Some people will tell you that bacon is bad for you, but I beg to differ. While I’m not prepared to call it a health food, home made bacon that is made from high quality natural ingredients is far more healthy than mass produced and over processed bacon that has been loaded with chemical preservatives. Home made bacon enjoyed in moderation is both delicious and nutritious. Home made bacon has been enjoyed by people from around the globe for thousands of years. Wherever wild boars roamed, people either killed them or domesticated them for their magnificent tasting flesh. And in an attempt to keep the party going, they learned to cure the meat in order to preserve it. A side benefit of the curing process was that it made the meat taste even better! The Romans had bacon they called petaso and the prehistoric Germans were the first to name the cured belly of the pig bak then bakkon leading us to today’s bacon. Personally I don’t eat store-bought bacon. It is generally cured with chemicals and injected with water, and industrially-raised pigs tend to be fattier and not as flavorful. Instead I make my own homemade bacon from all natural pasture raised pigs that I both cure and smoke–and you can too!
I start with organically-raised free-range pork belly from my friends at Whole Foods. This recipe is assuming you have about 5 pounds of pork belly in one piece, NOT cut into pieces.
|My friendly butcher Adam at Whole Foods in Thousand Oaks, California. He rocks!!
From there I create the cure. This is a basic cure. The spices you use are up to you. I have added things like pears, apples, and even Jack Daniels to this basic recipe.
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup real Mayple syrup (you can also use honey or brown sugar)
1 bunch fresh thyme chopped
1 bunch fresh parsley chopped
1 bunch fresh sage chopped
5 cloves of fresh garlic chopped
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp mustard powder
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Mix all the ingredients into a bowl. This is the “cure” that will turn the pork belly into “fresh bacon.”
Place the pork belly on a platter and scoop up the cure and massage it into the pork belly until the pork belly is coated with the cure.
Place the coated pork belly into a 2-gallon ziploc bag. Seal it and place in the fridge for 3-5 days.
Turn the bag over daily during the 3-5 day period. The longer you cure the pork belly, the longer your bacon will last without freezing, but the longer you cure it, the saltier it will be. We will talk about getting rid of excess saltiness later. At the end of the 3-5 day curing period, take the “fresh bacon” out of the bag, and rinse off all of the cure under running water. There will be a significant amount of “goo” left in the bag and that is normal. This is the moisture that has been drawn from the pork belly during the curing process. Now it is time to soak the fresh bacon to leach out any excess saltiness before smoking. Place the fresh bacon in a pan. If you have cured it for about three days, you should soak it submerged in water or butter milk in the refridgerator overnight. If you have cured it for 4-5 days, you should soak it in the refridgerator in buttermilk overnight, which will draw out more of the saltiness. (After 4-5 days of curing, the fresh bacon will be very salty)
After soaking overnight, rinse the fresh bacon under a cold faucet, then set aside in the refridgerator to air dry. At this point you have what is called “fresh bacon,” which could be frozen or cooked or stored in the refridgerator. However, the next step is what I believe makes bacon truly orgasmic and mind-numbingly delicious. SMOKING.
I suggest a hot smoke process.
If you have a gas grill, turn on one side of the grill to low. Choose wood chips that you will soak for 30 minutes in water. The wood chips can be apple wood, cherry wood, hickory wood or mesquite, depending on your flavor preference. A handful of these water-logged chips should be placed in an envelope of tin foil with holes punched in the bottom and the envelope should be placed directly over the heat source. Place the fresh bacon on the far side of the grill away from the heat source and shut the top of the grill. You should see smoke flowing from the grill constantly during the smoking process. If smoke stops coming from the grill, place another handful of wet wood chips into the tinfoil envelope. The temperature inside the grill should stay at a constant 200 degrees. Place a meat thermometer with a probe in the thickest part of the bacon. When the thermometer in the meat reaches 150 degrees, the bacon is done.
If you are using a charcoal grill, place 10 glowing, fully lit briquettes on one side of the grill. Place a handful of water-soaked wood chips directly on top of the glowing briquettes. With charcoal, you have to keep the temperature inside the grill as close to 200 degrees as you can by placing one or two additional briquettes and soaked wood chips as needed to balance out the heat and smoke required. As above, place a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the bacon and it will be done when the thermometer reaches 150 degrees. Either way, with gas or charcoal, the process usually takes between two and three hours.
This is a cured meat product with no harmful chemicals, nitrites or nitrates. This is an all-natural process done the way our ancestors would have done it. It may not be a “health food,” but if you love bacon like my family and I do, this is the healthiest, most delicious and satisfying way to enjoy this age-old food.