I don’t think I can compete with the superlatives bestowed upon bacon on the internet. My love of bacon is not as great as that professed on some sites. I don’t find the idea of chocolate covered bacon appetizing. I don’t even like bacon a cheeseburger. To be honest, I rarely eat bacon by itself. Bacon has, however, become an integral part of my cooking as an ingredient.
One of the advantages of moving to Virginia is that there is a history of smoking in the state and, therefore, there are good local bacons available. Those at the farmer’s market are even better. In California, I even made fresh (unsmoked) bacon. When I saw a pork belly at EcoFriendly Foods stand several weeks ago, I knew it was time to try smoked bacon again.
This isn’t my first try at smoked bacon. My first attempt used a maple syrup based cure and the bacon was oddly sweet. My next attempt was a more savory cure based on a pancetta recipe. This bacon is a refinement of the second attempt.
While it may be self-aggrandizing, this is the best bacon I’ve tasted. The cure ingredients only serve to enhance and complement the natural pork flavor as does the smoke. It’s almost too flavorful to eat by itself. Almost. But that makes it even better when it’s used as an ingredient.
Adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing
One 5 lbs. (2.25 kg) pork belly, skin on
4 garlic cloves, minced
12 g pink salt
50 g kosher salt
26 g light brown sugar
20 g coarsely ground black pepper
10 g crushed juniper berries
4 bay leaves, crumbled
5 sprigs of thyme, leaves only
4 sprigs of rosemary, leaves only
3 dried red chili peppers, crumbled
- Combine the cure ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Place the belly in a jumbo Ziploc bag or other large container. Spread the cure mixture on all sides of the pork belly.
- Refrigerate the pork belly for 7 to 10 days, overhauling the pork belly by turning it over every other day, until it is firm at its thickest point.
- Remove the pork belly from the refrigerator, rinse the pork belly, dry it with paper towels, then allow it to dry in the refrigerator overnight on a rack.
- Hot smoke the pork belly over hickory until it reaches an internal temperature of 150ºF, 2 to 3 hours.
- Allow the pork belly to cool to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator.
- Cut into thick slices.
- The bacon can be refrigerated for several weeks or frozen nearly indefinitely.
Yields approximately 4 lbs/1.75 kg bacon.