As the proud owner of a Weber Smokey Mountain smoker, I have been searching for more “projects” to tackle since one can only eat so much BBQ Spare ribs, Pastrami, Smoked Meat Loaf, Beef Brisket and pulled pork. With the popularity of bacon rising to near cult like status, it struck me as natural to try to improve upon the substandard product proffered by todays producers.
Most commercial bacon is made using the pickling method which involves injecting the pork belly with a mixture salt, water and sugar and other curing and flavoring agents. One of these flavoring agents is the “smoke” as many commercial products never see the inside of a smoker. Traditional bacon is made using a dry cure mixture of curing ingredients rubbed on all surfaces of the “green” pork belly. The primary advantage of dry cured bacon is since no added water is injected during the curing process, the amount of shrinkage experienced when cooking the bacon is greatly reduced. The water cooking off is actually boiling your bacon and toughening it and remember, you paid for that weight cooking off. When you cure and smoke your own bacon you also have the advantage of personalizing your cure to obtain your desired flavor profile. The bacon will also absorb less salt during the curing process than that commonly found in commercial bacon.
Bacon can be made from any cut of pork but the most common is belly. Uncured pork belly is popular in many cultures but in America nearly all of it is made into bacon. As a result, belly can be hard to find. If you can’t find belly, use boneless pork butt to make backboard bacon. As a native of Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, I enjoy my bacon cured with maple sugar, but feel free to substitute brown sugar if necessary.
MAPLE CURED BACON
Cure: (Amount given is based on a 5Lb Pork Belly. Ratio appropriately for larger and smaller amounts of belly)
1/4 Cup of Maple Sugar
1/4 Cup of Kosher Salt
1/4 Cup of Good quality Maple Syrup
2 Tsp of Insta Cure #1, Prague Powder (Insta Cure #1 can be order online from http://www.sausagemaker.com/ Required if you will smoke your pork belly to prevent botulism.)
If you can’t find Insta Cure, here is an alternate recipe:
1 Tbs of Morton’s Quick Cure per lb. of Belly
1 Tsp of Maple Sugar per Lb. of Belly
1 Tsp of Maple Syrup per Lb. Of Belly
Mix cure ingredients well and spread over all surfaces of the Pork Belly. Place into a Zip Lock Bag or Foodsaver Bag and remove as much air as possible and seal. Place in a refrigerator for 7 days. If using a Zip Lock Bag place it into a container to hold any leakage. Every day turn the package over (called overhauling). After a full 7 day cure check the belly. It should feel firm. You should also observe fluid drawn from the belly from the curing process. If the belly is not firm over the entire surface place it back in the refrigerator for an another day and recheck.
When the curing process is complete, remove the belly from the bag and rinse well. Then soak in cold water for 30 minutes. Change the water and soak for another 30 minutes. The belly is now cured. You can slice off a small piece and fry to check the saltiness. If too salty soak for another 30 minutes in fresh water. Continue this process until satisfied. Place the belly on a wire rack over a pan and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours uncovered to allow a pellicule (sticky coating) to form. This enhances the smoking process by allowing more smoke flavor to adhere to the Belly. You now have fresh Bacon.
You can use a variety of methods to smoke the Bacon. In all cases you want to use indirect heat, maintain temperatures below 200 degrees F to reduce the amount of fat that renders from the bacon. You may use the smoke wood of your choice. I prefer apple wood. For a “stronger” smoke I suggest hickory. Smoke the bacon until the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees F. On my smoker this takes about 3 hours. Some sources recommend placing the bacon into the smoker at a reduced temperature without smoke for 45 minutes to 1 hour then add your smoke wood and raise the temperature to less than the 200F degrees. This reportedly further aids the smoke to adhere to the bacon.
After the bacon has reached the finish temperature of 150F degrees, remove it from the smoker and allow to cool. Place into the refrigerator for 24 hours to allow the bacon to set. Slice and fry to your heart’s content and enjoy the best bacon you may have ever had. Use a low temperature to fry this style of bacon remembering that you have none of the excess water in the product that commercial bacon has.
If your pork belly comes with the skin attached you have a choice. You can skin it before the cure or after smoking it or you can leave it alone and enjoy bacon with rind. If you choose to skin it after smoking make sure you do it when the bacon is still warm. Reserve the smoked skin as flavorings for soups and such.
If you are hand slicing your bacon you will find it difficult to evenly slice the last ½” or so. You can chunk this potion using it as a seasoning for green beans, other vegetables or for soups. You can also fry the chunks and make cracklins. If you are unable to source pork belly you are not out of luck. You can follow the same process using boneless Boston Butt extending the cure stage to 10 days. Trim the excess fat from the Boston Butt and butterfly or section the meat so no part of it is thicker than 3.5″ . Frying this style of bacon takes about one half the time of regular bacon.