This was the most exciting project that I have done. I have a fascination with bacon and its flavours. Watching this whole process was incredibly satisfying….and very simple. Anyone can make this no matter what their skill level.
Bacon has a tendency to make everything better, and let’s be honest here, bacon is great stuff. We have, however, a couple of problems with the bacon-like junk available in most grocery stores. First, few foods are more highly processed than mass produced bacon. It is usually prepared in a huge factory that is focused primarily with churning out as much bacon as possible. This means that every shortcut is taken during the processing to produce the most bacon in the shortest amount of time. Truck loads of pork bellies are shipped to a plant, where they are skinned and trimmed to a uniform shape, then “pumped” with a curing solution designed to cure the meat as rapidly as possible. They then go through a “thermal processing” (yes, that’s the technical term) then they are chilled, pressed and sliced. It all sounds very clinical, because it is. The result is a bright pink meat, that is always unpleasantly slimy when you open the package.
There is one main concern when curing and smoking meat, and that is botuslism. While botulism is most closely related with improper canning procedures, food-borne botulism also occurs in meats that have been improperly preserved. To prevent this, commercially cured/preserved meats contain sodium nitrite, which acts both as a preservative and a color fixer. (This is what gives store-bought bacon that bright red color.) In quantity, sodium nitrite is toxic and has been linked to migraines in certain people. While that is of concern, the quantity required to be toxic would only affect someone eating Homer Simpson levels of bacon. The main concern with sodium nitrite, is that when it is exposed to high heat in the presence of protein (like a piece of meat treated with sodium nitrite being cooked), proteins in the meat bond with the sodium nitrite to produce nitrosamines. It is also possible for nitrosamines to form from sodium nitrite in highly acidic conditions, like your stomach. Basically, the frying and eating of nitrite containing bacon presents the perfect scenario for nitrosamines to enter your system. Unlike sodium nitrite, which we know is toxic in large quantities and may make you sick if you eat too much, certain nitrosamines have been proven to be deadly carcinogens.
That sounds bad right?
The sodium nitrites are necessary in a large industrial setting, where many different individuals, machines and movements are involved to ensure that the resultant product is botulism free. The home chef can better control the variables and handling procedures, and can get those assurances without the nitrites. Oh, and your bacon will taste much, much better than anything you’ve purchased in plastic wrap, I can guarantee it.
What you will need to begin is a piece of pork belly, which you will have to get at your butcher shop. Call to see if they have any. If they don’t they will be more than happy order you one. You are going to a butcher right?
5 pounds will do nicely. Your belly should looks something like this:
Next you want to make your cure.
I used the following, although some may find this one sweet I like it and it reminds me of the stuff I used to get living in Canada.
If you don’t like it sweet I would cut the sugar/syrup amounts by half and keep the salt amount the same.
1/2 C kosher salt (salt flakes)
1/2 C maple syrup
1/2 C brown sugar
Mix all together in a bowl and coat the pork belly. Rub it in well and when you think you are done, rub it in some more.
Then place the pork belly into a ziplock bag which is placed into another ziplock bag (just in case the first one leaks).
Place in fridge and turn every second day. I cured this lot for 8 days but you can cure it up to 16 if you want. I can’t wait so I do the minimum amount.
You will notice lots of liquid coming out of the pork in the bag, this is normal as the curing process removes the water contained inside the meat. Just leave it in there, it will not do any harm. Just make sure you flip the bag every second day.
Once the curing process has finished remove the pork from the bag and wash it in cold water for 5-10mins. This part you DO NOT WANT TO SKIMP ON. Wash it well, you do not want bacon that is too salty.
Pat the pork dry with kitchen paper (paper towel) and place it back in the fridge for 24 hours. This is what is called “Forming the Pellicule”. The pellicule is a thin membrane that forms which allows the smoke to adhere to it.
I use a Canadian built Grill Pro propane upright smoker as seen below. You can use any smoking device though as long as it can heat the meat up to an intrnl temperature of 150 deg F (this is what kills the pathogens and makes it safe to eat).
It took me about 2 hours to get the internal temperature to 151 deg F and this was with the smoker temperature ranging between 20 – 300 deg F.
See the smoke?
Once it is smoked let it cool, place in a ziplock bag and place in the fridge overnight to allow the smoke to permeate the meat.
Once you have it chilled, slice, fry and enjoy!
You will never look back!
And here is the final result……mmmmmmmmmmmn baaaaacon.
If you have any questions feel free to comment below.
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