First of all, you'll need to source some raw pork belly. Not every store will carry unadulterated pork belly and you may need to look around a bit. Also, some places may carry pork belly in different stages of processing. I was fortunate to have my local Cosco carry pork belly in a slab with the skin removed as well as packages of that slab cut into 3-4 inch strips. I opted for the strips because we have a meat slicer I wanted to use for my slicing and it was not large enough to accommodate the full slab of pork belly, nor did my fridge have that much free real estate.
There's two basic methods of brining when it comes to bacon: dry and wet. If you do some research, you'll find people are very particular about the method they use and they're more than happy to tell you why. I tried both. I prefer the wet method to the dry method and my reason is simple: I got more consistent coverage and even penetration than with the dry method. That's all.
You will also find people are very adamant about the use of pink curing salt (a.k.a. Prague Powder #1, butchers salt, Morton Tender Quick Meat Cure, etc.) which is common table salt with sodium nitrite and coloring added so that it isn't confused for regular salt. This should not be confused with Himalayan pink salt, which is pink due to the presence of trace minerals in the salt itself and doesn't contain sodium nitrite. Do some research, use what you like, don't use an ingredient you don't want to. There are natural alternatives to sodium nitrite infused salt but what I basically found is that those natural methods use ingredients (usually celery salt) that eventually break down during the curing process into...sodium nitrite. Consuming nitrites is like anything else in life: Large quantities = bad. Moderation = good.
Quick note: I used agave syrup and Puya peppers as my sweet and heat in this recipe because it's what I had around the house since I've been doing a lot of Mexican food recently. Used crushed red pepper flake and honey if that's what you prefer or get crazy. It's your bacon.
Been jamming to a lot of Osker recently so I'm going to go with their song Kinetic off of the album Idle will kill. Some classic, late-ninties, early 2000s skate punk.
Prep time: 3-5 days
Cook time: 2-3 hours
Serves: depends on batch size
- 2-3 cups water
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 packed dark brown sugar
- 2 tsp pink curing salt
- 1/4 honey (I used light agave syrup cause it was around and I thought 'why not?')
- 2 tbsp crushed red pepper flake (I used Puya peppers since it's what I had readily available)
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tsp cumin seed
- 3 lbs raw pork belly cut into strips with the skin removed
Add the water, both salts, sugar, honey, and paprika to the pan and kick the heat up to high. Bring to a boil, stirring in the ingredients until they are all dissolved (except the pepper flake and cumin seed obviously). As soon as the brine comes to a boil, turn off the heat, and set aside to cool to room temp. You don't want it to be warm enough to cook the pork belly when you apply it.
Place your pork belly slab/strips in a gallon ziplock bag (I find the heavy duty freezer ones work best) or some other container appropriate for holding sweet/salty, porky water for a few days in your fridge without making a huge mess. Add the cooled brine. I like the ziplock bag because it allows me to expel most of the air from the bag making sure that the brine is in contact with the all the pork surfaces, all the time. That is one of the problems with the dry rub brine method is uneven coating and distribution of the season over time creates "hot spots" that are heavily seasoned and "dead zones" that have little seasoning by comparison. This method gives full coverage and full penetration.
Now just toss you pork belly in the fridge for 3-5 days depending on how salty you like your bacon. I prefer mine on the less salty side so I like the three day soak but try it out and if it's not salty enough or just doesn't give you that hammy/bacon kick you're looking for try a 4-5 day soak.
Lastly, comes the smoke. Now, you can take your bacon out of the brine. Rinse it off under cold water and pat dry with some paper towels. Set it out on a cooling rack over a baking sheet so as to allow for air flow on all sides and to catch any drippings or whatnot and place it in the fridge for 12 hours (just toss it in overnight) prior to cooking. This drys the surface and forms what's called the pellicle that better captures the smokes flavors and colors on the finished product. If you can't let it sit overnight for some reason, some dry time is better than none. At least let it dry till the surface is tacky to the touch.
|See the paprika and chili bits adhered to the surface of the meat?!|
At this point your bacon could be finished in the oven, sliced and cooked and served immediately. However, I like my bacon smoked. So I soaked wood chips for smoking. I used 50% apple wood, 25% alder, and 25% mesquite. I smoked at 225 degrees on my little gas grill and 3 lbs took about 2-3 hours each time or until the internal temp reaches 145 Fahrenheit. Remove from the grill and let cool.
One tip I will give for slicing bacon is that it should be very cold before you attempt to cut/slice. As in, just on the verge of freezing is perfect. The warmer it is, the harder it will be to slice thinly. Once it is sliced, package and freeze or cook up a bacon feast. Do what you want. I'm not the boss of you. You just made your own bacon. You make the rules now.