Here are two bacon recipes that will revolutionize the way you think of bacon. We made them both, thinking one would be the clear winner, but the jury was split over which was the absolute best. Both were hailed, however, as The Best Bacon Ever, almost universally among the taste testers.
Vegetarians ate this bacon when they smelled it cooking. We’re not judging. We’re just letting you know what you’re getting into.
These recipes are sized for 2-pound batches, but there is no reason not to double, triple, or whatever the recipe to suit larger cuts of meat. Pork belly is not usually in the meat case but can be special ordered easily from local farms or organic groceries. Allow a few extra days to process your order. As in so many other instances, the sourcing of your bacon-to-be is very important. The health and yes, the happiness of the animal providing your meal truly does impact the flavor of the meat. Pasture-raised pork has a wholly different taste than feedlot pork, and this will be reflected in the quality of bacon you are producing. Luckily, we live in an area rich in alternatives to the industrial food system. Choose well, and wisely.
Some words on the cure itself. The first recipe is a wet cure; the second, a dry cure. A wet cure is essentially a brine that adds moisture to the meat, making it more plump and succulent. A dry cure draws out moisture from the meat, making the finished product more firm and tightening the cellular structure of the meat. In either case, the use of curing salts, aka pink salts, are recommended. We don’t mean Himalayan pink salt, pink salt as intended here is a mixture of sodium chloride (table salt) and sodium nitrite, known also as Instacure #1. The small amount of nitrites in these recipes gives the meat its characteristic cured flavor. While it is possible to make bacon without nitrites, the flavor will be closer to that of pork roast than typical bacon. Pink salts give cured meats their bright pinkish hue, mostly by acting as antioxidants in the curing process. They keep the meat from oxidizing, or browning, with exposure to air, and again, add that certain “I don’t know what,” as the French call it.
It’s best to wear gloves when handling the pink salts, and to measure carefully the small amounts called for in the recipes. Too much, and you’ll make yourself sick; too little, and the bacon will not taste authentic. Bacon which is advertised as “nitrite free” is made with naturally occurring nitrites, usually made from modified celery juice powder, however, it often lacks the true flavor of bacon that the sodium nitrite provides. “In these recipes,” advises Cathy Barrow, in Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving
, “the use of nitrites is a choice…I have made bacon with and without pink salt, and like it far better with a little pink salt. The flavor is what I expect from bacon. If it worries you, skip it.” If you must forgo the use of nitrites, do not smoke the bacon, because the meat is held at a low temperature for an extended period of time.
Maple Bourbon Bacon-Wet Cure Method
There are lots of recipes for bacon out there, but we just liked the look of this one; it marries all of our vices together so well. Coffee, bourbon, maple syrup, salt, and pork. I mean really, how could it get better?
You do not need a fancy curing room, an aging cave, or an impressive beard to make your own bacon. A refrigerator, an oven, a ziplock bag, and the listed ingredients are all that is required.
This recipe was sourced from Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving
. We haven’t changed it much because it is just right. It makes a sweet (but not too sweet) rich bacon. Feel free to omit the bourbon, if that’s not your thing; there’s plenty of liquid in this cure.
Combine the salts in a small bowl. Place the pork belly on a clean surface, and rub the salt mixture all over the meat on both sides.
Place the meat in a 1-gallon zip lock bag in a single layer; cut the meat in half and use 2 bags if it is necessary to fit without overlapping.
Stir together the cold coffee, maple syrup, and liquor in a small bowl, and pour it into the ziplock bag.
Seal the bag, taking care not to trap lots of air inside. Tilt and massage and generally smoosh the pork belly through the bag, distributing the liquid throughout.
Open the bag to press out any excess air, before sealing it closed and placing it flat on a middle shelf of the refrigerator.
Let the bacon cure for 7 days. Every day, turn the bag over to redistribute the cure, and rub the belly through the bag to distribute the flavors.
Over the course of the week, the meat will exude juice as the salt works its way into the cells of the meat. Turning the bag over each day ensures that the cure is distributed evenly throughout the bacon-to-be. Curing it for longer than the recommended time will make the bacon too salty, so don’t do it!
After 7 days, remove the pork belly from the bag. It should feel firmer than it did a week ago, a sign that the cure has worked.
Rinse the meat thoroughly and dry the slab with paper towels; discard the liquid left in the bag.
Place the bacon on a rack set over a baking sheet, and set it, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours. This ‘resting period' will let the meat dry more thoroughly, and equalize the salt and flavors after rinsing.
Preheat the oven to the lowest setting, around 200° F.
Place the bacon, still on the rack above the sheet, in the center of the oven.
Cook the bacon at this low heat for about one hour, until the internal temperature of the meat measures 150 °F on an instant-read thermometer.
Remove the bacon from the oven and let it cool, then wrap well in butcher’s paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.
Once the bacon has chilled, slice it as thick or as thin as you desire, then vacuum seal or place in ziplock bags in appropriate portion sizes.
This bacon will keep for up to 10 days in the fridge or up to 6 months in the freezer.
Smoked Bacon-Dry Cure
Although this recipe is a dry cure, a small amount of liquid will accumulate in the bag as the cure does its work in the fridge. This is nothing to worry about; just keep flippin’ that pork over and over, once a day, for the prescribed amount of time.
The level of heat in this recipe is optional; choose a chile that agrees with your level of comfort.
Those without a smoker can use a barbecue with smothered coals to similar effect; just monitor the temperature carefully to make sure the internal temperature of the meat does not climb above 150°F. It’s also quite possible to just use the oven method, described above, to bring the meat to 150°F after curing; however, the smoky flavor really elevates this bacon from merely epic to earth-shakingly, mind-bendingly epic. You decide.
Toast the chiles in a dry skillet over medium heat, turning them over and over until flexible.
Remove the stems from the chiles, and crumble them into a small bowl. Remove the seeds, or leave ‘em in; the seeds contain much of the heat of the pepper, so here is another chance to decide how hot the finished bacon is. We used milder Pasilla chiles here, so we left the seeds in.
Add the salt, pink salt, thyme, and brown sugar, and pepper to the bowl, and stir to combine.
Rub the mixture over the pork belly on both sides.
Place the pork belly in a 1-gallon zip lock bag, and remove excess air from the bag.
Place the bacon-to-be in the middle of the refrigerator. Let the bacon cure for 7 days.
Each day, turn the bag over to redistribute the cure and rub the belly through the bag to incorporate all the lovely flavors deep into the meat.
After 7 days, remove the pork belly from the bag. It will be firmer than it was a week ago, which will tell you that the cure has worked.
Rinse the meat thoroughly, and dry with paper towels.
Place the soon-to-be-bacon on a rack set over a baking sheet and place it, uncovered, in the refrigerator for another day. This will allow the salts to equalize throughout the meat and a pellicle to develop.
If you have used the pink salt, you may proceed to the smoking step. Otherwise, treat as indicated for the Maple Bourbon Bacon, above. Do not smoke bacon that does not have pink salt in the cure, because the meat will be held at low temperatures for an extended period of time.
Heat the smoker to 175 or 200 °F. Place the cured pork belly on a rack in the smoker, fat side up, and hot-smoke for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature registers 150° F.
Remove from the smoker, cool, and then wrap the bacon to refrigerate it.
Chill the bacon for 4 hours or overnight; the meat will firm up and be much easier to slice.
Slice the bacon as thin or as thick as you like with a sharp knife.
Store in the refrigerator, sealed, for up to 10 days, or for up to 6 months in the freezer.
Over to You
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