As promised, our second foray into charcuterie was everyone’s favourite, bacon.
I picked up the naturally-raised Berkshire pork belly by semi-accident: back when shopping for the sausage ingredients, I asked one butcher for back fat, and before I could see the sign on the meat he was pointing to, 2.5 lbs of pork belly were on the scale, and a tiny lightbulb went on above my gluttonous cranium.
The only special ingredient required for bacon is curing salt, aka Prague Powder #1, aka pink salt: 93.75% table salt and 6.25% sodium nitrite. Here it is mixed with salt and sugar, per the recipe in Ruhlman’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing.
The pork belly is coated generously in the mixture:
and placed in a ziploc bag with optional spices and flavourings – we used 1/2C of maple syrup. This sits in the fridge for a week or a bit longer, and the cure does basically all of the work from here on out – you just flip the bag daily.
Once the meat is good and firm (snork), which may take up to 10 days (ours was ready at 7 days), take it out of the cure, rinse it off and dry it with paper towels, and it’s almost bacon.
All that remains is to cook it to an internal temperature of 150’F. You can do this in a 200’F oven, or in a smoker. We used the latter. Lacking a dedicated smoker, we have a Weber grill equipped with the very handy and very grandly named Smokenator 1000. This gadget fits into the bottom of the Weber kettle grill, and keeps a bunch of coals in a neat little pile – which makes them burn in a more controlled manner… this means lower temps for a longer time. It also incorporates a receptacle for water, which creates steam, which prevents food from drying out. So far I’ve used it for ribs and bacon, and I recommend it. Here is the bacon on the grill with the Smokenator in the background, about 90 minutes into a two-hour smoking session:
And here is your money shot of the fully-smoked bacon:
Make some thin slices, plunk ’em in a cold pan…
And fry them up. Ideally, you will fry them a bit more carefully than I did: the syrup-and-sugar-laden edges tend to char pretty quickly.
The verdict? In the words of the less-carnivorous of your two nomnivores: “The best bacon I’ve ever had.”
We’re looking forward to getting creative and making some more savoury versions, incorporating juniper, black pepper, chiles, and other spices. Any suggestions?