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These sweet and tender pork pieces are so addictive. The fat melts in your mouth like pork candy and the crispy edges are like sweet bacon bits.
What is tocino
Tocino (pronounced toe-SEE-no) simply translated from Spanish to English means bacon. However, the word tocino can actually refer to a few different types of dishes, depending on what country you’re in.
This recipe is for a Filipino-style pork tocino.
In the Philippines tocino is often made using pork belly or pork steaks, which are cut from the pork shoulder. But sometimes chicken thighs are also used to make chicken tocino.
The meat goes through a curing process for a few days in a mixture of sugar, annatto seeds, seasonings and prague powder or pink curing salt. Some recipes also call for pineapple juice, which helps tenderize the protein.
Then, the marinated pork is traditionally cooked in a skillet with water and is boiled until the water absorbs into the meat. It’s finished in the hot pan with oil, which helps it crisp and caramelize and is served with garlic rice and a fried egg.
How authentic is this tocino recipe?
Most of the Filipino recipes I share are my renditions of recipes that have been passed on from my husband’s family members. This homemade tocino recipe however comes from my friend Chef Harold Villarosa AKA Unkle Harold.
I had the honor of cooking with Chef Harold on BBQ Brawl on the Food Network. He was born in the Philippines, raised in the Bronx and has an impressive culinary resume. Chef Harold has worked at the number 1 rated restaurant in the world, NOMA in Copenhagen, along with several others, including Thomas Keller’s Per Se.
He also cares deeply about providing positive opportunities for urban youth and does so through workshops, curriculums and tastings via his Insurgo Project.
Chef Harold is one of the most talented, creative chefs I’ve ever worked beside. He can whip out impressive dishes using the most unassuming ingredients and he finishes each plate with a special level of rustic elegance.
When one of my Instagram followers reached out looking for a recipe for tocino that could be cooked on a grill, I knew Chef Harold was my best resource. He immediately texted me his marinade ingredients, which he gave me permission to share with all of you.
What I like about his recipe is that it yields amazing results without the use of red food coloring or curing salts, so it’s more natural.
It does call for achiote powder, and the brand I use has MSG. If you want to keep this all-natural, use pure annatto powder or Filipino achueto powder.
After I marinated the pork testing Chef Harold’s recipe, I played around with the cooking technique, so I could infuse a little smoke. It turned out amazing!
- Pork Steak: You can buy pre-sliced pork steaks at the grocery store or cut steaks from a boneless pork butt. Aim for 1/4-inch thick slices.
- Granulated White Sugar: This helps the meat caramelize and gives it its special sweetness. Some recipes call for brown sugar, but I find the white sugar creates better caramelization.
- Salt, Pepper, Garlic: You can either use a pre-made SPG blend or combine kosher salt, coarse-ground black pepper and granulated garlic or garlic powder.
- Achiote Powder: This is made with ground annatto seeds, which are red seeds that come from the tropical achiote tree. I use the Achiote blend from Spiceology, which also includes MSG and some spices. You can also use Filipino achueto powder, which is just seeds and cornstarch, or Sazón, which includes MSG and spices. These spices can be purchased online or found at Asian or Latin grocery stores.
- Lemon-Lime Soda: This soda is common in Filipino marinades. It adds sweetness and tenderizes the meat.
- Canola Oil: You’ll need just a bit to help with caramelization.
- Red Pepper Flakes: If you want a touch of heat to offset the sweetness of the dish, add a pinch of red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper.
See the full recipe card below for servings and a full list of ingredients.
How to smoke pork tocino
- STEP ONE: Use pre-sliced boneless pork steaks or slice boneless pork shoulder into 1/4-inch thick pork steaks.
- STEP TWO: Place the pork slices in a large mixing bowl or resealable bag with the sugar, SPG, achiote powder, lemon lime soda, oil and pepper flakes. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 1-3 days.
PRO TIP: The longer it marinates, the more flavorful the meat will be. After one day, the liquid will start to disappear because it will absorb into the meat.
- STEP THREE: Heat your smoker to 250-275F degrees with an indirect heat zone.
- STEP FOUR: Place the marinated pork steaks on the grill in a single layer. Smoke for 30 minutes.
PRO TIP: Traditionally, tocino is boiled to help it tenderize. By smoking it, the juices and infused marinade will sweat slowly, so the meat will still become very tender.
- STEP FIVE: Flip. Smoke for 30 more minutes.
- STEP SIX: Increase the grill temperature to 375-400F. Grill the pork steaks for 10-15 minutes, flipping often.
PRO TIP: As pieces char and sizzle, remove them from the grill. Smaller, thinner pieces will cook faster than thicker pieces.
How to serve tocino
The authentic way to serve Filipino pork tocino is with a side of garlic fried rice and fried sunny-side-up eggs. This is called tosilog. The rice and egg balance out the sweet pork.
To make the garlic rice, heat 1-2 teaspoons of oil in a nonstick pan and add two cloves of minced garlic and sauté for 30 seconds.
Add 2 cups of cooked white rice. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes until heated through. Season with salt to taste.
Save your homemade pork tocino leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days. You can also freeze leftovers in a freezer-safe container for up to six months. Reheat in a microwave or in a skillet.
GCG Pro Pitmaster Tips
- Use achiote powder instead of red food coloring
- Marinate the meat for 1-3 days
- Start by smoking the meat then finish it over high heat on the grill
Frequently Asked Questions
Most tocino recipes call for a few drops of red food coloring, which causes the meat to turn red as it marinates. Some recipes also include pink curing salt, which produces a reddish color to the meat.
This recipe doesn’t use either of those. Instead, achiote powder is used, which is a natural blend of red annatto seed and spices.
Tocino is the Spanish word for bacon; however, the word tocino also refers to different dishes made with pork belly. The pork is often marinated, boiled and then fried until it is crispy.
Spanish tocino is salted pork belly; whereas Filipino tocino is pork belly or shoulder that is cured in a sweet marinade.
Spain also has a dish called Tocino de Cielo, which translates to heaven’s bacon. It doesn’t include pork at all. It’s a custard dessert similar to a flan.
More Filipino Recipes
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Filipino Smoked Pork Tocino
- 2 lbs boneless pork steaks
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tbsp SPG, salt, pepper, garlic
- 1 tsp achitote blend
- 1 cup lemon-lime soda
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- pinch red pepper flakes, optional
- Marinate: Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Cover. Refrigerate for 1-3 days.
- Heat Grill: Heat your smoker to 250-275F degrees with an indirect heat zone.
- Smoke: Place the pork on the smoker in a single layer. Smoke for 30 minutes. Flip. Smoke for 30 more minutes.
- Grill: Increase the grill heat to 375-400F degrees. Grill the tocino for 10-15 minutes, flipping often. You want the pieces to char and sizzle. Remove from heat and serve.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.