First, you want to start with pork loin. I usually wait for the center cut pork loin to go on sale and pick it up when it does. If you think that 4 pounds of this will be enough, buy 8 pounds. It will go that fast. And if you want to get in real good with the in-laws, buy 12 pounds. Mortgage the house, sell a kid, sell a kidney......just make sure you have enough when you make this.
So, now that you've purchased the pork loin, what do you do with it next? You'll want to trim as much fat from it as you can. Here I have 7 pounds of pork loin and as you can see from the picture, I have a lot of fat trimmed off with more to go. It won't hurt if there's a little on there, but you certainly don't want 1/4" of the fat left on the loin.
Once you've got the loin trimmed, it's time to cure the meat. Some folks will do a wet cure but I've always preferred using a dry cure. You can use whatever quantity of whatever spices you'd like but my basic dry cure that I use is as follows:
- 1 Tablespoon Morton Tender Quick (or Basic Dry Cure; ingredients to follow) per pound
- 1 Tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar per pound
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder per pound
- 1 teaspoon onion powder per pound
I will usually experiment with other spices on this as well. Sometimes I'll use some homemade chipotle powder or homemade habanero powder if I want to spice it up. Sometimes, I'll use some soy powder or worcestershire powder for a change of pace. If I want it a little sweeter, sometimes I'll go with some maple sugar or molasses powder. The point I'm trying to convey with this is that we are only limited by our imaginations.
If you can't find Morton's Tender Quick locally, you can use a Basic Dry Cure which consists of:
- 1 pound of pickling salt
- 8 ounces of granulated sugar
- 2 ounces pink salt (InstaCure #1; or DQ Powder; or Prague Powder #1; or Cure #1; or TCM)
This will make about 3 1/2 cups of dry cure.
It is really important that when you're making your dry cure that you measure this out carefully because you'll be using this to cure the meat. When dealing with cured meat, if some of the meat is not cured but you treat it as if it were, you'll be doing the hershey hustle at a minimum and in my household, that's never a good thing.
So, you've gotten your ingredients measured out and your pork loin all trimmed. Now, you want to use every bit of the dry cure that you have for your loins. You don't want to treat this as if you're just sprinkling a rub over a steak. You'll want to rub this over every square inch of the loin. Make sure you get it into every nook and cranny on the surface of the meat. If you've ever been to the beach and it came time to take a shower and you wonder how in the world the sand got into every nook and cranny of your body, that's how you want to treat this dry cure. The cure basically starts on the surface but must penetrate down into the center of the meat. It may sound strange, but you really want to give the loin the complete shiatsu massage. Belive me, your tummy will thank you when you do and it will curse you if you don't.
Now that you've gotten your cure on the loins, I like to take some butcher's twine and tie it up about every two to three inches. This is not a necessary step but I feel like it gives the bacon a better shape and it also helps with the curing if the bacon is generally of the same shape. With this bacon, I wanted it a little sweeter for breakfast and lunch meats, so after tying it up, I added some pure maple syrup for added flavor. If you do this, I highly recommend using Pure Grade A Maple Syrup. Stay away from the Aunt Jemima or other pancake syrup if you can afford it. The Aunt Jemima will work, but the real syrup is much better in my opinion. Once you have the pork loins ready to go, you can either place in a zip loc bag (remove as much air as possible) or even put them into a vacuum sealed bag. Generally, I use the vac sealer however I was out of bags when I made this bacon, so the zip loc will work just fine.
To allow the pork loins to cure properly, you'll want to store these in the refrigerator at a temperature of 36F-40F. Any lower and you'll slow down the curing process. Above 40F and you're into the "danger zone" of meat (I try not to keep my meat in the danger zone of 40F-140F any longer than possible). It generally takes about 2 days per inch of thickness of meat for it to cure. With these loins, I went 7 days in the dry cure. I always try to turn the meat over every day. If you notice there is some liquid that has been expelled from the meat, that is okay. Try to keep the meat in contact with the liquid and massage it through the plastic into the meat. Because of the amount of salt in the dry cure, the salt will draw some moisture out, but it should get reabsorbed back into the meat. Be sure to let it go the entire period as you want the entire piece of meat to be cured. Patience is certainly a virtue and an important virtue in making bacon.
Well, you've made it through the curing process and wondering what to do next. The next step is to remove the pork loins from the storage bags and rinse it out good under cold running water. When you've got it rinsed good, you'll want to put it in a cold water bath for about 30 minutes. What you'll be accomplishing in this step is removing the salt (or as much as you can). After thirty minutes, I like to take a small piece and fry it up to ensure it isn't too salty. If it is, I let it sit in the cold water batch and will check it every half hour. Once you deem it isn't too salty, I pull it out of the bath, pat dry and then let it sit overnight in the refrigerator, uncovered. This will help it to form a pellicle on the surface of the meat.
The next day, I place the bacon in my smoker at 225F and apply maple smoke to it until an internal temperature of 140F is achieved. You can take it to 150F, if you desire but I find there is less moisture in the bacon than when I pull it at 140F. I then tent foil the bacon until they are cool enough to be handled by hand. I will then place the bacon back into a vac sealed bag or double wrap in plastic wrap and let the bacon rest for two days. This is the second hardest period of making the bacon. You'll want to rip right into it, but trust me when I say the wait is worth it.
After you've gone through the process and the two day rest period is over, you can then cut it up and eat. I have a meat slicer and like to slice it up in varying thicknesses. I like about 1/4 inch for frying in a pan, 1/8th inch for eating with smoked cheese and crackers and try to get it as thin as possible when slicing for sandwiches. Here are a couple of pics that show some of the finished products. Some may call it Canadian Bacon and some may call it Buckboard Bacon. Whatever you want to call it, I call it delicious!