This succulent Mexican Air Fryer Pork Belly requires a simple Mexican dry spice rub - cumin, ancho, achiote (aka annatto), smoked paprika, garlic powder, salt, and ground pepper - and a few minutes of prep. While it's not "healthy," it is a decadent splurge that even I am willing to indulge in once in a (great) while. Pair it with a healthy Mexican quinoa salad or an arugula and sweet potato salad, and you're on your way to foodie heaven!
👩🏻🍳 Tamara Talks - Why Air Fryer Pork Belly?
Pork belly is a boneless, and fatty cut of pork from the belly of the pig. It is an indulgent cut that is high in fat and calories, and pretty low in protein. No, it is not healthy. So why am I posting a recipe on my healthy or healthyish blog?
It all started at White Duck Taco Shop in Asheville, NC. a few years ago. I had pork belly tacos with watermelon salsa that has left a lasting impression. The fatty, rich, umami flavor of the pork is hard to describe, but I was hooked. Up until that day, I'd given a thumbs down when I saw it on a menu because of my renowned self-restraint and discipline.
"All things in moderation" has always been my personal motto. That's why you find cocktail recipes on Beyond Mere Sustenance, and why my tagline is "healthyish" not "healthy." I do believe that discipline 95% of the time makes room for the occasional indulgence.
All that to say, I wanted to tackle properly cooking the pork belly before I started working on the pork belly tacos with watermelon salsa. Given the fact that an air fryer requires no additional fat to get it crisp, it seemed the perfect way to go. The minimal active time means more time to prepare a healthy side dish that might mitigate any guilt you might feel at indulging.😉
📋 Air Fryer Pork Belly Ingredients
Here is a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe – it’s handy to use at the grocery store or as a summary of what you need. Skip to the recipe for quantities.
Mexican Spice Rub Ingredients
- ground cumin
- ground red chile powder - Choose ancho, chipotle, or New Mexico red chile powder. Avoid generic chile powder that contains other spices, and may contain salt.
- achiote powder - Achiote powder is made from ground annatto seeds.
- smoked paprika
- garlic powder
- sea salt and fresh ground pepper
- pork belly - Following the White Duck Taco Shop's lead, I opted to go with a single piece of pork belly per corn tortilla taco. It makes the tacos easier to handle. We typically serve 3 tacos per serving, so for the 2 of us, I want about 6 one-inch by 3 inch pieces. My market sells pork belly in whole pieces, partial pieces, and thick slices. A whole pork belly weighs in at over 10 pounds! It is the least expensive option. We buy a small partial piece (usually about 2 pounds), and it is a whole slab. You can often find thick slices (1 ½ to 2 inches), and these will likely work as well.
- spice rub
- In choosing the size for your pork belly, you must take into consideration the size of your air fryer. This is critical. You don't want to crowd it either. I have a small air fryer (I use the Instant Pot air fryer lid). It holds a one pound piece on one layer. Better air flow does result in crispier pork belly. Preheat the air fryer to 250° for 5 minutes while you prep the pork.
- Prepare the pork belly - Score the piece of pork belly in the size that you desire. I used this particular pork belly for tacos, so I did manageable 3-4" long by 1-1 ½" wide slices. My pork belly was about 1 ½" thick. Mix up the spices for the dry rub.
- Apply the dry rub - Rub the spice blend into the meaty side of the pork belly. Simply salt the skin side.
- Cook the pork belly - Cook 20 minutes, then turn the air fryer up to 400°. Cook an additional 30-40 minutes to crisp up the skin. You want to bring the internal temperature to 145°F. Use an instant read thermometer to determine.
- After tenting and resting 10 minutes, slice the pork belly where you have scored it. Serve immediately, and enjoy!
What is the difference between pork belly and bacon?
The most basic difference between pork belly and bacon is that the pork belly cut isn't smoked or cured, and only comes from the belly of the pig. Bacon is from the belly and is cured, and sometimes smoked. It often has additives like nitrites and sodium.
Can I freeze leftover cooked pork belly?
Yes. Wait for the air fried pork belly to cool, then store in an airtight container in your refrigerator or freezer.
Can I freeze leftover uncooked pork belly?
Yes. the most cost effective way to buy pork belly is to buy a whole pork belly. Freeze it tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, and stored in an airtight freezer bag or container. Use within 6 months.
How long can I store the pork belly in the refrigerator before I cook it?
Uncooked pork belly that is wrapped tightly or stored in an airtight container (like a zip top bag) can be stored in the refrigerator for about three to five days or in the freezer for up to six months.
Is pork belly healthy?
No. It is high in fat and calories. It's an indulgent food at Andersen casa, and I plan sides that are low in fat and calories to moderate the meal a bit. Though pork belly is high in calories and fat, it provides B vitamins, zinc, and other nutrients, and is naturally low in sodium. See Is Pork Belly Healthy? Nutrition, Downsides, and More for more information.
Will the air fryer produce crispy foods similar to deep fried?
Let's just be honest here - no, not really. I have a convection oven, and the air fryer results are more similar to the "slim fry" convection setting. The appliance is essentially a small convection oven. You can get crispy results, but not like fried foods.
While leftover pork belly is tasty, I highly recommend eating it fresh. The crispy, fatty meat is indescribably delicious when it's just out of the air fryer.
Dry pork belly will crisp up better. Remove any/all moisture with paper towels before applying the spice rub. If you have time, air dry the pork belly after you apply the spice rub (in the refrigerator)... the drier, the better!
This spice blend recipe will generously season 1-2 pounds on the meaty side opposite the skin. If you're doing a larger amount, scale it accordingly.
While fat and calories are high, they're calculated with pre-cooked pork belly. The air fryer reduces fat and calories as it cooks and crisps. The grease is drained away. I do include the pre-cooked pork belly macros.
🍷 Pairing Suggestions
As I mentioned in the opening paragraphs, I wanted to do this pork belly recipe for my pork belly tacos (in the works!). I was really pleased with the way they turned out.
I have also served the pork belly with my borracho beans and a green salad. If you're interested in pairing with a low fat and calories side dish, try this Mexican sweet potato and arugula salad. See photo links after the recipe card below.
Pairing wine with Mexican spices and fatty meat is a little difficult. We enjoyed this with a dry rosé. I would suggest drinking wines on the lighter side without strong tannins or oak.
My personal motto has always been "all things in moderation." I do not deny myself the pleasure of eating less-than-healthy foods; rather, I eat them very infrequently, and enjoy them when I do! If you have feedback, please leave a comment below...
Mexican Air Fryer Pork Belly
- 1 pound boneless pork belly
Mexican Spice Rub
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground red chile powder - see Ingredients in post
- 1 teaspoon ground annatto (achiote)
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon sea salt - fine ground
- several grinds fresh ground pepper
- Preheat the air fryer to 250° for 5 minutes while you prep the pork.
- Score the pork belly in the size that you desire. Mix up the spices for the dry rub.
- Rub the spice blend into the meaty side of the pork belly. Salt the skin side.
- Cook 20 minutes, increase temperature to 400°. Cook an additional 30-40 minutes to crisp up the skin. Bring the internal temperature to 145°F. Remove from air fryer, and tent and rest 10 minutes.
- Slice the pork belly where you have scored it. Serve immediately, and enjoy!
NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and MyFitnessPal.com. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.