There’s nothing like a thick slice of smoky deliciousness that is bacon. Sure you can go to the supermarket and buy all the bacon you desire, but there’s something special about creating your own version of this delicacy at home.
Finding a whole pork belly can be a challenge. The best option is to check with your local butcher and see if he can order you one. I found them by the case at Restaurant Depot, and the price was very reasonable (1.89 per lb). If you live close to a Restaurant Depot one of the per ks of belonging to the KCBS is that you can get a day pass by simply showing your KCBS membership card at the front desk.
Once you have the pork belly, it needs to be trimmed. I remove the skin from the fat side trying to leave as much fat on the pork belly as possible. I also cut off the edges and sides to create a center cut slab about 5lbs. This makes handling the pork belly much easier, and it shapes the bacon to the perfect size for slicing once it’s finished.
I take the ends of the pork belly off in large 2-3lb pieces. These are great for braising or grinding to mix with burgers or fresh sausage. I even save the skin to make fresh pork cracklins.
Now that the pork belly is trimmed i t’s time to apply the dry cure. For this process I used a Maple Brown Sugar cure that I ordered from sausagemaker.com. The cure is premixed with the correct amount of curing salt and spices so there’s no guessing. And this is what I would suggest going with…
But there are plenty of recipes out there for curing bacon, but make sure you follow them correctly because improperly cured meat can grow harmful bacteria that can be dangerous. If you don’t have a mix here’s a simple recipe:
- 4 Tablespoons Cure #1 (pink curing salt)
- ½ Cup Kosher Salt
- 2 Cups Maple Syrup or Pure Honey
Mix the cure #1 and salt together and spread over the pork belly then pour the maple syrup or honey over the dry mixture.
Since I used the Maple Brown Sugar Cure mix, it was a lot easier. The directions are to use 1lb per 5lbs of pork belly. Mix the cure with ¾ cups of water and slather over the entire pork belly.
Place the slab in a large ziplock bag and place it in the refrigerator for 7 days. You’ll want to place the bag in a shallow dish just in case there are any leaks. The cure will draw moisture out of the belly, so it will create its’ own brine. Also the belly needs to be flipped every 2nd day to make sure that it’s evenly covering the meat.
After 7 days of curing take the pork belly out of the bag and rinse it really well under cool water. Then place it in a large bowl and cover with water. It needs to soak for 2-3 hours to draw out some of the excess salt. If you skip this step you can end up with bacon that is too salty to eat.
Once the bacon has soaked, place it on a wire cooling rack and pat dry with paper towels. Place the cooling rack over a shallow pan or sheet tray and refrigerate it for 24 hours. This allows the outside to dry and form a pellicle (tacky skin coating). The pellicle protects the inner meat and helps retain smoke and color.
After the 24 hour rest in the fridge, it’s time to smoke the bacon. The bacon needs about 4-5 hours at a low smoking temperature. I held my pit between 180-200 degrees.
Fo r smoke flavoring I went with a couple sticks of Apple wood. Apple is very mild and has a slight sweetness which goes great with bacon.
The key to smoking bacon is to have a light smoke and low temp. I monitored the internal temperature after 2 hours, and once it hit 150 internal in the thickest part of the slab, it was time to remove it from the pit.
At this point the process is almost complete, but the slab of bacon still needs a rest. Let it completely cool on a wire rack and then wrap it with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator overnight to allow it to firm for easy slicing and give the smoke flavor time to disperse throughout the slab.
If you just can’t stand to wait any longer, you can cheat a little and place the slab in the freezer for two hours. This will firm it enough to slice.
My favorite way to cook the bacon is in the oven. Preheat it to 415 degrees and line a cookie sheet with foil (to help with clean up). Lay strips of bacon on the foil and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes depending on how crispy you like it. You’ll never buy supermarket bacon again!