That tasty, succulent, salty goodness you can only get from a pig. Takes a bit of work, but the results are far worth the effort. If you like your bacon thick, this is the only way to do it. Cutting slices about 1/4″ thick, they fry up nicely like ham steaks, or, you can throw them on the BBQ grill over direct heat, and finish them with a splash of BBQ sauce. So good.
To nitrate or not? I’ve tried both and I really can’t tell a difference. Since sodium nitrate gets a bad rap, I’ve chosen to go without. One advantage to the pink salt is preserving the food. Something about botulism risk if you don’t, but so far, so good. I keep mine frozen and just slice pieces off as I need them.
I start with a 10# slab of pork belly, skin removed, from Costco. If you end up getting pork belly with skin on, just trim it off and make yourself some cracklins! Make yourself a cure of 1/2C sea salt, 1C raw sugar and 2T ground black pepper. You can always add other stuff to the rub for additional flavors, like red pepper, paprika, garlic, etc. Play around with different flavors and see what you like.
Next, slice the pork belly into 3 equal pieces that will fit in 1 gallon zip lock bags. Divide the rub between the 3 slabs, pressing on both sides of the pork belly and then placing in a zip lock bag. Throw any extra rub into the bags.
Refrigerate for 5 days. However, you need to flip each bag over each day. The rub will pull moisture out of the pork belly and flipping the belly helps it to evenly cure. After 5 days, dump out the brine and rinse the belly. Place back in the fridge on a wire rack for another 2 days. This allows pellicle to form, which allows the smoke to adhere better.
Smoke for about 4 hours at 180F. Turn the heat up to 225 and continue cooking until the meat reaches 150F. Let it cool on wire rack. Make sure you close the windows in your house so the entire home will smell like bacon! At this point, it is done and you can eat it as is. Or, fry, bake, or grill it to your heart’s desire. They say refrigerated bacon has a shelf life for 2-3 days. I vacuum seal mine and keep it frozen until use.
Another finishing option is to make Chronic Bacon. Found this little gem at Biscuit Love in Nashville. Sugary, spicy bacon that is more like eating pig candy! For each pound of bacon you want to prepare, use a rub of 1/4C brown sugar, 1/2t crushed red pepper, 1/2t black pepper, and 1/2t (or to taste) cayenne pepper. Slice the bacon a bit on the thick side and toss in the rub. Line a cookie tray with foil and place a wire rack over the top. You need the foil so you don’t have to excavate the caramelized sugars from the pan when done. I have also just used foil, crumpled up and spread back out, which creates somewhat of the same effect, allowing the bacon to sit off the pan a bit. Bake in a 350F oven for 30 minutes or until done. The sugar will caramelize into a dark, golden brown. Remove from the rack immediately, or it will stick to the rack as the sugar cools. When you pull the bacon, it will be slightly crispy, but will firm up when cooled. Eat now or refrigerate until ready.