So Valentine's day has come and gone. All that remains are the remnants of chocolates and slowly fading flowers. Don’t misunderstand me. I LOVE Valentine’s Day. I don’t care that people find it droll or call it a Hallmark holiday or roll their eyes at me. Any day I can get Jeff to be more romantic then usual (read: he is pretty much never romantic. :-( ) is a beautiful day to me.
I, however, am always romantic. I LOVE love. I look for any occasion to do something that makes someone else happy. This year, that included making bacon.
Get your mind out of the gutter.
By “making bacon” I literally mean I MADE BACON. Not just fried some up in a pan but ordered-some-pork-belly-and-rubbed-it-down-with-herbs-and-spices-and-wait-for-what-seems-like-forEVER-but-it’s-really-only-a-week-for-it-to-be-ready home cured brown sugar and black pepper bacon. (We also made some beer cured bacon. Yea you heard that right. BEER BACON!
There is a whole lot of truth to the saying that “the way to a man’s heart is thru his stomach”. However in our house the saying is “…thru some pork belly.”
Home Cured Brown Sugar and Black Pepper Bacon
- ¼ cup salt
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons coarse black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground bay
- 1 teaspoon granulated onion
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
- ½ teaspoon ground thyme
- 1 teaspoon of pink salt (Cure #1)
- 3-4 pounds fresh pork belly
Before we get too deep into the recipe I am sure some of you are wondering – what in the stinking heck is pink salt (Cure #1)? First let me tell you what is it NOT. It is NOT Pink Himalayan Salt. That stuff is great but it won’t do anything to make bacon.
Pink salt or Cure #1 as it is called is more than just salt. It also contains 6.25% sodium nitrite. (There is a Cure #2 but they are not interchangeable.) This is NOT table salt and should never ever be used as such. Do NOT I repeat DO NOT eat it raw. It is for curing only and when not in use should not even be left in the confines of your kitchen so that it is not used accidentally to season your French fries.
Besides providing that awesome pinkish color and pure bacon-y taste to the bacon (nitrite free bacon just pretty much tastes like spareribs) sodium nitrite helps inhibit botulism so if you plan on cold smoking (below 100 degrees) do not skip this. If you are oven or hot smoking/baking (above 160 degrees) you can omit it if you hate bacon that much.
Ok. Back to the recipe.
In a plastic container mix the salt, brown sugar, black pepper, bay, garlic, onion and thyme together well. Taste to make sure you like it. You do not HAVE to taste it but if you want to taste it you want to make sure you do it BEFORE you add the pink salt. Remember what I said earlier? It is for curing not for eating. It tastes like BLECH and can make you sick.
Once you have tasted the seasoning and like it add the pink salt (Cure #1) and mix well. This is your cure. Now apply this curing mix all over your pork belly. Push it into the cracks and crevices of the belly. Get the whole thing good and covered.
Now take the seasoned pork belly, lay it in a deep glass baking dish. Cover and place in the refrigerator and forget about it for 7-10 days. You can under cure bacon but you can not over cure bacon. So make sure you leave it at minimum a week.
Ignore the juices and water that accumulate at the bottom of the pan. It is harmless and expected. The cure will also slowly start to disappear but that just means it is working. After 3-4 days (I know I said ignore for 7-10 days but you know you were thinking about that bacon anyway...) flip the pork belly, re-cover and put back in the fridge..
After a week or so remove it from the refrigerator and give it a good smell. Does it smell rancid or rotten? Don’t think twice just toss it away. Sorry but there is no saving rancid meat. Try again and this time make sure the whole thing is good and covered with the cure mixture.
Smell good? Then under cold water rinse off as much of the cure as possible and pat dry.
Planning on smoking it? Then we need to let it sit overnight and let it form the pellicle.
Basically you take the meat and put it on a rack in a pan “suspending the meat” so airflow can hit it on all sides. This dries the surface of the meat out and forms a sticky layer on the outside that helps with smoke penetration.
No smoker? Cook your bacon in the oven. (No need for the pellicle.) Set the oven to 200° and cook it until 155° internal at its thickest part. There are too many variables to give an exact time such as thickness, but expect a good 1.5 hours per lb.
Hot Smoking: Run about 200°-215° and cook until 155° internal at its thickest part. Expect a good 1.5 hours per lb.
Cold Smoking: If you ever wanted to try cold smoking this is the meat to do it. The sodium nitrite makes sure you are not serving botulism ridden death meat. (Jeff wrote that part. See he IS romantic!)
You want to cold smoke for 7 hours for fruit wood and 6 hours for hickory. This gets good smoke penetration and nice smoky flavor. After your time is up, pull it off, cut off a slice, and fry it up and give a taste. Need more smoke? Throw it on for another hour and try again. Taste AWESOME? You are done. Slice it up and enjoy.
*Pro-tip: Freeze bacon on a foiled cookie pan in a single layer. Once frozen, remove and wrap and return to freezer. You can pull individual slices of bacon out of the freezer whenever you need it.