Bacon Part 2

>> Sunday, January 12, 2014

It's been a while since I've made my own bacon. I picked up a Cabela's meat slicer over the holidays which gave me the excuse to make up a batch. I made two styles; the first is a basic bacon with brown sugar and the second is an Asian-inspired bacon based on the one featured in Chop and Brew episode #2.

Both recipes use the Basic Cure which consists of 1# kosher salt, 8 ounces sugar, and 2 ounces pink salt (Prague powder #1).

Brown Sugar Bacon
The brown sugar bacon recipe is pretty straightforward. The pork bellies I used were about 1.5 pounds each; kind of on the small side, but that's how they come from my local Asian market.

1/8 cup basic cure
1/4 cup brown sugar

Mix basic cure and brown sugar then coat the pork belly. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge and allow it to cure for seven days. It is also a good idea to flip it once a day to ensure the resulting brine is evenly distributed. After 7 days, smoke the bacon (see below).

Asian Bacon
The Asian bacon was marinated/brined for two days then had the basic cure applied for the remaining five days. This one also used a 1.5# belly.

1 quart water
1 c soy sauce
1 c hoisin sauce
1/2 c brown sugar
1 star anise, crushed
4 cloves garlic
1/2 T ground ginger
1/2 T Sriracha sauce
1/8 c basic cure (after brining)

Combine everything but the 1/8 cup basic cure. Brine/marinate the pork belly for 2 days. After two days, remove the belly from the brine and rinse with cold water. Pat dry then apply the basic rub, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for the remaining five days. Same as the brown sugar bacon, remember to flip it daily.

Smoking the Bacon
The first time I tried making bacon, I only cold-smoked it. There's nothing wrong with cold-smoking, but in my opinion it needs to be followed up with hot-smoking to end up with a product that tastes like bacon. I'm not sure exactly what happens, but something definitely happens during the hot-smoking process. If you only cold-smoke you, end up with a weird tasting pork product. For mine, I cold-smoke for about 8-10 hours. then follow it up with a hot smoke (225F) until it reaches an internal temp of 160F.

Before smoking the bacon, unwrap it and rinse well with cold water. This removes excess cure ensuring the final product isn't too salty. Pat dry and place it on a cooling rack and allow it to come to room temp. At this point I cold-smoked mine for about 10 hours.

Right before hot-smoking, I rubbed the brown sugar bacon with more brown sugar. The Asian bacon was rubbed with a combination of brown sugar and red pepper flakes. I cold-smoked with hickory and hot-smoked with a blend of hickory, oak, and cherry.

After hot-smoking, it is time to remove the skin; you can usually pull the skin off as soon as it's cool enough to handle. 

Once cooled, wrap with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge to condition for a few days. The conditioning stage isn't absolutely necessary, but I think it allows the smokey character to mellow and penetrate the meat better.

Slicing the Bacon
A meat slicer is the easiest way to slice bacon and will result in the most uniform slices. If you don't have access to one you can still get good results with a good sharp knife. You probably won't be able to get it super thin, but you can get it to about 1/8". In both cases it seems to help if you partially freeze the bacon first. You don't want it to be frozen solid, but it's easier to slice if it's somewhat firm from a good chilling. Slice it to your desired thickness then cook it up in a hot pan and enjoy!

Tasting Notes
Both of the recipes turned out really well. They were eaten up before I even had a chance to snap a picture of the cooked bacon.

As I would expect, the brown sugar version had a noticeable sweetness. It was along the lines of what most people would think of as traditional breakfast bacon, but definitely better than store- bought. We served it with some hashbrowns and eggs and it was scarfed down quickly.

The Asian version was less sweet and preferred by my wife and two older daughters. The marinade flavors were there, but they were subtle. I think I'd leave it in the marinade at least a day longer next time and also increase the star anise and ginger a bit. This one smelled similar to pho soup when it was cooking. We fried it up, chopped it and served it on Chinese chicken salad with manderine oranges.