Ready for the Smoker

Ready to go into the smoker. Note the pork belly hangers are actually old wire hangers, trimmed down by my sweet husband at my request, so I could get 4 bellies in the smoker at once vertically, rather than on racks.

Way back in July 2010 (wow, I’ve been writing this blog for a while!) I wrote a piece on curing your own bacon. And its a good post, and reliable and solid advice. However, in the last 4 years I’ve amended how I cure my bacon a bit, after buying Michael Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie (Charcuterie is defined as all things relating to preserved meats). One of the things we noticed about the original cured bacon recipe is that it tended to burn easily in the pan. I attribute this to the large amount of sugar in the cure. I’ve also come to realize that a little bit of nitrite in your meat (like cholesterol) is not the end-of-the-world, cancer causing scourge we once were led to believe. See this fantastic rant by Ruhlman on the No Nitrite hoax in natural food markets or this more recent piece by Chris Kresser on why bacon isn’t the enemy.

So, the last time we made bacon, in 2014, we adapted our recipe to use pink salt (also known as Instacure #1). Pink salt contains 6.25% sodium nitrite. Adding it to your bacon rub or brine ensures 1) no nasties are gonna grow while its in the smoker and 2) retention of color. We also found this bacon to be less prone to scorching in the pan.

So without further adieu, is how we cure our bacon now. Either method works. Either method is likely very safe. Mostly we just like that the bacon is no longer burning in the pan.

Smoked Home Cured Bacon

Out of the smoker and oh so fragrant and yummy. We’re still using apple wood to smoke our bacon, and probably will for another 20 years, given how much we still have and where we live. It’s a readily available product, given the pruning that happens around here every year.

Home Cured Bacon Recipe (Redox based on this Ruhlman recipe, combined with Alton Brown’s advice)

Dry Cure Mix

  • 1 lb kosher salt (other salts may weigh less or more – if switching, use a scale)
  • 8 oz sugar
  • 2 oz (10 tsp) pink salt (InstaCure #1 – 93.75% table salt – aka sodium chloride, and 6.25% nitrite). Any old fashioned butcher will likely carry this, or you can order it online.
    Note: This will make more cure than you need. Just bag and tag it and use it later. It doesn’t go bad.

Bacon

  • One 3-5 lb slab pork belly. Ruhlman gives directions for skin on, but I’ve never gotten a pork belly with the skin on, so I shorten the cure time a bit because the skin is off.  If you find your bacon is coming out too salty, decrease the cure time the next go-round.
  • ¼ cup dry cure

Optional:

  • ½ cup maple syrup or packed dark brown sugar (or other sweetener – we like molasses)
  • Up to 5 cloves smashed garlic
  • 3 crushed bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp cracked black peppercorns
  • Any other herbs/spices of choice – see original posts by Ruhlman or Brown for suggestions.

Coat entire surface of pork with cure. Add optional sweetener, herbs, spices and/or garlic. Put belly in large zip top bag. You want a tight fit here so cure remains in contact with the bacon as it releases juices. You’ll likely need a gallon bag. Refrigerate for up to 7 days, flipping bag to redistribute cure every day. Have a tray underneath in case your bag leaks. Belly should feel firm when fully cured. If there are still squishy places, leave for up to 2 more days.

Bacon Cures Test

Where the bacon hits the skillet. This was a taste test of all four kinds we had smoked to see which one we liked the best.

Remove from cure and rinse thoroughly. Pat dry.

Dry meat 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 rotate the rack in front of my box fan 1/4 turn every 15 minutes.)

Smoke with method of your choice for about 4 hours.

Here are the recipes we recently tried.

  • 1/4 cup cure, 1/2 cup molasses, 1 tbsp crushed black peppercorns.
  • 1/4 cup cure, 1/2 cup molasses, 1 tbsp crushed black peppercorns, 1 tsp red pepper flakes.
  • 1/4 cup cure, 1/2 cup honey, 3 tbsp mustard powder.
  • 1/4 cup cure, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 1 tbsp black pepper, 1 tbsp mustard powder.

Our favorites, when we did a taste test of all four, were the molasses with the red pepper (surprise, we like all things spicy) and the maple syrup version. Play with the herbs and spices, based on what YOU like. I didn’t go in for the garlic. Too much for a breakfast meat, but that’s just me. Really, the sky is the limit as long as you get the dry cure part right.

Home Cured Bacon

Note how lean this bacon is. Not a bad thing in our book.

Also note that Ruhlman gives a recipe for bacon that isn’t smoked. Instructions state to “put it on a sheet tray and put it in the oven (put it on a rack on a sheet tray if you have one) and turn the oven on to 200 degrees F. (if you want to preheat the oven, that’s fine, too). Leave it in the oven for 90 minutes (or, if you want to measure the internal temperature, until it reaches 150 degrees F.).” So essentially, you can cook your bacon in a hot smoke smoker or you can cook your bacon in the oven, but you SHOULD cook your bacon before its considered “cured” and relatively shelf stable. He states that your cured bacon will keep in the fridge for a few weeks or in the freezer for several months. I’ve been known to push both of those times (we freeze bacon for up to a year – if it lasts that long).

This last batch of pork belly, when we purchased a whole pig from a local farmer, was leaner than usual. The farmer had warned us that the belly would likely not have a ton of fat. Turns out, I prefer my bacon a bit on the lean side, so we had NO issues with this. It’s wonderful and we are SO happy to be making our own again, after being out for about 6 months.

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2015, where we don’t eat bacon every day, but when we do eat bacon, we like it home cured, and we savor every bite!

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