dag Stefan
    As usual your meaning is based (much) more on facts than most others because of your research. Could this research leads to the ultimate Chinese babi pangang ?
    So can you do a follow up, how to create a sous vide ultimate crispy skin pork belly ?
    The best taste babi pangang recipe I found is from a Dutchman, also after research: https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/waar-komt-babi-pangang-vandaan~b2bdbf12/

    The lost secret is next to five spice powder to add black bean sauce too

    Like

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