You’ve probably figured out by now this is a not post for the vegetarian reader.
But if you like bacon then I’m talking to you. And if you’ve ever thought even for a second about curing your own bacon then I’m beseeching you. Because this bacon brought tears to my eyes it was so amazing. Without a doubt this was the best bacon I’ve ever eaten. I give 100% of the credit not to the cures or the smoke but to the farmer. He was the one that chose these particular pigs for their meat flavor, pastured them in what sunshine we get here in Seattle, and fed them an all natural diet.
More reading of a slightly more graphic nature on that.
When you get a pig there is but one belly and a whole lot of ham to eat before you can get another pig for more belly. My house is filled with bacon lovers. So I made bacon from non-traditional cuts as well.
Anatomy of a Pig
The primal cuts from a pig are the hams (rear leg and behind), the picnic hams (front leg), the shoulders (also called the Boston Butt), the lower legs (hocks), the belly (bacon), the ribs, the small tenderloin just inside the ribs and the loin which is much larger than the tenderloin and just outside of the ribs. The loin is the section sometimes cut as pork chops when not removed from the ribs. If not handled correctly it can become dry and tough. We found that we aren’t actually that fond of pork chops but we sure do like bacon.
Increasing the Cured Meats
Cured meat is tasty but it’s also very flexible and can make a ho hum dish into an amazing dish simply by the addition of some chopped bacon or ham. It’s also one of the few homemade lunchmeats and makes a mean breakfast sammy. And then what would sun ripened tomatoes be without that first BLT of the year? So rather than cut the loin into steaks I decided to cure it like ham. I’m calling it cottage bacon. Not that we live in a cottage but it sounds more quaint to me than “war box bacon” or “tiny 1 toilet house bacon.” I’m quite pleased with the results and so is the rest of the family.
I cured the Canadian bacon, cottage bacon and breakfast bacon for about a week in the fridge before hot smoking it all on Sunday.
I find it interesting that there were only slight variations in the cures, which were all water with kosher salt and mostly one other ingredient, but the cuts all tasted so different. The Canadian bacon had garlic and thyme in the salt brine. The cottage bacon had brown sugar in the salt brine. The breakfast bacon had a salt and maple syrup rub on it. The ratio of fat to meat in each cut is really the distinguishing factor here, as well as how large the cut was since the flatter cuts absorbed more smoke and brine than the larger ones.
Each one was succulent and flavorful beyond belief in it’s own way. Each one will be the perfect addition to oh so many good meals for us into fall.
When you do your own meat you can choose how much you want to grind up into sausage versus how much you want to leave uncured for later smoking or braising versus how much you want to cure into salted, aged goodness.
I have a feeling we finally have enough bacon in the house to keep Pickle Man happy. And the really nice thing about this is that all of the bacons and ham are hot smoked so I felt completely comfortable using just kosher salt and no nitrates or nitrites or flavorings or preservatives of any kind. I know the conditions the pigs lived in, I know that they were all happy enough to still have curly tails (feedlot pigs do not because they are so stressed out they would chew each others tails off), and I know firsthand that the pig was treated with respect even in death.
All these recipes are from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn which covers not only smoking but salt curing, fresh sausages, dry curing, pates and confits. It makes all this completely approachable for the home cook and I highly recommend this book.
Maple Cured Smoked Bacon
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup maple sugar or brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 – 5 pound pork belly, skin on (mine was off) and cut to fit into 2-1 gallon Ziploc bags
Combine the first 3 ingredients and rub on the pork bellies then place the bellies in the bags in a refrigerator for 7 days, turning to distribute the cure daily until the meat is firm to the touch.
Remove the belly from the brine, rinse and pat dry (I didn’t actually rinse off that maple syrup) and place it on a rack over a plate in the fridge for 24 hours. Hot smoke at 180 degrees Fahrenheit to an internal temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigerate the bacon overnight to firm it up before slicing as thinly as possible. Fry up a taster piece and weep like a girl. Oh wait, that was me.
1 gallon water
1 1/2 cup kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 bunch sage
1 bunch thyme
2 smashed garlic cloves
1 – 4 pound pork loin
Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large pot and bring it to a simmer, stirring until all the ingredients have dissolved. Cool the brine then place the pork loin in it and use an overturned plate to keep it submerged in the brine for 48 hours. Remove the loin from the brine, rinse and pat dry and place it on a rack over a plate in the fridge for 24 hours. Hot smoke at 180 degrees Fahrenheit until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 Fahrenheit.
1/2 gallon water
3/4 cup kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 loin, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
Combine the first 3 ingredients in a large pot and bring to a simmer, stirring until all the ingredients have dissolved. Cool the brine then place the loin pieces in the brine and use an overturned plate to keep them submerged in the brine for 3-4 days. Remove the loins, rinse and pat dry and place them on a rack over a plate in the fridge for 24 hours. Hot smoke at 180 degrees Fahrenheit until they reach an internal temperature of 150 Fahrenheit.
I’ll leave you with an image of a gargantuan 20 pound bone-in ham which I’m hoping my friend the serious wood smoker will do a post on. And yes, it fills a full length cookie sheet.