Why It Works
- Thinly slicing pork shoulder allows the meat to pick up flavor from the punchy marinade, and also speeds up cooking time.
- A special skewer set-up for a charcoal grill makes it easier to cook the skewers, producing lightly charred pork that is still juicy and tender.
- Brushing the skewers with unsweetened coconut cream while they cook keeps them moist, and creates a sticky glaze on the surface of the meat.
While most people in the United States are most familiar with satay-style Thai skewers, these grilled pork skewers, called moo ping, are a popular street food in Thailand. Thin slices of fatty pork butt are tossed in a punchy, savory marinade, bunched tightly onto skewers, and cooked over charcoal. The pork is brushed with unsweetened coconut cream as it cooks, which keeps the meat moist and provides creamy richness to balance the fish sauce punch of the marinade. This recipe calls for a specially-designed grill set-up that mimics the grilling rigs you would find at street-food kiosks.
- 4 medium garlic cloves (20g), minced
- 2 tablespoons (15g) minced cilantro stems, plus fresh cilantro leaves for serving
- 2 tablespoons (30g) finely chopped palm sugar (see note)
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) oyster sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (6g) ground white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon (2g) MSG powder (optional)
- 2 pounds (900g) pork butt, in one piece
- 1 (5 1/2-ounce; 160ml) can unsweetened coconut cream
- 1 recipe Thai Dried Chili-Vinegar Dipping Sauce, for serving (optional)
In a small bowl, combine garlic, cilantro stems, palm sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, white pepper, and MSG (if using), and stir until palm sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
Freeze pork for 15 minutes and up to 30 minutes (partially freezing the pork makes it easier to slice). Using a sharp chef's knife or slicing knife, slice pork against the grain into 2-inch-long, 1-inch-wide, and 1/8-inch-thick strips. The easiest and most efficient way to do this is to start by portioning the pork butt into 2-inch-wide by 1-inch-thick pieces, and then slicing those pieces crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick strips.
Combine pork and marinade in a large bowl, and, using hands, toss until every piece of meat is evenly coated in marinade. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, and up to 36 hours.
Thread one piece of pork onto a skewer, piercing it through twice to secure it, then bunching meat tightly together like an accordion. Continue threading pork onto skewer, making sure meat is tightly bunched together, leaving no parts of the skewer exposed except for a 2-inch handle at the bottom, and the pointy tip at the top. Repeat skewering process with remaining pork.
Set up grill for skewers, making sure to adjust distance between bricks to the length of your skewers. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly in the channel between the bricks.
Place skewers directly over the hot coals, balancing them on top of the bricks, with the handles overhanging the bricks closest to you and the tips balancing on the farther wall of bricks. Using a brush, brush pork with coconut cream. Cook, turning skewers and brushing pork with coconut cream frequently, until meat is lightly charred, and a piece of pork looks cooked through when removed and cut in half, 8 to 10 minutes; if flare-ups occur, move the skewers around as needed to get them away from the flames. Transfer to serving platter and let rest for 1 to 2 minutes. Serve immediately, passing lime wedges, as well as cilantro and dipping sauce (if using), at the table.
Palm sugar, sometimes labeled as "coconut sugar," can be found at Thai markets, or online. For this recipe, an equal amount of packed light brown sugar can be substituted for palm sugar if you have trouble sourcing it.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The grilled skewers are best enjoyed immediately. The marinade can be made in advance, and refrigerated for up to 3 days. The pork can be marinated for up to 36 hours.