There are things I’ve never thought about making at home and bacon was one of them. Until . . one day about a year ago, or . . five years ago . . I seem to have no concept of time any more . . my blog friend, Judy, told me she was making bacon. WHAT? You can make bacon at home? Yes! She told me how she did it, she told me how amazingly wonderful it was and I was sold. I was going to make bacon! But, then . . I tried to find a pork belly. I.M.P.O.S.S.I.B.L.E in this small town. The Kroger meat manager checked his order form and it wasn’t an option. The Walmart meat manager checked is order form and it wasn’t an option. Brookshire’s told me they couldn’t get one either.
We were down in San Saba, and I know that was over a year ago, and we stopped in a meat processing plant. They checked and said, no . . they couldn’t get a pork belly either. Last time we were in Brady, we stopped in the meat shop there and no, they couldn’t get a pork belly. My friend who lives in Houston offered to check for me but I hate to send her on a wild goose chase all over Houston..
Last week, on the same day . . I found two local places that could get me a pork belly. I had gone to pick up our youth fair pig from the butcher in Santa Anna and I asked the guy there and he said “Yes! I just checked for someone else.” He told me he had to order a case (4 bellies) and he would like to split a case with me so he could try making bacon at home. Those should be in tomorrow. On the way back to town, I decided to run by the local meat market in Early (a little town that’s kinda combined with ours but separated by a bayou). We buy most of the meat we buy from this guy and I have no idea why I never thought to ask him about a pork belly. Yes! He could get them too. He called me yesterday and said they were in. Vince needed to run to town for something else so I went with him and we got our pork bellies.
Poor pig! 🙁 But, it will make some yummy bacon!
Now that I finally had pork bellies, I didn’t have a clue what to do with them. I had been corresponding with Judy and she had sent me some links and I did more research. What I did know is that the bacon has to be cold smoked, actually a modified version of cold smoking, as the internal temp of the meat needs to reach about 150º and Prague Powder #1 was necessary for the curing.
When I was in the butcher shop in Early last week, he had told me about the Prague Powder and he had some and showed it to me. I ordered some from Amazon and it should have been delivered yesterday but I had gotten a text that it was delayed due to weather. I was all prepared to ask him if I could borrow a couple of tablespoons of his Prague Powder but on our way to town, I received another text that my package had been delivered.
I was glad I wasn’t going to have to beg the butcher for some of his Prague Powder! 🙂
We don’t have a cold smoker, per se, but Judy uses the lowest setting on her Cookshack smoker and we have the same smoker so that’s an option. The bacon temp should not get above 150º or the fat will render and the lowest setting on our Cookshack is 200º. I’m comfortable using the Cookshack so long as I watch it very closely but I have a tendency to forget about things. Using the Cookshack would probably work on a cold day but on a day when the outside temp is 100º+, I think it would be risky to try the Cookshack. Once I’m confident of my bacon making abilities, I’ll probably smoke up enough back to get me through the summer, slice it, vacuum seal it and freeze it, then I won’t have to be cooking it on a 100º+ degree day because who wants to do anything when it’s that hot?
We do have one of those big black smoker grill things so we decided to use this A-Maze-N tube filled with apple or peach pellets or chips.
So .. I was all set to begin making bacon. Since this is my first time and I don’t want to ruin the meat, though I don’t think I would, I divided one belly into thirds and used three different recipes. You can see from the side view how it looks like the it has the potential to be good bacon. It’s all up to me now. 🙂
A wet or dry method of curing can be used. I chose dry curing, though two of mine are wet. Technically, a wet curing method would involve
Each slab was about 3 pounds and after reading quite a few recipes, I figured out that basically, all start out with the following ingredients for a 3 pound slab:
- 1-1/2 teaspoons Prague Powder #1
- 4 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1/4 (slightly less) cup white sugar or brown sugar
- 1 T. fresh cracked pepper
- Honey, Molasses, Maple Syrup . . some amount to rub the meat before adding the dry spices
Those are the basis and to that, almost any additional ingredient can be added. I saw recipes that added espresso powder (though I’m sure liquid strong coffee could be added too). I saw one recipe that had paprika and cumin added. I don’t like paprika much and Vince doesn’t like cumin much but I thought that would be a great recipe for seasoning beans or cabbage.
Since this was my first time, I didn’t venture too far from the recipes I found online but there are lots of thoughts running through my head for my next batch of bacon. Also, because I can’t stand getting “stuff” under my nails, for each batch, I mixed the dry ingredients and put them into a glass jar with a shaker type lid. I put the meat on a piece of parchment paper, poured the honey or molasses or maple syrup onto the top and spread it with a plastic spatula, then I sprinkled the spices on. Then I slid the meat into a big ziplock bag and did the same thing with the other side. Liquid is going to come out of the bacon and the spices are all going to get blended and re-arranged so there was no need to use my hands . . as far as I could tell.
First, I used basically the recipe Judy sent me. I didn’t add quite so much sugar and I use the Prague Powder instead of curing salt. Otherwise, I pretty much followed the recipe.
For the second batch, I used this Asian Bacon recipe. Anything with Sriracha and Five Spice Powder has to be amazing. Vince doesn’t think this one will be good but I make an Asian salad with water chestnuts, Snow Peas, and Mandarin Oranges. It has a ginger soy dressing and I think this bacon would be great on that salad.
For the third and final batch, I used a recipe that has bourbon and brown sugar.
For Batch #3, I chose a Bourbon cure. I can hardly wait to add a couple of slices of this to a chicken salad sandwich!
For now, the meat must cure for about 10 days. I placed it all in a plastic tub in case any of the bags leak. It would be a sticky mess . . I don’t need that!
It will stay in the shop fridge. Every day I’ll poke around on it, turn the bags over and . . wait til I can smoke it and taste it!