I’m pretty sure I was born in the wrong time period and some cosmic flaw in the spacetime continuum expelled me into the late twentieth century instead of the 1760s where I belong.
I mean, can you imagine what a kickass pioneer girl I would have been? All I want is to be a butter-churnin’, pie-bakin’ ranch wife whose fur-trading helpmate buys her petticoats and hunts domestic fowl.
Instead I’m just a homespun hussy, bound to the newfangled scaffolding of the twenty-first century.
But that is ok! Because I know how to make bacon, and few things give me the same feeling of anachronous contentment as home-cured meat.
If you are fortunate enough to know me personally, you may feel baffled by this new undertaking, given my widely known and amorous love affair with the vegetable kingdom. It is true that I prefer greens and legumes over fleshy comestibles, but it is also true that homemade bacon tastes way better than store bought varieties.
It’s just like the difference between freshly baked bread and packaged; hand-squeezed lemonade and from concentrate; stove-popped popcorn and microwaved. Homemade is just better.
Making your own bacon is also incredibly easy. Here’s my step-by-step guide on how to cure and smoke your very own sowbelly.
First you’ll need to acquire a pork belly. You can buy a whole pork belly from any butcher shop, or if you’re feeling thrifty, from any of the meat counters in Chinatown. Make sure to thoroughly wash your pork belly, cut off any excess fat (but not the skin!), and pat dry.
You can put just about anything you like in your seasoning mix, but kosher salt and pink curing salt are both necessary. Curing salt (also called pink salt) is a mixture of table salt and sodium nitrate that inhibits bacteria growth while your meat is curing.
Did you know that curing salt is a controlled substance in Canada? I didn’t either until I attempted to cure my own meat and learned that it’s a little difficult to find. I did manage to find some at Williams-Sonoma, and have since seen it in specialty meat shops, so hope is not lost.
Here are a couple of spice combinations I’ve tried that have yielded very tasty results:
Classic bacon (pictured):
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1 tsp. pink curing salt
- 4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 4 bay leaves, crushed
- 5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tsp. chili powder (optional)
- 3 tbsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. pink curing salt
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Rub the spices into the pork belly, distributing evenly on all sides. Place the pork belly and any leftover seasoning in an air-tight freezer bag and refrigerate for 7-10 days, turning the bag every 2-3 days.
After the 7-10 day period your meat will be fully cured. It will be darker in colour and firm to the touch. Before curing, rinse off the rub and leave the pork belly out at room temperature for an hour.
There are many ways to smoke a pork belly. You can use a meat smoker, as is tradition, you can use a gas or charcoal grill, or you can opt for the super easy method of oven smoking. (I highly recommend this method. It is almost impossible to mess up!)
You’ll need a foil roasting pan, aluminum foil, and five cups of wood chips. Line the roasting pan with several long sheets of aluminum foil and put the wood chips inside, like so:
Very good. Now you’ll need to find a way to elevate the pork belly so it’s an inch or two above the wood chips. A roasting rack is ideal, but if you are without, I’ve found that an inverted metal dish rack will also do the trick. Place the pork belly on your chosen meat elevation device and form a sealed tent with the aluminum foil:
Place the roasting pan in a 200°F oven. Smoke your pork belly anywhere from 4-10 hours, depending on how smokey you want the bacon to taste. My strategy involves putting the pork in the oven right before I go to bed and removing it in the morning, which results in anywhere from 6-8 hours of smoke time.
When your bacon is finished smoking it will look something like this:
When the pork belly is cool, slice off the skin and discard. Wrap the belly tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The culminating moment. Fry up some ovums and toast some rye, ’cause it’s time for a fervently well-earned breakfast.
You can leave your bacon sealed and in the fridge for up to two weeks, in the freezer for up to three months or, if you’re seriously lacking in self restraint, in your gastrointestinal tract for six to eight hours.