Curing and smoking my own bacon has been on my to-do list for at least a year and a half. It was always in the back of my mind, even though things like making yet another flavor of ice cream or figuring out a cardoon recipe kept taking precedence. As winter turned to spring, I saw two luscious pounds of Niman Ranch pork belly at the butcher counter and promptly stashed ‘em in the freezer. The bacon day would come soon.
But after testing recipes from the grilling, bbq, and smoking primer She-Smoke earlier this spring, I realized my gas grill just wouldn’t be able to produce the rich flavor that I love so much in Niman Ranch’s applewood smoked bacon. Sigh. I would settle for nothing less than perfect bacon. What to do?
Generous husband Dan, who’s quickly overfilling the basement with Mike Piazza figurines, gave me that opportunity when he let me tag along on a lunch date with fellow sports and memorabilia enthusiast Paul Lukas of Uni Watch. See, Paul is one of two people I know who own a Big Green Egg, one of the best (maybe the best) smoking apparatus around.
The weather turned balmy; the date was set for a sunny Tuesday in July. A week before the day of the big smoke, I applied the maple-smoked bacon cure from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s meaty book Charcuterie, tucked it gently into a Ziploc bag, and let it firm up in its self-brine (full recipe below).
All that was left to do after a week in the cure was to throw the pork belly under the lid of the Big Green Egg for about an hour and a half to luxuriate in the fragrant smoke of hickory wood, keeping the smoker temperature around 200˚ until the meat reached an internal temperature of 150˚.
(Oh, and we also threw a brined pork loin, a few handfuls of almonds, pecans and dates, some cherry tomatoes, potatoes and peaches, and an ear of corn in the smoker for good measure. Nothing like loading it up for experimentation while the smoke is billowing.)
That was it. All my mental buildup about this big culinary exercise for a few hours of drinking beer in Paul’s backyard and listening to a little Being There. The bacon was a wonder, well-lacquered like Valentino’s skin. We sliced some off and ate it fresh; some ended up in yet another round of carbonara, and the rest in fried green tomato BLTs.
But now it’s gone, and pork belly prices have skyrocketed since my last purchase. I can neither afford more pork belly nor a Big Green Egg of my own. Can we set up a fund?
Maple-Cured Smoked Bacon
adapted from Charcuterie
- One 2 1/2 pound slab of pork belly (it’s probably not worth it to smoke less than 2 pounds, as it loses some water weight throughout the process)
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon pink salt (curing salt)*
- 2 tablespoons maple sugar or packed brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
Open a gallon size Ziploc bag and have it at the ready on the counter. Place the pork belly on a large baking sheet.
Whisk the two salts and the sugar together in a small bowl, then stir in the maple syrup until a wet paste forms. Rub the paste evenly over the pork belly, then place the meat into the Ziploc bag and seal.
Refrigerate the bagged pork belly for a week. The meat will start to self-brine as it releases liquid throughout the process; turn the bag over every other day to keep the brine evenly distributed. You may need to squeeze additional air out of the bag to make sure the meat is in contact with the brine at all times.
Remove the pork belly from the bag, rinse, and dry. Set a metal cooling rack on a sheet pan and place the meat on the rack. Leave uncovered in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours.
Prepare your smoker according to manufacturer instructions, and hot-smoke the pork belly at 200˚ until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 150?. This can take anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours depending on the size of your slab, so monitor carefully.
Should you not devour your bacon immediately, it will keep in the fridge for about a week and in the freezer for about three months.
*Pink salt, aka curing salt, can be purchased online at The Sausage Maker—just buy Insta-Cure #1 in your desired quantity. It’s sodium nitrite, which inhibits the growth of botulism-causing bacteria in a warm environment. The amounts used in the recipe are small, so you shouldn’t worry about cancer-causing compounds (unless you subsist entirely on a diet of processed foods, in which case, why are you reading this site?). I urge you, if you’re going to smoke your own bacon, PLEASE stick to the recipe for proper food safety.