The last time I visited Saigon was 2 years ago. The city had changed a lot. More skyscrapers and big buildings. But one thing still remained the same – its food culture.
I remember like it was yesterday. I was sitting in a little plastic stool on the streets (R.I.P Anthony Bourdain), surrounded by friends and family. We all shared this fantastic pork skewer dish grilled over hot charcoal.
The smell, the taste, the camaraderie, and the atmosphere. They all blended together for a unique experience. Today, through the words on this page, I hope to recreate that in your backyard by showing you how to make those incredible Vietnamese grilled pork skewers.
So you can share them with your loved ones. After all, it’s what outdoor grilling is about – enjoying great tasting food with friends and family.
What You’ll Need For This Recipe
Here is the list of what you’ll need:
- Brown sugar
- Black pepper
- Fish sauce
- Soy sauce
- Hoisin sauce
- Pork shoulder (or picnic ham)
- Bamboo skewers
Once you have everything, let’s begin. This dish consists of three main components – the marinade, the pork, and the skewers. I’ll go into details of each, starting with the most important one, the marinade.
It’s All About The Marinade
The marinade is what’ll make or break this recipe. It’s where all the flavors come from, besides the fat from the pork shoulder. That’s why it’s best if you can get all the ingredients I listed above, especially the fish sauce and lemongrass. It’s the smallest thing that makes a big difference.
Now, in terms of how much of each ingredient you should mix together, there is no set-in-stone rule for that. In the recipe card at the end of this article, I’ll show you the amounts that I put in for this dish.
And those are specifically for me and my taste buds. Yours might be different. So use my measurements as a guideline for your first time, and adjust accordingly after that. For example, if you want the pork to be sweeter with a better Maillard crust, add more brown sugar and honey. Likewise, add more fish sauce if you want it a little saltier.
That being said, after you gather everything, cut up the garlic, shallot, and lemongrass into fine pieces. You can use a food processor, but there will be no texture in the end product. So, in my humble opinion, mincing is much better.
Then put all of that alongside other ingredients in a big bowl. Mix everything up. Set it aside and move on to the meat.
How’s About The Pork?
As I mentioned earlier, I will be using a pork shoulder for this Vietnamese pork skewers recipe. I like the fact that the pork shoulder has a decent amount of fat in it. They will not only prevent the meat from drying out too quickly, but also give it a gorgeous golden shine and phenomenal flavors in the end.
Note: pork shoulder (or picnic ham) is a different cut from pork butt even though the two terms are used interchangeably. A quick way to tell them apart is that pork shoulder still usually has the skin attached whereas pork butt doesn’t. For this recipe, you can use either of them.
Now, we’re not going to cook the pork shoulder low and slow. In fact, we’re going to cook it over direct high heat or hot and fast. And because we cook it hot and fast, we too need to slice the pork into thin pieces, about ¼” thick. It’s also easy for the skewers to go through without much resistance.
Keep in mind to discard any extra fat you might see. Too much fats will burn the meat if you’re not careful. Besides, the marinade has quite a bit of sugar in it. We want nice crusty edges, not overly blackened ones. Don’t forget to trim off the skin as well.
You don’t have to cut up the entire shoulder. I’d recommend just half of it, assuming the meat is around 4lbs. That should be enough for two people since you will be eating this with other dishes.
Once you have your sliced pork ready, mix it in with the marinade. You can keep marinating the whole thing in the fridge for either 4 hours or overnight before grilling. Obviously, overnight is always better.
A Quick Word About The Skewers
I always sanitize the skewers. What I do is to wash them and put them in boiling water. That should take care of it.
Before threading the meat, I would also soak the skewers in cold water for about 30 minutes. What it does is to prevent the skewers from burning when grilling with direct high heat. It’s the same logic as why you shouldn’t soak your smoking wood.
When threading the meat, make sure that you don’t put too much of it on one skewer and leave some space between the pieces of meat. I’d recommend a maximum of 4 – 5 pieces per skewer. That should allow the heat to cook through the meat before burning the skewer (after all the water inside has evaporated).
Get Your Grill Ready
Now that you have your Vietnamese lemongrass pork skewers ready, it’s time to grill them.
I’d highly recommend a charcoal grill since that’s what people use in Vietnam. It would give you the most authentic flavors.
I’ll be using my Weber Smokey Joe. Keep in mind that you want to do this in batches because the meat will be cooked really quick. A small charcoal grill limits how much meat you can grill at one time and that makes it easy for you to keep an eye on it.
So, light some charcoal. Then spread it evenly across the charcoal grate. Wait until your grill gets up to 400F to 450F.
Once that happens, place the skewers on top of the cooking grid. It will start off a bit slow. But after 2 – 3 minutes, things will pick up real fast. Remember to always pay attention to it the whole time. Flip every 2 minutes.
You will see the meat starting to brown. The flavor is starting to develop. And the smell is freaking AMAZING. Since the meat is thin, you don’t need to use a thermometer. Keep flipping until both sides of the skewers turn dark brown with some charred edges. That’s when you know they’re done.
Place the pork skewers on a plate and let the meat rest. Then move on to your next batch until everything is cooked.
How To Serve This Recipe
There are many ways to serve these scrumptious Vietnamese grilled pork skewers.
You can wrap the meat in lettuce with some herbs (cilantro and mint). Then dip it in a special Vietnamese lime fish sauce called nước chấm. I’m telling you, the flavors are out of this world!
Or mix it with vermicelli and vegetables for a balanced and healthy meal.
Or just serve it as an appetizer. It’s totally delicious by itself. Don’t forget to add some Vietnamese scallion oil and crushed peanuts on top. Skip the peanuts if you’re allergic to them.
And that’s pretty much it. Give it a try and let me know how you like it.
Vietnamese Grilled Pork Skewers Recipe
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3 cloves shallot
- 2 stalks lemongrass
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoon honey
- 2 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- 1/2 cup oil
- 2 lbs pork shoulder (or picnic ham)
- 5 bamboo skewers
- Mince the garlic, shallot, and lemongrass.
- Mix everything in a bowl and set it aside.
- Remove the skin then cut the pork into small pieces (about 1/4" thick). You only have to use 2lbs of the meat if cooked for 2 people.
- Put the pork pieces into the marinade bowl.
- Marinate for 4 hours or overnight.
- Sanitize the skewers by boiling them in water.
- Before grilling, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes.
On The Grill
- You can use gas or charcoal grill. Charcoal would be better since it's more authentic.
- Get your grill up to 400F to 450F.
- Place the skewers on the cooking grate. Keep a close eye on them.
- Flip every 2 minutes
- The pork skewers are ready when the meat turns dark brown with some beautiful charred edges.
- You can also use pork butt for this recipe.
- Overnight marinating is preferable.
- Please try your best to get all the ingredients.
- Allow for some space between pieces of meat on a skewer. I’d recommend 4 – 5 pieces per skewer.
- Keep an eye on the meat when grilling. I’d recommend using a small charcoal grill.
- You don’t need to cook to a certain temperature.
- Last but not least, enjoy this wonderful recipe!