Bacon Anyone?

>> Saturday, February 04, 2012

Today's post is a litttle different in that it doesn't have much to do with brewing.  As I've mentioned before, I love smoked foods.  I have a stainless steel Great Outdoors propane smoker that I got from Sam's Club years ago.  It's awesome because the temperature can be easily adjusted to compensate for weather conditions unlike my previous smoker (charcoal smoker) that had a hard time maintaining temps in bad weather.

I've smoked a little bit of everying on my smoker including beef brisket, chicken, turkey, fish, and of course the king of BBQ: pork.  I've also used it to smoke grain for brewing but I've always been a little concerned about the heat and it's impact on roasting the grains.  I've always wanted to be able to do cold smoking for things like cheese but even on it's lowest settting my smoker generated too much heat for these kinds of things.

I did a little research a couple years ago and came accross the Pro-Q Cold Smoke Generator.  It's basically a metal tray with dividers aranged to form a maze.  You fill it with hardwood sawdust, light one end, and it slowly smolders providing up to eight hours of smoke.  I really liked the simple design but thought it was a bit overpriced.  Despite the price, I finally bit the bullet and ordered one a couple of weeks ago.  I'm basically using it inside my regular smoker without turning on the propane burner.  So on a day like today where it's about 42F outside, I can smoke things well below cooking temps without worrying about them spoiling.  I used it to smoke the grain for a recent smoked porter that I brewed and it seemed to work well.  I'm looking forward t trying this beer as soon as it's ready.  I also smoked some cheese with it and the cheese turned out fantastic.

I started reading through some other blogs and was turned on to an interesting book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing.  This book is really cool and I'm looking forward to trying out the recipes and processes.  In a sense, I've already had some experience with curing meat.  The dry rubs I've used to make things like pulled pork and the brines I've used to make smoked turkey essentially involve curing the meat, but this book takes it to another level.  If you have any interest in hand-crafted artisan style meats I suggest you pick up this book.

All this leads me to today's post.  I decided to try to make my own bacon.  Based on my reading thus far, it seems to be one of the simplest cured meats to make, so it seemed like a good starting place.  The recipe for a basic cure in Charcuterie calls for pink salt (Prague Powder #1) but I wasn't able to find any locally so I'm going to have to order some online.  In the meantime, I found a  recipe that recommended equal parts sugar and Morton's Tender Quick.  Morton's Tender Quick is a meat cure that contains both sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate.  I mixed this up and and applied it to 2 lbs of pork belly that I picked up at the local Asian market.  It's been curing in the fridge all week.  Today I'm using the Pro-Q to cold smoke the cured bacon and with any luck we should be enjoying some tasty smoked bacon with our Superbowl Sunday breakfast.

You want to know how good bacon is?  To improve other foods they wrap them in bacon.  The only bad thing about bacon is it makes you thirsty...for more bacon
-Jim Gaffigan

The angle of the sun made it hard to get decent pics of the bacon in the smoker.  Here's a couple of the better ones.

***Update 3/30/2012***
So the first attempt at making bacon had mixed results.  I cooked up some right after taking it off the smoker and it was good but not great.  It could have been an issue with the cure (one I found on the internet), the smoke (cherry, which tends to be mild), my process, or a combination the above.  I didn't end up using it for a Superbowl breakfast afterall; instead I sliced it, froze it, and took it with us on a family trip a couple weeks later.  By the time we cooked it up, it was mediocre at best...lost a lot of smoke character and pretty much just tasted like a piece of bland fried meat.  

For the second attempt I used the basic cure recipe from Charcuterie.  I read some posts online about making bacon, and several people mentioned how much better it was when they either hot smoked the bacon, or cold smoked it followed by finishing it off in a 200F oven.  One comment was that it tended to cook up crispier after hot smoking and the fat consistency changed.  

For the second attempt, I cold smoked over hickory for about nine hours, followed by a rest, then hot smoked long enough to reach an internal temp of 150F (about three hours).  This time it turned out awesome and I'd definitely make it again!

Cold smoking the pork belly

Smoke wafting upwards
After eight hours of smoking over cherry wood