Chefs, bartenders and home cooks are adding bacon to everything and food pundits are getting sick of it – chocolate bars, ice cream, blood Maryʼs. You can find bacon salt and Baconnaise on the supermarket shelves. My sister bought me bacon-flavored toothpicks and I saw an online ad for bacon spray.
Really. Iʼm going to push against the “no more bacon” tide and say homemade bacon deserves, really demands, space in your refrigerator. Iʼm embarrassed at how easy bacon is to make. So, to the bacon bashing pundits I say oink, oink and more oink.
My bacon making started when I was thumbing through a “Fine Cooking” magazine and found an article on making bacon. Hereʼs what it takes: pork belly, salt, brown sugar, water and time. The most challenging ingredient is the pork belly and I found plenty of it at Mr. Prime Beef on the Old Seward Highway. My last time around I bought the entire belly, 11 pounds worth. It cost me about four bucks a pound and thatʼs cheaper than quality store-bought bacon.
The rest of the ingredients make up the brine: kosher salt, brown sugar and water. The brining belly takes a two-day siesta in the fridge so I had to cut the belly into three pieces and place it into a large bowl that would fit into the fridge. I suppose now you could put it outdoors, with so much salt in the brine it probably wouldnʼt freeze.
After the 24 hours you remove the belly from the brine, stir up the brine and replace the belly for another 24 hours of soaking. After the brining, rinse well, dry the belly and place it in your smoker for about five hours. I used mesquite wood chips, but youʼll find other varieties like apple on the shelf. After the five hours I wrapped the bacon in plastic wrap and refrigerated it overnight. That firms it up and then you have BACON! Slice it any thickness and fry it up. The aroma will knock you out and will attract a crowd. Be sure to tightly wrap whatʼs left because it is smoky and the aroma will take over your fridge.
Thatʼs the basic recipe and you could freestyle it from there. Iʼve seen brines with bourbon in it, herbs and versions where you press cracked pepper onto the outside. I have discovered that making bacon is like smoking salmon, there are hundreds of variations in brines, rubs, type of smoke, length of smoke. In my experience, simple is best.
I smoke my bacon in a Little Chief, but a kettle smoker or even a charcoal barbecue can work. A new smoker like a Little Chief will cost about a hundred bucks and last forever if you treat it right. Go to Sportsmanʼs Warehouse and youʼll see how you can spend much more money for a fancy pants smoker.
If you donʼt have a smoker or want to try something different, I found recipes for curing bacon, without smoking it. It takes longer, about seven days and in addition to salt (and nitrite if you want it) it uses an herb rub. Morton makes several curing salts, one called Sugar Cure that would work without smoking. You can find it at any grocery store near the regular salt. I use it for brining my salmon but Iʼve not used it for bacon, but Iʼm sure you could fine a recipe on the Internet, especially Mortonʼs Web site.
Not wanting to mention the holidays so early, but a gift of homemade bacon sounds like a winner. Iʼm going to give away a few pounds, using my vacuum sealer and freezing it until I need to give it away.