08 October, 2009

Taking Back Bacon

Hot Bacon

Home-made Bacon, The Perfect Gift.

I am ready to give you a recipe for bacon. What's that? You already have one? I mean curing bacon, at home, and I want to put the bacon hoopla to rest right now: You're going to make this with the cheapest piece of meat you can find and cure it with ingredients you have in the kitchen right now. And it's gonna taste like bacon which means it's gonna taste great.

Cured belly ready to smoke

Over the past few months I have cured nearly forty pounds of bacon. I have brined it, dry rubbed it, used nitrites, not used nitrites, forgot sugar, hot smoked, cold smoked, no smoked, and then fed it all to my family and friends. So far nobody has complained.

But let's forget get all that for a moment. I want to talk to you about bacon, I want to make sure you know it's okay to strip away all the hype surrounding bacon and pork belly right now. Long after the Baconfests and BaconCamps and the "Current culinary couture (that)centers on () pork and farmers," go away, bacon will still be here for you. I want assure you that you can find bacon happiness in your own kitchen. So go head and chuck the rock star chefs and their rumaki redux, cancel your mail-order of double applewood smoked artisinal bacon from Oklahoma, it's time to take bacon back.

Bacon ready to smoke

Bacon is our American heritage. Mariani reports in the Dictionary of American Food and Drink that "Bacon has long been a staple of households because of a long history of pork consumption and hog butchery."


Waverly Root, in the encyclopedic tome, Food notes "America was built by pioneers and pigs. The covered wagons which started west, even before the Gold Rush usually carried seventy-five pounds of bacon per adult."

Now I could go on quoting sources stressing the historical importance of salting and smoking pork as a matter of preservation and economics, but I think that would miss the most important connection between us and bacon, the taste. Salt, sugar, smoke, and fat. Are you ready to make some bacon?

Pork Belly 12 lbs. Day 1

The Belly

As I have mentioned in a previous post the hardest part of the bacon operation is procuring pork belly. Grocery stores usually don't carry the cut so you got to be creative. I get mine from a small meat packer that sells retail, look for a packer in your area. You could check with your favorite pork purveyor at the farmer's market. Also stores specializing in Asian or Latino food are good bets. Last week I got pork belly already cut into 2-1/2lb pieces at CAM Asia Supermarket in Columbus. When choosing a belly go for the thickest you can find, that'll make the best bacon. At the meat packer I have to buy a whole piece which can be 10 to 12 pounds and I have written the recipe for that amount. In terms of price I pay 1.39/lb at the packer, CAM charged us $2.25/lb, the price will go up from there.

Spice for brine

The Cure

Sugar, salt and belly and you got bacon, the rest is icing. But icing is good sometimes, no? I have come to favor a combination pepper mustard, coriander, allspice, and bay (AKA pickling spice)to cure bacon and ham. But really salt and sugar is it; I used to believe that sugar (especially for brining) was not necessary but after side by side comparisons, sugar balances the salt.
Another important ingredient is curing salt. This ingredient goes by different names such as Insta cure #1, Prague Powder #1, DQ Cure, and it is 6.25 percent sodium nitrite. You can get this stuff mail order, but I buy mine at The Spice House.

Bacon out of the brine, Day 3
Top piece cured with curing salt bottom piece without.

I have no problem using this stuff, it contributes to flavor, color and it substantially increases self life. Plus, since I'm certified in food service sanitation by the state of Illinois, I can't recommend cold smoking meat without using nitrites. But, back to what I said in the beginning, do you have pink salt in your kitchen? Do you need it to make bacon? Let's move on.

There are two ways to cure bacon,

Ma makin bacon
applying a dry rub

From belly to bacon - getting started
or pickling in a brine.

I've done dry rub lots of times it's quick to start and it doesn't take a whole lot of room in the fridge. The first bacon I made was with a recipe from Charcuterie which procribed a dry rub. But I have come to like the pickle because the cure time is shorter and the cure is more thorough than the dry rub.

The smoke

Cold smoking ham and bacon with basil

Cold smoker rig

Bacon on the smoker

Smoke is a visceral obsession. It is an olfactory memory that has collected and compounded in the human being for millions of years. The smell stands for warmth, safety and prosperity. Taking in this memory welted to fat, salt and sugar connects us to all who have come before us. It's the smile at the corners of our eyes.

So, is it important?

If you have a grill of some type then you should be smoking bacon. I have smoked bacon in many different ways, and I have always come away with the same conclusion: I don't like making a big production out of it. Please understand I am not some sort of artisinal baconphile, I don't dial my recipe on single grains salt or handfuls of hand hewn sawdust or multiple days of cold smoking. Minor tweaks I cannot do. I'm big picture: Look like bacon? Taste like bacon? Too salty? For finishing bacon I like hot smoking. I set an fire in the grill/smoker at 250F and cook until the bacon gets to a internal temperature of 150-160F. In terms time, it's usually two hours. Get some wood chips from the hardware store, cut up any sort of hardwood that you may have laying around, Two hours of gentle smoke makes a fine bacon.

Bacon coming off the smoker

Bacon the final frontier

Bacon on the smoker

Bacon finished in the oven without smoke is a perfectly delicious endeavour. In England cured belly without the smoke is called green bacon.

The recipe for Bacon

1 pork belly 10-12 pounds, skin on

5 L water
440g Salt
50g Curing Salt*
450g Sugar

Pickling Spice
16g Black peppercorns
11g Allspice
10g coriander
10g brown mustard seed
4 bay leaves

*You can substitute an equal amount of regular salt for curing salt.

Mise en Bacon: Find non-reactive container(s) to brine belly. Trim into manageable squares. Save scraps for sausage, lard, or just throw them in the pickle.

Combine water, salt, sugar and pickling spices(if using, remember they're icing) and boil for one minute. The brine needs to cool (Not in the fridge) to 70F.

Quick chilling the brine
Make an ice bath in the sink or use ice paddles to cool quicker. I made ice paddles by freezing water in one quart milk jugs.

Belly into the brine
Immerse belly into cooled brine in non-reactive containers, refrigerate. Cure for three days.

Drying in the larder

The bacon needs to dry before smoking. Pull it from the brine and let it rest on a rack or dangle for a day. The stainless steel hooks pictured above came from an IKEA pot rack.

When you are ready to finish the bacon heat Smoker/grill/oven to 250F. Cook bacon to Intemp of 150F. About two hours.

Allow the bacon to cool, but while warm remove the rind (skin). You can save the rind for flavoring soups or beans.

Removing the rind

Once cooled wrap and refrigerate. You can fry some up now, but it tastes better the next day.

I can't tell you exactly when bacon goes bad, I have kept bacon (cured with nitrites) in my fridge for months. For the stuff cured with just regular salt I start noticing change after a couple of weeks. Therefore I recommend you freeze this bacon after ten days.

SO you got all this bacon what are you going to do with it?

BLT from scratch
You could enter a BLT from scratch contest (or not)

Bacon n Eggs
Eat it for breakfast,

Making Sausage
Or you can make bacon bratwurst.

Bacon works great in a supporting role too: Stews, beans, chili, meatloaf, pate, pizza, quiche. Bacon goes everywhere.

Pork shoulder for bacon ready to smoke

If you can't get you hands on pork belly, you can try a fatty piece of pork shoulder in the brine, I've done it a couple of times, it works well.

Shoulder bacon

Whatever you do, make bacon, make it yours. If you have any questions please ask, I'm here to help.



Andrew said...

Great post (manifesto? call to arms?)! I've never tried brining bacon, but it looks like I'll have to now.

This may seem a tad blasphemous, but I have to confess I'm equally enamored with pancetta, especially in soups, ragouts, and stews.

scott said...

Like Andrew says, don't forget to mention Pancetta. For those who don't have smoking capabilities, this is an easy alternative.

mac said...

Pan-whatta? Has the whole world gone crazy? I know it's Columbus Day and all but The Pancetta Admiration Society is meeting on the next blog down the hall. Call unsmoked bacon whatever you like, I just want you to make it at home.

If you don’t have the facility to smoke your cured bacon, roasting it is a good way to finish it. I think roasting contributes to a sweeter flavor and it gives you a more stable product. Pancetta develops its flavor through careful air drying ranging anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months.

I did my dance with pancetta but frankly I don't have the patience for air curing, I wish I did. Scott it looks like you are doing some cool stuff on your blog.

Since Andrew left his comment,I have been on a wild geek chase looking for a passage in a book that theorized a relationship between latitude and the use of smoke as a curing agent: The farther north you got from the Med the more smoking was used. Hence you got your air cured specialties of Spain and Italy while folks in Finland are smoking hams in their saunas. Anybody read that?

A and S Thanks for writing.


scott said...

Mac, I never said it was replaceable. If you read any of my blog, you see I've made plenty of bacon. In fact, when I buy a belly, I break it down into 4 pieces, 3 of which are used for bacon, one for an obligatory pancetta. Just acknowledging it's existence in the same realm as the smoked beauty.

Also, there is defintely some correlation to lattitude and propensity for smoking. I.E, in Northern Italy they smoke much more than they do in the south, I'm sure you've heard of speck. This is exclusive to the Trentino/Alto-Adige region(Austrian border.)

Andrew said...

Mac-I don't bother with the air curing of pancetta. It probably makes a difference, but mine has always turned out pretty solid. I remember reading about somebody smoking pancetta-seems scariligious, but also delicious.

I too recall reading the latitiude/smoking connection, but haven't seen any academic cites. I'm finally working through guns, germs and steel, maybe there is something there?

Jennifer Eolin said...

OMG - this was an amazing blog!! Love! And YUM!

Jay M. said...

Wow. This is a great entry. Thanks for the comprehensive how-to for those of us who might otherwise be afraid to try something like this.

Dave said...

Maybe it's because I raked a million pounds of leaves today and I'm hungry, but I'm going to try this. Nice post.

elrogang said...

can you elaborate a little on how you set up your smoking rig? I think it is similar to Alton brown using the hot plate in the bottom of the grill, but do I turn the plate on high, and what quantity of chips do I need for a good 2 hr smoke? This is our 2nd batch we are now brine-ing for Christmas morning. We love your easy method!

Our meat market ordered our belly-we got 40 lbs for $26!!!

mac said...

Dear E-gang:

Thanks for writing, I glad you like the recipe for curing bacon. I apologize from my slow response, my newly started full time job really puts a cramp in my blogging style, but enough about me, let's talk about a smoking rig.

My experience with the hot plate set-up is tenuous, and I never really got into it for smoking bacon. First of all it seems to need constant attention, you gotta turn it up to get it going, then back it off to keep it at a smolder, and I have feed it every 15 minutes or so. In the hot plate I have tried sawdust, wood chips, and wood chunks. The sawdust (I got a bag of it from Sausage Maker) seems to work best. I'm sure someone has mastered the hot plate process, but not me.

Lately I have used the hot plate set up to burn basil stems. After my basil plants are done for the year I chop up the stems. It's really nice for smoking fish.

I still favor a good charcoal fire for consistent heat and added wood chunks for smoke to smoke bacon.

At home I smoke bacon in a Weber Smoky Mountain (AKA The Bullet), I like it because I can start it and it will make a nice smoke for a couple of hours without tending. But you can do it in any charcoal grill. Just build a small fire off to one side, and add a handful wood chips (try apple) every half an hour or so to keep a constant smoke. Keep track of the temp with a thermometer. The process is a little fussy but less so than the hot plate set-up. Again a couple hours at 250F (I cook till the bacon's internal temp is 150F)and you're done.

Good luck.

Chocolate Covered Bacon said...

Delicious bacon prepared for the breakfast. I am starting to starve now. Bacon is our American heritage, as what the American's claimed. There are other places also love to eat bacon and even in burger stores, and snack bars, there are a lot of bacon menu's available to all.

Dave said...

Having done this once, I'm totally hooked. I did the salt sugar rub first like Charcuterie, but I'm glad you prefer the solution brine, I too thought it would give more uniform results and I'm glad it cures faster.

When did you take remove the skin - after smoking?

mac said...

Hi Dave, I'm glad you like the recipe. I take the skin off after cooking, it's pretty easy. Check out Chicharones Revsited and make some smoky scratchings with the rind. Thanks for writing.


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Frank said...

Love your recipes. I have made bacon several times and love it. I too like the wet brine cure. I will be trying your recipe. :)