The bacon I have made over the past couple years has been really delicious. If I had to name its one weakness, though, it was with the smoking stage. I used lump charcoal and built small towers of pork belly on top of my Cobb BBQ but still fell short of total excellence. I’ll get to a description of the solution for this stage (though the pictures should make it obvious) but first a few words on the meat and the cures I used.
Cinnamon bacon went into my bacon blondies but otherwise I’ve kept pretty close to the basic bacon cure from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie. I wanted to stretch my bacon-y wings this time and try something a little more complicated. Few cookbooks are better for that sort of thing than Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand. Just today Corey Mintz referred to the gazpacho recipe here and for a while it was Grant van Gameren’s only recommended cookbook on the old Black Hoof blog.
I have shied away from Bertolli’s bacon cure in his tesa recipe because it calls for several fists full of spices (black peppercorns, allspice berries, red pepper flakes, nutmeg, cloves, and juniper berries) and red wine (measured by millilitre, not by fist) and I had worried that these would overpower the bacon flavour. Time to give it a shot though. His tesa is left un-smoked but I smoked it along with the other half of the belly that was cured with a pared down version of the Ruhlman cure as a sort of baseline.
For the meat I picked up a whole pork belly from a Mennonite farm in Southwestern Ontario via Sanagan’s Meat Locker in Kensington. With a back story like that one would expect a premium price but the belly rang in at over twelve pounds (bone out) and only cost me thirty-six bucks, tax in. That’s definitely better than the $3/lb for belly–before the bones are removed and the taxes are added–from the No Frills meat counter.
The wood oven we built last year is really great at cooking pizza but if I could I’d make everything in there. It’s designed to heat to a very high temperature, hold that heat for a long time while exhausting the smoke up the chimney so even hot smoking seems like a stretch for it. In order to hold the meat in the oven long enough for it to pick up enough smoke flavour without cooking the protein or rendering the fat I’d have to lower the temperature. Obviously, the smoke would also need to be (mostly) kept in the oven.
The solution is to partially block the door. With just enough fresh air entering at the bottom of the door space and just enough smoke exiting up the chimney the fire will smolder, produce a lot of smoke and less heat. We haven’t built a door yet so I improvise with firebricks and a plywood panel. (I’ll have to post a picture of this setup soon.) I used very well-seasoned (and quite beautifully grained) hard maple that had been split into pieces with the same diameter as my wrist.
The weather for Canada Day this year was so calm and warm that the entire backyard filled with pork-scented maple smoke. Dogs and vegetarians were driven to madness.
Because it heats the dome evenly to a high temperature I didn’t really want to cook pizza before switching to smoking mode. Instead I roasted a couple of Fred’s great Berkshire pork chops from Perth Pork Products along with some early summer roasted Ontario vegetables–the last of the asparagus and first of the zucchini and cherry tomatoes.
It also helps to keep the cured pork belly close to the front of the oven where it is coolest (still over 200°F though) especially if you haven’t had a full fire raging in there before you started. I had planned to rotate and flip the two pieces of belly because I wanted to make sure that it was all evenly exposed to the smoke but after such a great dinner I fell asleep and after about an hour and a half in the smoke-filled oven I decided to pull the bacon out.
This bacon is absolutely fantastic. A couple spots got a little darker than I would have liked and there was a bit of fat on the surface (both signs that the oven temperature was a bit too high) but otherwise it is great. Both took on a moderate amount of smoke flavour that can be smelled for miles when the bacon is frying. The tesa cured bacon has a complex, possibly even more porky flavour to it and the subtle spice flavours distract from the salt without overwhelming. It’s now going to be my go-to cure for future bacon projects.