And now, for a little light reading…
The past few days have been very heavy information days. With the new government dietary advice coming out, and that advice not being one hundred percent in agreement with the advice that I give daily here at One Small Change, it threw me into fits of argument. Well, the fact is that there is only so much that any one person with a little tiny WordPress blog can do to shout against the megaphone that the government will use to shout their advice. In the end I can only really influence my own family and you, my dear reader.
In an effort to not run you off by shouting the same thing over and over from my rooftop like some crazy sidewalk preach with a megaphone, today we will turn our attention to something a little bit fun.
Today I am making bacon again! Technically I should say I am going to be curing bacon today, it will not be finished for over a week. I think a normal person with a normal job should start this process on a Saturday morning so that the actual pork smoking can occur on the following Sunday, but I don’t have that going for me. I work odd days and odd hours, so I will do the parts I can when I can. Luckily for me and my bacon-to-be the time ranges are very flexible. If I get the cure on today, then I won’t have to smoke it exactly a week from today, on next Monday. Tuesday, Wednesday–or even later– would be just fine with the bacon. Longer is better when you are curing. The only disadvantage to waiting is the room that big slabs of side meat take up in the fridge.
So, the things I have already done:
I ordered two slabs of side meat from my meat cutter. The pork is heritage, naturally raised porker that they process at a local meat locker not too far from my home. I called them and they were just cutting some pork up and I asked for one slab to have the skin and one slab to be skinless. There are people online that swear you must keep the skin on and those that swear it’s a pain in the butt to have the skin on. I will do this and let you know if skin on is any kind of pain in the rear or not.
My pork came to me frozen, so a couple of days ago I cleared a great big space in my fridge for thawing. I could have done this part in a coleman cooler, one of the big ones, too. If you thaw in a cooler you cover the meat in ice and keep it on ice. Drain the melt off every day and add more ice. In a few days you have safely thawed meat. In the fridge it also takes a few days to thaw this way, but it is very safe, as the meat stays below 40 the whole time, lowering the chance that bacteria can grow.
When I get home I will take the pork out of the ice box, take it out of it’s shrink wrap and cut the slab into chunks that will fit into a two gallon zip top bag–one chunk per zip top bag. I will weigh each chunk and the amount of cure I put on each chunk will be based on this weight. You must have enough nitrite on each piece of meat to defend it against spoilage. If this part is done right not only do you not have to smoke the meat, you don’t even have to refrigerate it. After pork is cured like this you can literally hang it from a hook in a cool dark place. Lots of meats are cured and dried like this. If you don’t use Prague cure on your meat then hanging it unrefrigerated will lead to a very stinky house. Sometimes online I see people making their own bacon using just salt or ‘pink salt’ meaning himalayan salt, which is not a cure. This meat must be refrigerated until cooked, and it will really just be brined pork. It won’t look or taste like bacon.
There are lots of cure recipes but the important thing to remember is that you have to have as much Prague cure #1 per pound of meat as you need. Prague cure is a premix of salt and Sodium Nitrite. It is used for meats to cure them quickly and it’s for meats you intend to cook. Use it at a ratio of one teaspoon (4 grams) per five pounds of meat. If you use less the meat will not be completely cured to the middle, which will turn brown when you expose it to air–you lose the pretty pink color. If you use too much the nitrite can burn the meat, or if you use way too much, can be toxic. Be careful and weight things, instead of eyeballing them. Here is an incredible curing salt resource, at SusanMinor.org.
Recall that I am leaving the skin on. I have read that it doesn’t affect the ability of cure or of smoke to penetrate the meat, so we leave it on. I also read that it’s a lot easier to remove the skin when the bacon has been smoked. This will give me a big piece of smoked pork skin to flavor foods with, so I am going to smoke the skin off.
Put the right amount of cure on the meat, put it in the two gallon bag and put it in the fridge. If you keep it too cold it takes a lot longer for the cure to penetrate the meat. Keep it close to 40 degrees and it will take about a week, but like I said, longer is not a problem for the meat if you can spare the room in the ice box.
Turn the meat over every day for seven days. Write the beginning day on the bag or you will forget what day you started all of this, a week is a long time to remember when you are old like I am.
How do you apply the cure to the slabs evenly? It doesn’t sound like there’s much to go around. Is it a dusting process? Or applied like a BBQ rub? Like shake & bake? Or another way? I have never seen this done. Thanks!
I do it like a dry rub before smoking. Just put it on one side like frosting. Every day I turn the meat over so that each side sets in the liquid that comes out of the meat. The meat gets firm over the course of the week too.