BaconFinished

The final product

OK, I admit this is not an original tag line. I saw it on a t-shirt being worn by Rick Bayless on a PBS cooking show (Rick Bayless is my favorite Mexican cook book author). But I do love bacon, and so the phrase has stuck with me.

A few days ago, I ventured into my 2nd foray into making my own bacon. We purchased a half hog last year, and I asked the butcher to leave the pork belly whole. It was finally time to unthaw that sucker and get it cured and smoked.

A few years ago, Alton Brown (my favorite TV chef. Food, science, sock puppets…what’s not to love?) did an episode called Scrap Iron Chef, where he smoked his own bacon. There are five recipes from the show, and the first time I made my own bacon, I cut the pork belly up into five chunks and tried them all.

Our favorite, surprisingly, was the Honey Mustard Cure (followed closely by the Scrap Iron Chef Brine recipe). What is nice about the honey mustard recipe is that it is a cure (dry), rather than a brine (wet). Since a whole pork belly weighs in at 6 – 8 lbs, having gallons of liquid brine in a bag in your fridge can be a bit of a challenge. A cure, on the other hand, makes the fridge time a breeze.

PorkBellyBrine

Pork belly after day one of honey mustard cure

So, after the belly was thawed in a cooler in the root cellar for a day, I cut it up into four two-pound chunks, slathered them with honey (using home-grown honey from my bees in Colorado) and freshly ground mustard powder (since I didn’t have enough on hand and had to make more – thank goodness for the electric coffee mill). I then packed on the sugar/salt cure, layered the chunks into an oversized zip top bag, and placed it on a half sheet pan in my fridge. (I had to clip the top, as the cure was in the zipper groves and it wouldn’t seal – I think these oversized bags were meant for clothing, so my use was somewhat unconventional).

Every day, I flipped the bag over to let the pieces marinate evenly. Because the salt/sugar mixture pulls moisture from the meat, there was some liquid in the bag after a day or so. The belly was cured for three days. (Note: a friend of mine, following a different recipe, cured her bacon for a week. It was WAY to salty. Three days is probably about the maximum here.)

BaconPellicle

Forming pellicle (skin) in front of a box fan

On the third day, it was show time. First, I rinsed the cured pieces of belly. Then, (and this is important), I patted them with paper towels and then dried them in front of a fan for an hour to form the pellicle, which is essentially a skin that allows the smoke particles to stick. (I rotated the rack 1/4 turn every 15 minutes.)

Now, time to smoke. I inherited a Little Chief electric smoker from my father years ago. They run about $100 on Amazon. You can also make your own Flower Pot Smoker (again ala Alton Brown) for about $50. While it would have been better to cold smoke the bacon, (which is possible with the Little Chief if you still have the box it came in…which I don’t) our regular cold smoker (a post for another time) is currently out of commission, so I opted for a heated smoke. I lost a bit of bacon fat, but otherwise the pieces were none the worse for wear.

We inherited several apple trees when we bought this property, and they came with A LOT of dead wood. So I now have enough apple wood to smoke pretty much everything for the next 10 years. Don’t have an apple tree? No problem. You can buy wood chips for smoking (usually either mesquite or hickory) in most any store that sells grills and charcoal.

LittleChiefSmoker

Applewood smoke escaping from the smoker

Four hours of smoking later, and the bacon was done. Each piece was put into its own zip top freezer bag and frozen. I leave my bacon frozen until I need some. I pull it out about 15 minutes before I need it, and then slice off a few pieces (it’s easier to slice when it is still almost frozen). While I love bacon, I do not eat it every day, (lets face it, it still has a lot of saturated fat, even if it is homemade) so this keeps it from spoiling before I can use it up.

So, why go through this whole process when you can just go buy bacon at the store? 1) I just like knowing how to do this kind of thing. Call it genetic, but I’d rather figure out how to smoke bacon than play a video game any day. 2) I know exactly what is in this meat. I know where it came from. I know it was raised and butchered in a humane way. And I can pronounce all of the ingredients. No sodium phosphates, sodium ascorbate or sodium nitrite added.  3) It didn’t cost me much, since I already had the smoker and the apple wood and honey. Sugar and salt are cheap. I’m not sure what a pound of pork belly costs at the butcher, but I bet it is way less than buying name brand bacon in its plastic wrapper shipped from who knows how far away. 4) Most important? It tastes flippin’ fantastic.

Now…if only the tomatoes would get ripe so I can make a bacon, tomato and grilled cheese sandwich!

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2010, where we still smell a bit like wood smoke, but are savoring every salty sweet bacony bite.

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