Have you been thinking about making bacon? Now is the perfect time; with the hint of fall in the air, the gentle wisps of hickory smoke should trigger tingling childhood memories like skipping stones on Lake Hope. The late tomatoes are now ripe on the vine. Make up some bread, some mayonnaise, and assemble BLT's. Serve the sandwiches with smoked corn chowder and now you are ready for the season. Maybe a nap first.
Before any napping there's work to be done. The hardest part of making bacon is finding the belly. Ok, if you live in town nick-named "Hog Butcher to the World," maybe it's not that hard. I get bellies at a meat packer about three miles from my house (say YEAH Southland), the problem is usually the ones in the case are pretty thin, they keep the nice ones in the back to make their own cured love. My friend Brian in New Jersey gets them from a Chinese market with the ribs attached. When searching for your own try to find a place where you can choose your piece, if you don't see one you like, ask if there are any others. Make sure you get a thick belly. If you are at a meat packing operation you'll have to buy a whole belly, they wont cut it, and you're gonna get 12 to 19 pounds of pork. But that's what you want. Get the biggest, thickest belly you can find, because we are not just making bacon, we are stocking the larder.
When you get you purchase home you may find one end is really thick with very little fat, and the other end thin and nothing but fat. In addition, an untrimmed pork belly with have fat and meat (a flap of sorts) that sits on top of our future bacon. Now you can simply cut it up into to manageable pieces a cure it, but why not make it look nice?
With my pork side I used the thick, lean portion of the belly and removed the lean flap to make couple of pounds of our house sausage. I used the fatty thin end and any trimmed fat to make lard. I also saved the skin from each of these sections and threw it in the freezer. Skin is useful to thicken soups, Cassoulet, or boiled and diced for a pâté.
I squared up the future bacon and rubbed it with a mixture of sugar, salt and curing salt. Curing salt is a special order item, I get mine at The Spice House in Chicago. I used the recipe from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, for the dry rub. On a smaller piece I poured on a little maple syrup in addition to the dry rub. The pieces go into ziploc bags and cure in the fridge for five days. In the past I have cured bacon in brine along with ham. I haven't noticed any big difference between the wet and dry cure, except that the wet cure only needs three days.
After the cure was complete, I rinsed off the bacon and let it rest in the fridge of 24 hours uncovered. I actually let it go for two days because I got busy with other stuff but the pork didn't mind.
I cold smoked both pieces of the belly for about four hours. The cold smoke rig consisted of a hot plate and stainless steel bowl inside my Bullet. The next day I hot smoked the larger slab for about two hours. While I had the smoker fired up I also threw on some eggplant (smoked baba ganouj) and I hot smoked a few ears of corn (shucked) for the smoky corn chowder. Bonne Femme made the soup.
Cold and hot smoked bacon
Cold smoked bacon
Either way its a winner.
My mom was here last week and she started her own bacon. She took it back to Columbus and she will smoke it on her kettle grill.
Bacon: A pantry staple that's fun for the whole family.