When we got our half hog from Snake River Farm Minnesota, it came with the largest pork belly I’ve yet seen from our own pig. This baby was 10 plus pounds, enough for two batches of bacon. Yahoo! I let the belly languish in my freezer for almost a year before finally hauling it out to defrost. I tend to delay making bacon until the fall because there’s bacon, we eat it immediately. We like bacon. A lot. Also, the fall harvest starts soon and we need to make room in the freezer for our next half hog.
My garden is still full of fresh herbs, so I created a four herb cure for a 5 pound belly. I combined the classics of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (sing along!), with garlic, pepper, salt, sugar and curing pink salt. The belly is rubbed with this mixture then slipped into a ziplock bag to cure for a week, flipping daily. When the belly is stiff, the cure is rinsed off, then the belly is hot smoked until it reaches 140 degrees. Savory bacon, at your service!
If you want to make bacon at home, ask your local meat counter or butch for a fresh, whole pork belly. If they don’t have them on hand, most will be happy to order them for you. Find pink curing salt online at Butcher and Packer. Once bag will last you years and only cost a few dollars. Making bacon at home is easy!
By Tammy Kimbler
Adapted from Charucterie by Michael Rhulman & Michael Polcyn
1/2 c chopped fresh parsley
1/4 c chopped fresh sage
1/4 c chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 c fresh thyme leaves
4 cloves chopped garlic
2 tbs coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 c coarse kosher salt
1/4 c sugar
2 tsp pink curing salt #1
5 lb fresh pork belly, skin on or off
Combine all ingredients except belly in a bowl. Place the belly in a 2 gallon ziplock bag or a non-reactive, close-fitting container, and rub the cure over all surfaces of the belly. Seal the bag or tightly cover the container, and refrigerate for seven days, flipping the belly daily to distribute the resulting brine.
After seven days, remove belly from cure and rinse. It’s OK if some herbs and pepper still cling to the belly. At this point you have a few choices for processing; smoking, baking or drying.
I like to smoke my bacon, so I fire up my smoker. You can use indirect BBQing. I hot smoke the bacon with some apple wood until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees. Your smoker temp should hang around 250 degrees. Much hotter and you won’t get enough smoke penetration before the belly is cooked, and you’ll also loose a lot of fat in the process.
If you don’t have time to spend several hours tending a smoker, just bake the belly in the oven. I do this frequently during our extra cold Minnesota winters when I just can’t bare to go outside. Preheat the oven to 250 and bake on a rack over a sheet tray until the bacon reaches 140 degrees internal temp.
You can also dry the bacon like the Italians do for pancetta. I cut a hole in the corner of the belly and string mine up in the basement to cure for a week. After it’s great in just about anything, particularly beans, as a base for pasta sauce or as lardons over salad.
Once your bacon is finished smoking, baking or drying, divide it into one pound blocks to either be sliced for frying or left whole for chunks or lardons. I leave one pound in the fridge and wrap the rest in parchment, then foil and freeze until I need it.