Makin’ Bacon

I got excited about making homemade bacon after reading this post by a high-school friend, Bill Staley, on his blog — The Food Lovers Kitchen, www.primalpalate.com. He and his wife Haley are the authors of a few paleo cookbooks (“Gather” in particular is gorgeous). I’m not a paleo follower, but I am more than happy to hop on the bacon bandwagon from time to time, even as a mostly-vegetarian. For some reason, it had never previously occurred to me that a person could produce bacon in their own home.

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It turns out that it’s pretty easy to make your own bacon at home. There are two major pre-requisites: pork belly and a smoker. And you don’t even have to have a smoker! You could do it in the oven — however, the bacon won’t taste smoky. And the smoked flavor is what really makes bacon taste fantastic, right? Alternatively, you can rig up a charcoal grill as a smoker for a couple of hours. The latter is possible according to one of my vegetarian cookbooks. I imagine it would be pretty annoying to try to manage the temperature for 2 hours (which is a far longer smoke-time than any vegetarian smoked recipe in that particular cookbook), but once the weather warms up a bit I am going to experiment with that technique since I neither have nor have room for a smoker. I’ll keep you posted on the results.

Thawed pork belly chunks (about 1 lb each)

Thawed pork belly chunks (about 1 lb each)

Luckily, my mother-in-law is the proud and practiced owner of a smoker, lives in Iowa (a state known for its excellent pork), and was also very excited by the idea of making bacon during our holiday trip. She sourced some local pork belly from the New Pioneer Co-op in Iowa City. I didn’t have all the various ingredients used by Bill in his rub (and I only had 4 lbs of pork belly to rub compared with his 15-lb pork belly), so I improvised my own ingredients for the rub. I believe the important thing is to have a good amount of salt and a fair amount of sugar. The rest is just flavoring – so choose whatever herbs you think you might like.

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Salt, sugar, spice and herbs for the rub

Now, I don’t know how your holidays usually go, but even though we spent two full weeks in Iowa for the holidays, as usual all the things we planned ahead of time got put off until the last minute. Turns out it’s too much fun to relax and just be with family to bother with planned activities! There was an adorable baby on the verge of learning to crawl in the house for the first week, so grandchild/nephew-time took priority over making bacon.

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I didn’t even bother to get dressed before tackling the bacon rubbing. Bathrobes and bacon!

By the time we remembered to thaw out the pork belly, we only had a few days left! As a result, I only had the rub on the pork belly for 24 hours instead of the recommended 7 days. C’est la vie! The end product was still fantastic. Everyone agreed it tasted like bacon.

Hickory wood chunks, soaking

Hickory wood chunks, soaking

I especially liked that the bacon we made wasn’t very salty. I suspect that leaving the rub on for more time would result in a saltier-tasting bacon, but I can’t say for sure until I have a chance to do a little experiment with rub-times later. I will definitely be making more bacon in the future!

Homemade Bacon

  • 4 1-lb pork belly pieces, thawed, then rinsed and patted dry
  • 2 1/2 TBSP coarse sea salt
  • 2 TBSP sugar
  • 1 TBSP black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp dried estragon leaves
  • 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced fine
  • 1 TBSP maple syrup
  • 1/4 to 1/2 lb hickory wood chunks

Combine salt, sugar, peppercorns, and herbs in a mortar or spice grinder and grind into a coarse mixture. Mix together in a small bowl with the garlic cloves and maple syrup. Rub this mixture all over the pork belly pieces. Use all the mixture. Place in freezer bags and put in the fridge for at least 24 hours, and up to 7 days.

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Rubbed pork belly: rinsed, dried and ready for the smoker

Before commencing smoking, soak hickory wood chips in water for at least 2 hours. When just about ready to smoke, take the pork bellies out of the fridge and rinse the rub off with cold water. Pat thoroughly dry with towels or paper towels (make sure you throw cloth towels right into the laundry after using to dry raw meat).

Smoked pork bellies

Smoked pork bellies

Preheat your smoker. It should be maintained around 190˚-200˚F. Place the woodchips in the smoker and allow the smoke to build up a little. Put the pork bellies in, cover, and smoke for about 2 hours, or until the internal temperature is about 150˚F.

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Remove and allow to cool to room temperature, then wrap tightly. If planning to eat within the next few days, put in the fridge. Wait at least overnight to fry it up. You can also put some in the freezer to use later.

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Time to fry some bacon! With a sharp knife, slice the pork belly as thinly as you like. (It’s really starting to look like bacon now, isn’t it?)The colder the bacon is, the easier it will be to slice. Fry up as you would any other bacon! I prefer to use a cast-iron skillet over medium heat myself. There probably won’t be leftovers, so I’m not going to bother telling you how to store them or how long they’ll keep.

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2 Thoughts on “Makin’ Bacon

  1. Bathrobes and bacon! Carly, you’re too cute.
    I’ve never tried making my own bacon. Something to think about!

    Love the red nail polish. My style, too.
    Happy 2014! xo

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