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...
DIY Cured Smoked Pork Belly (aka Bacon) Part II
Note: Since I don't have a smoker but I do have a charcoal grill, that's what I'll be using to smoke this bacon. You could also certainly use a smoker, using basically the same method.
- cured pork belly
- an outdoor charcoal grill
- charcoal (I like the all natural wood charcoal, but you can use briquettes if you prefer. Do NOT use briquettes that have pre-added lighter fluid (ex: Match Light), since you will probably be adding more briquettes during smoking and this will cause nasty chemical residue in your smoke and therefore on your bacon)
- hardwood wood chips (I used hickory in this case, but any hardwood is fine as long as it's not treated with any chemicals (see above note about chemical residue - some wood is treated with chemicals like arsenic to prevent rot - do NOT use that type of wood). They are available at some fancy food shops as well as hardware stores and some home and garden stores)
- a meat thermometer
- a fire extinguisher (safety first!)
(some of my materials)Method
1. Take two large handfulls of your hardwood chips and put them in a bucket or large bowl and cover with water. Allow to soak for 2 hours to overnight. Meanwhile, rinse the cure off of your pork belly and dry with paper towels. Allow to chill, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 2 hours to overnight (this step allows all of the water-soluble proteins that have been brought out of the meat by the cure to dry on the surface of the meat, creating an outer layer of dried protein called the pellicle that smoke adheres to very well). Do NOT skip this step!
2. Get a large pile of charcoal in your grill and stack it up into a mountain shape - the more compact, the better. If you have a charcoal lighting chimney, feel free to use that. Squirt on some lighter fluid (per manufacturer's instructions) and light your charcoal.
3. Once your charcoal is >60% grey, spread it around the bottom of the grill. Close the vents at the bottom of the grill so the charcoal will burn as slowly as possible (this helps create more smoke, since smoke is from incomplete combustion - limiting the oxygen the fire has access to will not allow combustion to go to completion, creating more smoke). Add a handful or so of your pre-soaked woochips.
(grill with charcoal, woodchips, and saftey!)
4. Once you have some smoke going, put your pre-cured pork belly, skin side up, on the grill. Here is my pork belly post-cure:
And here it is on the gril:
5. Smoke the pork belly with the lid on the grill until the internal temperature is about 150 degrees F. Avoid checking the temperature too frequently, since this opens the top of the grill and lets the smoke out. For me, it took 2-3 hours for the pork I had (2x 3lb. pieces) to get to temperature. If, during this time, the coals get cold, add more coals, and if the smoke stops coming out from under the lid, add more pre-soaked wood chips. Smoking meat takes awhile, but, as AB always says, "your patience will be rewarded." Do relax and have a refreshing beverage. Do enjoy the outdoors! Don't leave your grill unattended and burn down your house!
6. Chill your smoked bacon in the fridge for a couple hours until well chilled (this makes cutting easier). At this point, it's time to cut off the skin and discard it.
7. Slice your bacon as thick as you like it and enjoy! It's great along side eggs at breakfast (or breakfast for dinner) or in a juicy BLT. If you're feeling a little more adventurous, try...
- Candied Bacon
- Pasta Carbonara
- Fried Green Tomato BLT