The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Smokin’ Bacon

February 13th, 2011 · 3 Comments · Posted in Recipes

Our pork belly is looking more like bacon

After a week in its “cure,” our 6.6 pounds of pork belly has taken on a mahogany hue, is firm to the touch and is starting to look a whole lot more like bacon than raw pork. In other words, it’s time to smoke our bacon.

As part of the Charcutelapalooza project, we are following the recipe outlined by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn in their book Charcuterie. They suggest “hot smoking” the cured pork belly to an internal temperature of 150 degrees. Hot smoking means in 200-degree F heat, which you can obtain by placing a few charcoals in a pan with hardwood chips or sawdust at the bottom of a kettle grill. Or you can use the electric smoker I already own.

Our electric smoker: works great

This morning, I pulled our Brinkmann “Gourmet” electric smoker out of the garage and set it up on the back deck. As you can see, it’s pretty well used. We’ve smoked all sorts of meats on it over the years: pork shoulder, lamb shoulder and Texas-style beef brisket, mostly. It works like a charm, although brisket turns out to be an all-day affair starting at the crack of dawn.

Electric element with hickory chips

The bottom portion consists of a simple electric element very much like the element you would find in an electric oven. It plugs into any wall outlet. One drawback: there’s no adjusting the heat. It just fires up to a constant temperature somewhat north of 200 degrees, if my memory serves. However, since the ambient temperature outside is predicted to rise only into the 50s, I don’t expect the inside of the smoker to get terribly hot. We’ll see. You can always measure that with a thermometer.

As you can see in the photo, I’ve scattered a few hickory chips, soaked in water for the last two days, around the element. Over a period of hours–however long it takes the bacon to smoke–I’ll replace the chips as needed.

A bowl to hold water inside the smoker

The rest of the smoker consists of a metal tube and lid. Inside the tube are places for two racks to hold meat, as well as a bowl for water to create moisture. The original bowl has a hole rusted through it, so I insert a stainless bowl full of hot water.

Ready to smoke, soon to be bacon

Finally I add the metal racks and the cured pork belly after rinsing it well and patting it dry. If I continue to follow the recipe, I will monitor the heat, replace the wood chips, and remove the bacon after it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees. I have no idea yet how long this will take.

It’s this last part–about the temperature of the finished meat–where I am still a little confused. Rytek Kutas, in his seminal Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing, recommends smoking bacon at 135 degrees and calling the bacon done when it reaches an internal temperature of 127-128 degrees F. Bruce Aidells, in Bruce Aidells’s Complete Book of Pork, suggests that bacon can be “cold-smoked”–meaning a couple of hot coals in a pile of sawdust in a kettle grill–for “6 to 8 hours.” Or, he says the meat can be “roasted” in a 225-degree oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees.

Who to believe?

One reader here says he has made bacon several times following Ruhlman and Polcyn and it always turns out great. My plan is to head off to the farmers market now and pick up more pork belly to make pancetta. Maybe what I’ll do is remove the bacon when it hits 128 degrees, test a slice and figure it out from there.

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  • Mosaica

    Great post! I have been experiencing the same questions as you with regard to the different suggestions that various sources give to finish bacon. Makes me wish there was a comprehensive tome which aimed to describe all the different ways that different regions prepare cured meats. My intuition tells me that there isn’t one right way, but my uncertainty about my bacon being Right still persists 🙂

    Gotta say though: my firtst bacon in which I followed Polcyn & Ruhlman is utterly delicious and 24 hours after eating some I’m still alive & kicking: a win!

  • Renee @ Loca-Faces

    This is a fascinating series of threads – you’re on a pork roll, it seems. I am particularly interested in reading how the pancetta is done and works out.

  • Jonathan York

    Hi Ed, I’m really looking forward to your curred meat adventure. I’m going to do a few of them but committing to all is more meat than I can handle!

    Have you looked at these heat controllers for smokers? I use one on my DIY sous vide set up and it holds the temp bang-on. Set it and forget it. I love it.