Posted by Lauren
We have another guest post ready for you! This one comes from my friend Sean. I met him in the dorms freshman year, we had a few classes together, he inspired me to start running (him + my mom, true story!), he kindly invites me to Sharks games, and he makes the BEST BACON ever. Like…. from scratch. After the bacon fiesta over New Year’s Eve Eve in Big Bear, I asked him to document the process. He sent this compilation over to me a few weeks back and I’m just now posting it – whoops. THANK YOU SEAN!
p.s. Sean is in Italy right now! Jealous!
p.p.s. did you guys read Fran’s guest blog post?
p.p.p.s. do any of our other friends, family, readers want to do a guest post?
Lauren has bugged me a few times to drop some serious knowledge on all you bacon lovers out there.
I’m not the first person to ever cure a slab of pork belly, and you can find any number of recipes for homemade bacon, but I am passionate about quality food and the pursuit of pork perfection.
OK, now that we understand where I’m coming from, let’s get down to the meat (pun very much intended) of the post.
What you will need:
- 4-8 lb slab of pork belly
I get mine from Marin Sun Farms because their pigs are raised on pasture, foraging their meals and getting all delicious and nutritious for me.
- Pink ferry dust (Curing salt)
This is a high nitrate salt that is colored pink so you don’t ever confuse it with another spice and consume it. It is a very important piece that ensures a pathogen free bacon experience. You will never directly consume any of it…if you want to stay alive
- Kosher salt
You will have lots of this on hand at all times if you are worth anything as a human being…you’ll need lots more if you plan to attempt bacon mastery
- Sugar of some kind
Granulated white sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, dextrose…all is fair in love and cured pork products
- Gallon ziplock bag
Each gallon bag will fit a 4lb slab quite nicely
- Pyrex baking pan
Optional, but nice to have:
- meat tenderizer
help the cure infiltrate and delish-ify your pork
- remote thermometer
for monitoring the internal temp of the bacon while it cooks, you don’t want to mess this up
- a kitchen scale
although you can portion your cure in measuring cups and such, a gram scale is more accurate and makes it easier to scale the recipe.
- a smoker
I use a Bradley electric smoker. Not limited to use for bacon, mind you, this puppy can cold and hot smoke anything you could ever dream of.
sharing is caring, though some people (myself included) wouldn’t mind selfishly devouring the entire loot. It’s nice to share your culinary creations with those you enjoy spending time with.
The first thing you will need to do is make your cure, which is a mixture of salt, sugar, and curing salt. Those three items need to be in every cure, but you can go wild in the lab and create spiced rubs to flavor to your hearts desire. For this basic cure, the ratios break down as such:
- 100 grams kosher salt
- 50 grams sugar
- 25 grams curing salt
Mix these ingredients together in a mixing bowl, or even right in your baking pan. When the cure is evenly mixed, place the belly in the cure. Don’t be shy, now…get the granules on every conceivable nook and cranny you can. Flip the meat, coat the meat, flip, coat, ad infinitum.
Now, wash your hands (or don’t. It’s not that important just, nice to have clean hands before you grab the ziplock bag). Get your ziplock bag(s), open and twist the top down so you cand place the belly inside without getting the cure into the ziplock strip (which makes it incredibly difficult to close). Zip that baby closed and place it in a visible location in the fridge.
It’s going to stay put for at least 7 days, up to 10 if you’re nervous about a shorter cure time. Flip the belly once a day (easy to forget, that’s why you wanna have it in plain view so you remember to flip when you grab a bottle of home brewed IPA from the fridge) and with each passing day you will notice the feel of the belly will change, kind of like pregnancy. The contents of the bag will transform from a piece of raw meat covered in cure, to a very firm slab of cured belly with water all around (and definitely not a drop to drink, if you value your life and taste buds).
You’ve now waited an excruciating 168 hours, each one longer than the last, and you’re so close to the finish line. This is no time to rush, though, because the quality of your product will depend heavily on your patience and good judgment here. It’s time to unwrap the gift of charcuterie, to remove your belly from the ziplock, and begin the final steps of preparation.
You’ll notice there is quite a bit of water that has collected in the bag. Fear not, this is normal, and is the result of the salt and sugar pulling the water from deep within the meat. Simply remove the belly, discard the ziplock bag and its salt watery contents, and wash the remaining cure off the meat. You cannot overdo this step, so don’t just give it a little splash, be sure to wash everything off of every surface.
After your pig goes for it’s little dip in the pool, it needs to dry off (no one likes a pruned pig). You’ll want to wipe the entire thing with paper towels, and when you think it’s dry, wipe it again. Then place it on a cooling rack, and let it air dry for at least an hour. This air-drying time serves two purposes, it forms the almighty ‘pellicle’ and it brings the meat up to room temperature. I know all too well how difficult it will be to leave this out and just wait even longer than you already have.
You have an hour or more to kill, what should you do? Here is a list of things I’ve found helpful:
- Cook – practice your knife skills by dicing/slicing/julienning some vegetables, prepare some appetizers or salads, try to make your own mayonnaise, perfect the poached egg, prepare some gnocchi
- Sharpen your knives – everything becomes infinitely easier with a sharp knife, and now is a perfect time to make sure yours are ready to go
- Clean – most assuredly there is something that needs cleaning. Your kitchen may be a tad untidy, your room perhaps in need of some de-cluttering
- Exercise – do some bodyweight training, go for a walk, do some mobility drills for your shoulder and hip flexibility
- Read – voraciously
- Write – only after you read everything you can get your hands on, and then read even more
- Maintenance – do you have a bike? A car? Any item that would benefit from some preventative maintenance? Take this time to clean your chain and cassette, true your wheels, tighten your headset, change your own oil (it’s flippin’ easy, people), dust out your computer, clean your camera lenses.
Now, preheat your oven to between 200 F and 250 F, and place the bacon (skin side up) on a baking sheet. OR, alternatively, if you have a smoker, get that pre-heated to a similar temperature and full of a nice applewood smoke. Place the meat in the cooking device and let it stay there for about 75 minutes. You want the meat to reach an internal temperature of 180 F, so a digital remote thermometer will be a nice tool to have here. I’d even pull out a little prematurely (always the safest way to do anything), as the meat will continue to rise in temp once it’s removed.
At this point, the bacon is DONE! However, it’s not in the form you are most used to, and thus not truly edible or done. Let it cool until you are comfortable handling it, at which point you will want to take your sharpest knife and begin the slicing. You’ll want a long knife for this, so if you have a 10” chef’s knife, this would be a good time to get some use out of it.
Start by removing the skin, trying to remove only the skin and as little of the fat as you can. Once you have enough of the skin to grab, it’s a good idea to hold onto a corner of skin and apply some upwards force while you let your knife slide under the skin and over the fat. Work your knife over the entire slab and soon you will be free of skin and ready to slice. Keep the skin if you want, it can be good for flavouring a soup or slicing and frying into “chicharones”.
Slicing is a personal preference kind of thing, but subject to the bacon’s will as well. Sometimes the size is good, the ratio of fat to meat perfect, and the structure of fat and meat are such that your slab of bacon doesn’t squish and deform while you are trying to make nice slices. You can slice thinly, thickly, or a mixture of both (even if this is frustrating and unintentional, always claim you like a variety of bacon thickness).
You’re done now. Can you believe it? How easy was that? With a few simple steps and a lot of waiting, you now have your own homemade bacon. How cool is that? You’ve created a delicacy, something that you will enjoy for many more days than just today. You are a foodie now, there’s no turning back. Fry up some bacon, kick back, and savor this accomplishment. Bon Apetit!
Thanks for the informative blog post, Sean! I’m off to go clean my bike chain and cassette ;)