Peppered Bacon

Homemade bacon is really easy to make and significantly less expensive than store-bought. And you can make flavors you cannot find easily, like this delicious version. Traditional American bacon, known in the UK as streaky bacon and in France as lard maigre, is made from pork belly or side. Use the same technique with pork loin and you get real Irish or Canadian back-bacon. You can leave it unsmoked, as is usual in France, or you can smoke it over the wood of your choice; I particularly like apple wood. Chips are readily available at your local mega-hardware store. Commercial bacon is cold-smoked at a temperature under 100° and, because it spends a significant amount of time in the danger zone between 45° and 145°, must be cured with nitrite curing salt. I hot-smoke my bacon on a charcoal fired kettle grill but any covered smoker will work. If you are hot-smoking your bacon you can omit the curing salts if you wish.

A note about curing salts: sodium nitrite has been used for centuries to prevent botulism in meat. In the 1970s concerns were raised that, when cooked, meats cured with sodium nitrites became contaminated with nitrosamines that were suspected of being carcinogenic in large doses. Subsequent studies by the National Science Foundation showed these concerns to be largely unfounded when the salts are used properly. The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that commercial cures contain 6.1 grams of sodium nitrite per 100 pounds of meat. Because such a small amount is difficult to measure accurately sodium nitrite is sold as 6.25% concentration mixed in ordinary salt. Variously called Prague Salt #1, Instacure #1, or pink salt #1 (because of the dye used to prevent from accidently being confused with plain salt) it is available from any sausage making supply vendor. I bought mine online from The Sausage Maker, Inc. in Buffalo.

Ingredients

Pork belly, at least 5 pounds

¼ cup kosher salt

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup coarsely ground black pepper

4 bay leaves, crumbled

1 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

1 tablespoon granulated garlic

1 tablespoon juniper berries, coarsely ground (optional)

2 teaspoons pink curing salt #1

Method

Remove the rind (or have your butcher do it for you) and set it aside for making pork rinds. Rinse and dry the meat. Mix together the cure ingredients and rub generously on all sides. Wrap the meat tightly in plastic wrap or place in a large freezer bag. Refrigerate for at least 3 days but no more than a week, turning each day. Liquid will accumulate; do not remove it.

At the end of the curing period, remove the bacon from its wrapping, wipe off excess cure, and pat dry. Let stand to come to room temperature. Meanwhile soak wood chips in water and prepare the smoker. Smoke the bacon for 2½ to 3 hours or to an internal temperature of 150°F. (Alternatively smoke for an hour and finish in a 300°F oven.)

Store, tightly wrapped, in refrigerator for up to a week or freeze for later use.

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