From the moment I bought my first half hog, I knew for a fact that the day would come when I would be trying my hand at making my own bacon. Because let’s face it. Bacon tastes so GOOD, but bacon that’s actually good for you is kinda hard to come across.
What better way to control what goes into it than by making your own at home? Plus, it’s such an incredibly rewarding experience.
And you know what? I thought for sure that it would be super complicated and require a degree in rocket science, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Honestly, making your own smoked bacon couldn’t be easier.
Sure, it does require a little bit of time because first, the meat has to cure for an entire week, but it doesn’t require your attention at all during that time. Then it needs to smoke for about 4 hours, but again, you don’t have much to do while that’s happening either.
Then it needs to chill overnight. Again, it really doesn’t need your help for that.
In all fairness, making bacon is a fairly passive activity that will require only a few hours of your time and will reward you with heavenly goodness.
And rest assured. No science degree is required…
First, you need to get your hands on a pork belly. I don’t know about you, but when I embark on time consuming projects such as this one, I always like to make it worth my effort: I like to do big batches that will last me for months!
So I went and bought the whole belly. That was roughly 8 pounds of meat.
As you can see, mine still had the skin attached to it. If yours has it too, you’ll want to leave that on for now. It’s easier to remove the skin AFTER the belly has been smoked.
For now, you only want to rinse your pork belly and then pat it really dry.
Then, mix all your spices together in a small bowl.
Now, these are the spices that I chose to use, but there are millions of other combinations out there, so feel free to change them up a bit. Just make sure that you use an adequate amount of salt, i.e. roughly one teaspoon per pound of meat.
Also, I chose to use pink curing salt (not to be confused with pink Himalayan salt), which is basically a mixture of about 94% salt and 6% sodium nitrite. This curing salt really helps in preserving the meat and preventing spoilage by inhibiting the growth of fungus or bacteria. Also, it ensures that the cured meat will keep its beautiful pink color. Without it, the meat would likely turn an unappetizing shade of grey. The amount used is so minimal that I personally don’t have a problem using it, but if you firmly oppose to adding nitrites to your meat, you could experiment with using celery juice powder instead (not to be confused with celery salt) which pretty much plays the same role.
Same goes for sugar. Some people are firmly against the idea of adding sugar to their bacon. I feel so very little gets added, I’m not gonna fuss about it. It’s not like I’m turning my meat into candy here… plus, most of it gets rinsed off, so I figure in the end, each slice of bacon probably contains the equivalent of one grain of sugar. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that.
So… mix whichever spices and curing aids your choose to use and sprinkle that over both sides of the pork belly, then rub it in really well.
Place your slab of meat in a large resealable bag (if you can find one that’s large enough to accommodate it, that is) or in some kind of non-reactive container. I used a clean storage container with fitting lid, which worked beautifully.
You could also cut your pork belly into several smaller pieces to make it fit into smaller bags or containers.
Place your meat in the fridge and leave it to cure for 7 to 10 days.
When you’re ready to smoke your bacon, soak 4 cups of wood chips in water for AT LEAST ONE HOUR prior to getting started.
The choice of which essence of wood chip to use is really up to you. I opted to use a mix of apple and maple and it yielded amazing results.
When your chips have soaked for a sufficient amount of time, preheat your outdoor grill to 200F. Turning on a single burner on low should do the trick
While the grill is heating up, make 4 wood chip pouches.
To make the pouches, cut out a 12” x 24” piece of heavy duty aluminum foil (double that up if using lighter foil) for each pouch and place about a cup of soaked wood chips on one end of the foil. Add a handful of dry chips to that, then fold the foil over the wood chips.
Fold all four edges toward the center at least twice, then poke a bunch of holes on the top of the pouch with a fork.
Lift the grill that’s above the lit element and place a pouch directly on the heat source. Close the lid and wait until smoke starts to escape from the foil pouch.
Rinse your pork belly thoroughly under cold running water to rid it of all the spices, then pat it real dry and place it skin side down (if skin is present) on the unlit side of your grill; close the lid.
Smoke the pork belly for about 4 hours, replacing the foil pouch with a fresh one every hour or so. If necessary, crank up the heat under the new pouch until smoke starts to come out then bring the heat back down to low.
As you can see, I had plenty of room to fit 2 foil pouches at a time, so I chose to just add one after the initial hour and then replace the oldest one on every subsequent hour.
Try and keep the heat inside your grill as stable as possible, at around 200F. Crack open the lid from time to time to let some heat escape if you find it’s getting a tad too warm in there…
Also note that it’s not necessary to get crazy amounts of visible smoke in order to get good flavor from it. A little bit really does go a long way. However, if you feel you are not getting enough smoke, feel free to add more dry chips to your foil pouches, or place an aluminum container with a handful of dry chips next to your smoldering foil pouch.
When your gigantic slab of smoked bacon registers 150F, take it off the grill and remove the skin if present. You should be able to remove it by gently yet firmly pulling on it, but if some spots refuse to cooperate, simply use the tip of a sharp knife to help cut it loose. Make sure you keep that blade as close to the surface of the skin as you possibly can so you don’t remove too much of the fatty layer.
Almost done! Soon, you’ll be eating some of the best bacon you’ve ever had in your entire life. Bacon whose existence you will be solely responsible for. Now isn’t that something!
As hard as it may be, you now need to put that bacon away in the fridge to chill for at least 6 hours, but preferably overnight. That fat needs to firm up again… then and only then will you be able to slice your beautiful homemade smoked bacon to the desired thickness.
To make the slicing easier, I even recommend that you place your bacon in the freezer for a couple of hours. You don’t want your meat to become frozen solid, you just want it to start to form little ice crystals. It should be really firm but you should still be able to pierce it with the point of a sharp knife.
If you’re lucky enough to own a meat slicer, by all means, take it out now. Otherwise, grab your bestest sharpest knife and slice away!
And here we finally are!!!! Now this calls for celebration! You are now the proud owner AND CREATOR of a great big batch of the bestest, awesomest smoked bacon you will have ever eaten in your entire life.
I believe it’s now time to cook that beauty. Just make sure that you are comfortably sitting down when you grab the first bite. Otherwise, chances are, you’d be swept off your feet!
Erm, you don’t need instructions on how to pan fry this baby, do you? Right… I thought not!