Previously, I showed you how to cure fresh pork belly to begin making your own American-style bacon. What really separates American bacon from other types of cured pork belly, like Italian Pancetta, for example, is the smoking process. In this post I'll tell you how to smoke your cured pork belly to complete your bacon!
First, a little bit on smoke. Smoke is a collection of airborne solids, liquids, and gases that arise from incomplete combustion (burning) of a material. The composition of the smoke depends on what material you are burning. In the case of smoke used for food production, we are talking about wood smoke, specifically from burning hardwood, including oak, maple, or hickory wood.
Human beings have been smoking meat for pretty much as long as they had meat to smoke. Dating back to prehistoric times, humans have used the smoking process as a means of preserving meat. This happens by a couple processes. First, chemicals that are present in wood smoke (including phenols) help to prevent fats from going rancid and others (including formaldehyde) prevent bacterial growth. However, since the smoke only gets at the outside of the meat (or whatever you're smoking), it doesn't completely prevent the food from going bad. Since smoking meat over a fire is often accompanied by heating and drying of the meat, this also helps the meat from going bad, as long as you've heated and dried it enough to prevent bacterial growth. Unfortunately, what you end up with in this case is something like beef jerkey. For a moister smoked meat, like the bacon we're making, curing the meat beforehand with salt and sodium nitrate will prevent bacterial growth within the meat, so we don't have to heat or dry it as much. However, because the meat is not thoroughly dried and salted, and because it is so available to us in our modern kitchens, bacon should always be stored in the refrigerator.
After the fold, Materials and Methods for smoking your bacon, with pics...