marklafon (marklafon) wrote,

bacon, the making of

I have been making my own bacon. It is fairly simple and easy and has a problem I was unaware of in that once you let people sample the results you get a lot of requests for home-made bacon. Anyway, due to popular demand, here is what I do to make the stuff.

By the way, this is what I do and if you want to do it yourself I strongly recommend that you read up on the subject. I am not responsible if you get sick, burn down something, or otherwise have problems. I am just telling you how I do this, not telling you how you should do it. YMMV and all that.

First you have to cure the meat. I use peeled (skinned) porkbelly. I usually cut it into 3 equal pieces. The cure formula is as follows:

2 cups brown sugar
2 cups kosher salt
1/2 gallon water
1/2 gallon untreated apple cider
3/4 cup of molasses

Heat the water in a nonreactive contaner, add salt and sugar and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat, add the cider and then the molasses. Stir and let cool to room temperture. At this point it should look a lot like uncarbonated Coke. Put the liquid into a shallow plastic container, add the pork belly, and put the lid on. Keep in a cool place (40 degrees or so) for a few days, turning the pork every 24 hours. (You can use large zip-top freezer bags and put them in the fridge if you wish.) The longer the meat is in the cure the deeper it will penetrate. I usually try for at least 3 days in the cure. The meat, especially any fat, will have a dark color when you take it out.

Allow the meat to air dry. Do not rinse or pat dry. The salty cure liquid needs to air dry to form a pellicle, which will help hold onto the smoke and improve the flavor.

Smoking:

I do my smoking outside in cool weather. That way the meat can't spoil and the smoke will not fill the house, the fire won't burn down the house, and so forth.

Working on the cheap, I found an interesting way to produce the cold smoke needed. I use a small charcoal grill (about a foot in diameter) and 4-6 pieces of charcoal. I start the coals with crumpled paper saturated with vegetable oil. (Starter fluid leaves an oily taste I dislike.) Once the coals are going, I put some wood chips, chunks, or saw dust on them and put the dome lid on the grill with the vent open. I then place a large (about a cubic yard) cardboard box over the grill. The top flaps are folded closed and the a slightly smaller box sets on them with its top flaps closed. The pork belly is inside the second box on a cooling rack that rests on 2 wooden dowels run through the box. When the smoke output decreases, the boxes are picked up and more wood or charcoal is added to the grill. A few hours will give you a nice flavor, longer times will allow the differences in woods to become apparent.

It is important the the smoke is cool, which means under 100 degrees F. That is why I use a small fire. The volume of the boxes allows the smoke to expand and cool as it rises. You can do the same thing by running some ducting between the boxes. If you use this arrangement be sure and put the second box higher than the first. Smoke rises and the convention will make sure your meat is getting smoked.

Be sure and use the proper wood. Treated wood, painted wood, plywood and softwoods, such as pine, must not be used. They have chemicals that will kill you, make you sick, or make the meat taste really bad. Oak, maple, any fruit tree, and other hardwoods will do. If you don't have your own tree trimmings you can get chips at places that sell BBQ supplies. Check out cabinet makers for hardwood sawdust. Don't worry about mixing hardwoods unless you are going for a long smoke and want individual flavors to manifest.
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