Have you ever wondered How to Cure Pork Belly? Or How To Smoke Bacon? And what is Pink Salt, anyway? Get the answers and tips on making your own Homemade Applewood Smoked Bacon.
Scott is my grill-master. I give him due credit for just about everything prepared on the Weber. This bacon is no exception. In fact, it was his idea. He’s made his own bacon before and was jonesing for some thick, hand-cut slices of cured and smoked pork belly. I admit, I liked his thinking, but the only way I was going to give-up valuable refrigerator space for a week, was if I got to share the process with you.
He agreed to my terms and a few days later I came back from Costco with a 10-pound slab of pork belly. OK – it was a little more than we needed, so we trimmed it to about 7 pounds and saved the rest for another recipe… Making your own bacon might seem like a daunting prospect — and unnecessary when you can get some pretty good bacon at your local market, but there is really nothing that compares to from-scratch, applewood smoked bacon. Nothing.
What Is Pink Salt or Prague Powder?
- Prague powder is a curing mixture of 93.75% table salt and 6.25% sodium nitrate.
- Salt acts as a preservative and through the process of osmosis, it not only pulls the water out of the cells of the meat it also pulls out any bacteria and kills it.
- Sodium nitrate prevents the growth of bacteria, so this double whammy will keep this traditional St. Patrick’s Day treat, a safe meal to enjoy.
- Prague powder is also known as curing salt, pink salt, tinted curing mixture, TCM or tint cure.
- The pink coloring is added so that it won’t be confused with table salt, but that color is also responsible for giving our corned beef it’s distinctive hue.
How To Cure Pork Belly:
Curing the bacon is the easy part.
- Mix the ingredients for the cure.
- Massage it into the pork belly until it’s completely coated.
- Put the belly into a large zip-top storage bag, pressing out as much air as possible.
- Seal the bag.
- Refrigerate for a week, flipping it once every day.
After hanging out for a week in the fridge, rinse the pork belly with fresh water to remove all the cure and use paper towels to dry it completely. Set a rack over a sheet pan and place the pork belly on the rack, uncovered in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours and up to 24. Then get ready to smoke!
This is where Scott really took charge… He’s got a pretty good handle on how to keep the smoker going low and slow and that’s key.
How To Smoke Bacon:
Set up your charcoal grill or smoker.
- Light the charcoal in a chimney starter.
- Place a drip pan in the center of the grill and divide the hot coals on either side of it.
- Place drained wood chips on each mound of coals.
- Place the grilling rack over the coals and drip pan.
- Place pork belly on the rack over the drip pan.
- Cover the grill.
- Keep the temperature of the grill between 160°-180° and no more than 200°.
- You may need to add a few more coals after about an hour to maintain temperature.
- Cook the pork belly to an internal temperature of 150°. (About 3 hours total).
- Let the bacon cool, then wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it until ready to use.
Scott tended to this bacon for the better part of 3 hours – and it was a dark mahogany when he finally pulled it from the smoker. But it was beautiful. And it smelled so good. For that matter, Scott smelled like bacon too — which isn’t a bad thing. We wrapped it up for slicing the following morning.
To slice the bacon, you either need your own industrial Hobart slicer – or a long, thin, sharp knife. We cut enough to feed our brunch guests and cooked it my favorite way – in the oven, to avoid the spurts, spatters and the perils of hot grease.
One thing you’ll notice, is how flat the strips are — that’s due to the smoking temperature — the bacon is actually completely cooked when you pull it from the smoker, therefore, it doesn’t get that crinkly look you’re used to from supermarket bacon which is cold-smoked and not fully cooked.
In any case, this bacon is outrageously good! It’s smoky and meaty and exactly what you want next to your eggs in the morning – or on your BLT! So clear out some space in the fridge and hop to it! YOU WANT THIS!
If you want to dive deeper into curing, smoking and salting meats, I recommend this book by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. They break it down the “how” and the “why” behind all the mysteries of of meat.
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- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons curing salt Prague powder or Insta Cure
- 5-7 pounds pork belly
- 2 gallon zip top storage or freezer bag
- In a medium bowl combine the brown sugar, kosher salt, honey, cayenne, paprika, cumin, and curing salt, stirring until well mixed.
- Rinse the pork belly with cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Place the belly in the plastic bag and add half of the curing mixture to the top of the belly. Use your hands to rub it into the flesh, evenly coating. Flip over and rub the remaining curing mix onto the other side of the pork belly. Seal the bag, removing as much air as possible. Place the pork into a shallow baking dish, to catch any leaks and refrigerate. Flip the belly once a day for the next 7-10 days.
- Remove the pork belly from the cure and thoroughly rinse the pork. Use several paper towels to COMPLETELY dry the pork belly on all sides. Place a rack over a baking sheet and rest the pork belly on the rack. Refrigerate uncovered for a minimum of 6 hours or overnight.
- Now at this point, the bacon has cured. It can be sliced and cooked and will be absolutely delicious, but it won't have that smoky flavor that we all associate with bacon. To achieve that flavor, you have to smoke your pork belly.
- Add 3 cups of wood chips (apple, cherry, hickory) to a large bowl and fill with water. Submerge them in the water by placing a plate or some other weighted surface on top of the chips -- pressing them into the water. Soak for an hour.
- Meanwhile prepare the smoker according to your manufacturer's instructions. Preheat the smoker to 170°. Add wood chips according to the manufacturer's directions.
- Place the pork belly directly on the grate and smoke until the internal temperature reaches 155° - this will take 3-4 hours depending on how large of a pork belly you have. Steve Raichlen recommends using an instant read thermometer and inserting it into the side of the pork belly to take the temperature reading.
- When the bacon is cooked, transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- To cook, preheat the oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on top of it. Set aside.
- Use a long, thin, sharp knife to slice the bacon. Lay the slices on the wire rack next to each other, but not touching. Bake for 15-20 minutes (maybe longer depending on how thick your slices are) or until crisp.
- Transfer to a platter lined with paper towels. Serve.
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