Five Roasted Pork Bellies (Liempo) a la Marketman


Lunatics. That’s one word to describe an office lunch for some 14 people with 8 platters piled high with some 6-7 kilos of chopped pork liempo. We had three varieties of commercially available liempo from the streets of Cebu City, along with five homemade versions of liempo. Lots of different vinegar dipping sauces/concoctions and white rice. No vegetables or other distractions. Just pork, pork, pork and rice. The word gluttons came to mind too, but nothing went to waste at all…


First, a trip to the grocery. We were close to the Ayala Mall in Cebu, so I spoke with the butcher at the Rustan’s supermarket meat counter, and he went back into the chiller/freezer and emerged with a large piece equivalent to half a pig’s belly. This piece was roughly 4-5 kilos total. The butcher trimmed some of the edges a bit, and cut it into 4 smaller pieces, at roughly 900-1100+ grams each. We also bought a 1.3 kilo piece with ribs/bones attached. Boneless pork liempo was PHP195 a kilo. The liempo with ribs/bones was PHP190 per kilo.


A photo of the cross-section shows the nice layers of fat on these grocery purchased pieces of pork belly. I like the Rustan’s meat counter in Cebu (though Metro is a good alternative) because it seems very clean compared to other meat sources. And their chiller/freezer is just behind the counters.


Next, I marinated two pieces of pork belly in a salty brine in stainless steel pans. We didn’t have much time, so I just used cool water with several tablespoons of kosher salt and whole peppercorns and bay leaves. This is definitely a shortcut brine. The pork soaked here for some 80-90 minutes only. You could go an hour or two longer, but make sure you keep the meat in the fridge.


Drain off the brine, and pat the pork with paper towels to dry the surface areas. With a sharp knife, I cut between one of the layers of fat and the meat, and pried open and widened a cavity with my fingers.


We filled the cavity with a mixture of aromatics, herbs and spices…


…or some other seemingly unusual ingredients


We crafted a makeshift “spit” using a thin bamboo pole, with long metal barbecue skewers and twine so we could approximate the “rostisserie” style cooking method of street side vendors. Five pieces were on one bamboo pole, but I was worried that slightly smaller pieces of pork would cook faster than the largest piece on the spit…


Over hot coals, in our lechon pit, the five pieces of liempo were rotated by hand by one of our lechoneros, and he kept at it for roughly 1 hour.


We pulled the bamboo pole off of the heat and plunged an instant read thermometer into a medium sized piece of pork and it registered about 158F.


We put the pole back on the flames for three more minutes, and took the temperature of the smallest piece and it was at roughly 168F so we stopped cooking at that point and the bamboo pole was taken into the kitchen and allowed to rest for a few minutes before we removed the pieces of liempo onto the chopped board.


The five pieces of liempo, from left to right (5), (4), (3), (2) and (1) are described below.


(1) Sinigang na Sampalok Liempo a la Marketman – Cut slits in two or three sections of the pork belly. Pour half a small packet of instant sinigang mix into the cavities along with some finely minced lemongrass, salt and pepper. Shocking, you’re thinking, MM uses instant mix…but stick with me or try it before you diss it. The sinigang mix will have some msg as one of the ingredients unless you know of one without it. This was the shortcut version. You can also make a paste of boiled and mashed unripe tamarind, along with chopped lemongrass, salt and pepper if you want to do it from scratch. Or try a bottled Thai tamarind paste that is tart and sweet at the same time. I stuck in a whole lemongrass “bulb” for flavor, but mostly to differentiate this from its neighbors.


Dry the external surfaces with paper towels, season liberally with kosher or rock salt (NOT iodized salt). I also put some olive oil on my palm and wiped the outer surfaces before grilling it…


This was the smallest of five pieces of liempo, and it registered the highest internal temperature of nearly 170F. Yet look closely at the photo, the meat has no trace of pink, and it is still very juicy. The instant sinigang mix has melted into the internal juices and the distinct punch of sour sampalok infuses the pork. This is such an incredibly easy shortcut recipe, and I suspect most of your guests would NEVER guess how you did it. The msg to volume of pork is very small, and does not overwhelm. Place quite a bit of chopped lemongrass as well for freshness and additional aroma. The skin of this roasted liempo was very crisp. So you get the picture — juicy pork, a hit of acidic sampalok, crisp skin… YUM. For the minimum amount of effort, I loved the results. It was like having the comfort of sinigang flavor but the sinfulness of pork and the crackling. This recipe was a keeper.

One of the possible scientific explanations for pink pork meat, despite being cooked to the right internal temperature, is a SLOW roasting over low flames. For some reason the myoglobin reacts differently when it is brought up in temperature very slowly. So in a piece like this, roasting for about an hour, a tinge of pink might even be okay, but it doesn’t have it all, and neither did ANY of the other four pieces. Pink interior meat isn’t NECESSARILY a problem, particularly in barbecued meat. But very pink meat and an internal temperature below 160F is very likely an issue for concern. Two other causes for pinkish meat are the addition of saltpeter or salitre or preservatives or nitrates, and possibly poor quality meat to begin with…


The second (2) liempo was another easy yet delicious version. I used the other brined piece of liempo, cut slits between the meat and fat, inserted chopped garlic, onions and several spoons full of bottled bagoong. Season well with salt and pepper, slather with olive oil, and stick on the spit over charcoal fire.


Jackpot! As the piece of meat cooks, the fat and oils in the bagoong mixture heat up and dissolve, and some of it escapes from the cavity, basting the piece with bagoong goodness. The onions and garlic seemed to cook sufficiently with the aid of bagoong fat. The skin was EXCELLENT. And when you bit into a piece of this there was nice flavor hit of bagoong, but again it didn’t overpower the palate. We decided to add some more bagoong to the serving platter, and as the natural juices of the meat (this was a brined piece and it was JUICY) mingled with the fat and bagoong and it made the perfect dipping sauce. This with a side dish of shredded green mango and rice… YUM! This platter was definitely wiped out. If you try this, try and make more than one cavity and add smaller amounts of bagoong all over the piece of liempo to spread the flavor better. This was like binagoongang baboy on a spit. Familiar flavors, new application. The first two versions capitalized on this concept and they worked very well.


The third (3) version was along the lines of a balamban liempo style pork belly photo above). I used one of the brined pieces of pork, to ensure maximum succulence. I also tried to pick the best cut of pork, with several layers of fat. Then into the relatively large single cavity I added chopped onions, garlic, lemongrass and lots of green onions. Salt and pepper. I had a packet of MSG but just couldn’t get myself to add any (and yes, I know it was in the sinigang mix). The pork was then patted dry with paper towels and again slathered with olive oil and seasoned with lots of salt and pepper. This was likewise on the grill for roughly 60 minutes of slow turning.


The results were pretty good. The cross-section indicates how well the piece held up to an hour of slow turning. The layers of fat and meat are distinct, the meat fully cooked with a very slight tinge of pink neat the portion that was saddled up agains the bamboo stick. It was fragrant, but yet still a little bland in some parts of the cut. The stuffing wasn’t as cooked as I would have liked, and that point to maybe having to pre-saute it for the finest results. THe skin was SUPERB, and didn’t need mc prodding to separate the entire piece of skin from the fat directly below it. This was good, but some of the other versions were better, in our opinion. It all depends on what kinds of “enhancements” or flavor points you prefer. Notice how the first three versions have no soy sauce or patis added. They were porky, enhance by salt, but not swimming under a blanket of other flavorings.


The fourth (4) piece of liempo was simple marinated in a mixture of kikkoman soy sauce, smashed garlic, onions, bay leaves, and lots of pepper for roughly 1 hour or so. I did not slit the meat anywhere to insert any aromatics or marinade. This piece turned out wonderfully juicy but a bit bland. The portions near the surface were pretty good, but all in all, this version lacked ooomph. It woudl have benefitted froma bit of marinade injected into fat, particularly between layers of fat and meat. Or maybe a longer time in the marinade. The skin looked utterly brilliant, though a bit on the tanned side, bordering on too dark. The soy adds flavor, but also brings the risk of burning the skin, which leads to a slightly bitter taste that most would find unappealing. My suggestion if if you try this, marinate the meat part, but keep the skin side above the marinade. Then slather the meat side with a bit of oil before roasting.


Finally, the largest piece of liempo, with bones, was also treated to a last minute shower in soy sauce marinade, the leftover marinade from the piece above. But before that, I made several slits into the meat, added chopped onions, lemongrass, garlic, chopped siling labuyo or chilies, and lots of salt and pepper. The last minute wash with soy added flavor and again resulted in a darker skin, but the inserted aromatics are what made this a world apart from the previous version. The hint of spice from the siling labuyo (could have been spicier still) along with the familiar garlic and onions, and the well seasoned surface made this a wonderful thign along with vinegar. The ribs of this piece were consumed FIRST, before even sitting down to lunch! And if there were more, the crew would have been even happier.

So here are some lessons learned and which you may want to apply when you cook liempo on a spit over charcoal at home…

1. Brine your meat for 2-4 hours (don’t go much longer, the meat will get too salty).
2. Make several incisions into the meat rather than just one big cavity for stuffing.
3. Make sure your stuffing will cook through, if not, pre-saute it to help it along.
4. Season with salt and pepper GENEROUSLY.
5. Think of the process of self-basting, if you keep turning, the juices will envelope the liempo, adding flavor and wow factor!
6. Make sure your meat is properly cooked, and use a meat thermometer if you are concerned.
7. Just as really undercooked meat is a turn-off, so is greatly overcooked pork that is dry and unappealing.
8. Serve your pork some 10-15 minutes after it comes off the flames.
9. Do not be afraid to experiment within reason. None of these above were disasters, but some better than others.
10. Try making your dishes at home with real ingredients and avoid preservatives or things like MSG whenever possible.
11. Make sure you start with good pieces of meat, in this case, a 1.4 kilo piece of liempo at say PHP266 would result in a 1 kilo piece of cooked liempo that would easily serve 6 people. Including aromatics, the cost of say PHP300 is some 30% less than buying it. And you get to flavor it the way YOU PREFER.
12. Eat heartily. :)

Time for some seafood or vegetables to cleanse the system… :)


71 Responses

  1. A wonderfully sinful post!
    Nothing beats roast liempo cooked at home!
    I will have to try the sinigang and bagoong versions!

    Thanks MM!

    Man, I’m Hungry!

  2. MM, That skin looks really crisp-I like!!! Next time i’m in Manila, I’ll give this a go

  3. Hi, MarketMan! I managed to keep myself from getting some grilled liempo after reading your previous post “The Battle of the Bellies…” but after seeing this, I just might have to give in. The cravings! So strong!

    Thanks for sharing all these pork belly goodness. :D

  4. This was such a torturous blog post. I’m craving the sinigang and bagoong versions!

  5. Nadia, I eyeballed this but its probably safe to use 3-4 tablespoons of kosher or rock salt (NOT IODIZED) to each liter of water. A cup of salt to a gallon of water is often mentioned by others as well. But don’t OVER-BRINE it. Btw, brining is my personal favorite trick to ensure juicy prawns as well. But I only brine them for an hour or so.

  6. Wow! These are must try ideas! Now I have to figure out a way to mcgyver my grill to be able to turn the liempo on a spit. I do have one of those ‘set it and forget it ‘ rotiserries, perhaps that would work too. The baggoong one tops the list for me. Thanks for the inspiration. I can’t tell you how glad I am that 1. It is grilling season and 2. My partner is an American that loves sinigang and bagoong. How lucky am I, right?

  7. Thanks this is what I am waiting for. I did a 12hrs slow cooked at 80 deg Celsius on my liempo and it never have a pink shade in the meat except red shade on my electrical bill :). Will definitely try your Bagoong version and I’m sure it will be a hit and might even try a belachan :)

  8. Amazing MM, You reminded me of Heston Bluementhal. Dige ding ding ding ding ding. Thanks for the tips and the post.

  9. After your last two posts my arteries are clogged just from reading hehe.

  10. Tomorrow, I’m going to Chinatown to buy some roasted chinese pork belly and have some sinigang with vegies and bagoong for dipping and lots of rice. Nagutom talaga ako while reading this post!

    Thank you MM for sharing !

  11. The one filled with bagoong smells like a splendid idea to me who is a bagoong buff and who just could not shake off this dependency for close to forty years. I found that the pleasantest way to deal with it is to give in and keep a secure supply, an intermittently replenished personal stash from my native town. ConnieC has her hibe habit and I my bagoong bent and I defy anyone to sniff at that.

  12. Ever used a turbo broiler? I wonder how this would turn out in a turbo broiler… there’s no way I can fit a small grill/roast in my apartment! Definitely will try a spicy Chinese bagoong version this weekend!

  13. So I’m sitting here having my first cup of coffee (8:37am EST), and my mind is filled with with liempo-lust. That bagoong-stuffed piece was heavenly, I’m sure. With green mangoes–sigh!!!!

  14. MM, that is an unusual liempo stuffing… bagoong. How and why did you think about bagoong? :)

  15. corrine, binagoongang baboy is a classic. So I have applied it to lechon kawali, to pork barbecue and now liempo… :) t2rad, it might just work in a turbo… but you better have a GOOD exhaust fan and understanding neighbors… linda, enjoy that wonerful sounding meal!

  16. i love tip no. 12 best of all. liempo with bagoong? aaaaaaaaaaaaargggghhhhhhhh!!!!

  17. Liempo with bagoong… when pigs swam out to sea they ate all those little shrimp that fermented in their jelly bellies.

  18. MM,

    I’m in heaven. Liempo is one of my all time favorites. I can’t wait to do this at home for the kids. The kids will love this new techniques. I just too lazy to use the Weber gas grill rotisserie becasue of the clean up. I use the oven often to cook pork roast or pork butt lechon style in a water bath with aromatics green onions & lemon grass (i finally got some in the garden).

    I do use sinigang mix but not the way you do it. We do use the sinigang mix with deep fried chicken wings then mix it with some green onions and chilis when it’s done.

    Thanks again!

    BTW my oldest son loves your version 1 lechon sisig recipe.


  19. t2rad, I always cook liempo in the turbo. No smoke and easy clean-up. I do, however, boil the liempo first, cool it down, stick in the refrigerator or freezer before putting it in the turbo. It turns out perfect every single time! Will try the above versions this weekend.

  20. wow! what an effing post! i’ve used sinigang mix to flavor my fried pork chops before and i’ve loved having it over rice ever since and its so simple to prepare.

  21. oh mm. if it weren’t for your blog, i wouldn’t have pork at all. (turned vegetarian for health reasons for over a month now)

  22. oh goodness, torture, the liempos look fantastic. i wonder if this will work in an oven maybe with a smaller piece of meat. i’ve tried dry brining instead of water brining for meats

  23. MM, If Tony Bourdain decides to visit the Philippines again I really do hope you get featured again! I also am pretty sure he will be loving your roasted pork bellies!!!

  24. wil-b, no, no plans to sell liempo… :) Topster, I don’t think Mr. Bourdain will do a revisit for many many years to come… I am sure he has dozens if not hundreds of places to visit still…

  25. Your dedication to pig is just amazing! MM, I’m curious how you come up with these ideas! Is it something you plan and list down as things to do or do you these when you suddenly have the urge to do so? I think you are the reason why my love for pork has been rekindled.

  26. Thanks for this post! Am sitting here at Sbarros in Market Market, logged on and read your post… Now I want to toss the half-eaten lasagna and hunt down a liempo lunch instead! Definitely liempo for dinner tonight!

  27. hi MM,

    any idea how to cook the liempo in a conventional gas oven? (cooking time & temp) I have no access to a charcoal grill. thanks

  28. now i’m going crazy!!! i was just advised by my doctor to stop gaining weight! paano na yan?!! so many good food to eat, only 1 small body!! whaaah! =(

  29. @t2rad and robin: I have tried cooking raw liempo in a conventional oven gas mark 1 for one hour and then tranferred it to turbo broiler (highest temp) for 25 min to crisp the skin. The liempo I used was just about 5″x 6″ x 1 1/2″ piece.

    It turned out juicy and crispy.

  30. All the pieces you guys cooked look uniformly good (and much better looking than those on the previous post). Aside from your careful handling and picture taking skill, this photogenic quality, I suspect, may be due to the superior condition of the pork pieces you started out with?

  31. Footloose, yes, I would have to think the freshness and quality of pork is critical. Also, it had never been frozen at that point. It wasn’t swimming in marinade for hours or days which can actually adversely impact the quality of the meat. Then it was carefully dried with paper towels before being placed on the fire. Olive oil for the first three samples is what let to a uniformly amber color and incredible crispness. For the examples 4 and 5, the darker hue is due to the soy sauce. But soy in a marinade can lead to bitterness, so its use requires care. The photos did turn out well, but my photographic skills have always been mediocre, so I do have to admit that the actual pieces of liempo looked terrific on their own. chloe, good to know this works in a turbo, thanks! robin, I do have liempo recipes in the oven in the archives… it does work. Pam, sometimes I get inspiration from the weirdest things, but log them away at the back of my mind… then, when its time to do one of these types of comparisons, I just experiment. And no, I rarely write the ideas down beforehand. Things don’t always work out well, I have had my share of disasters! :)

  32. MM, I don’t have bagoong here :(
    But I dutifully went to my cupboard after reading this post and saw that I still have 2 packets of sinigang mix. Yey!

  33. Mr. MM another liempo adventure. I just made my shopping list for our pork roasting project tomorrow. Did you put the charcoal around the liempo or was the meat directly above the fire? Novice like me had some problems using Mesquite charcoal two weeks ago on how to control the fire/heat during our lechon liempo experiment. I’m planning to use either Mesquite or Oak charcoal. Thanks

  34. Hahaha! MM, You have such a busy mind! You’re like the foodie version of Walter Bishop in Fringe (and I mean that as a compliment!). Maybe in a future blog (or video blog! : ) ), you can share some bloopers with us.

  35. been avoiding red meat especially pork for quite some time now.. it’s just evil going through your blog.. i am craving for liempo now… ahhh there goes my will power..

  36. i use sinigang mix to flavor my liempo too! (then i chop it up, add sili and kalamansi for a faux sisig effect). i’ve also done binagoongan flavored grilled liempo (inspired by an old marketman post on binagoongan bbq. i envy your lechon spit though…the liempo skin looks so crackly…*drool*

  37. It just hit me, my oven has this rotary spit thingee, and I think I can find a good size piece of pork with lots of fatty layers, and there’s a bottle of bagoong still waiting to be used up in the fridge….

    I’ll need to stock up on lipitor!

  38. thank you for the recipes! I will try the bagoong and sinigang mix. Can I be an honorary ‘Crew’ member? hehe just kidding

  39. i use sinigang mix with grilled or oven-baked fish. i typically would mix a packet with the chopped onion, tomatoes, garlic, insert that into the gut area (for bangus and tilapia) and it makes a ton of diffence with regards to the taste.

  40. man, it is just obsessive…it’s crazy genius. i can only imagine MM sleeping at night thinking still about food. hehehe.MM, i am wondering what is your favorite among the varieties.

  41. All I can say after reading these last 2 liempo posts: GRABE Ka MM!!!!

    PS. After calculating how much your liempo was (roughly $5 Aussie per kilo) naiyak ako!

    Time to cleanse the system…

  42. Hi Marketman,

    Could you tell me how to adapt this recipe to an oven? I live in Southern California and there is a pitiful lack of open space for turning pork on a spit.

  43. marivi, I have other recipes for pork belly in an oven in the archives. This recipe will not do too well in an oven unless you have a rotisserie, and even then, you lack the charcoal effect.

  44. So because I’m stubborn, I went ahead and adapted your pork belly with bagoong recipe to a similar recipe that was oven baked and it was fabulous. Served it to two Anglo dinner guests who inhaled all 4 pounds, and the pork skin was perfection. Here’s my adaptation for anyone who is spit-and-open-fire challenged:

    Brine pork belly as directed by MM, 1 hour. Pat dry then score skin and sprinkle with kosher salt. Let sit for at least half an hour, then make those little pockets in the flesh and stuff with bagoong. Put skin down in a roasting pan that has been very liberally greased with olive oil and roast in a preheated 400 degree oven for a half hour. Turn heat down to 375, and let roast for another 45 minutes to 1 hour (depending on weight), still skin down. In the last half hour, flip the meat over to crisp the skin. You may want to remove some of the rendered fat and oil that will now be filling the roasting pan. Crisping the skin should take between 15 – 20 minutes.

    It was the best facsimile of a lechon that I’ve ever had outside of Manila. Thanks for the recipe!

  45. marivi, so glad to hear this worked out for you… just shows that we should ALL experiment with our food more… it often yields wonderful results… :)

  46. Wow the one with bagoong looks good. I can’t wait to try this on Saturday for my daughter’s first birthday. Thanks for the recipe MM. =)

  47. Hi, MM. I was in Cebu last week and was lucky enough to try Balamban liempo from Kristian’s. I found it really inspiring so I decided to make one earlier. I borrowed your photo here to illustrate my goal (see: I just used a turbo broiler and I’m glad it turned out pretty okay. Thanks! :)

  48. Hi MM! Thank you for the inspiration. Learned of Balamban liempo from your blog and got to taste it when we went to Cebu next (and the next trips after hehehe). Tonight this was dinner. I used a gas-fired oven rotisserie which gave me moist and tender meat. I still have to perfect crisp skin all through out though. Some parts remained soft and a bit chewy. All in all it was such a hit that I was not even able to take a picture. My husband and 2 girls even said they prefer it over the “original” version we always eat when in Cebu (talk about loyalists hahaha!)

    My oven is small and would not fit the other piece of liempo, so i boiled it with the aromatics still inside. Will oven roast it tomorrow and see how it turns out. Thank you for untiringly sharing your cooking exploits, experiments and victories to all of us! God bless you and yours!

  49. so lucky to have found your site! wondering if you have any tips for inihaw na baboy?

    what cut of meat to use – belly or chuck?
    should I brine if it will sit in a vinegar based marinade?
    how long to marinade in vinegar?
    how long to cook over hot grill?

    thanks so much!



Subscribe To Updates

No spam, only notifications about new blog posts.