Way back in April I bragged about the fact the Big Guy and I were making our own side and back bacon because the price of the ready made stuff has skyrocketed and we're too darn cheap to pay it. Before we started, we did a lot of research to find the best methods and since then we've had a lot of practice. I think we can say in all probability we've perfected the stuff so it's time to do a re-write on our methods.
- Source out and buy pork bellies. Now since we've started this little project our local source has increased his prices by $1.00 a pound but what the heck, it's still the steal of the century. Just make sure it's the best quality you can find and more important, while you're doing it you might as well buy more than 1. The pork bellies we buy come in pieces between 2.5 and 3 pounds each so we're doing about 10 to 12 pounds at a time.
- Wash and dry the bellies well, leaving the skin on. Coat three sides (2 ends and the side without the skin) in a mixture of 1 tablespoon Morton's Tender Quick mixed with 2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar PER POUND of meat. Rub it in really well then wrap each piece in its own gallon size zip bag, squeezing out all the air that you can.
- Stack the wrapped bellies into a plastic container with a tight lid and refrigerate for 10 to 14 days, moving them around and flipping them over every day to redistribute the juices that are collecting. Don't pour off any accumulated liquid, just make sure the seal of each bag is completely closed.
- After the curing period, remove the bellies from the zip bags and discard the bags and accumulated juices. The bellies will be firm to the touch, more compact and a deeper color than when you started. Wash them off well under cold running water and dry with paper towels. Place on wire racks on a sheet pan and leave uncovered in your refrigerated for 24 hours so they have a chance to dry out.
- Prepare the smoker with your choice of wood chips. Our favorite is maple, but apple works well too as well as hickory, alder or mesquite but for us maple is the best. Place drapery hooks or S hooks onto one short end of the bellies, attaching the hooks through the skin so the bellies can hang off a rack in the smoker or alternatively lay the bellies flat on the smoking rack, leaving as much room as possible between each slab.
- Smoke them for a minimum of 2 hours or anywhere up to 8, depending on how much smoke flavor you prefer. Our last batch went for 4 hours and quite honestly, it is perfect.
- Remove the bellies (now bacon) from the smoker and cool to room temperature, then wrap well and refrigerate for 24 hours. They'll become even more solid which makes slicing a lot easier. Then remove the skin and save it (freeze) for making crackle or for the next time you make a big pot of beans. The flavor's incredible.
- Slice and package the bacon, wrap air tight and freeze. The Big Guy even saves the iddy biddy pieces for me and cuts them into a small dice, perfect for crisping up for salads or in omlets or carbonara or just about anything, actually.
You'll notice a huge difference not only in the flavor of your bacon but the lack of fat as well. I've found that when you're cooking it up, be sure to spray the skillet with a little cooking spray first and start cooking the bacon in a cold pan on low heat, gradually increasing the heat as the bacon releases fat. You'll find that not only is it leaner than the stuff you buy, but it also browns a lot faster.
I had some last night on this Bacon and Blue burger and now that the fur kiddies and I are finally up and at 'em today, it's likely I'll have more with some eggs this morning. Are you jealous yet?