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The Weekend Chef

Weekend Chef: Making Bacon

Posted 12:16am on Monday, Nov. 05, 2012

I love me some bacon! You probably figured that out when I posted my Bacon wrapped meatloaf stuffed with cheese recipe.

I was a little worried when I started seeing stories pop up on the Internet about a worldwide bacon shortage in the works. Will there be lines? Should I buy a freezer and stock up now?

Well, it turns out you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet and the upcoming “Bacon Apocalypse” of 2013 will likely just end up being a slight price increase. The USDA forecast it to be 2.5 to 3.5 percent.

Still, just in case the Internet was right and the government is just trying to keep the bacon panic under control, I thought it would be a good idea to bone up on making my own bacon.

Bacon is cured pork belly and is actually easy to make. If you have read my recipe on making homemade corned beef, it's pretty much the same curing process, except with pork belly instead of brisket.

It does take seven days for the pork belly to cure into bacon, so you do need to plan ahead.

I guess the hardest part is finding a pork belly to cure. Most grocery store meat departments do not carry pork belly. I was able to find some at my local Asian market for $2.50 a pound. That is actually a lot cheaper than buying bacon. Pork belly usually comes with the skin on. You can leave the skin on if you want rind bacon, or you can trim it off.

Next we need a meat cure, which gives the pork belly that red color and bacony flavor. The easiest one to use is Morton’s Tender Quick. Kroger’s carries it in the spice aisle.

We also need to figure out if we want to add any special flavors to our bacon. Sugar, garlic and pepper is a good starting flavor base, but you can also add pickling spices, chili powders or even coffee. I decided to try adding some jalapeno powder to my cure this time.

The last thing is to decide if you want to smoke your bacon. Once you have cured the pork belly it is considered bacon. But I like to take the extra step and cold smoke my bacon. Cold smoking is smoking at a temperature bellow 90ºF, at this lower temp you add smoke flavor without cooking the bacon. Here in Texas you have to choose a cold day to cold smoke. If the outside air temperature is higher than 90ºF there is no point in trying to cold smoke. Luckily we had a cold front come through last weekend and it was down right chilly.

Now we need something to generate the smoke. I use a tube smoker made by A-MAZE-N products. It runs around $30 and can turn any grill into both a cold and hot smoker. It burns the same wood pellets that my pellet grill uses. You can buy pellets at Ace hardware, or sometimes at Costco.

Homemade Bacon

  • 3 to 5 pound section of pork belly (skin on or off)
  • Large resealable plastic bags or vacuum seal bags

Per 1 pound of pork belly

  • 1 tablespoon Morton Tender Quick® curing salt (my local Kroger carries it)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (white, brown or maple)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

Mix Tender Quick, sugar, garlic powder and pepper to make the cure rub. For a 3 pound pork belly that would be 3 tablespoons of Tender Quick, 3 tablespoon of sugar, 1 tablespoon of garlic powder and 1 tablespoon of pepper. Feel free to adjust seasonings to taste or add flavors like coffee or chili powder. Just be sure you use 1 tablespoon of Tender Quick per pound.

Take half of cure mixture and rub it into one side of the pork belly.

Turn pork belly over, rub the rest of the cure mixture in.

Rub sides of pork belly with any leftover cure that came off the top and bottom.

Seal pork belly into vacuum-sealed bag or a large resealable plastic bag with all the air forced out.

Place bag with pork belly into a pan (in case the bag leaks) and place in refrigerator and let cure for 7 days, flipping the bag once a day.

After 7 days, remove bacon from bag and rinse salt and spices off under cold running water. Let soak in water for 15 to 20 minutes if you want your bacon less salty, then pat dry with paper towels and let air dry in the refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours.

If the skin is still on the bacon I like to hit the skin side with a kitchen blowtorch for a few seconds to singe off any stray hairs.

Bacon is now ready to slice if you are not planning to smoke it.

Smoking

You can either cold or hot smoke your bacon to give it that nice smoky finish. Cold smoking is better if you are set up for it.

Cold smoking

Set your smoker or grill up for cold smoking. I am using a tube smoker made by A-MAZE-N products. It generates a lot of smoke with little heat and will work in any grill. When cold smoking you need to keep the temperature below 90ºF, so make sure it is cool outside.

Place bacon in smoker and let smoke 4 to 8 hours.

Hot Smoking

If hot smoking, try to set your smoker to its lowest temperature and smoke bacon until it reaches 150ºF (1 to 2 hours), then pull and let cool off.

After smoking, seal bacon into vacuum-sealed bag or a large resealable plastic bag with all the air forced out and let rest for a day or two before slicing.

After slicing, I fried a couple of pieces as a test. I decided to go with rind bacon this time, remembering that the bacon my grandmother use to fix always had a hard, crunchy rind. I figured if I did not like it I could always cut it off.

Turns out, I like rind bacon. The taste was a little less salty than store bought bacon, plus it had a slight hint of the jalapeno that I added to the cure. I have to say I am pretty happy with the results. If there is a coming bacon apocalypse I am all set to make my own.

Be sure to check out the slideshow above for step-by-step pictures.

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