When we developed our classic pork adobo recipe, we made sure to nail all the characteristics of great adobo: tender, flavorful meat; a classic, salty-sour adobo sauce; and tons of garlic and pepper.
We tested everything, from the ingredients to every single step in the method. If you’re curious about how each aspect impacts the recipe, read on!
What ingredients do I need?
There are four cornerstone ingredients to classic Filipino adobo: soy sauce, vinegar, black pepper, and garlic. We add bay leaves to the mix for a bit more earthiness. For protein, we used cubed pork belly.
Soy Sauce & Vinegar
We used regular Filipino-branded soy sauce and vinegar in this recipe. Use whatever you have at home; there’s no need to fuss over which specific brand or type of soy sauce and vinegar to get.
Some people like using whole peppercorns, while others prefer just using ground pepper. Whatever you choose, the important thing to do is to use lots of it for that strong, peppery flavor.
Our recipe uses whole black peppercorns because it gives a discernibly peppery kick to the final dish. Plus, we like that it tenderizes with the meat as it cooks. But if you hate biting into random peppercorns when eating your adobo, feel free to use ground pepper.
The recipe calls for two whole heads of garlic. It sounds like a lot, but don’t worry, you don’t need to smash or peel anything!
This recipe requires marinating our pork (more on that later), so we’re adding halved garlic heads into the marinade. Whether the garlic is whole or cut up has no effect on flavor, so we took the convenient route of throwing it whole (or halved, rather).
At the end of the braise, the garlic cloves separate from the head and acquire a soft, almost jammy texture—think roasted garlic. These tender cloves pack a lot of flavor while giving your adobo a fun, interesting bite.
Bay leaves, while optional, imparts an earthy, slightly bitter flavor that cuts nicely through the soy sauce, giving the adobo more dimension. Try it out!
Is it better to use pork kasim (shoulder) or belly? We tested both cuts of meat in the process to see which one would get more tender, absorb more flavor, and not dry out in the long cooking time.
Ask for adobo-cut pork at the supermarket and you’ll most likely get pork kasim. This cut has distinct layers of fat and lean meat. Pork belly, on the other hand, has fat layered alternately between chunks of lean meat.
At first, we thought that the anatomy of kasim would yield better results. But upon testing, kasim ended up having dry and stringy meat. The thick layer of fat didn’t cook properly, resulting in an unpleasant taste and texture.
There’s a way to properly cook kasim with soft fat and tender meat. But for the sake of ease, we recommend using pork belly—its fat-meat-fat-meat characteristic has a higher success rate of tender, flavorful pork.
How do I cook adobo?
Most households simply combine all the ingredients in a pot, then leave the adobo to braise. In the process of making this recipe, we wanted to test whether taking different steps (or not) in the process made a difference in terms of flavor and texture.
Marinating the meat
This step may seem controversial. Not a lot of people marinate their adobo meat, and go straight to the braise. But we found that marinating makes a significant difference! Our test adobo turned out darker and more flavorful.
To test it further, we tried cooking non-marinated meat longer in an attempt to infuse more flavor. At the end, it still wasn’t as flavorful than its marinated counterpart.
Searing & braising
Should you sear the meat before braising it? Some Filipino moms insist that this impacts the adobo’s flavor.
We made four test adobos, all using the same ingredients and procedure except for the meat—we wanted to double-test marinated versus non-marinated pork—and the searing step. We braised them until the meat was fork-tender (about 30 minutes) to see which combination developed the most flavor.
The winner: Marinated meat + no sear, followed by non-marinated meat + no sear.
The worst of the lot was the non-marinated meat that was seared before braising. This test concluded that searing the pork created a barrier in the meat that stopped the flavors from the adobo to penetrate through. In the case of the marinated meat that was seared before cooking, it had some flavor to begin with from the marinade, but it didn’t absorb any more flavor from the braise.
Essentially, marinating the pork and not searing it—and therefore not creating that seal—helped the pork absorb more flavor during the braise.
The more water you use in your adobo, the longer your adobo cooks. This also means more time for your meat to absorb flavor and fully tenderize. But too much water can waterlog your adobo, which risks losing all the flavor you’ve already developed up to this point.
This recipe calls for two cups of water—just enough to cover the pork.
Should I reduce the adobo sauce?
We took the winner from the braising step (marinated pork, no sear, fork-tender at this point), then tested how to reduce it in four ways.
Test #1: Reduce adobo sauce with pork
First, we simply reduced the sauce together with the meat. This lets the pork develop a lot of flavor since it’s basically just allowing the meat to take on everything in the liquid. It also gives the pork more time to soften further. The only risk is possibly overcooking the meat, but you already avoid this by using pork belly instead of kasim!
Test #2: Reduce adobo sauce without pork
Second, we took out the meat (as to not worry about overcooking it), let the sauce reduce on its own, then returned the pork after. This method stopped the meat from developing more flavor. So although it was already great from the previous step, it stopped there. And after reintroducing the pork into the sauce, it tasted like two separate components since the meat and the sauce didn’t get the chance to meld.
Test #3: Reduce adobo sauce with seared pork
For the third test, we tried searing the meat after braising, then returned the meat to the sauce and let it reduce together. The seared meat acquired more toasty flavors. But just like in the braising step, the searing created a barrier that stopped it from absorbing more flavor. Plus, the meat didn’t retain the texture it had from searing. Instead, it was hard, chewy, and stringy.
Test #4: Reduce adobo sauce without seared pork
We can predict how this would turn out based on Test #3, but might as well be thorough.
For the fourth method, we seared the pork while the sauce was reducing on the side. Then when that was done, we stirred the meat back in. The meat had that toasty, seared characteristic, but it did not have enough time to get to know the sauce since it was only added later. So, still, the flavors felt disjointed.
The winner: Reducing the meat together with the sauce yielded the best flavor and texture.
Get our Best Classic Pork Adobo recipe here.