When we started looking around our house and the things we use to start planning our homestead, and the skills we wanted to learn. One of the first things we noticed is that our family loves the great smell of bacon in the morning! So, of course, we had to set out to make our own!
As with all meat curing or meat projects, it starts with a great cut of meat. For bacon, you want a nice juicy looking pork belly. Remember this process takes time so you want a pork belly worthy of your efforts. This means from organic hogs or hogs raised humanely without hormones or antibiotics. Or from a heritage breed like Berkshire, Duroc, or Kurobuta. Each has a richer, meatier, more distinctive flavour than industrial pork bellies. By the way, a full pork belly weighs 10 to 12 pounds. Whole Foods will sell you pork bellies by the pound, which may be easier to handle for home smokers. Our smoker can’t handle a whole 12lbs so we usually go for the 2-3lbs and we don’t want to make to much of the same kind of bacon at once until we learn our favourites.
After getting your meat youll need to prep it to be cured. The bottom of a pork belly usually comes with skin (rind), which will be tougher than the rest of the bacon. (It also blocks the absorption of the cure and smoke flavours.) Commercial smokehouses remove it using a slicing machine. At home, you’ll have to work a bit harder. Start at one corner and use a sharp, slender knife to separate the skin from the meat, angling the knife blade toward the skin. Better yet, ask your butcher to skin it for you. Do not discard the pork skin. Direct grill it over a medium flame on both sides (start belly side down) until crisp and golden brown to make “brownies”—crackling crisp bits of skin to fold into pulled pork. Or deep fry it in oil to make chicharrones (pork cracklings). It can also be used to give flavour to beans or greens.
Next is seasoning the meat, the basic ingredients are salt and sugar and optional curing salt (sodium nitrite) and pepper. You can achieve a wide, subtle range of flavours by varying the source and proportions of these ingredients: white sugar or brown sugar, maple sugar, or even freeze-dried cane sugar juice. Ground or cracked black pepper or hot pepper flakes. Bacon makers in Scandinavia add juniper berries and other aromatic spices. For this round, we used maple syrup, brown sugar, and curing salt to make maple bacon for breakfasts. How you season depends on who you ask, and the type recipe you use, since this recipe is mostly liquids we simply poured the ingredients into a large zip lock bag mixed and mixed it well before placing the meat inside.
Now its time to cure the pork belly by placing it in a large, sturdy, resealable plastic bag (ziplock) in a foil pan or roasting pan on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator. The pan is just to catch any potential leaks. Cure the bacon for 7 days, turning it over each day. This is very important. As the cure dehydrates the bacon, a liquid will gather in the bag. It’s supposed to. Think of it as brine.
After you have been patiently waiting for that deliciousness in your refrigerator for a week it’s finally time to bring it out and finish the process. Transfer it to a colander and rinse both sides well with cold water. This removes excess salt. Next, blot the belly dry and place it, uncovered, on a wire rack on a baking sheet on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator. Let dry for at least 4 hours and as long as overnight, turning once or twice. This helps form a pellicle which is an exterior skin that feels papery and dry and just a touch tacky this is for the smoke to adhere to. Without the pellicle, you won’t get the bronzed surface that makes bacon look so darn irresistible.
Now its time to smoke that sucker! Set up your smoker according to the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat it to 175 degrees. If you’re using a charcoal smoker, the temperature will fluctuate between 160 and 180 degrees. If using an electric or gas smoker, you can set it right at 175 degrees. For smoking fuel, use hickory, apple, or cherry, or other preferred hardwood or blend of woods. Personally, I enjoy applewood. Depending on your smoker, you’ll use chunks, chips, sawdust or pellets. The smoking time will range between 2 to 3 hours but you’re looking for an internal temperature of 150 degrees.
Here comes an essential part of smoking any meat and the step I find the hardest. Now that the beautiful piece of plain old pork belly has been seasoned, cured, and smoked it has to sit smelling so yummy! If your house is like ours where the main places we spend our time are the open concept kitchen, living room dining room area, this part is my least favourite because I have to smell it no matter where I go! Let the bacon cool to room temperature on a wire rack over a baking sheet, tightly wrap in tinfoil, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. This will set the flavour and texture. Refrigerated, the bacon will keep for at least 5 days; frozen, it will keep for several months. We always wrap and freeze as much as we can that can’t be preserved of course!
Now after all that time here comes the part you’ve been waiting for! Slice that sucker and cook yourself up some awesome breakfast! One of the benefits of making your own bacon is that you can slice it as thick as you like. If you’re used to soft, thin-sliced supermarket bacon, wait until you sink your teeth into a 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick slice. Sure, you can crisp it in a cast iron skillet starting with a cold skillet to minimize shrinkage. Cook time will depend on how thick you have chosen to make your bacon.
And there you have it! A supply of homemade maybe even homegrown bacon that will last for up to 7 months but I think that is highly unlikely around our house! Feel free to change up the seasonings to your likings to get the perfect bacon type of your dreams!