The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

How Many Ways to Skin a Pork Belly?

February 10th, 2011 · 7 Comments · Posted in Recipes

Our bacon, four days into "the cure"

Okay, I give up. Why do you leave the skin on the pork belly while curing it to make bacon?

That’s the proceedure outlined by Michael Ruhlman in his book Charcuterie, that being the reference for the blog circus Charcutepalooza, which focuses this month on bacon.

The first thing I noticed about the skin on the pork belly is that the salt-brown sugar-maple syrup rub used to cure the bacon does not stick to it. Nevetheless, the meat has exuded a goodly amount of liquid in the four days since I applied the rub, and the pork has turned darker, looking more like bacon than when I bought it. Still, it seems to me that the meat would more easily absorb the cure if the skin were not there. Ruhlman, and his chef co-writer Brian Polcyn, instruct to remove the skin only after the bacon has been cooked in the oven to an internal temperature of 150 degrees.

So, is the skin left on simply because it’s easier to remove after the bacon’s been cooked and still warm, as the writers suggest? I checked another source, Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing, by Rytek Kutas (I just happen to have a copy in my library), and his recipe for curing bacon specifically calls for a skinned slab of pork belly, but doesn’t elucidate why the skin should be removed.

That brings me to my current preparations for smoking my bacon. Ruhlman’s recipe says bacon traditionally is “hot-smoked” to an internal temperature of 150 degrees, but suggests an easier home method: cooking it in a 200-degree oven. The other sources I consulted, including Rytek Kutas and Bruce Aidells, in Bruce Aidells’s Complete Book of Pork, recommend “cold-smoking” the bacon.

Aidells accomplishes this by placing at the bottom of his kettle grill an aluminum pan containing a heap of hardwood sawdust topped with a couple of hot coals.  Aidells says he looks for a temperature between 80 and 120 degrees F in side the kettle, and smokes the pork six to eight hours, adding more coals and sawdust as needed. Kutas suggests placing the cured pork belly in a “smokehouse preheated to 135 degrees F,” and leaving it there until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 127-128 degrees.

I plan to use my own outdoor hot smoker–the same one I use to make Texas-style brisket–assuming I can find some wood chips. It seems I used the last of them months ago and mid-winter is not the best time to be looking for them at the hardware store.

But here’s the good news: temperatures are supposed to rise into the 50s on Sunday, right about the time my pork belly will be emerging from its week-long cure.

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  • BenK

    Is it possibly that the skin brings gelatin, etc to the meat during the smoking? That would melt at 150 and lubricate the protein. It would also protect the bacon during this smoking process, so that the edges don’t get overcooked while waiting for the core to reach temp.

  • Theo

    I’ve done it both ways, skin and no skin. I prefer skin on for a few reasons. One you get an awesome flavor enhancer for stews and beans post bacon smoking. Two, the skin helps hold the shape of the bacon when you hot smoke. Since there are multiple muscles going in different directions when it is heated it can lose its shape a little. Finally it also protects the bacon from losing too much fat to rendering and you can put it skin side down on the smoker grill.

    A negative, less smoke exposure.

    If you need places to get wood, I know a couple in Arlington, just email me.

  • bob del Grosso

    Whether or not you leave the skin on depends on what you want to achieve and what you plan to do with the skin if you remove it prior to curing. If you have a use for raw pig skin and you are planning to slice the bacon into strips take it off. On the other hand, if taking off the skins means you are going to throw it in the trash, leave it on then use it for cooking after it’s smoked.
    Then there is the issue of aesthetics. I think a slab of bacon looks better with the skin on, especially if you developed a nice pellicle before smoking and the skin emerges from the smoke shiny and dark.
    Another consideration is retail value. If you sell slab bacon and you don’t have a use for the raw skin that will make money, leave it on and let the smoked skin make money when it’s sold along with the bacon.

  • Ed Bruske

    Bob, I would definitely make chicharron out of the pork skin. I wouldn’t throw it in the trash. What is your thinking about whether the bacon might cure more thoroughly–or smoke more thoroughly–without the skin, or whether the skin helps the slab keep its girlish figure? Have you done it both ways?

  • Lauren

    For what it’s worth, here in upper Bavaria I buy cured and smoked “speck” by the 3×10″ hunk, with a loop of hanging twine through one end, and it still has the skin on. It certainly does keep its shape, even in such small chunks.
    Half the depth on the skin side is fat; perhaps leaving the skin on keeps you from sinking into smooshy lard up to the second knuckle when curing and hanging your meat. There are distinct dots on that fat where the curing rub seeped along the hair follicles; courage!
    I’m guessing there’s some long and low smoking involved – my supplier does everything the old way, and specifically advertises that it’s “gut durch” (or cured/smoked well through), so others must not be, ie too fast to market.
    Do you have a local lumber yard? They’d have chips and dust all year round, wouldn’t they?

  • Dwight Whitsett

    If you decide to remove the skin, can I have it? Yum!

  • Randall

    I left the skin on mine even after curing and smoking. I like the slight texture difference it gives.