Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.
Nothing could be simpler than makin’ bacon, the king of all fried meats. How many vegetarians have you known who sheepishly confess to enjoying the “occasional” slab of crisp sautéed hog fat? I rest my case. Bacon is God.
To cure your own bacon, plan and shop for ingredients well in advance. You might need to special-order the pork belly from your local butcher or grocery store. And if you can’t find curing salt (Insta-Cure #1) or hickory sawdust from your local kitchen supply shop or butcher, order it from online retailers like SausageMaker.com.
Bacon must first be dry rubbed and cured for about 7-10 days. And while you can slice and fry it immediately after curing, American-style bacon is usually smoked to give it flavor. Here, I offer three ways to smoke the baco: full-on grill smoking, oven roasting with liquid smoke, or a combination of the two. If you go the liquid smoke route, use only the real stuff; fake liquid smoke has an unappealing chemical taste. Once the bacon is ready to eat, note that it will be easiest to slice thinly -- a must if you like crispy bacon -- when it is very cold, and your knife is very sharp.
2 1/2 to 3 pounds of thick, center cut pork belly (skinless)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon curing salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons of real liquid hickory smoke or 3 cups of hickory sawdust, depending on how you’ve chosen to smoke the bacon.
Rinse the belly and thoroughly pat it dry until the surface is tacky. Trim off any thin edges so that the piece is one long rectangle. (You can save these excess pieces of belly for making sausage or lard, or for general roasting.)
In a large, rectangular baking dish or pan, mix the sugar with the molasses until thoroughly incorporated. Then mix in the 2 tablespoons of salt, curing salt, and pepper and rub it evenly into the meat (like a relaxing, porcine spa treatment), spreading it evenly around the sides as well as the top and bottom. Tuck the meat, encased in all of the rub, carefully inside a sealable plastic bag (gallon sized will work, but oversized are better if you can find them) and lay it flat in the refrigerator for 7 days, massaging the liquids that will amass inside the bag into the meat and flipping it daily.
After 7 days, inspect your bacon. It should be firm to the touch all over, like touching a cooked steak -- a sign that it has been cured. If the flesh still feels spongy and soft in spots, leave the meat in the bag and sprinkle it evenly with an additional 2 tablespoons salt and check it again after 1 or 2 days.
Once the bacon is fully cured, discard the solids, rinse the meat well, and pat it completely dry. The next step to giving bacon that familiar flavor is the addition of smoke.
Fastest: Roasting and Liquid Smoke
Heat the oven to 200°F. Place the belly, fat side up, on a rack over a roasting pan and roast for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until the interior temperature of the meat reaches 150°F (you must check with a meat thermometer). Gently brush the liquid smoke over the entirety of the bacon, covering both sides evenly.
Slowest: Smoking on the Grill
Prepare your grill by cleaning the rack and opening up the vents underneath and on the lid. Light half a charcoal starter’s worth of real wood charcoal until hot; about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare a foil pack of hickory sawdust by sealing the hickory inside a large rectangle of aluminum foil, flipping it over, and poking small holes into the top.
Once the coals are hot, pour them onto one side of the grill, and gently place the foil pack of hickory sawdust on top. Put the rack back into place, and place the meat onto the cool side of the grill, with the thickest part of the meat closest to the heat. Cover with the open vents over the meat. After a few minutes, you should see a gentle tumble of smoke emanating from the grill. This is a good thing. Resist the urge to lift the lid for at least 1 1/2 hours, or until the smoke stops completely and the grill lid is cool enough to touch.
At this point, take your meat’s temperature. It must reach 150 degrees in the center. If you’re approaching the correct temperature and your coals are still active, cover again and leave it alone for another 30 minutes. If you’re nowhere near completion, light another half-starter of coals and continue to smoke the meat. If you’re somewhere in-between, you may want to finish cooking the pork in the oven (see directions below).
Best of Both Worlds: Smoking and Roasting
Start smoking your meat, and do so as long as you’re able -- at least 1 1/2-2 hours is really ideal. Finish the meat as needed on a rack over a baking sheet in a 200°F oven until it reaches 150°F inside at its thickest point. Fry a slice of the bacon and taste. If it needs more smoke flavor, brush a thin layer of real liquid smoke on both sides of the slab.
Whichever method you use, when your bacon is ready, slice it as thin (or as thick) as you like it and fry over medium heat until browned on both sides. Drain on paper towels and enjoy.
How to Store It
Bacon can be stored in large slabs, in precut hunks for flavoring beans or other dishes, or in slices, in layers between pieces of parchment paper, and sealed tightly in a freezer storage bag. Refrigerate up to 7 days or keep frozen up to 3 months.
In next week's Small Batch, Alana Chernila will show us how to make yogurt at home. So, stock up on milk and maybe some yogurt starter!
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