For years I have been interested in charcuterie but have always been hesitant to try. The couple of times I did I had good results; Bacon was no different. Like the vast majority of the western world I have a love affair with bacon. I know it’s not good for me; eventually it will lead to my downfall and help to end my life. There is just something about that aroma, the flavours, and the process of cooking and eating bacon that makes us love it. You can eat it alone, you can wrap things up in it, and the ideas are virtually limitless on the food items you can create with good old fashioned breakfast bacon. The above doesn’t even remotely touch on the other myriad cooks, cuts, cures, styles of bacon available; we are talking about good old fashioned breakfast bacon.
2.5kg (roughly 5lbs) cut of pork belly
12g of curing agent, Pink Salt is the most common – we use sure cure
¼ cup of kosher salt
¼ cup of brown sugar
¼ cup of Maple Syrup
1 non reactive container for holding the pork belly, you can use Tupperware, or a large Zip Lock bag. You just have to make sure that it can be covered and that it will not react with the salt (aluminum is out). We use a Vacuum Packaging machine which is fantastic.
1) Combine all of your dry ingredients in a non reactive container ensuring that you evenly distribute everything. Now add the ¼ cup of Maple Syrup (or other alternate) to the dry ingredients.
2) Now with the wet rub you have created distribute it evenly over the entire surface area of the pork belly. Once you have completely rubbed down the entire surface place your pork belly in a non reactive container. You must ensure that the meat is in contact with the surface of the container as much as possible. The cure you created above will react with the meat to create a liquid brine and it is important that the meat keep in contact with this brine during the entire curing process.
3) Refrigerate your belly making sure to turn the meat over every 2 days (every other day) and making sure that the cure is evenly distributed. The easiest way to do this is the use of either Zip Lock Bags or with a Vacuum Pack machine. If you are not using either of these methods make sure that what you are using isn’t reactive to the cure (NOTE: no aluminum trays or foil ever). This process takes from 7-12 days, in most cases 7 days is plenty for the thin commercially available pork belly you will be using. If it’s thicker belly you will want to definitely leave it in longer.
4) Take the belly and rinse it thoroughly under cold running water until all of the cure has been washed away. Dry your belly with a paper towel or something that will not leave residue on the meat. Many recipes or directions will claim to put the product now in the fridge for 12 hours, although we haven’t found this step necessary you are more than welcome to do it if you want. Just make sure it is uncovered while being left in the fridge.
That is all, finished, you can now slice it up and cook it on the stovetop, or use it in your favourite recipe. You can also keep reading and do any of the following which will lead to a more traditional style of bacon (and tastier).
Traditional bacon is smoked, realistically most people don’t own a smoker or have the room for one. No worries you can do this in the oven (if you are lucky and own a smoker, we talk about that next). Turn your oven onto the lowest temperature available (usually 225 or 250, never lower than 200 please) and slowly roast your bacon skin side down until the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees F.
GRILLING (IF YOU’RE A YANKEE YOU CAN SAY BBQ, BUT YOUR WRONG!):
Turn your grill on to the lowest temperature setting for indirect heat cooking. Ideal temperature would be 200-225 degrees F. Grill your bacon slowly with the skin side down for about 2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees F. Remember that your bacon will release a considerable amount of fat during the grilling stage so have a drip tray below where you are cooking. If you are grilling indirectly you can also add smoke to the bacon as well.
Ah, the stuff of life. You own a smoker right? Good! So wood is really a personal choice thing. I use Maple, or cherry for my bacon although I would love to get some good fresh Pecan to smoke with. It’s not readily available in Canada. Stoke your coals till you have a temp of roughly 200 inside your smoker (200 or lower is better, but I have done at 225). Make sure that you have a nice heavy smoke going on, and that your belly (not bacon yet) is nice and dry. By the way, dry for belly is actually very sticky. It’s amazing how much more smoke will stick to your belly when done this way. At 200 this will take around 2 – 2.5 hours to complete. Make sure you maintain your temps, and have a heavy smoke during the whole process (or whatever you want, I like heavy smoke). Once the internal temperature at the thickest point of the bacon reaches internal temperature of 150 remove.
UPON FINISHED COOKING:
You need to remove the skin from the bacon. You can do this hot or cold, your choice. Hot is usually easier in most cases. Cut as close to the skin (rind) as you can without cutting off too much of the fat that makes bacon, well bacon. Keep the skin by the way to help flavour stocks, soups, stews etc.
Now you have several different options;
1) Cut off chunks of bacon and share amongst your closest friends, family, and those you want to make insanely jealous. Seriously, go ahead eat some. It’s a fully cooked product at this point. Drooling yet? If not you will be. Couple things to have handy as well
2) Cool the bacon down quickly (the quicker the better) then slice on a meat slicer to the desired thickness you would like. Store the bacon you won’t eat within two weeks in the freezer.
3) Cut it country style, when you are about to cook it slice off the size you think you want and cook away.
One thing you will definitely notice after you make your own bacon the first time, how insanely easy it is, and how fantastic it tastes. You will also realize how much cheaper it is than buying store bought. The thing I was most amazed about was the amount of weight (size etc) you actually loose on commercial bacon vs. home cured bacon. It is actually very hard to get bacon drippings from this style of bacon so I suggest that you save every single drop you can. Yes of course I cook with bacon fat, I replace butter that many of the recipes I use with it.