I mean honest to Pete, if you’re like most people, the mere mention of the word fires up your salivary glands. I’m no exception. When I’m at a loss for what to make for dinner, I fire up a pound of bacon and let the aroma waft around me and inspire me. But let’s be REALLY honest here. Not all bacon is created equal. Truth: mediocre bacon is still better than no bacon at all, but the best bacon is transcendent. It is a meatier, more subtle, more umami packed experience.
For YEARS, I’ve wanted to make my own bacon. It’s been on my Bucket List, so to speak, along with making my own perfect cured ham, perfecting ribs, making traditional kielbasa, and surprising my kids and husband with a crown roast of pork. So it will come as no surprise, then, that when the National Pork Board asked me to think about my #PorkBucketList, bacon was the first thing on my mind, along with making my own perfect cured ham, perfecting ribs, making traditional kielbasa, and surprising my kids and husband with a crown roast of pork.
What’s a #PorkBucketList, you ask? You might call it ‘That amazing recipe I’ve been meaning to make’ or ‘Trying a pork chop on a stick for the first time’ – your #PorkBucketList is full of the things you’ve had a hankering to try with pork – and with all the amazing ways to prepare pork, and all the flavors that pair with it from all over the world, why not? What can I say? When God made pork, he made his best.
In the pursuit of perfect bacon, I ordered a Masterbuilt electric smoker. I chose this particular model because it allows the use of any-old-woodchips vs. other models that require proprietary wood chip biscuits or brisquettes or whatever they call those expensive things that are hard to find. As I have an enormous pile of apple wood at the back of my property, I just couldn’t justify the added expense and auto-feed convenience of the proprietary pellet feeder models.
The pork belly proved just a little trickier to locate on short notice. Most of the local grocers around me were willing to order it but it would’ve taken a couple of weeks to get in and I was on a schedule. If you live near an Asian foods grocery, it should be easier to get any time you want as pork belly is widely used in Asian cuisines. Once the pork belly was home, it was all smooth sailing. I popped it into the maple bourbon and jalapeno brine where it sat in the refrigerator for a couple of days, smoked for a couple of hours, rested overnight, and then, people, it was bacon. No. I lie. It was MAGIC.
Oh my word, it was unbelievable and worth Every. Single. Minute I committed to it.
- I opted for wet-brining my bacon for a more even flavor penetration.
- I decided NOT to add pink salt both because I planned on consuming it in a matter of days (don’t look at me like that. There are 7 of us in our family.) and because I hot smoked it instead of cold smoking it which meant there was less likelihood of bacterial growth. If you choose to you pink salt, refer to the book ‘Charcuterie’ by Michael Ruhlman for instructions on how to do so safely and properly.
- On that note, I feel obliged to tell you that if you omit pink salt, you will not have pretty, pink bacon, but it will be a natural shade of brown. It will crisp up and brown like you’re accustomed to bacon doing, but it will start out looking brown. If you find that unpalatable, you may want to use the pink salt.
- Choose your wood chips wisely. Mesquite and hickory will impart a very strong smoke flavor. Apple wood will be a much milder presence. Whichever one you decide to use, you need to soak them first. This keeps the wood smouldering instead of smoke bombing the food.
- When your bacon has reached 150°F, transfer it to a rimmed pan, tent with foil, and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours before slicing.
- I’m telling you this, bake this bacon. Pan frying it requires a lot more attention and fussing and you’re far likelier to burn the outside before the inside cooks through. If you lay it on a foil lined, rimmed cookie sheet and put it in a cold oven, then set the oven to 325°F, then stay patient as your home is filled with the mouth-watering scent of tempting bacon, you will be rewarded with the best bacon you’ve ever tasted in your entire life.
Homemade Maple Bourbon Jalapeno Bacon
- 6 to 8 pounds of pork belly
- 1 cup dark maple syrup Grade B
- 1/2 cup dark or light brown sugar
- 3/4 cup bourbon
- 1 gallon of water
- 1 pound kosher salt do not use iodized salt
- 8 fresh jalapeno peppers stems removed, sliced 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick
To Cure the Bacon:
- Stir together the maple syrup, brown sugar, bourbon, water, and salt until the salt and sugar are fully dissolved. Cut the pork belly into 4 equal pieces. Put each piece of pork belly into a heavy-duty, zipper-style freezer bag. Add 1/4 of the sliced jalapenos to each bag. Pour 1/4 of the brine into each bag, squeeze as much air out as possible, seal the bag, then aggressively massage the pork belly so that it is fully exposed to the brine. Place them in a rimmed roasting pan and refrigerate for 3 days, massaging the pork belly in the brine twice a day.
To Smoke the Bacon:
- Preheat your smoker to 225°F for 30 minutes with smoke, making sure your water tray is full to capacity. Place the pork belly pieces on the smoker trays, leaving a few inches of space between them so that smoke can circulate around the meat. When the internal temperature reaches 150°F, transfer the bacon to a rimmed cookie sheet, cover with foil, and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours before slicing. Use within 4 days, or wrap tightly with a double layer of plastic wrap and then foil and freeze for up to 3 months.
To Cook the Bacon:
- Slice about 1/16 to 1/8 inch thick, place on a foil lined, rimmed cookie sheet, and place in a cold oven. Set the temperature to 325°F and bake ‘til done. There is no need to flip the bacon as it will cook evenly. You may wish to rotate the pans once or twice, though. Bake for 15 to 25 minutes, or until your desired level of crispiness.
It’s a big one! My friends at the National Pork Board have offered to give a $500 gift card to one lucky Foodie with Family reader to help check an item off of their #PorkBucketList. One winner will be chosen on September 30, 2014. The winner will have 48 hours to respond before an alternate winner is chosen!
How do you enter?
- It’s easy as can be! Just answer one question for me: What’s on YOUR #PorkBucketList?
- For a second entry, tweet or pin about this post or an item on your bucket list and be sure to include #PorkBucketList in your tweet or pin!
The smoker I use and recommend is this model:
Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link and is sponsored by the National Pork Board who is also providing one $500 gift card to one giveaway winner. All opinions and narrative remain my own.