As part of 1/7th of a Berkshire pig I recently acquired, I received a huge piece of pork belly, scaling in at 7lb 12oz. I was very happy with that, as I love pork belly and I love to make bacon, cook bacon, eat bacon, wrap myself in bacon, well, you get the idea. Bacon would be part of my last meal, if not my entire last meal.
To really make good bacon you need to smoke it. I did this once before on my Weber kettle, and it worked pretty good actually. I was able to keep the temperature around 250 degree and got a good smoky taste. But I pretty much had to sit there for two hours, monitoring the heat, adding a coal or wood chip here and there, adjusting the vents, opening and closing the lid. All made easier with the addition of a pile of (cooking of course) magazines and some nice cold beer, but not all that practical.
I’ve been playing with the idea of getting a dedicated smoker for a long time, especially since I got the excellent book Charcuterie. I looked at a wide variety of options and almost was ready to hit “send order” for a Bradley smoker. From what I read they are good machines, but the one thing that held me off was the use of special wood “pucks” to create the smoke. Those are proprietary and you can’t use any other products. Or woods. And that bothered me. I want to make some German smoked things, and the most common wood for smoking in Germany is Beech, something you can’t find in any puck, sack, sawdust or what have you form.
I also prefer doing things the traditional way, so in this case, it called for something wood or charcoal fired. And after spending two years going back and forth and deciding on this or that, I finally broke down and bought (drum roll) a Big Green Egg! A kamado style oven/grill/roaster/smoker that constantly receives high ratings and has a fanatic fan following. I almost bought the XL version, until I luckily saw it at my local Barbecues Galore, that thing is a monster and would be way too big for me. I went with the L version instead, their most popular size.
So, this entry will not only be about making the bacon, but also about my first experience with the Big Green Egg, or BGE as I will call it from now on. There will be many experiments with that thing, from brisket to pizza, from grill to roast to high heat seared steak. I added a category “Big Green Egg” to mark these posts, in case somebody is interested in what this amazing thing can do.
But let’s get back to the bacon for now. The piece I received was huge, so I decided to cut it in half and cure with two different recipes. One I cured by following the savory recipe in Charcuterie , the other I cured with a premade maple sugar cure from Butcher Packer a great resource for all things butchery/sausage making/charcuterie. That’s also where I bought my pink salt which is essential for curing.
To my savory bacon I added the curing salt mix (salt, pink salt, sugar) plus several fresh bay leaves from my tree, a good Tbsp of lightly crushed pepper corns (as I was fresh out of black I used white), and 5 or 6 crushed garlic cloves. Of course you can add other things here too, rosemary, thyme, anything that goes good with bacon. And what doesn’t?
The sweet bacon received the curing mix and some extra maple syrup. I sealed both pieces in plastic bags and put them in the fridge for 7 days, turning every day or so to distribute the juices. After a couple days you’ll notice the bacon is hardening – curing – and after a week it should be done, if it’s not too thick a piece. Leave it in there for an other day or two if still soft after 7 days.
Once done curing, rinse it well and dry it with paper towels. It’ll keep like this for a couple days I believe, I put it in the fridge for half a day uncovered, so it can develop a bit of a skin, pellicle, which supposedly helps the smoke to adhere, though I’m not sure it does. Never mind, I was not ready to start the fire yet, so might as well go for it.
And now back to the Big Green Egg. I filled the firebox per instructions with lump charcoal and added a couple pieces of Almond wood that the farmer that raised the pig had given me. One Weber charcoal starter and my son had the honor to light the very first fire in my BGE! (He’s been the BBQ lighter for a while now, just as I was when I was a little kid!). After about 10 or so min enough charcoals have caught fire and you close the lid. I was looking for a temp of 200-250 degree F, which it reached in no time at all. I closed down the vents to about 1/4 inch on the bottom and little opening on the top, and you know what? That Egg kept the temperature absolutely perfect, for 2+ hours! I did not have to touch anything, did not have to add wood or coal, I could simply walk away – or sit there and lovingly look at my somewhat goofy looking BGE, enjoying a wonderful sunset. All the wile smelling the wonderful smell of a campfire, eventually joined by wonderful meaty nose candy as the bacon smoked and got up to temp – 150 degree internally.
I put the two bacons in at the same time, using a grill extender that gives you a second level to cook on. I closed the lid and left the thing alone from then on. Well, aside of the occasional curious peek of course….
Now, I might have just been lucky, but the ease of operation and the exactness of keeping the temp was astounding to me. Just as easy as setting an oven to a given temp, this thing kept on smoking and warming my bacon like a precise machine.
Back to the bacon. I forgot to record the time – two little kids and dinner preparations at the same time do that to me – but I had the bacon in there for about 2 hours. I increased the heat to 300 towards the end, as it was getting late and I was sure there’d be enough smoke flavor already. Once it reached 150 degree internally I removed the bacons to a cutting board and brought them inside. Can you imagine the smell? It still lingers in the house today! It came out wonderfully, a nice golden brown color, a great smoky taste, and not too salty. Simply perfect, if I may say so.
Of course we had to have a taster or two (or three) as this was just too good looking and smelling. Of course you eat a lot of fat that way, fat that would usually render away once you crisp the bacon, so go easy here, but do try this if you make this yourself someday. (You can roast it in the oven too, but you won’t get any smoke flavor that way). A special treat, like the tail of a perfectly roast chicken!
A great success on all fronts, wonderful flavorful bacon, just the right amount of smokyness. Both turned out great, I personally prefer the savory one, but won’t turn my nose on any kind of bacon. I divided the pieces and gave half of each to friends, who also thought it turned out great. They want to try the process themselves next time – the seed is set, the addiction will sprout
And here are a couple more photos for your enjoyment: