SWF's Homemade Bacon
In my pursuit for foods that were not laden with chemicals, I began a search to learn how to make bacon without the nitrites/nitrates that are commonly used in so many of our meat products. I bought a book on pork titled, "Charcuterie, The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing" by Michael Ruhlman. This is by far the best cookbook on this subject and although he advocates using pink salt (salt with nitrites/nitrates) he has alot of good recipes for pork and is very good at teaching the finer points of working with these meats.
As is usual and customary for me, I look at several recipes and then take what I like, change it up and make it my own. I joined a meat smoking forum...I had been reading posts there for quite a while and it was amazing the knowledge that these people possessed. After a while I joined the forum and made a post, asking specific questions about curing and smoking bacon. I started the post out with "I'm not convinced that nitrates/nitrates HAVE to be added to cure homemade bacon". Well, that started a whirlwind of responses correcting (or attempting to correct) the error of my ways, even before I had actually started on the journey of making my own homemade bacon. I was told that if I didn't use the chemical curing agents then I would have nothing more than 'salt pork'...salted pork.
Towards the end of the numerous responses a lone dissenting voice appeared and stated that he came from several generations of pig farmers who had been making their own bacon for decades. He stated unequivocably that using chemical was NOT necessary as his family had never used them in his bacon.
NOT that I needed any support...I had already decided I was going to make bacon without the chemicals, but I was thrilled to see that SOMEone out there was of the same mindset as I was.
Shortly after that I bought my first pork belly and made my own cure without chemicals. I followed the directions and time table as stated in Ruhlman's Charcuterie cookbook for curing it. I smoked it the way he stated to smoke it, I did everything else he said except I omitted the chemicals.
Let me tell you something...just as I wrote in the "About Us" section of this website, you have never had a real BLT until you've made it with homemade bacon, homemade bread, homemade mayo, fresh tomatoes and lettuce from the garden.
Here's the recipe and instructions on how I make mine. I have porkbelly in the refrigerator right now curing, so the end product isn't finished but I figured if I have to wait till it's ready to fry up and eat, y'all can wait for me to post the rest of the pictures and instructions. :)
Ingredients for "the cure":
1 pork belly split in half (they're usually 8-12lbs) with rind on (if available).
Divide the following ingredients in half after mixed together:
1c kosher salt
1c brown sugar (firmly packed)
1/4c black pepper.
"God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food. By His hand we all are fed, thank Him for our daily bread. Amen."
Cut your slab of pork belly into 2 pieces. It's easier to process it that way.
Mix the brown sugar/kosher salt and pepper together, dividing in half for each piece of pork belly.
Take half of the cure and begin to rub it into the meat, making sure to liberally cover both sides and all edges of the pork belly.
Can you see the cure and pork belly starting to look a little wet? That's the salt that is already beginning to draw the moisture out of the pork.
Once you've rubbed the cure in really well, take what's left of the cure and press it firmly into the meat.
Take half of the pork belly and place into a ziplock bag, removing as much of the air as possible. Place zip lock bag in the refrigerator on a flat surface will it will cure for the next 7-10 days. Every 2 days, flip the pork belly over so that the cure marinates over the entire pork belly. For pork bellies that is 2" thick or less, the curing time is about 7 days. For pork bellies that are over 2", the curing time will average 7-10 days.
This particular pork belly was less than 2" thick so aver 7 days in the refrigerator, it was ready to go to the next step.
Remove the pork belly from the zip lock bag and wash the cure off with cold water.
Slice a piece of your fresh cured bacon and fry it up in a pan. We're checking the saltiness of the bacon from the cure. Each piece of meat will absorb the cure at different rates so each pork belly section is tested individually for saltiness.
Some slabs come out perfect, some are too salty. If the cured pork belly is too salty, immerse the meat in ice cold water and let it sit for an hour. I usually add ice cubes to the water to keep it cold during that time. After soaking the pork, slice a piece again, frying it up and checking for saltiness. Usually, the hour long icewater soak will reduce the salts to appropriate levels but if not, repeats the above water bath again.
Place the raw cured bacon on a rack (I use my cooling racks) and place the bacon in the refrigerator UNCOVERED for 24 hours. This allows the bacon to develop the "pellicle". The pellicle is a skin or coating of proteins on the surface of the bacon that allows smoke to better adhere to the surface of the meat during the smoking process. The pellicle attracts and causes more smoke to adhere to the meat.
After leaving the cured bacon in the refrigerator for 24 hours, get your smoker ready to finally smoke your bacon! I've tried several wood chip flavors...Hickory, Applewood, Mesquite...and Hickory wood chips is my all time favorite!
Place the cured bacon on the rack in your smoker. I insert a digital meat thermometer into the thickest part of the cured bacon to monitor the internal temperature during the smoking process.
Keep your smoker between 150 and 200 degrees during the smoking process. This will help the bacon to smoke slowly, causing the smoke to absorb into the meat.
Once the internal temperature of the bacon reaches 150 degrees, the bacon is done!
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