Before I get to the beauty of making your own bacon I need to clear up some misunderstandings about nitrites. Without going into all of the theories about nitrites let me explain just briefly what it is used for with regards to cured meats. Most cured products that you see at the modern day grocery store have sodium nitrite in them (also called pink salt). This is a curing agent that is used in meats that are cooked to ready to eat or almost ready to eat status. Curing agents help speed up the curing process and thus help slow down bacteria growth. This obviously makes cured meat safer to eat with regards to food borne illness. In the past people just used salt. This took a long time and did not always prevent bacteria growth. Thus to speed up the process and to make products safer, people starting using sodium nitrite.
The issue the past couple decades has been the effects of sodium nitrite on the human body. Without going in to the arguments for or against sodium nitrite I will just say that at This Old Farm we have opted to use a more natural curing agent to provide our customers with another option.
In my last write up on how we make bacon I wrote that we use celery juice powder as our curing agent and that we do not use sodium nitrite. What I wrote is true. We use celery juice powder which has naturally occurring nitrites in it. We do not use shipped in sodium nitrite (which is sometimes called pink salt because it is dyed pink to prevent misuse.) Like many other vegetables, celery has naturally occurring nitrites. When you eat a bowl of green leaf salad, you are consuming nitrites. Maybe to be clearer, I should have said that “we use celery juice powder as our curing agent which contains a low amount of naturally occurring nitrites.”
I hope that clears things up a little. If not, please give us a call.
On to the good stuff.
Making bacon at home is easy. Here’s how. First, come in to This Old Farm in Colfax or order online at www.shop.thisoldfarminc.com a 5 to 8 lb pasture-raised slab of pork belly. While you are here, ask to purchase some celery juice powder (…which contains a low amount of naturally occurring nitrites). Next acquire the following ingredients: kosher salt and sugar.
Mix 1 lb of kosher salt with 0.5 lbs of sugar with 0.10 lbs of celery juice powder. Mix thoroughly. If you want more savory bacon add 3 to 4 Tbsp black pepper and 2 Tbsp of crushed red pepper. If you want sweeter bacon, leave out the black and red pepper and after you rub the side with the above mixture, add some tablespoons of maple syrup (enough to rub on all sides) to the belly. (NOTE: Do not add maple syrup to salt mixture. Only add enough to the side.) This salt/sugar mixture should be enough for 2 to 4 bellies depending on how liberal you smother the side with the cure.
Rub your belly (meaning the pork belly, not your own) thoroughly on all sides. Put the belly in a large bag or a seal tight container. After a week, feel the belly to make sure it is firm to the touch. If it is, it is ready. If it is not, leave in the refrigerator a couple more days.
Once firm you have a few options for cooking and smoking the belly. One option is that you could forget about the smoking part and just cook it in the oven at 200 degrees F until it reached an internal temperature of about 140 degrees. At this point, once the belly is cooled, slice off a piece, fry it on the stove top and there you have it. Bacon bliss.
If you did want to hot smoke the belly to make true smoked bacon, try to get your hands on a home smoker from a neighbor. Smoking meat isn’t difficult but it requires some thought. If you understand the idea of smoking, the process has some flexibility.
First, the purpose of smoking imparts flavor, helps cure it and cooks the belly to a specific temperature. This last step is crucial for if there isn’t enough heat the belly will not cook fast enough creating an ideal place for bacteria to grow. Of course this is one of the reasons why curing is so important but until you get a good grasp on the process of curing meat it is important to stay within proper cooking temperature limits.
With that said, if you are using an electric or gas smoker your job is easier since you can set the temperature and easily manage the smoke. Most electric smokers come with a smoking pan. All you have to do is get some hickory or apple chips and place some burning charcoals on top; this will heat up the wood thus creating smoke. The more smoke you want the more you keep adding the charcoal. As far as the type of wood to smoke, I have come to learn that most people can’t tell the difference between something that is apple smoked and hickory smoked. But some people can. Here at This Old Farm we use hickory. Some places use apple. It is your preference. They both burn relatively the same.
I really recommend not trying to smoke bacon on the grill (neither gas nor charcoal) since having the heat too high might cause a grease fire. It is possible under a lot of management. First, the belly needs to be as far away from the flame as possible. Second, it is important to keep a steady flame that heats up the grill so that the belly can cook properly. Creating smoke is easy as you just put hickory or apple wood in a small metal pan or bowl and throw a charcoal or two in wit the wood and put the pan or bowl over the flames.
Here is a possible cooking/smoking schedule:
120 degrees without smoke for 30 minutes (This helps temper the meat to get it ready to accept the smoke. This first step should make the bacon tacky to the touch.)
130 degrees with smoke for 3 to 4 hours (NOTE: The number of hours with smoke depends on the smoker you have and how intense the smoke is.)
145 degrees without smoke until internal temperature of 138 degrees or higher (The scientists say that most bacteria is killed when it gets to the temperature of 138 degrees. Ready to eat temperature is 158 degrees F.)
Now that you are ready to give this a shot, come in and get your pork belly. Call (765) 324-2161 to reserve yours today. Just $5.60/lb for pasture raised pork belly and $4.20/lb for a local, traditional pork belly.
Written by Josh Fowler
Edited by Jessica Smith