If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that I’ve become a little bacon obsessed here at This Mama Cooks! On a Diet. It all stems from a friend’s annual bacon themed party, where I made Goat Cheese and Bacon Pops. While I loved the idea of bacon wrapped Tater Tots, and the bacon jam was fabulous, my favorite was the Bacon Caramel Popcorn.
Creating a healthier bacon
I know you’re wagging your finger at me, saying, “Anne-Marie, bacon’s not healthy! Why are you blogging about it?” Well, I’m all for indulging, in moderation of course. After all, I’m NOT telling you to consume a pound of bacon in one meal. Honestly, there IS such a thing as too much bacon. After my friend’s party, I woke up with a bacon hangover the next day and felt pretty crappy. So glad his party only comes once a year.
Making my own bacon let me work around my food sensitivities. If you have food allergies or sensitivities, making food from scratch like bacon lets you control what’s in it.
Also, with the trend in buying local and organic, many people are harvesting their own food through hunting, fishing and gardening, or buying from local, small family own farms. I also have friends who are raising their own chickens for eggs and pigs for pork, and a few are even foraging for wild plants and mushrooms. Making your own fruit preserves, pickles, jerky and cured meats is part of that trend, too.
Finally, making your own bacon means you can limit the nitrates and nitrites in your diet, though culinary expert Michael Ruhlman says that The “No Nitrites Added” Hoax is, well, a hoax. He writes in his For Charcutepaloozians: Food Safety and Common Sense post:
Nitrates and Nitrites are naturally occurring chemicals that our bodies rely on for a number of reasons. Green vegetables such as spinach and celery are loaded with them. Of all the nitrite in our bodies, as much as 93% of it comes from the nitrate in vegetables. Our bodies naturally convert nitrate into nitrite, which works as a powerful antibacterial agent, particularly in an acidic environment (such as in our stomachs).
In the 1970s, concerns arose that nitrites could be carcinogenic. Current studies conclude that large quantities (as in contaminated water) can do serious damage, but that the quantities added to food do not.
The pinking salt used in making bacon is sodium nitrate. Michael says it’s “by regulation 93.75% sodium and 6.25% nitrite” and that it kills bacteria that cause botulism in smoked and ground meat. As you can see from the recipe below, it’s a very small amount. However, if you’re still freaked out about nitrite, I’d advise you giving up bacon. Easy said than done!
Making bacon is easy
Those are a few reasons why I’m sharing my recipe for homemade bacon. Another is because making bacon to your tastes and dietary specifications is incredibly easy to do and the end result is so much tastier than the stuff you can buy at the store or even at your local butcher.
I smoked mine in our Masterbuilt Electric Smoker, but you can cook it in your oven like my friend, Barbara of Creative Culinary, did in her Maple Bourbon Bacon. I based my recipe on Barbara’s, but changed a few ingredients that I can’t eat due to my food sensitivities (the sugar and the maple syrup). I also followed Michael Ruhlman’s smoking advice in his book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing.
Barbara, who lives about an hour from me, had a tough time finding her pork belly and pinking salt. I was fortunate that my local butcher had a couple of pork bellies in stock in their freezer when I called to check. While I was picking it up, I asked they butcher if he carried pinking salt. He didn’t but he told me that I could get it at the local Ace Hardware. It seems that the guy in charge of Ace’s extensive grilling section makes his own bacon, so always keeps it in stock.
Agave & Bourbon Smoked Bacon
- If necessary, defrost your pork belly in the refrigerator. You cannot cure frozen pork!
- Combine the salt, pink salt and sugar in a bowl and mix well.
- Rub this mixture over the entire surface of the belly.
- Place pork belly in a 2 gallon Ziploc bag or shallow container. (The salt will make the pork release water creating a brine).
- Pour the agave nectar over the pork belly. Make sure it’s distributed evenly on all sides of the pork belly.
- Refrigerate, turning the pork, and redistributing the cure every day for seven days.
- Remove the pork from the cure, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry.
- Place it on a rack set over paper towels in the refrigerator and allow to dry, uncovered for 12-24 hours.
Smoking your pork:
- Set your smoker to 200 degrees. I used maple wood pellets for smoking. Hickory, apple, or pecan would work, too.
- Fill your water dish with four cups Maker’s Mark or your favorite bourbon or whiskey.
- Place your pork belly in your smoker and cook it until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees, about 3 hours. (I used the meat thermometer that attaches to our smoker, which is why my bacon has a hole through it. No biggie.)
- Remove from smoker and let cool slightly when it’s cool enough to touch. If your pork belly has skin on it, cut it off leaving as much fat as possible. (The piece I bought already had the skin cut off).
- Allow to cool, then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze until ready to slice and use.
Tips on cooking homemade bacon
- It’s very challenging to thinly slice homemade bacon. Partially freezing it, then using a very sharp knife helps. Even so, your bacon slices will be much thicker than commercially made bacon.
- A little of this bacon goes a long way. It’s very “hammy” and thick. So if you usually have four pieces of bacon with your Sunday breakfast, you may want to only have one or two pieces instead.
- Fry your bacon on low heat otherwise it will quickly caramelized and burn.
- You may want to bake your bacon in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes instead of frying. It doesn’t get crispy this way, just warm and juicy.
- Remember, this bacon is already cured and cooked. When you’re frying or baking, you’re just warming up the already-cooked bacon, so don’t worry about it being raw or undercooked if it’s not fried to a crisp.