Makin’ the Bacon

If you’ve never tried homemade bacon, I can now safely say that you’ve never eaten bacon. Homemade bacon, especially from pastured pigs, is intensely porky in a way that store-bought bacon does not even approach. I think it has to do with water.

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After curing and before smoking

Have you ever noticed that when you’re cooking bacon from the grocery store, a lot of water comes out? You have to cook off the water before you can get the bacon truly crispy. All that splattering and popping is from water in the hot grease. Packaged bacon includes brine- the salt-and-preservative-laden water that makes bacon “cured”- which keeps the meat pretty and pink in the package and adds cheap weight. I buy Ward’s Supermarket bacon that’s dry and sliced in the store, but it still has some water in it.

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After hot-smoking for two hours. Look at those cracklins…

Homemade bacon forgoes the brine entirely.

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After an overnight rest in the fridge

Bacon can be flavored many ways, depending on how you want the end product to taste. I wanted to try making a breakfast bacon (as opposed to a bacon for seasoning) that had no sugar added. I wanted this one to be all about the smoke. No competing flavors, not a lot of spices. Just pork, salt, and smoke.

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Breakfast! Wonderfully smoky rich bacon and homegrown cantaloupe.

Hickory Hot-Smoked Bacon

5 lb slab of pastured pork belly, with skin
10 oz Himalayan pink salt (I used this because it’s what I had, you can use any non-iodized salt)
1 oz pink salt (sodium nitrite)
1 oz cracked multi-colored peppercorns

Find a glass or ceramic baking dish large enough to lay the pork belly flat. Cut it into two pieces if necessary. Rinse the pork belly with cold water, making sure every single hair is rinsed off. Pat completely dry with paper towels.

Measure out the salt, pink salt, and pepper with a kitchen scale and stir them together in a bowl. Spread half the cure on the bottom of the dish. Lay the pork belly over the cure skin-side up, then spread the rest of the cure over the top of the cure. Rub the cure into every exposed surface, making sure the cut sides are covered in salt as much as possible. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the coldest part of the fridge for 48 hours.

Allow to rest in the fridge for 8 days total. Turn bacon every other day. Make sure to rub salt into the exposed sides! An inch or so of watery brine will accumulate in the bottom of the dish. This is normal!

On the 9th day, remove the cured pork belly from the salt. Rinse the salt mixture completely off the pork belly and let rest on paper towels. You want the pork as dry as possible. Pour a pound of hickory chips into a tub and cover with water. Let soak while the belly is coming up to room temperature. If you’re using a grill (like I do) start a smallish batch of coals and push them way over to one side. Wrap the wet wood chips in aluminum foil “tube” and leave the ends open. (see top picture) Lay the wet chips against the coals between the coals and the meat. Place the pork belly on the upper rack on the other side, making sure that the bacon can’t drip on the coals at all. Close all vents and let smoke for two hours. Insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the bacon. As soon as the internal temperature gets to 150, it’s done! If you have an electric smoker, set the temperature to 250 and smoke the belly for one hour at 250. Check the internal temperature of the meat. Continue smoking at 200 until the internal temperature reaches 150.

Let cool to room temperature then cover tightly and put in the fridge overnight. The next morning, slice and cook!

You can cut the bacon into 1-lb chunks, wrap well, and freeze. The high fat content means bacon freezes beautifully. Wrap it well so the whole freezer doesn’t smell like hickory smoke!