Thursday, February 4, 2010

Makin' Bacon

As promised, here is a short primer on curing and smoking your own bacon at home. I am not sure you will believe me if I tell you this, but this stuff is soooo much better than any bacon I have ever had. Thanks Tim, for ruining any other bacon but the real deal.

Here is where the magic begins. You start with a fully thawed pork side. I am sure that you can acquire these from a local butcher if you have one, but I recommend you get one from someone who raises pigs in your area and not in confinement. If you are really ambitious and have the space, get a weaner pig and raise it yourself. Also note the optional accessories to this process, beer and faux marble counters.

These pork sides range in size depending on the pig . This one was so big that I decided to cut it in half so that I could fit it in the smoker.

Here is a side view of what your delicious bacon will look like. Nice and fatty!

Once you got the thing unwrapped, you can make up a curing mix, which consists of pink salt (a special kind of curing salt with sodium nitrate), salt, and a little sugar. There is also an old-time way of curing just using plain salt, but I have heard that it is more prone to botulism which I am not a fan of. As you see here I am mixing the the dry curing mix with some brown sugar for more flavor. You could also mix it with crushed garlic and black pepper for a more savory taste.

Packages of pink salt should have directions on how to mix it, but just make sure you have enough of it to rub all the surfaces of the pork side really well. If you have extra, save it for another day.

After you have rubbed all the surfaces of the side, wrap it tightly in several layers of plastic wrap. This will seal in the salt. Then put the side in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days. Every day, check on the meat and flip it over.

At the end of the week you can unwrap your pork side and prepare the smoker. Shown here is the smoker we have at the trailer with a bag of wood charcoal (forest friendly, I promise), aluminum foil to line the bottom, two racks, and a tray for catching drippings.

Get the charcoal going.

In the meantime, soak your hardwood chips in water for 30 min. Put something on top of them like a plate or a rock to keep them from floating. Pull them out and shake off excess water when you are ready to smoke. I use hickory chips because that is what we have, but I would like to try applewood too.

Once the coals are gray and smoldering, toss on the wood chips.

Put in the pan to catch the drippings, which will keep you from setting your trailer on fire. You can also put water in this tray for a more moist final product or apple cider to contribute a little flavor.

Put your bacon in the smoker on a rack and seal everything up so the smoke can do its work. Now you can go take a break for 3-4 hours. Kick back, knit a sweater, or do your taxes. You may want to make sure the smoker is smoking and the coals are still hot, but if you did everything right, you are in business. When you come back...

Your bacon is heavenly. But you still need to cut it.

If you leave the skin on during the curing process (you don't have to), you need to cut it off carefully with a very sharp knife. This isn't waste as dogs love it and the fatty parts would still be good for seasoning in beans or greens. I just wouldn't try to eat it.

Fortunately for me, Tim and Liz have a deli slicer which I use (carefully, believe me mom) to cut the bacon in strips. Since you might not have that, a sharp knife will do the trick.

You wouldn't believe how much bacon a small pork side will make. This is only a fraction of what I cured.

Once you are done, you can fry up the strips of bacon for a delicious breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

On one occasion I enjoyed mine in a delicious breakfast with a homemade crepe, eggs, cheese, and milk from the farm. You really just can't beat a day that starts like that.

I hope that this little primer inspires you to go out and try some curing yourself. It's not difficult and I know that you will become addicted to it.