Saturday, May 28, 2011

Homemade Bacon

Making bacon is not easy.  It takes a lot of time, patience and failed attempts to get it right.  But once you get it right, it is well worth it.  I have yet to see pastured bacon in the store.  Even the organic bacon with no nitrates still comes form grain fed pigs.  Sometimes we get bacon from our CSA, which raises pastured pork but it is cured with sodium nitrate and I'm not interested in that on a regular basis.  So, I make my own.
First, you will need a good source of pork belly; sometimes it is called pork side.  We get our pastured pork from our CSA.  They raise healthy, pastured pigs on their farm in Wellington, CO.  Once you find some quality meat, it's time to make bacon.

The Brine
Ice Water
Sea Salt
Black Pepper or any other spices

That's basically all that needs to be in the brine but you can add whatever spices you'd like to it.  Most traditional bacon brines have sugar in them, too.  I do not use sugar but you can add maple syrup or honey if you think it needs some sweetening.  The amount of salt is up to you.  For about 2 lbs of pork belly, I use about 1/4 C to 1/2 C of salt.  A little salt goes a long way.  But keep in mind you need that salt to prevent it from growing harmful bacteria. It takes some time and practice to get it right.
Add your salt and whatever other spices to some boiling water and let simmer until it is all dissolved.  Then add that to the ice water and submerge your pork belly in that mixture.  I put mine in a Pyrex container with a plastic lid but anything that will fit the belly and brine mixture will do.  The pork needs to be fully submerged, so putting a ceramic plate on top of it to weight it down is a good idea.
Put it in the fridge and let it brine for about a week.  Next you need to "freshen" it.

This means rinsing the pork off with cold water for about 20 minutes.  You are trying to wash off all the excess salt.  The brining process will get the salt and spice flavor into the meat but you don't need extra on the outside.  If you don't freshen, your bacon will be way too salty.
After freshening, pat dry with paper towels.  And now we smoke.

Bacon needs to be cold smoked.  I have a regular, old smoker.  So, what I do is get the wood chips smoking a whole lot, load the water tray with ice and smoke the pork belly for about 20 minutes.  This ice will keep the temperature down but you need to have a lot of smoke going before putting the pork in.  Otherwise you will overcook it.  Keep in mind, you're just adding smoke flavor to the belly, not cooking it.  Keep an eye on it because you can overdo it very easily.  This takes time and practice to get right.
Remove and let your pork belly cool.  Once it is cool, wrap it tightly in plastic and stick it in the fridge overnight.  Don't try to cut it, yet.  It needs to cool overnight.
Now, slice.  I use a deli style meat slicer to cut mine into strips but a knife will do.
Now, you have bacon.  Enjoy.

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