My first shot at bacon was a huge hit around my house. Unfortunately, that was a single 3.5 pound slab so it didn't last long. So I searched my local area to find a source for a larger volume of pork belly. Decided to buy from the butcher at a local grocery store and was told the minimum order was 1 case, approximately 30 pounds. This was first week of December...Seems my butcher's purveyor, who said "sure, we can get bellies for you, no problem" had some problems. Finally, a month and half later, I got the call. The bellies were in!! YAY!!! My butcher, being an awesome customer service person, gave me a nice discount on the original price for putting up with all the delays.
When I picked them up, turns out that a "case" was actually 3 individually boxed 10-12 pounders. Made them a bit easier to handle at any rate. So I placed the frozen vacu-packed bellies in the refrigerator to thaw for a few days, until I had time to get the cure going.
I started out with three of these beauties.
I see many opinions regarding skin on or skin off and decided to try both. I removed the skin from one, but not the other two. Why only one? Because I found it to be a royal pain in the rear to remove the skin from a raw belly and wasn't going to waste the effort if it didn't make the end product any better! Yes, I'm lazy, sue me. LOL
I split each belly into two, roughly equal pieces so they would fit in my 2.5 gallon ziplocs. And weighed them so I could ensure the right amounts of cure.
Last time I used TQ, which worked okay and made measuring simple, however it seemed a little bit salty for our tastes even after a soak. This time I now have a supply of Prague powder and decided to go that route instead so that I can adjust the salt content a bit. Since I'm using the Prague powder and then it will be hot smoked, I'm not too concerned about having the salt as a preservative component.
I do not have the space for a bunch of brine buckets so I do a "dry" cure. Honestly it seems strange to soak something that you are actually wanting to remove moisture from. I understand the chemistry behind it...it just seems odd. LOL
Anyway, the cure is simple. Prague powder, kosher salt, brown sugar and coarse black pepper are rubbed into each slab. Then they are placed in their ziploc homes, where they each received a dose of maple syrup. For a twist, I also added bourbon to two of them, just to see if the flavor would come through.
Same process for all six slabs, until I ended up with
Then into the garage refrigerator which has been reserved for projects just like this.
At this point I do have to be honest...I got extremely busy at work and, being in the garage, I totally forgot to flip them for the first five days! So I added a couple of days to the cure time.
Salt level was perfect so onto the drying racks with a fan blowing over them for about 8 hours, to form a pellicle.
And then into the smoker!
Heated to 225, smoking applewood pellets in my A-Maz-N tube smoker for approximately 4 hours, until the probe registered 150 degrees in the thickest slab. Then out for a cool down before wrapping in plastic wrap and returning to the refrigerator for a few days to equalize.
Today was slicing day!
The end result for 4 slabs 21 lbs of Skin on belly was:
15 lbs sliced bacon
2.5 lbs of ends, bad slices and pieces
1.5 lbs of nice smoky skin for seasoning soups, stews and sauces!
My rinky-dink little slicer had trouble with the size of the slabs and I wasn't able to use the safety pusher thing so I didn't slice all the way to the edge that I was holding so I had a little more scrap that expected.
BTW Removing the skin after smoking is DEFINITELY my preferred method. It just pulls off, with hardly any fat attached! And I don't see any visible difference in the skin off meat! So unless I am craving chicharrones (and who doesn't occassionally?) I think I will just leave the skin where it is, until after smoking.
And...BACON IS BACK ON THE MENU!
This project has only served to confirm that we will never buy commercial bacon again!
Edited by smokingit - 2/14/15 at 4:43pm