We don’t usually cook pork, but my friends convinced us to try this popular Vietnamese grilled pork (thit nuong) and we’ve already made it 2x since! The pork is marinated until tender and flavorful, and when cooked on high heat, the coating caramelizes and gets a nice sear. You can enjoy it over a rice or vermicelli noodle bowl, lightened up inside a lettuce wrap, or in a banh mi style sandwich!
This recipe is very forgiving in terms of modifications, based on what you have at home. I tapped into my Vietnamese friends’ family recipe archives, and while everyone makes it differently (i.e. oyster sauce vs fish sauce, honey vs sugar), the approximate ratio of sweet to savory to aromatics in the marinade is generally similar.
This is also freezer friendly for quick meals – simply freeze uncooked meat with marinade in a ziploc bag, and put it in your fridge 1 day prior to slowly thaw before cooking.
Ingredients (adjust to taste)
- 1 lb pork, preferably pork butt or shoulder *
- 3 Tablespoons brown sugar (or 2.5 Tbs honey)
- 2 Tablespoons regular soy sauce (or 2 teaspoons “dark” or “thick” soy sauce)
- 2 Tablespoons fish sauce and/or oyster sauce (I do half & half)
- 1.5 Tablespoons neutral cooking oil
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 to 4 cloves minced garlic
- 1 stalk minced lemongrass ** (see note – we never have any)
- Optional: minced shallot or onion, jalapeno/chili pepper or red pepper flakes
* Pork with more fat and marbling is ideal, as the fat will help with caramelization on high heat and keep the meat juicy. “Pork butt” is a misnomer as it also comes from shoulder, but is supposed to have a little more marbling. If you use pork chops, dark meat is preferred and definitely no need to trim off the fat. We’ve also made this with regular pork chops, and while it was still good, it’s definitely better with a less lean cut.
** Lemongrass stalks can be found at Asian + most larger grocery stores like Whole Foods, and freezes well for later use. We never have any but this still comes out tasty. You can skip, or use the juice from 1/2 of a lime (or try lemon) – it’s not the same flavor, but citrus in marinade helps tenderize meat so doesn’t hurt.
1. Chop + mix together all the marinade ingredients. If you have a food processor, you can put the garlic, shallot, and lemongrass all in together to chop finely.
2. Slice the pork to about 1/4″ thick pieces and pound with a mallet if you have one (with a layer of saran wrap or parchment paper in between).
3. Coat the pork well in the marinade, and refrigerate for 2 hours to 24 hours, stirring once in between.
4. To cook the pork, grilling in a basket is ideal. As we don’t have a grill, we’ve been making these 2 other ways that work well!
- Easy-cleanup broil: Pre-heat your broiler oven while placing the pork slices on a foil lined baking sheet, making sure not to overlap the pieces. Once the broiler is ready, place the baking sheet on a high rack and broil with the oven door cracked open, until the pork pieces develop a nice sear on top. This takes about 6-7 minutes for us, and no flipping of the meat is needed! Note: please handle carefully as the broiler gets very hot, and don’t re-use the same piece of foil for multiple batches because the sugar in the marinade will burn.
- Pan sear: Heat a frying pan to medium high heat with a little oil. Once the oil is hot, place the pork in the pan, flipping occasionally to make sure both sides get evenly browned and seared (about 4 to 5 minutes per side). Personally I liked the caramelization better from pan searing, but it’s hard to beat the ease of the foil-lined broil method!
Ways to Enjoy This Pork
1. Rice or vermicelli bowl
- Crushed peanuts
- Nuoc cham sauce (we followed this recipe and enjoyed it)
- Quick pickles – we’ve made so many versions of this! One of our go-to recipes is to slice 2 mini cucumbers (into either circular discs or spears) and place in a well stirred mixture of 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, 4 teaspoons sugar, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon fish sauce. Shake the container and refrigerate. These are ready to eat in about 10 minutes but preferably no longer than 24 hours, otherwise they can become too strongly flavored.
2. Lettuce Wraps
Using romaine lettuce hearts, with cucumber spears, cilantro, and good ole nuoc cham sauce again.
3. Banh Mi Sandwich
This was so delicious and definitely hit the spot. The right bread is typically important, but as we don’t have a lot of choices these days, I used my “take & bake” half baked baguettes from the Whole Foods freezer section which worked pretty well. For a moist inside yet crisp outer to the frozen bread, I first microwave it about 1-2 minutes, then finish in the oven or air fryer for about 5 minutes.
- Generous spread of mayo (we love Kewpie mayo from the Asian grocery)
- Pate is tasty and traditional, if you have it on hand
- Pork, cucumber spears, pickled carrots, cilantro, jalapenos
The pickled carrots sticks or “do chua” can be labor intensive to cut up, but friends tell me they also like a simplified version of using a vegetable peeler and peeling small ribbons of cucumber and carrots. Or, you can use a julienne tool (careful with your fingers!).
PS – if you’re craving Vietnamese cold cut sandwiches but don’t have access to those speciality deli meats, I’ve been indulging a bit in sliced mortadella from American grocery stores, sandwiched in toasted white bread but with traditional banh mi toppings (the pickled carrots here is key) – pretty tasty!!
For more easy meal ideas, check out our other Extra (Ap)Petite posts!
I know several of you enjoy making thit nuong at home – let me know how you make your marinade and cook the meat!