A very good friend of ours once quipped, “Hey honey, let’s have the Chateaubriand and lobster for dinner tonight, and save the bacon for a special occasion.”
Sound absurd? Not so much for die-hard bacon lovers.
The very mention of the word bacon in public is bound to attract attention and start necks craning among those within earshot. To say that we are crazy for all things bacon is a crazy understatement. From delectable to disgusting, the uses of bacon among zealots and zanies alike know no bounds.
But for the serious food adventurer, homemade bacon is the end of the journey that begins with fresh pork belly.
As its name so clearly specifies, pork belly is a boneless cut consisting of fat and lean striations that comes from the soft underside of a pig. Its myriad uses for roasting, grilling, braising, and stewing are chronicled the world over.
Turning fresh pork belly into bacon at home is easier than you might think. It just takes time.
A whole pork belly will measure 20 to 25 inches by 8 to 9 inches and weigh up to 8 pounds. Fresh belly usually comes with the skin on. But whether you leave the skin on is a matter of preference.
Originally, curing was a process to preserve meat long before there was refrigeration. Salt in a cure draws out moisture in the meat which slows the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.
A basic curing rub consists of salt and sugar in a ratio of about 2:1. For a quarter belly (about 2 pounds), use about 2 cups kosher or sea salt to 1 cup sugar. From there, the sky’s the limit on flavorings in the cure. Generously apply the rub to all surfaces of the pork belly, place in a sealable plastic bag and refrigerate for 3 to 7 days. Turn the belly occasionally and remove any accumulated liquid in the bag.
When removing from the cure, rinse off the cure seasonings and pat dry. Place uncovered in the refrigerator overnight. Expect to find a slightly tacky surface the next day.
If you have a smoker, you’ll want to get a running temperature of 200-225oF over your favorite smoking wood (hickory or apple are popular choices) and let the cured belly go for 2 to 3 hours. The temp should be kept low because your goal is to flavor the belly only, not cook it through.
If you don’t have a smoker, a kettle-style grill can be adapted to suit the purpose by building a low-and-slow indirect fire on one side. Place the belly on the warm side, not over direct heat.
Then just leave it alone to smoke. Tend the fire; be sure to keep the temperature consistent, but don’t lift the cover every 5 minutes to see what’s going on. You’ll lose the smoke, temperature, and flavor.
You now have bacon.
Use what you can within 5 to 7 days; otherwise, cut it into chunks and freeze.
Have you ever tried making your how bacon? What are your favorite seasonings for curing? What kind of wood do you prefer for smoking?