To be upfront, I took this recipe from I Love Meat originally because like a majority of households in the country we love bacon. Also, I’m just getting started smoking meats so I needed guidelines before I could run hog wild. With the small electric smoker my wife and son gave me for Father’s day last year I had been playing with different recipes with many different meats and came across this recipe from I Love Meat’s writer, Andrew Armstrong, for bacon and instantly knew I had to try it. I am following the dry rub method and have made some very slight variations since trying it the first couple of times and those variations are what I’ll share in this post, but for the base of this recipe you can find it over on I Love Meat.
First and foremost you need to find a good chunk of pork belly. I’ve tried a couple places here in Chicago, Peoria Packing, Paulina Meat Market, Whole foods, and Butcher and Larder and found paying a little bit more for quality meat made a big difference in the outcome. Plus, a couple of these locations only carried frozen slabs of pork belly and I wanted to get as fresh as possible.
This is why I went with Butcher and Larder. Without going into too much detail, Butcher and Larder is a local butcher that works with local farmers to be as sustainable as possible and they use the whole animal. I can appreciate their process and going into their shop is always fun because the butchers are always ready to talk about the cuts of meat they’re offering and giving great advice about how to prepare the cuts you buy. I have now digressed from the main topic of this post and apologize.
Back to why I began this post. After chatting to the butcher and letting him know what I was planning on doing he helped me with cutting off a nice thick cut of pork belly. The recipe I follow has everything measured for 5lbs. of pork belly and lucky for me that size fits perfectly into my small electric smoker and my fridge. Skin on or off is usually the next question you’ll hear from the butcher. After the first few times of having them remove it, I’ve started to have them leave it on so I can make pork rinds. That is a future post.
Now that you have your pork belly sitting on your counter. What do you do next? Well, if you had the butcher leave the skin on you need to start removing. A sharp fillet knife, a steady hand, and patience will do the trick. You can freeze the skin, so if you’re not going to use it soon just throw it in a ziploc bag and put it in the freezer.
Once the skin is removed we’re ready for the cure. I use the dry cure method which has both pros and cons, but have found it to be easier to do in the limited space I have. For me the two pros that swayed me to the dry method are shorter curing time and the ability to play with the flavoring. So without any further discussion the cure recipe is as follows:
- ½ cup salt
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 Tbs. pepper
- 1 tsp. Cure #1
- 2 ounces honey
Mix all the dry ingredients together and set it off to the side. Drizzle the honey over the pork belly. This will not only add a great sweetness to the bacon but will also help hold the cure to the meat. I suggest investing in some rubber gloves to help keep things clean when adding the cure. There is nothing worse than sticky raw meat hands. Once you have covered all sides of the pork belly with honey and the cure place it in a large Ziploc bag. I use the jumbo sized bags to make sure a 5lb. pork belly will fit.
Once you’ve got it bagged and the air squeezed out, put it in the fridge for 6 to 7 days to allow the cure to pull the moisture from the pork. Halfway through the week flip the pork to evenly distribute the cure. From experience I would suggest putting the bagged pork belly in a rimmed pan while it’s in the fridge to avoid any messes due to leaks during the curing period. After the curing period there should be a good amount of moisture in the bag and the pork should feel firm. Remove it from the bag and rinse the exces cure off. You now have bacon. You could easily just slice it and start frying, but why do that when you can add another level of flavor? I suggest waiting another day before throwing the stuff into the pan and smoke it if you got it.
Now let’s do a taste test. Slice off a thin piece and throw it in a pan. Check on the salt levels. Hopefully it’s good. If not this is where you can adjust the saltiness like I mentioned before. Soak the bacon for a bit in cold water and slice off another piece to test. If you’re happy with the flavor pat the belly dry, lay it in a rimmed baking sheet, and put it in the fridge uncovered overnight. You want the smoke to stick to the bacon when it’s smoking and letting it dry overnight will do just that.
And now we come to smoking the bacon. This is where you’ll add that extra layer of flavor. Where you will separate yourself from the average bacon maker and become the bacon expert. (There is no truth to that, I just like to exaggerate at times).
At this point of the post I realize there is just too much to go over in one read so I’ll break it up into two parts. Plus you’ll have some downtime while the pork cures so you can peruse the next few steps while you wait.