Homemade Bacon : Part 2 The Smoke
At the end of Part 1 we made sure we had our salt levels where we want them and our belly had dried uncovered in the fridge over night. Now it’s time to add one more layer of flavor. Infusing the belly with smoke is the pièce de résistance. In my opinion bacon just isn’t bacon without a nice kiss of smoke.
Right before the belly is placed in the smoker I like to add an optional coating of black pepper. While the pepper in the cure helps get some flavor into the meat, I’ve found that a nice coat of black pepper right before it goes on really punches it up. There really is no specific amount here. Use as much or as little as you like.
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If you do not have a dedicated smoker, a grill and smoking pellets work great. I use this Amazen Pellet Tube Smoker 12″ when I smoke bacon at home. It’s very inexpensive and works wonderfully. I typically get a 4-hour burn from a single load of hickory pellets, which gives me all of the smoke without the high temperatures.
Your smoking chamber needs to be set to 165 degrees or less. Place the belly in the chamber for 4 hours. Keep an eye on the internal temperatures of the belly if you are having trouble keeping your smoking chamber below 165. If your belly is at an internal temperature of 150 degrees for 90 minutes go ahead and pull it off even if you haven’t gone the full 4 hours. You don’t want to run the risk of melting all the fat out of your bacon. Internal temps do not have to hit 150 degrees. Instead, think of 150 as the max.
Personally, I like to smoke the belly at the lowest temperature possible. In the wintertime my chamber may be all the way down at 40 degrees. The bacon will never get close to 150 degrees internal temp. Smoking at these lower temperatures allows the meat to stay in the smoker the entire 4 hours without running the risk of melting the fat. If you have to remove your bacon before the 4 hours are up it simply means you won’t get quite as much smoke flavor. I would rather have less smoke than melt the fat. In the summertime this may be a bit more difficult, especially if you are using a smoking chamber that generates lots of heat, such as a propane grill with smoke chips. It’s one more reason I like smoking with pellets. They provide lots of smoke without heating up the chamber. For this session my temps hovered around 90 degrees.
After the bacon is done smoking, it will be highly tempting to devour the whole thing like a giant bacon candy bar. Resist these urges as best you can and let the bacon cool in the fridge over night. Not only will flavors intensify, but slicing cold bacon is much easier than hot bacon. I like to wrap my slabs in butcher paper so the oils from the bacon don’t make a mess. If no butcher paper is handy aluminum foil will work fine.
After a night in the refrigerator, it’s time to enjoy the fruits—err, bacon— of your labor. Congrats! You will never want to eat store bought bacon again.