February 8, 2008
My first shot at making bacon seemed much less like cooking to me and more like an exotic collecting expedition. First I had to come up with pork belly, then curing salts – neither of which was to be found at the local Food Kitty.
The curing salts were easily enough found online under the name Insta-Cure #1, so I clicked through and impatiently waited for them to arrive on my doorstep. I have read about the health concerns associated with nitrites, but my sources said they were crucial if I wanted to smoke the meat at low temperatures for any length of time, preventing the dread botulism. And since I had decided early in the process that I would give smoking the bacon a shot, this seemed necessary.
The pork belly was a little more difficult, with no luck at the local grocery or on a trip to a couple of fancier places in the DC area. (To be fair, I should have called ahead.) But I hit pay dirt at an asian grocer, Lotte Plaza, in Ellicott City, MD. I lunched out in front of a case of pork bellies for a good ten minutes before choosing two perfect pieces.
At home, I started the process, using the basic cure recipe out of Charcuterie and adding maple syrup to one belly section and fresh ground black pepper to the other. I adore peppered bacon, but I thought I try out the sweet cure and see how it worked. This part took a total of ten minutes (including the dithering over the maple syrup and my amazement over how truly pink the pink curing salt really is), and the bellies went into the fridge to cure.
The next week consisted of me peering into the fridge and poking at the bellies to try and ascertain whether anything was actually happening in there. R. was much better at actually remembering to turn (and occasionally massage) the bellies on a dailyish basis. But really when it came down to it, flipping them every day or so was all that was required. Not exactly high-maintenance.
Finally the week was up. The bellies seemed to have firmed up upon poking, so I rinsed and dried them and fired up the grill for some smoking. Full disclosure here – I own a gas grill, not exactly what anyone seemed to be calling for in the how-to-smoke sections of anything I read, but I decided try and see what happened. I soaked some hickory chips I had been “aging” on my back porch for quite a while in hot water and made a packet for them out of aluminum foil. I set half of my grill on the lowest setting, put the packet on that side and the bacon on the high rack on the other side, closed the lid and waited for the bacon to come up to 150°F. Four hours later (and 15 minutes before I had to be at work), the thermometer alarm went off. The bacon was beautiful and smelled, well, you can imagine, like smoky goodness.