I cured another batch of pork bellies and wanted to smoke them this time around. Some day I will build a multi-chamber cold smoker or at least one of those galvanized steal garbage bin units. For now, I decided to test the Cobb bbq cooker‘s ability to act as a smoker. I was partly inspired by the fact that google searches related to my first Cobb post have sent a significant percentage of the traffic to Food With Legs (give the readers what they want) but also this conversation on smokingmeatforum.com. Follow the link and take a look yourselves but the short story is that a guy in the States used his Cobb to smoke a simultaneously frightening and appetising creation known, appropriately as a “fattie”. A fattie or sometimes “fatty”, is a football-shaped meatloaf, stuffed with ham, onion, and blue cheese, and wrapped in a bacon weave. If this excellent monstrosity can be smoked on the Cobb I couldn’t see why pork bellies wouldn’t work.
My first bacon post deals more with the process of curing the pork bellies (I added minced thyme leaves to the cure this time) so I’ll move straight into the smoking process. I used a step here that I came across on the internet and have used for hot-smoking fish in the past. The protein that is going to be smoked is pulled from the cure, dried and left in the fridge to further dry for about twelve to twenty-four hours. This develops what is called a pellicle on the meat that apparently helps the smoke flavours “stick”.
Once I had the match light Kingsford hot I balanced a small aluminum plate on top of the briquette grid and filled it with soaked hickory chips. Between five and ten minutes of heating with the lid on the Cobb had the wood chips sizzling and starting to smell like delicious hickory.
The heat transfer qualities of the cooking grid that I lauded in my burger post are what I wanted to avoid when smoking. The objective is to expose the meat to as much smoke as possible while cooking it as little as possible. To raise the meat off the cooking grid I used the rack from a toaster oven and two aluminum foil spacers–an old Alton Brown trick. Apparently, the Cobb people sell a rack that accomplishes the same thing but they charge a silly price and I think that for applications like smoking that leave the top off of the Cobb (to keep the heat down) my workaround is just as effective.
I was really impressed at how well this setup mimicked a cold smoking rig. The skin side of the pork bellies–facing away from the smoke because it will be discarded and so that any of the fat that ends of melting has to baste the meat before it drips on the wood chips–remained cold to the touch. Because of this I probably wouldn’t use this setup on a hot summer day for food safety reasons but remember that the smoke and the cure both have preservative properties.
Total smoke time was about an hour and a half but this would have been about twenty minutes shorter if I had done a better job of managing the wood chips. Add more chips before the first batch has been totally exhausted (knock some of the ash off of the briquettes while you have the rig disassembled) so that there is less downtime. Also, the chips I used are actually labeled as “smokin’ wood bits” which I guess refers to the fact that while wood chips usually look like small cubes these more closely resemble large splinters and have some sawdust mixed in. I get the sense that these smaller chips work better in the Cobb because they light more quickly but I can see that they probably smoke for a shorter amount of time.
Next time around I’ll use natural lump charcoal instead of the match light stuff. I didn’t notice any unpleasant tastes or aroma but with this much exposure to the smoke I would rather avoid all the chemicals I can. Also, for easier cooking and storage I tend to cut home-cured pork bellies in half widthwise. I think I’ll do this before the smoking step next time to expose more surface area to the smoke and possibly fit more pork on the rack.
The cooked bacon from this smoking experiment was mindblowing. Even uncooked and refrigerated the scent is otherworldly. Totally different even than the premium, thick-cut store-bought stuff. I let it work its magic on a BLT with some of this year’s last garden-grown tomatoes today and was shocked at how the bacon’s salty smokiness played perfectly with the tomato. The ideas for using this bacon (a supporting role in the Thanksgiving dressing that will go with this year’s turkey, for one) are coming so quickly that I’m sure I’ll have to smoke another, larger batch soon. I’m envisioning a tower of bacon on top of the Cobb two or three racks high. This bacon is yet another reason I could never be a vegetarian and vaguely distrust those who are.