Curing meats such as bacon, ham, or pastrami is fun and the results are often better than storebought. But curing is very different from any other recipe because you are using a preservative, sodium nitrite. You must read and thoroughly understand my article on the Science Of Curing Meats before attempting to cure meat or before you ask any questions.
Eggs, burgers, turkey…you name it. Bacon makes everything better. And there is nothing better than homemade bacon. My favorite type? Maple bacon cured with dark maple syrup and dark brown sugar instead of plain old white sugar. Doesn’t it look irresistible in the photo here? Big thanks to our Pitmaster Club member Rolfe Gatchell for sharing the photo.
I like this bacon best when it's smoked on a charcoal smoker. A gas smoker or pellet smoker is a close second to charcoal. You can also smoke this bacon on a gas grill or charcoal grill if you set them up properly for smoking (follow the links below). Use plenty of wood.Please note that this recipe is for slab belly bacon only, less than 2" thick. If you attempt to cure anything thicker the cure may not penetrate all the way and it will take longer.
Course: Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch, Side Dish
Servings: 75thick slices (about 100 ppm nitrites)
Prep Time: 30minutes
Cook Time: 2hours
Curing Time: 3days
3poundsraw pork bellyabout 1 ½" thick and 6 to 8" wide across the grain
About the pork belly. Look for pork belly that has about a 1:1 ratio of muscle to fat. The muscle should be pink and the fat creamy white. My favorite bacon is made from the layers of fat and meat that lie on top of the spare ribs, called “side bacon” or “streaky bacon”. It can be about 1:1 or 1:2 with more meat, depending on the breed of hog, age of the hog, feed, and other variables. When shopping, ask your butcher to order some fresh, unfrozen, raw side or belly bacon slab, unsliced. It should be about 1 1/2″ thick and 6 to 8″ wide across the grain to make slicing easy and to make sure it fits in the frying pan. It should look like the picture shown here.Make sure you explain that you want raw bacon, not cured, and definitely not sliced. Ask your butcher to remove the skin but save it for you so you can make cracklins. You can freeze the skin until you are ready to make the cracklins. If you got sliced belly by mistake, marinate it in your favorite marinade, grill it in idividual slices, fast, or adapt this recipe for pork belly. An Asian marinade like teriyaki/huli huli is great. But don’t try to cure sliced pork belly.As soon as you get your slab home, start the cure because raw pork fat does not age gracefully. It gets rancid and smells funky in only 5 to 6 days. That’s a flavor beloved in many European and Asian countries, but not so much in the U.S.About the Prague Powder. Commodity grocery store bacon uses Prague Powder #2 which has a blend of salt, sodium nitrite, and sodium nitrate. It is often injected with the cure and sprayed with liquid smoke. The cured belly goes into the smoker at 100°F for 30 minutes, then the temperature is reduced, after drying, to between 80 and 90°F. That low, or cold, temperature is maintained for about six hours. The result is a raw cured meat that must be cooked before eating, and cooking it long enough can produce really crispy, bacon.This recipe calls for Prague Powder #1 only and smoking at 225°F. That cooks and pasteurizes the meat and makes it safe to eat right off the smoker. I do not recommend cold smoking at home. Yes, I know your Ukrainian neighbor cold smokes his bacon the way his Papa taught him, but he is playing Russian roulette, especially with today’s meat supply. Click here for more on cold smoking and why I do not recommend it. After smoking it will not get as hard and crispy as commercial cold smoked bacon with nitrates. Of course, if you are like me, you don’t want your bacon crumbly, so this is not a problem.A note about saltiness. Occasionally we get a reader saying it is too salty. Occasionally we get a reader who says it is not salty enough. We have learned that saltiness is a matter of personal preference. Make the recipe the way I like it and if you feel salt needs an adjustment, then add or subtract the Morton coarse kosher salt, not the Prague Powder #1.
Skin it. If the skin is still on the belly, remove it and use it to make cracklins. It is sometimes hard to tell if it is still there. It is usually a darker tan color compared to creamy colored fat. You should be able to make a cut in fat with your thumbnail. Your thumbnail will only make a dent in skin. Leaving skin on causes problems for salt penetration, and when you fry it, the skin gets very hard and you probably won't like the texture. Removing the skin can be tricky. Sometimes you can grip a corner and with a knife and peel it back by running the knife between the skin and fat. Sometimes you just have to shave it off with a sharp knife.
Cure it. Pour everything except the meat into a zipper bag large enough to hold the belly. A 1 gallon bag will hold a single 3 pound slab. Zip the bag and squish everything around until well mixed. Now add the belly, squeeze out the air as much as possible and squish some more rubbing the cure into the belly and coat all sides. Put the bag in a pan to catch leaks and place in the fridge at 34 to 38°F for 3 to 5 days. If the belly is thicker than 1.5" check the calculator here. The belly will release liquid so every day or two you want to gently massage the bag so the liquid and spices are well distributed, and flip the bag over. NOTE: If you use more than one slab in a bag it is crucial that the slabs do not overlap each other. Thickness matters!
Fire up. If you are using a grill, set up for 2-zone cooking or fire up your smoker.
Cook. Smoke over indirect heat at 225°F until the internal temp is 150°F, about 2 hours. You can use any wood you like. Hickory and applewood are the tried and true. After smoking you should slice off the ends, which may be very dark and more heavily seasoned, and taste them right away. They will be more salty than the innards and the fat will be a bit stringy, but you'll love it all the same. Just wait til you fry up an inside slice!
Cool. Now let it cool on a plate in the fridge. Cold bacon is easier to slice. Use on a slicer if you have one, or use a long thin knife to slice it. Try some thin and some thick slices. You can also cut bacon in cubes to make lardons and use them like bacon bits in salads, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, baked beans, in sauces or to garnish chops, or roasts.
Wrap it tightly with several layers of plastic wrap, and then a layer of foil, and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 3 months. Pork fat rancidifies quickly so don't push it much longer than this. Do not wrap in foil alone because it can react with the salt.
Slice. Slice it across the grain. For evenly thick slices, a slicing machine is the best choice, but I rarely use mine because it is a pain to clean. Besides, I like to keep the slab intact and tightly wrapped in the fridge or freezer to reduce exposure to oxygen which can make the fat taste funny in a week or two. When I make bacon I usually shoot for hunks 6 to 8" wide across the grain to make sure my thin 9" knife and frying pan fit. If you put a slab in the freezer for 15 minutes or so it gets stiffer and easier to slice.
Cook. When you are hungry, cook it just like you do storebought bacon.
Save the bacon drippings. While your bacon is cooking lay out a section of newspaper several sheets thick, and cover it with a layer of paper towels. As soon as you take the bacon out of the oven, move it to the paper towel to drain. Let the fat in the pan cool a bit and then pour it in a glass jar and refrigerate. Hot bacon can melt a plastic tub, so be careful. Save the fat for up to a month and use it to fry. Broccoli and potatoes are especially good cooked in bacon grease.
Meathead - Founder and publisher of AmazingRibs.com, Meathead is known as the site's Hedonism Evangelist and BBQ Whisperer. He is also the author of the New York Times Best Seller "Meathead, The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", named one of the "100 Best Cookbooks of All Time" by Southern Living.
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