Pork Belly in the cure

Pork Belly in the cure

Over the past year, I have been trying my hand at a variety of curing and smoking meats. One of the first things I made was bacon. After checking my main reference book (Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn), I found a simple recipe that I hoped would result in a tasty addition to my repertoire.

I expected the acquisition of a pork belly to be the most difficult part of the entire process, but during a quick trip to the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market I found a good local source in Black Oak Pork. Other than the pork belly, the next most difficult resource to get was pink salt. I was able to order that online  and have it delivered to my house.

Pork Belly on the smoker

Pork Belly on the smoker

In terms of the process of making bacon, it is pretty straight-forward. I make the Basic Dry Cure from my reference book (1 lb. kosher salt, 8 oz. sugar and 2 oz. pink salt) and use 1/4 cup of that mixture for a slab of pork belly. To that I add 6 to 8 cloves of garlic (smashed), 1 Tbsp of black peppercorns (cracked) and 3 or 4 bay leaves (crushed). These ingredients go into a zip-top plastic bag with the pork belly and that goes into the refrigerator for a week or so, being flipped back and forth daily. I have noticed that the meat begins to feel firmer to the touch as the week goes on.

Once the belly gets good and firm, I take it out of the plastic bag and rinse off the remainder of the cure. After patting it dry, I put the belly into a fresh plastic bag to rest for a day or two before taking it to the smoker.

Smoked Bacon, and yes, with the skin on, you sometimes find nipples

Smoked Bacon, and yes, with the skin on, you sometimes find nipples

I have made several slabs of bacon and have tried a few different types of wood chips to test the flavors they provide. Smoke from apple wood chips add a subtle sweetness to the bacon while hickory gives a bit of bite that is familiar and not unpleasant. I have also tried using pecan wood chips, but they resulted in an extremely acrid taste that forced me to temper it by par-boiling the bacon before frying it (This method also works if the bacon tastes too salty). On a couple of occasions, I even roasted the bacon at low heat (225 degrees) in the oven.

Once the internal temperature of the pork belly gets up to 150 degrees, I take it out of the smoker (or oven) and let it cool to room temperature. At this point, if the pork belly is skin on, I remove the skin and set it aside for other purposes. Then the bacon is ready to fry up and eat. My personal favorite is to have it as a side dish to a couple of eggs, fried sunny-side up, followed closely by being a primary ingredient for my Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich.

Bacon makes a breakfast plate happy

Bacon makes a breakfast plate happy

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