Having said that, I must confess that we've already had bacon 3 times in the last 6 days. But before you do that disappointed health freak face, let me explain. We weren't just eating any old bacon. We were reaping the fruits of my labor, if you will. That's right, I made bacon! I'll say it was one of the most satisfying moments when I sat down to breakfast this past weekend and enjoyed my own delicious bacon.
You’re probably wondering why I would want to make bacon? I guess that’s just how I roll. I’m all about demystifying and doing it myself. Many commercial bacons are so salty that one bite is enough to send my blood pressure sky high. The thing I like about this bacon is that it didn't feel like eating a salt lick. Maple and brown sugar gave it a hint of sweetness and helped to cut the saltiness. I also used fresh cracked black pepper to give it a little subtle heat.
Seriously, it was easy. All you have to do is cure it for a week, then hot smoke it for an hour or two. The only difficult thing about it is the waiting. So no, I won’t be making this on a weekly basis, but it is a nice touch if we are having visitors or going to a special function.
This recipe I used comes from Charcuterie. According to the authors, you can use whatever seasonings you like because it’s the cure and smoke that give bacon its wonderful taste. So if you don’t want to use maple but prefer to use cloves or bay leaves or whatever else tickles your fancy, then by all means. The original recipe calls for 5 pounds of pork belly. As big of a fan of bacon as I am, I thought that might just be a wee bit much. So I only started with 2 ½ pounds. However, after the smoking, there was a 20% weight loss (the bacon, not me)! After giving some to my neighbor for letting me use his smoker (thanks again, Dennis!), I was left with only about a pound. Even though that will stretch for 4 or even 5 uses, for the amount of waiting and daydreaming that goes into the process, I want the yield to be a bit more. Next time, I’m going for gold and making all 5 pounds. It freezes beautifully, so none of it will go to waste.
Note: if you want to do the whole 5 pounds, just double the recipe.
Maple Bacon (adapted from Charcuterie)
yields approximately 2 pounds
- 1 oz kosher salt
- 1 tsp pink salt (1/4 oz or 6 grams if you’re doing it by weight, which you should be)
- 1 tbs black peppercorns, coarsely ground
- 1 tbs whole allspice, coarsely ground
- 2 packed tbs light brown sugar (the original recipe calls for dark brown)
- 2 tbs maple syrup
- 2 ½ pound slab of pork belly (original recipe says skin on, but I did it with skin removed)
Place the pork in a Ziploc bag large enough to hold it or in a non-reactive container that is just slightly bigger than the pork. During the curing process, liquid will be released and it will work to cure the meat. Keep the meat in the fridge, turning every other day to expose both sides to the brine. It should take about 7 days to cure. It’s ready if you touch the meat and it’s firm. Make sure you’re checking the actual meat and not the fat, because the fat doesn’t get firm.
Once you’ve determined the meat is cured, rinse it well under cold water. You want to get rid of the residual salt. Most of the spices will wash off too, and that’s okay. Their flavor will already be in the meat. Pat the meat dry and air-dry it in the fridge for at least overnight. When you air-dry it in the fridge, it needs to rest on a rack, uncovered, above a container that will catch any juices and allow air to circulate. The next day, hot-smoke the meat to an internal temperature of 150º. For me, this took less than 2 hours (I think) at 275º (the original recipe didn’t specify a smoking temperature). I expected it to take like 3 hours, but when I checked it a little after 2 hours, it was at like 160+. Yikes!!! Yet, the bacon turned out fine.
Once you remove the bacon from the smoker, let it cool a bit. If you started with skin-on pork belly, you should remove the skin before the bacon cools completely. I started with skinless, and the fat caramelized very nicely, so I think I’ll use skinless the next time as well. Do not try to slice the bacon into strips before it is completely cooled to refrigerator temperature. An extra half hour in the freezer might make it even easier. Unless you have Morimoto-sharp knives, you will just end up “squishing” the fat and the slices will be sloppy and too thick. Trust me on this. Once it’s cool enough to slice, you still have to fry it to get it crispy.
If you found this process interesting, you may enjoy making your own Canadian bacon. It’s just as easy as bacon, but requires only 2 days curing. It’s also a lot less fatty because it’s done with pork loin.