First of all let me say, Happy Labor Day! I can’t believe it’s September 1st… Where did the summer go? I am ready for crisp fall air, hoodies, apple picking, fresh donuts and of course HALLOWEEN but I always feel sad letting go of summer. After a long winter here in Buffalo we are always so EAGER for spring and summer and it feels like warmer weather just started yesterday.
But I digress, there are important matters at hand today!
See what I mean? 🙂
Many a time I’ve asked around for pork belly at the local farmer’s market only here “no” or that they only have it pre-sliced. Where’s the fun in pre-sliced? There are so many things I long to make with pork belly… The best pork belly dish that I can remember ever eating however was enjoyed by Troy and I in Orlando, FL at the Magic Kingdom in Disney where we were part of a D23 event. It was braised to the point of succulent perfection and I was instantly in love. For this sort of preparation I would of course need it in a big piece, not pre-sliced. So we’ve found a vendor who carries it that way- finally! So thank you to T Meadow farm for making our day!
The wheels were spinning in my head when Troy excitedly paid for our first hunk of pork belly from the farmer’s market. He, however, already had his mind made up. This pork belly was destined for bacon. And I didn’t put up much of an argument because I suppose it is only right to make with it what it was really “meant” for. Bacon in all of it’s salty, smoky glory.
We referred to Michael Symon’s book Carnivore for his method for home curing and smoking bacon in his recipe called “House Bacon”. Making your own bacon is actually quite simple as long as you can a) Find the pork belly, b) Acquire some curing salt and c) Have some sort of smoker.
I’m not going to write up a whole recipe but basically for every 6 pounds of pork belly, mix up 1 tsp. of pink curing salt (you can buy this at William Sonoma or use Instacure from Sausage Maker’s, which I can happily say is about 10 minutes from my house!), 1 1/2 tbsp. packed dark brown sugar and 3 tbsp. of kosher salt.
Then rub this mixture all over the pork belly, place the pork belly in a parchment lined baking dish, cover with another sheet of parchment, place another dish on-top of it with a few cans or jars on it to weigh it down and allow to cure in the refrigerator for 7 days. We used a piece ~2 pounds in weight so we were able to fit it into an 8 X 8 square glass baking dish with a second dish of the same size on top. At this point when you touch the meat it should feel firm to the touch, a sign that it has cured. If it is still very soft or mushy like obviously raw meat, you should let it go a bit longer
After this curing period, rinse the pork belly thoroughly, place on a baking sheet with a rack in the bottom and allow to sit, uncovered, overnight in the fridge to dry it out a bit. The next day is smoking day!
Prepare your smoker to 200 degrees F. We have an electric smoker which makes this quite easy to do. Use apple-wood chips to smoke it for the first hour and then allow it to cook without smoke for about another 3 hours or until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. When it is done smoking, place in the refrigerator for several hours. Then slice it or dice it or whatever you want!
There are other methods of cooking the pork belly if you don’t have a smoker. You can use a grill with a smoker box and the wood chips. You’ll just have to play with the temperature to get it to hold around 200 degrees F. In a pinch, you can even do this in the oven with the addition of liquid smoke after cooking (just brush it over the bacon). Of course, my recommendation is to use a smoker if you have access to one. The electric smoker couldn’t be easier, just add some soaked wood chips about every 15 or 20 minutes throughout the first hour.
We found that we needed to cut the top layer of skin off as it got quite hard from smoking. We should have removed it before curing and smoking I’m thinking but I guess you live and learn. Didn’t realize it was an “untrimmed” piece of pork belly! It was very easy to do with a sharp paring knife. This is the first time we’ve ever made this, obviously, so next time I will be sure to cut this off ahead of time. And I’ve heard you can make cracklin’s with it, so that’s another project for next time! Anyhow, the first few pieces we sliced off and cooked with the top layer on were a bit too salty and was too hard to eat along that top edge. After slicing it off (when I say a thin portion I mean literally like 3-4 mm) the bacon was a dream! It was nicely smoky without it being too overpowering and with just the right amount of saltiness. We are already planning and plotting our next batch of bacon. We think we might try to crust it with peppercorns…….. Mmmmm…. I’ve also ready about “wet cures” in which you can use maple syrup! Nom nom nom nom nom…