MAKIN’ BACON!

Posted: December 1, 2012 in bacon, Food, pork, smoking, Uncategorized
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There are few foods as magical as bacon. Add bacon to just about any dish you’re preparing, and it elevates it to incredible new heights of flavor. The BLT is possibly the greatest sandwich ever invented: just a few simple, fresh ingredients, when placed together, transforming into one of the most amazing treats on planet Earth.

And it all depends on the bacon.

For so many years, I’ve bought my bacon on line from Burger’s Smokehouse, a family run business in Missouri that not only sells some of the best bacon I’ve ever had (get the thick-sliced country bacon—my favorite), but also smoked turkeys, pork, beef, chicken and more. The prices are very fair and they include shipping, so you know exactly what it’s going to cost you right from the start. (www.smokehouse.com)

But it was time to take the next step: I had to make my own bacon!

My favorite source of heritage breeds of pork, pasture-raised with tender loving care, is Caw Caw Creek, based out of North Carolina. They raise only a handful of pigs in an area that other pig farms would jam in hundreds. The pigs are allowed to roam freely and forage for their food. And as a result, the pork is some of the most flavorful you will find anywhere. (www.cawcawcreek.com) Tell Emile I sent you.

Bacon comes from the pork belly. So I bought a couple slabs from Caw Caw Creek, and followed the simple curing techniques outlined in a great book about making all kinds of prepared meats (sausages, salamis, and of course, bacon): “Charcuterie,” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

If there is a skin on the belly, I choose to remove it before curing, but that’s a personal preference. I don’t eat it, so why have it? And it’s so thick, it blocks the cure.

To cure bacon, all you really need is some salt, some sugar, a little pepper, and what they in the curing biz call “pink salt,” which is not to be confused with salt that happens to be pink, like you would find in a basic spice catalog. Pink salt is bright pink—to let you know that this is special salt that should only be used in small quantities for curing. And the reason for that is because it contains nitrites. Nitrites delay the spoilage of the meat, and help preserve the flavors of spices and smoke. That’s good. But nitrites can break down into nitrosamines, which have been known to cause cancer in lab animals. But let’s face it: you would need to eat a ton of cured meat to really worry about this.

Once you rub the pork belly with the salt and sugar mixture, place it in a Ziploc bag, squeeze the air out of it, and seal it well. Place in the fridge for about a week, flipping it over a few times to let gravity do its work. You’ll see that the salt will draw moisture out of the meat and form a brine. This brine will continue to cure your pork belly, so leave it in there.
Once the pork belly has been cured, wash the brine off the meat, pat dry with paper towels. Now it’s time to cook. You can simply cook the pork belly at 200 degrees for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees, or do what I did: place the pork belly in a digital smoker, cooking it at 200 degrees for 1 hour, then adding hickory chips and smoking it at 200 degrees for another hour.

That’s it. You have achieved bacon!

Bacon, straight out of the smoker.

Bacon, straight out of the smoker.

Let me tell you…that first slice you cut off that bacon and toss in a pan to lightly fry for a few moments will be the best bite of bacon you have ever had in your life!
The reward is so worth the effort. If you don’t want to bother going online to buy your pork, simply go to your favorite butcher and ask for pork belly. It’s usually available. And if you’re making one slab of bacon, why not make it three or four? It freezes well. And…you will eat it. You know you will!

 

Sliced, and ready for frying.

Sliced, and ready for frying.

 

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