Thursday, March 15, 2012

smokin', slicin', and pricin' bacon

So, now you have a salty slab o' meat, right?

Smoke it!
There are plenty of smoker boxes on the market for all sorts of grills, as well as a variety of types of wood chips. There are also stand-alone smokers specifically for smoking, but I don't think we're quite that serious about our smoking just yet.

So, here are the basics of smoking your belly:
  • Get the chips wet
  • Heat them on high heat until they begin smoking
  • Turn down your heat until you can maintain a 200deg covered grill temperature
  • Put your pork belly in (not directly over any heat source)
  • When the belly reaches 150deg internal temp, it's done! (approx 3 hours)
We have a gas grill, with three long rows of racks and burners across the grill. We put the smoker box on top of the back burner (rack removed), and only used that burner during the process. On high, the grill got up enough heat to get the chips burning, and on low the grill was able to maintain 200deg. Perfecto! We placed the meat on a cool secondary rack (one that hadn't been in the grill during the warm-up process) to avoid any grill marks or too much heat directly on the meat. That secondary rack (which was really a fish grill rack, scrubbed really well first) went onto the front of the grill, where the burners had been off all along. We checked on the temperature after a while, and right around the 3 hour mark, it had reached 150! (Ok, and by "we" in this entire paragraph, I really mean Able Bodied Boy :))

We let it cool down a bit, then rinsed the salts off, then stuck it in the fridge to harden up a bit for slicing. We might have licked our fingers.

Slice it!
Of all the aspects of making bacon, this was probably my biggest worry. I know someone with a slicer... someone that lives 500 miles away :-P So we were going to need to find a slicer, find another slicing method, or hand-slice the meat.

Luckily, I happened to be at a friend's house, touring through their recent renovations, when we stopped to chat. Lo and behold, there was a slicer at our feet! I immediately claimed it (thank goodness they are nice people and understand my quirks), with promises to return it.

If you don't know how to use a slicer, for the love of all things fingered, look it up! Be safe; these are dangerous machines. The only good thing about how wonderfully sharp they are (besides cutting, you know, meats and cheeses and such) is that any body parts you lose to it will probably have a clean cut and can be taken to the ER with you... Sorry if that grosses you out, but seriously these machines are dangerous.

Anyway, we picked a thickness we liked and it only took a few minutes to create 6 lovely piles of a half pound of bacon.

If you don't have access to a slicer, just remember that the world won't end if the slices aren't perfect. And use a sharp knife. And you could probably briefly freeze the meat to make it a little more solid.

We found that one end of our belly was rather fattier than we would generally like our bacon, but I don't fault the pork shop for that. First, I imagine they take the better cuts of belly for their bacon. Secondly, there are two directions we could have sliced the bacon in... long side or short side. I told Able Bodied Boy to use the short end, so we'd have sandwich-length pieces of bacon, and more slices for dividing amongst our 6 piles. If we had cut on the long side, each piece would have had one end fattier than the other. *shrug* I divided the fattier pieces amongst the piles. We can always save the bacon drippings for future cooking. If you were looking for healthy bacon... move along :)

Price it!
This may vary for your area/sources, but here's what we were working with...
  • $7.50:  3.5 lbs Pork Belly  
  • $0.83:  .5 lbs Kosher Salt ($5 for 3lbs)
  • $2.40:  4oz pure maple syrup ($.60/oz)
  • $1.00:  a handful of wood chips
  • $3.91:  ($11.73 total for 3 lbs of bacon)
Granted, this math doesn't factor in the actual smoker box we invested in (and have used several times), or the time and energy. But the local pork shop sells their bacon for around $4.50/lb and, provided they don't use curing salts, we feel like it isn't any more/less economical to buy their pork belly versus buying their bacon.

But for those who haven't paid attention lately, bacon is up between $5 and $6 per pound at the grocery, and don't forget that they've pumped it with extra goodies...

Up next on my list of home-makins... dairy products. Are there any products that you're curious about how it's made, and if it can be done fresh at home?

Much Love,
Able-Bodied Girl


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