I have Michael Ruhlman to thank for getting me making bacon at home. I will forever be indebted. I also must thank Gracianne, Maryann, and Yen for prodding me to post about it. It’s been a long time coming. Yen had wanted to get his hands dirty and learn how I did it, so with Ruhlman’s recipe in hand for dry cure and a date to smoke it here before a wine tasting, he set about acquiring pork belly, pink salt, and cured him some pig. This process takes about a week.
THE CURE. First challenge. Find pork belly. Asian meat markets have been our best source. Second challenge: find pink salt. It’s cheap, lasts forever as you use it in small quantities, but you may have to talk to a butcher or specialty food store to find it. Ask. There are too many cured products in our world for pink salt to hide from you for too long. I’d share Ruhlman’s dry cure recipe, but will not for two reasons. First, as punishment for you not having the book: ‘Charcuterie’. Second, because all of my wordly belongings are in boxes in someone’s garage between moves, so my copy is buried. Yen, ever the culinary adventurer, took the belly down 4 roads: maple, bay, black pepper, and plain [which we double smoked]. The cure and aromatic elements are rubbed in, the belly’s tossed in a Ziploc to do its thing for about a week – quick and easy. The night before smoking, take the belly out of the bags, which will be wet from released moisture from the belly, and set on racks to dry – to form a pellicle. I did not invent that word.
THE SMOKE. How you smoke is limited only by your resourcefulness, so tackle it how you’d like. My approach: bought an old baking pan for $5 that fit the dimensions of my bbq. Remove propane tank [for safety], remove grills, and set pan on bottom of bbq. Start a fire [I assume no liability]. I’ve been using sage bush prunings, which I’m sure makes my [former] neighbors think we were smoking piles of weed. I set a rack on top of the fire, and put hardwood charcoal [source: local bbq specialty shop] on top to light up. Add wood of your choice [check hardward or hunting stores if you need to buy it]. We used hickory and cherry. IMO, the bigger the chips, the better.
Smoking meat is a laid-back, don’t sweat the small stuff kind-of-affair in my world. Providing you cured properly to not die of botulism, that is. How long do you smoke it? Until it looks good. The time varies on the heat of your coals, the ambient temperature, the amount of smoke you’re getting, the thickness of the meat. All I can offer is that I’ve found longer and slower is indeed better. Keep the heat cool, keep the smoke steady, and give it an hour or two. Refrigerating overnight definitely gets the texture where it needs to be for cutting, and lets the smoke penetrate. It freezes extremely well, and is even pretty easy to cut when it’s frozen solid.
Make your own bacon. Your friends and relatives will thank you.