I know fetishizing bacon is so 2007. You won’t catch me sporting an “I <3 Bacon” t-shirt or getting a hog tattooed on my arm. But I’ve had a revelation, and I must share it.
I didn’t ‘get’ the deal about bacon until I made it from scratch this year, in 2011. Now when I wake up on Sunday mornings after drinking a few too many Lone Stars, the first thought that pops into my head is “BACON!” It’s the only thing that revives me. I jump out of bed and make some sort of breakfast incorporating crispy bacon, and the world is made right. It’s so much smokier and more flavorful than the stuff from the store. Now I need homemade bacon in my fridge at all times.
You can make bacon too. It’s not hard. It involves 1. curing 2. waiting, and 3. smoking (in that order). The only special item you need is pink salt. No, not Himalayan pink salt like I thought at first. It’s salt with nitrates added to it. You’ll also need kosher salt, sugar, and a 2 to 5 pound slab of pork belly. You might as well start with good pork. I recently toured Richardson’s Farm with Slow Food Austin and came home with 12 pounds of pastured pork belly. Here are the pigs Richardson’s, doing their pig stuff.
I used to be strict about bacon directions, diligently following a recipe to flavor and cure the belly, placing it in the fridge, and religiously rubbing it and turning it every other day. On the seventh day, I smoked it. It was much like God creating the world. Now I just sort of wing it.
The first step is assembling a basic dry cure using Michael Ruhlman’s and Brian Polcyn’s recipe from Charcuterie.
- 1 pound/450 grams kosher salt
- 8 ounces/225 grams sugar
- 2 ounces/50 grams pink salt (sodium nitrite)
I combine and mix everything in bowl, and then store it in a jar or other airtight container. Then I rub a healthy handful into all sides of the meat. Since I like a savory bacon, I add flavorings like garlic, rosemary, red chili flakes, or garlic. Sweet bacon fans can experiment with brown sugar or molasses. You can get creative, but I usually use whatever I have on hand.
Next I place the belly in a 1 or 2 gallon ziplock bag for at least a week. Since I cure my bacon with sodium nitrate, which is an antimicrobial, I have no problem leaving it in the fridge until I find some time/work up the energy to smoke it.
We don’t use any fancy wood chips to smoke as fallen wood from the backyard works perfectly. We place the pork belly in a cast iron skillet and place it in the grill, making sure the fire doesn’t exceed 225 degrees. We sprinkle it with water when it gets too hot. The longer you can smoke the bacon the better, but even smoking for 1 or 2 hours will make it taste good. If you’re motivated, you can experiment with different smoking techniques. We once added pipe tobacco to the smoke, and it imparted truly excellent flavor.
So now you know. Grab yourself a slab of pork belly and get curing and smoking, and then wrap it up in plastic wrap and store it in the fridge. When the need for bacon strikes, carve off a few thick slices, fry it up in the skillet, and you too will vow never to get the store-bought, vacuum-sealed stuff again.