Backyard Bacon

Casey Barber

by Casey Barber on August 23, 2010

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?

smoked bacon
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.

Plus, he’s the creator of this shirt—say no more. So over a plate of kolbassi at Clifton’s Rutt’s Hut, we made a vague plan for summer smoking.

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˚.

big green egg, smoker
(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.

green tomato BLT, smoked bacon
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?

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