Bacon, everyone loves bacon right?
Over the years I have had good bacon and I have had bad bacon. What made it bad bacon? Unsmoked, no taste, hard like cardboard and that nasty white stuff that comes out when you cook it. I remember reading a Joanna Blythman book and she explained how producers were pumping pork full of stuff to retain water and that’s what was coming out when you cooked it. Since I read that I always bought bacon from my local farmer and it was a lot better but I still wanted to have a go at curing and smoking my own. Here are my notes below, I am still tweaking things each time so this will get updated as I go!
Meat: Choose whether you want Back Bacon (Pork Loin) or Streaky Bacon (Belly)
For Back Bacon, it’s a Flat Pork Loin you are looking for but it seems quite hard to find for some reason. I get mine from Farmison: https://www.farmison.com/our-meat/pork/roasting-joints/flat-pork-loin/14-days-dry-aged-large-white-flat-pork-loin
For Streaky Bacon, it’s a pork belly you want. I usually ask the butcher to remove the ribs as it’s hard to get them out without making a real mess of the meat surface and they do a good job of it! Turner and George, Martin’s meats and Farmison are all great quality pork bellies.
Pork Belly with the Skin on
Pork Belly from the side
For Back Bacon, I trim the rind/skin off – you need a sharp knife for this, I use a Fibrox Boning Curved Narrow/Flex Knife 15cm. (looks like this:)
If there is a lot of fat on top I tend to trim a bit off, the smoke doesn’t penetrate the fat too well and hard fat is quite difficult to cut if you are slicing the bacon by hand.
For Streaky Bacon, I trim the rind/skin off – sharp knife again (Same Fibrox knife as above!) and I take a good bit of the fat off so the smoke gets through to the meat.
Before trimmingRind off, fat trimmed
Rind off, fat trimmed (above)
Once the meat is trimmed, pat it down with kitchen towel so it’s dry. Weigh the meat and write down its weight now it’s trimmed.
I have tried several different techniques: Pre-bought and self-mixed but the best I have used so far is Supracure. I get it from Hot Smoked (you can get some wood dust at the same time): https://hotsmoked.co.uk/rubs-and-cures/supracure.html
The ratio I use is: Cure weight = 10% of Meat weight:
- Meat weighs 1KG so the Cure weight is 100g
- The Supracure is 4/5 of the 100g so 80g
- Soft, dark brown sugar makes up the final fifth of the cure so 20g
- Add some freshly ground black pepper in there, I like pepper so usually a couple of teaspoons worth, quite finely ground.
- I have also been adding a bit of Fennel and Juniper lately, seems to give it a bit extra!
- Other combinations have been treacle cured and maple cured bacon. I have used the cure above and just added a few tablespoons of treacle or maple syrup, no exact measurements!
Mix all the cure ingredients in a bowl and give it a good stir.
I started off using the zip lock freezer bags you get in the supermarket. I used to put the meat in one bag then put another bag over the top and then put it in a baking/roasting tray to catch any leaks.
I have since bought a foodsaver (this one for £160 – http://www.foodsaver.co.uk/vacuum-sealers/as-seen-on-tv/foodsaver-bundle—as-seen–on-tv—vacuum-sealing-system-marinator-x2-rolls/FGP260-01.html#start=5)
Put the meat in the bag and slowly pour or spoon the cure mix in, try to get it on the front and back of the meat as well as the top, bottom and sides. Once all the cure is in give it a good rub either through the plastic or get your hands on the meat to rub it. Make sure every surface has been covered with the cure.
Some of the best results I have had have been by vac packing the meat with the cure in and removing all the air, seems to keep the cure and liquid closer in contact with the meat but I did just do 2x loins without removing the air so we shall see!
Put the meat in the fridge. I keep mine in for 7 days and turn it over each day giving the cure a good rub each time.
After a week pull the meat out, give it a quick rinse under the tap then pat it down with kitchen towel. I put it back in the fridge for 24 hours to dry out slightly then I smoke it. If you aren’t smoking it then slice it and eat it!
Bacon in a bag
I use the Pro Q cold smoke generator usually with Oak or Whisky Oak. Usually oak because it gives a strong smoky smell and taste that I like but I have smoked with maple, apple and cherry which were also nice and a bit milder. The whisky oak has been my favourite to date, nice strong smoky smell/taste!
I pat down the bacon with kitchen towel again to make sure it’s dry (helps the smoke get into the meat) then put it on the top rack of the WSM. I pack the wood dust tightly in the CSG and make sure all the dividers are visible, if there is any overlap you end up with a faster burn and less smoke taste in the meat. I put the CSG on the bottom of the WSM, light a tealight candle and leave the CSG for 10 minutes before returning to remove the candle if the CSG is smoking well. I have left the candle in before but it’s gone mad and lit loads of lanes in the CSG causing the dust to burn out in 2 or 3 hours!
I smoke the meat overnight as it’s colder, this helps reduce the risk of bacteria developing in the meat. Once it’s done I pat it down again then wrap it in greaseproof/baking paper (a good few wraps) then leave it in the fridge for a week. I find the smoke taste/smell develops better if you leave it for a week but you can eat it at this point. It will be better if you leave it though!
I had a cheap slicer and it was a massive PITA. I have been advised that I should have frozen the bacon for an hour and the slicer would have worked better, I won’t know now as that slicer is in the ground somewhere.
I went on to use a long slicing knife I use for brisket (it looks a bit like the Victorinox 12” slicing knife).
Best way to slice was to put the fat side down so you cut through that at the end of the slicing movement. It’s still tricky and the wife did better at slicing it than I did, more patience maybe!
I then treated myself to a Buffalo slicer with a 300mm blade (http://www.nisbets.co.uk/Buffalo-Meat-Slicer-300mm/CD279/ProductDetail.raction) and it’s made life a lot easier! A lot of money but it will pay for itself over time! 😉
The bacon is cured, smoked and sliced. Time to enjoy it!
My best results have been with a cast iron pan heated up as hot as possible.