We have harvested a few pigs now, so I feel like we’re kind of getting the hang of the process. My favorite part, aside from eating never-frozen ribs the night of harvest, is making the bacon. It is a long process. There are a lot of steps involved. But the end result is so rewarding. I don’t even really like bacon from the store. If we’re at a restaurant I will always pick breakfast sausage over bacon. I don’t like cooking store-bought bacon. I always end up getting burned from the grase splatters. But homemade bacon is a whole different food. Sweet, salty, deliciousness.
Of course it all starts on the pig. The meat is from the belly. After the harvest, skinning, and gutting, Hubby breaks the pig down into primal cuts – ribs, loin, ham, shoulder, belly. It takes a whole weekend to get to this point. Hubby then cuts the belly into manageable sizes, usually about 5″ x 8″, give or take a couple inches. They end up being somewhere around 4lbs each. This is what makes the bacon.
I’ve experimented with a few different recipes, but this brown sugar and black pepper recipe is my favorite from The Great American Spice Company. I like to write the recipe on the dry erase board (so I’m not fiddling with paper or electronics with messy hands), line up all the ingredients, have a big bowl, and enough Food Saver bags ready for each piece of meat. Then comes the messy part.
Mix the first batch of cure in the bowl, put in a piece of pork belly, and rub the cure all over, into the crevices, really massage it in. Move the meat into a Food Saver bag and dump remaining rub from the bowl into the bag. Distribute it evenly. Do this for each piece of pork belly.
Once all the pieces are rubbed with flavor, start sealing the bags. I like to get a little bit of air out of the bags, but they certainly don’t need to be vaccum-sealed. Once everything is packed they go in the crisper drawers at the bottom of the fridge. Don’t forget about them though! Flip them over each day to get flavor all over the pieces. It doesn’t take long to see liquid forming in the bags. This is normal. Flip the bags of bacon every day for 7 to 10 days to cure.
At the end of the curing time, remove the meat from the bags and discard the liquid. Rinse the pieces of pork belly and allow to dry. I like to put them on cooling racks in a drafty area to dry off. Once dry, smoke them! Our neighbor has an electric smoker that we use for our smoking needs. We put pecan wood at the bottom, a thermometer probe in the smallest piece of meat, set the smoker to around 200 degrees, and wait for the bacon to reach an internal temperature of 155 degrees. This takes a couple of hours, depending on the size of your pork belly pieces.
Once the meat is smoked, all that’s left to do is slice and package it! Again, we use our neighbor’s heavy duty slicer. Then we bring it all back home and package it into neat little packs of bacon for the freezer. First things first, make bags from the Food Saver rolls and label them. The last time we ended up using two whole rolls of the 11″ bags (this was for half of a 500+lb pig). I use a paper plate to neatly lay out the bacon slices, put the plate into the bag, flip it over, remove the plate, and voilà, a pretty pack of bacon. Vaccum-seal and freeze it!
When you’re ready to enjoy your bacon, skip the skillet, and the resulting grease-splatter burns. Lay the bacon out on a baking sheet and bake in a 400 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until it reaches your desired crispiness.
And that is how I make bacon. Best served with farm-fresh eggs and a slice of homemade bread. MmmmMmm.
Home Cured Brown Sugar and Black Pepper Bacon
from The Great American Spice Company
¼ cup salt
½ cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons coarse black pepper
½ teaspoon ground bay
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
½ teaspoon ground thyme
1 teaspoon of pink salt (Cure #1)
3-4 pounds fresh pork belly