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Bacon Day!

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Bacon Day!

Whether an oven, a smoker, or a grill, if you can manage 200-degrees for two hours, you can make bacon. Putting it that way isn’t so intimidating, is it? Making bacon is mostly waiting which is probably why we let companies do it for us. Before finishing up this 2.5 pounds you’ll see here, I’m all ready to buy my next 2.5 pounds of Pork Belly! It takes seven days to cure and finish preparing meat that will become bacon, so you’ll excuse me if the title of this post seems a bit exuberant. You’ll see when it happens to you. It’s Bacon Day!

Bacon Day!

While curing bacon in the smoker was an incentive to getting one recently, it isn't paramount. You can make bacon in any way that will sustain 200-degrees for two hours and after six days of waiting to get to that point, you too will find that excitement creeps in the most staid and patient of home chefs!

And it was early on the Seventh Day that Lewis was roused from slumber to perform the final task. Well, I might be getting a lot ahead of myself.

Bacon Day!

It's not just anything that will get me up before the alarm, but today, I was up twenty minutes earlier just to get Lewis up to speed. It's basically an outdoor oven with terrible leaks and no seals to speak of. So a preheat of half an hour is advisable. Once you open that giant door, it takes about a minute to regain every 25-degrees lost. The racks and sides hold residual heat which helps recovery.

Let’s rewind. In the beginning, there was only meat…

For 2.5 Pounds of Pork Belly
Salt, Kosher, Sea, Iodized, etc. – 2 Tablespoons
Sugar – 2 1/2 Tablespoons
Black Peppercorn – 1 Tablespoon
Cumin Seed – 1 teaspoon
Caraway Seed – 1 teaspoon
Dried Rosemary – 1 teaspoon
Bay Leaves – 2
Finely Chopped Garlic Clove – 1

We’re using dry spices because to cure the meat, we want to draw water out of it. Fresh spices will have lots of oils that we don’t want. We’re also using regular salts like my fancy Irish Sea Salt (for novelty) and not Pink Salt which is a special curing salt. We’re doing this only because it’s possible – not to make some statement against Nitrates. I can’t justify tracking down the special Pink Salt since I’ve heard it said often that your first batch of Bacon is typically a practice run.

Bacon Day!

The prep work is pretty unimaginative. A coffee grinder makes quick work out of dried spices and herbs. The Cumin and Pepper work well and the Sugar will become obvious during the cooking. A lot of recipes call for a daunting addition called Pink Salt. This isn't one of them. Although you might be tempted to use fresh herbs, to help dry the meat out, use dried herbs and spices, not fresh ones.

Use a spice mill or coffee grinder to roughly blend the dry spices together, THEN add the chopped Garlic and rub it all over the Pork Belly. Put it in a Gallon bag that seals and you’re done. Once a day for six days, turn the bag over. As the days go by, water may accumulate in the bag and the meat will get more stiff. For safety’s sake, I also lowered the temperature of my refrigerator by a couple digits.

For the record, my Pork Belly hardly developed any water at all in the bag. It just got more firm. One day, Easter, I was too busy to flip it. The world didn’t end but I was otherwise very vigilant keeping in mind most first swings at bacon are chalked up to experience. When it was Day Seven, rather than flip it, you unbag it and rinse it off with cold water to get the spices off. As I look back, I don’t remember Bay Leaves falling into the sink – I’m not sure why that is!

Bacon Day!

The picture says it all. Though I can't account for the whereabouts of the Bay Leaves (still a mystery) I can say that rinsing off the belly is easy. It's firm, cold and those dry, expired spices have to be made gone. In a hyper clean sink that you'll have to wash again, use a trickle of cold water to rinse the belly. Some peppercorn and spices were stubborn but for the most part, there was no difficulty. Leaving some won't hurt.

Dear Diary, 6:40 AM – 31° Outside. Up early because it’s Bacon Day. Started the heat element on Lewis, the smoker, to preheat to 200° steady. 7:03 AM Lewis was the cheapest possible smoker at the store, so still tinkering with the power dial. Temp reads 250°+ Setting it to lowest visible setting. 7:30 AM – Got 200° within a few notches.

Bacon Day!

This is more or less how two and-a-half pounds of pork belly compares to my left hand. It's a bit more than an inch thick (no skin) and I was lucky enough to have some miniature baking sheet that was a perfect fit. No idea where it came from; lucky though. The low heat of 200 still brought out fats and melted to the foil so it's vital to catch that anyway you can.

Rinsed seasoning off and place belly on a small baking sheet lined with foil on the top rack. Intent is for one hour of just heat and the second hour to include smoke from Apple Wood pellets. 8:15 – An hour and-a-half after turning the heat on, starting wood pellets for 15 minutes burn to smolder per instructions.

Bacon Day!

The Pellet smoker requires about 15 minutes lead time. Think of it as incense; it has to burn a flame that's steady, then you can gently blow it out and it will smoke reliably. With a butane torch, hold the blue flame to the pellets for about a minute and back off slowly. A small flame will emerge. When it dies, and mine always does, repeat the lighting process. After the second start, mine keeps a moderate lap of fire. Ten minutes later, blow it out and it will carry the rest with no intervention.

The smoker isn’t mandatory. You can do this, as stated in the opening sentence, in anything that will hold 200-degrees for two hours. Even your fireplace will do if you’re feeling rustic. The smell is the basic smell of seasoned pork. It’s not “bacon” yet. It’s also not safe to eat yet. IT’S ALSO NOT SAFE TO EAT YET. After the two hour heat, it’s merely completed the final round of curing. It will look not-pink because Pink Salt that we didn’t use didn’t add color.

Bacon Day!

You can see the stubborn spices that remained after the rinse. I just baked them in place. The color is dull and not quite what you might expect but the job is done. It's not yet ready to eat. It should smell like cooked pork but we're only just finished the preparation part of this bacon. All that's left is to slice and cook it!

I might have mentioned, it’s not safe to eat yet. It should be sliced with your most deadly, sharpest, longest knife in one, smooth and steady motion and fried on the pan. Don’t saw at it; imitate a meat slicer if you don’t have one. Cut through in one pass. The colder the bacon is, the easier it is to cut smoothly.

Bacon Day!

The sugar in our cure will brown rapidly when you cook this bacon so use a lower heat than you might with the Pink Salt store bought bacon. The browning sure is tasty though! Cutting is best when the belly is cold and the thicker slices have a crunch that reminds me of pork treats from South America. The smell from the kitchen will leave little doubt that bacon has been cooking and best of all, when you taste the bacon, you will agree, "it is good."

When you gander that slice, you’ll see the very familiar pork belly striations that are synonymous with bacon! The color should be more gray or yellow or brown than we’re trained to expect. Remember when you cook pork, it’s just gray. Bacon that’s cured on an industrial scale undergoes some processes that make it last longer for transport to the market. That different approach that we don’t need at home results in a pink color. Even adventurous eaters might pause and say, “what’s with the color?” That’s understandable. Then they’ll have a bite.

Done. Everyone who eats it will become a believer. Bacon at home is well worth the wait for Bacon Day!

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