Adventures in Charcuterie: Smoking Bacon

by TRH on August 26, 2014

in Cooking & Recipes

Post image for Adventures in Charcuterie: Smoking Bacon


It’s been a long road to get here. Despite the fact that one of the primary drivers of my desire for a smoker was the chance to cure and smoke my own bacon it’s taken me a full year and a half to get to this point. To be fair I’ve tried several other times. I once ordered a pork belly for bacon only to make pancetta instead at the last minute. Another time I purchased three slabs of belly only to throw them out a week and a half later after a sudden crisis kept me far too busy to cure them in time. Finally this august I had the time, I had the pork belly, I had a hankering for bacon.

Though I was far from intimidated by the bacon making process I still wanted to err on the cheaper side this time and as I was hitting Lucky Mart anyway I picked up three slabs of belly of varying size for a total of about 5lbs of pork. This stuff is decent if not super fantastic. As you can see the fat distribution isn’t really even in some of them but there was a decent enough mix for my first attempt. Prepping the bellies was pretty basic as they’d already been roughly squared so the trimming required was minimal. Each fit easily into the zip-loc bags I’d purchased for the curing. In the end really all I had to do was weigh the various pieces to work out how much cure each one needed.

Pre-Cure Belly

Pre-Cure Belly

Note: I apologize for most of the photos in here as my camera was set to sunset/vivid mode without me noticing. It is not really quite as electric pink/red as shown here.


Curing

Fundamentally the curing process is pretty simple and forgiving. Mix up a batch of cure (it lasts forever so you can easily just have some on hand,) rub some on the pork belly, throw it in the fridge for a week. In practice it does require a tiny bit of specialty knowledge.

Mixing my cure

Mixing my cure

For those of you who have read my other charcuterie posts this will be a repeat but bear with me. Curing meat often requires special salts in order to maintain proper food safety. The most common (and what we use for bacon and pancetta) is known by various names as pink salt, curing salt, Prague Powder #1, instacure etc… It’s basically standard salt with a small percentage (6.25) of sodium nitrite. The nitrites add some of that distinctive bacon flavour and keep the meat nice and pink. Traditionally we used Saltpetre for this but thankfully we have the more consistent sodium nitrite now. For those of you in Winnipeg this is easy to pick up at Canada Compound by the airport and is significantly cheaper than anywhere you’ll get it on the internet. For more info see the pancetta post.
As with the pancetta I’m working from the recipe in the excellent book Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman that I can’t help but recommend. There are better books out there for individual recipes but with a combo of this book and the internet you’ll be on your way to being a home curer.

Basic Cure:

SALT
PINK SALT
SUGAR

Of course you don’t have to stick with a basic cure. A side benefit to not just having the one big slab was that I could more easily try multiple flavourings on my first baconing. Consulting my fine friends over at the GWS #foodchat channel I came up with a few options. First up was the simple pepper/thyme/rosemary that I’d been planning on all along. Second was a maple bourbon peppercorn cure and the last suggested by my friend Garett was a Chipotle Maple rubbed sweet with heat option.

If your belly still has the skin on you should leave it there until after the smoking (at which point you can make things with it or just use it as a flavour base for soup) and simply rub the appropriate amount of cure into every inch of the meat. If you’ve made a large batch of the cure you should use 5% of the weight of the pork worth of the basic cure (Before you’ve added any other ingredients, you need the right amount of salt.) Get the belly and all the cure into a zip loc (spend the money on the good bags for this, you don’t want things running everywhere) and throw it into your fridge for about a week. The belly needs to stay in contact with the cure, both what you added and with the liquid which will emerge from the meat as the salt cures it. You want to flip the meat every day and redistribute the cure.
Once the week is up you want to pull it out of the cure and rinse it completely before patting it dry. Then if you’re smoking it you want to leave it uncovered on a drying rack in the fridge or somewhere cool and dry overnight. This helps it develop a ‘pellicule’ for the smoke to really adhere to. If you are simply oven roasting or using the pork for lardons or something I imaging you can skip this step.

Rubbed and Packed Bellies

Rubbed and Packed Bellies

 

Smoking

Yes I use an electric smoker, I don’t care. I get great results and I use it a hell of a lot more often than if I had a charcoal one. Throw your belly/ies in at 200F for around 90 mins or until they hit 150F internal temperature. As a side note if you don’t have a good instant read thermometer buy one. My thermapen is overkill for a home cook but I still love it, there are other cheaper good options out there.

Post-Cure and Pre-Smoke Belly

Post-Cure and Pre-Smoke Belly

Once it’s done let it cool a bit but while still hot you probably want to slice off the skin. As previously mentioned keep it as a soup flavour. Once the bacon has cooled slice it as is your preference. Some folks recommend the partial freeze and knife slice but I pulled a lazy and just fed it through the electric meat slicer for even slices.
Once it’s ready if you’re like me you’ll pull some off and immediately cook it up for breakfast/dinner. Baked in an oven at 350 is my preference for crispy/juicy balance. I had my first batch with a frittata and some hashbrowns.


 

Post Game Analysis

The positives:
Seriously the best bacon I’ve had in ages, beats anything I had that wasn’t house cured by a master chef. Flavourful, juicy and far far less greasy than supermarket crap. I know every ingredient that went into this and it really shows. Smoky flavour really comes across.

The negatives:
I was a bit too laid back in my flavourings, probably should have doubled the black pepper and the chipotle in those recipes. Still delicious but the cure flavours could have jumped out against the smoke a bit more.

The food:
The chipotle maple bacon made probably best BLT I’ve ever had. I’ve followed that up by having BBTs (Bacon, Fresh Basil, Roma Tomatoes) three times in the past few days. That mix of spicy and salty with the juicy tomato dripping down into the bacon on the crisp bread… heaven.

Maple Bourbon Bacon, Tomato and Basil Fritata and overdone Hashbrowns

Maple Bourbon Bacon, Tomato and Basil Fritata and overdone Hashbrowns

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: