The freezer was empty of my homemade bacon, so I figured that Memorial Day was as good a time as any to reflect on the holiday and smoke some bacon at the same time.
On Friday,I started by taking Mom on a trip across town to Western Meat and getting a pair of fine 10-pound pork bellies (along with some other stuff, but all we are dealing with is the bellies, this time.) Once we got home, I got a pot of my brine on the stove (I use 3 cups of kosher salt and 6 ounces molasses in 2 gallons of water, brought just to a boil then added to 6 pounds of ice, 1 quart of water and another cup of kosher salt in a 5-gallon cooking bucket) before I portioned up the bellies into approximately 2 1/2 pound chunks. After the brine came up to temp and was added into the bucket and brought back down to cold again, I dunked the belly chunks in, added a ziplock-covered freezer pack, covered that with a heavy plate (to keep the meat under the brine) and sealed the lid on. That went into the cold, dark part of my basement... Though I did change the freezer pack every 6-8 hours and make sure that the bellies got moved around every day.
Monday, bright and early, after I drained the belly chunks and set them out to dry to promote pellicle formation, I got my offset smoker all ready; it started life as a Char-Griller Deluxe (NOT the Pro Deluxe, as mine did not come with a front shelf or condiment basket) to which I added the side fire box and some custom steel grates better suited to smoking than were the original cast iron grills. My most recent modifications were custom hangers to hold my heat/smoke baffle (the tray intended to hold the coals, inverted) and the chimney extension. I would be smoking in apple chunks, so I had 20 pounds ready, split into convenient small chunks, along with a bucket of moistened chips in case I needed to cool things off quickly. Also welding gloves and a fire extinguisher because I believe in NOT setting the garage on fire.
By 9am the cooking chamber was up to temp and I had a nice thin blue smoke going, so I deemed it was time to get the meat on the metal... And thus was I presented with my first big challenge of the day: try as I might, I could not fit all 8 chunks of pork belly on the grates. 7 of them fit just dandy, but that 8th one was the odd man out. So, into the refrigerator it went, and the lid went down to seal in my parcels of joy.
About 3 hours into my smoke, my next-door neighbor asked to see my bacons (normally I wouldn't crack that cover until the halfway point to flip them, but I sort of wanted to show off my bacon-making) which turned out to be a very fortunate turn of events. You see, in my consternation over not getting the 8th chunk on the grates, I had neglected to make sure that I left clearance for the bottom of the flue extension. (Remember, this was the first time out for this mod.) Opening the smoker showed that I had the end of the flue extension more-or-less pressed into the top of one of my meat chunks, a situation I made haste to remedy as by this time the chunks had shrunk up enough that I could make room for the end of the chimney extension.
After that, it was mostly just standing there and putting in more wood to keep my temps on target. The weather was a nice partly cloudy, so I wasn't in danger of burning to a cinder or having to scramble to keep the rain off of the smoker. All in all, a very good smoke!
Oh yeah... After the bacon came out the smoker (I let it cool down a bit, then wrapped it in wax paper and put it in well-identified bags in the freezer,) I bumped up the heat in the firebox and smoke-baked a couple racks of baby back ribs for supper. They were SO very delicious, with baked beans and Mom's potato salad!