Forget the Sriracha: Grab Gochujang for These Pork Belly Kebabs

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Korean gochujang (chili paste) is the secret ingredient in these kebabs. [Photographs: Shao Z.]

There's no doubt that Sriracha—no matter your favorite brand—is the king of Asian chili sauces. But when I'm reaching for a bottle of spicy stuff for my cooking, I'm a lot more likely to grab something even more flavorful, like gochujang, the Korean chili paste. Thicker than Sriracha, gochujang packs a nice degree of heat, combined with just the right amount of fermented funkiness and a touch of sweetness. It's a staple in Korean kitchens and a key ingredient in all sorts of dishes, including bibimbap, soondubu jjigae, and fried rice cakes.

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Since gochujang delivers plenty of flavor on top of the heat, it's perfect in marinades, like the one I've developed here for pork belly kebabs. Mixed with the milder flavors of soy sauce and sake, this marinade isn't going to make any chili-heads break out in a sweat; rather, it's for those who are craving something sweet, savory, and just a tad spicy.

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To start, I cut boneless, skinless pork belly into one-inch cubes. While you could make these kebabs with meat only, I like to add some chunks of vegetables, like bell peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini, for extra color and texture.

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Next I prepare the marinade by combining the gochujang with sake, soy sauce, honey, and oil, then toss it with the pork belly and refrigerate it for at least an hour and up to overnight.

When it's done marinating, I slide the pork belly onto skewers, along with the vegetables, and get the grill ready. No matter what you're grilling, always start by heating the grill and cleaning and oiling the grill grate.

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For the kebabs, I set the grill up for indirect cooking, so that I can move them on and off the most intense heat—this gives me maximum control, ensuring that the pork cooks through fully without burning on the outside. I baste the kebabs with some of the marinade as they cook, turning them slowly so that the fat renders and moistens the lean parts of the cut.

Though you should allow for a brief five-minute rest, it's best to enjoy these kebabs while they're still hot, which is when the fatty parts will be at their tastiest. They may not burn any tongues with chili heat, but the complex, spicy-sweet flavor of these kebabs will more than make up for the lack of fire.

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