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Cook, Cook Your Heart Out

Mostly full disclosure: I didn’t remember to turn the pork belly after the first two days--so on Saturday (6th day of brining) I went into the garage to do so. I immediately stepped in something sticky-- a foot wide spill going from the bottom of the fridge to a pile of trash in the middle of the floor.

The fancy Hefty 2.5-Gallon Jumbo Storage Slider I splurged on had leaked. There was about a ½ cup of liquid still in the bag, however, and the meat seemed fairly well coated. To be safe, though, I mixed up a new cup of salt-and-maple-syrup solution, and separated the pork belly into two off-brand “reclosure” plastic bags. To make up for loss time--as far as absorbing the sweetness went--I left it on the counter overnight instead of the fridge. Considering Amelia (That’s America’s first cookbook author, Amelia Simmons, to those of you not in the know) recommended setting pork in a brine of molasses or syrup and salt for more than a month unrefrigerated, one night surely won’t kill anyone.

After telling my wife about my heroic efforts, she only had one concern, “You cleaned up the fridge and floor, right? Definitely don’t want any more flies and bugs in there than we already have.”

I told her I’d take care of it immediately.

Yesterday, around noon, I sawed up half a dozen chunks of applewood (thank goodness one of the 8 trees Winter Storm Damon took out last winter included an apple; we’ll have enough to smoke our food for years to come) as a chimney’s worth of charcoal heated up. Once the coals were ready I emptied them into the side pit, threw on two chunks of wood and after rinsing off the brine set the bacon in the upper, bigger pit. I know from past smoking experience the main pit will get up to about 200 degrees for two hours using this method--the perfect outcome as that’s how long it takes most pork belly to reach an internal temp of 150 (for those of you trying this at home, I use about 20-25 charcoal briquets and the fire is a good two feet away from the meat; you’ll have to play with the best air intake, exhaust and fire placement to reach similar temperature results, of course).

So, how’d it come out even after the potentially catastrophic Leakgate situation?

I’m a writer and, of course, am given to partake in a fair bit of hyperbole. Although more often than not I actually believe the hype myself and am, in fact, even correct many times, I’m probably not the most trustworthy critic. So I won’t say anything

My wife, though, you can trust. This is what she said, “That’s the best bacon I’ve ever had... in my life.”

Also--further testimony--we had guests over for dinner, including a couple of the kids’ friends and after sampling a piece or two, the representatives from three different families took home a pound each.

It’s good. Damned good.

I don’t know if I’m getting through to you. Listen, put down that ladle and listen. I don’t cook things necessarily because I think it will be better than store-bought, or some restaurant, but because I think it’s fun to do it myself. So listen. In the case of bacon, I will continue to make it myself not because I think it’s fun. But because it is so much better than anything you can buy.

So listen. There is life without homemade bacon. It is not worth the plucked feathers of an old barnyard rooster, or a cup of gubbins. It is not worth 4-day-old roadkill on a Mississippi highway in the heat of summer. Listen. I recommend every DIYer who is into food to make some bacon--even if it means performing some onerous task like cleaning up a 5-day-old maple-syrup spill you promised your wife you’d clean 3 days ago. Listen. You might be foolishly thinking, “What the hell do you know, Carter? Bacon is bacon. You’re just laying down all this bull to make your point.” Nine times out of ten, you’d be correct BUT NOT WHEN IT COMES TO HOMEMADE BACON. This is seriously the meat of the gods.

Cook, cook your heart out and enjoy the best bacon ever.

Bacon Recipe (continued)

1 slab of brined pork belly

20-25 charcoal briquets

5-7 6-inch chunks of applewood

Once you have your fire going and your grill, smoker or whatever you’re using is at 200 degrees, there’s not much to do. Every 20 minutes or so, put another piece of wood on and check the temp. Add a handful of charcoal when/if needed.

A lot of other online recipes will tell you other things to do--like to be sure to completely pat your belly dry before smoking it--but that’s just to sound authoritative. Since it’ll be sitting in a 200 degree smoky oven for at least two hours I can promise you the water will dry up.

After it’s done--meaning it has smoked for at least 2 hours and reached 150 degrees--there are a couple of steps you need to follow or watch out for:

1)First, peel off the pork skin. If you leave it on, each piece of sliced bacon will have a hard, difficult to eat edge on it.

2)The other thing depends on how fat your belly is and personal preference. Perhaps because it was a long winter, my belly seemed to have a little too much fat just beneath the skin. After you peel off said skin, slice off as much of this outer fat as you like as there’s plenty of other fatty layers to make it tasty. Otherwise--I learned this the hard way last fall--after two excitedly-eaten strips of bacon, you’ll have some very upset stomachs in your midst. Very upset.

3)Did I already mention this? Well, it’s never a bad thing to repeat oneself when offering sage advice… so be sure to put the bacon in the freezer before slicing. I cut it into one-pound blocks, wrap it in plastic wrap and then before it’s frozen slice it as thin (or thick) as you like.

4)Cook it at a slow sizzle to avoid serving blackened bacon. The higher sugar content makes it caramelize beautifully but that can quickly turn to a blackened mess if you’re not careful.

Ok, gotta go clean up a spill in my garage...

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