True North Life: Making Maple Bacon

Gillian has a nice blog, discussing aspects of her homesteading life in Ontario – True North Life. In this entry she talks about Making Maple Bacon. Mmm, delicious, delicious bacon.

…As with all meat curing or meat projects, it starts with a great cut of meat. For bacon, you want a nice juicy looking pork belly. Remember this process takes time so you want a pork belly worthy of your efforts. This means from organic hogs or hogs raised humanely without hormones or antibiotics. Or from a heritage breed like Berkshire, Duroc, or Kurobuta. Each has a richer, meatier, more distinctive flavour than industrial pork bellies. By the way, a full pork belly weighs 10 to 12 pounds. Whole Foods will sell you pork bellies by the pound, which may be easier to handle for home smokers. Our smoker can’t handle a whole 12lbs so we usually go for the 2-3lbs and we don’t want to make to much of the same kind of bacon at once until we learn our favourites.

After getting your meat youll need to prep it to be cured. The bottom of a pork belly usually comes with skin (rind), which will be tougher than the rest of the bacon. (It also blocks the absorption of the cure and smoke flavours.) Commercial smokehouses remove it using a slicing machine. At home, you’ll have to work a bit harder. Start at one corner and use a sharp, slender knife to separate the skin from the meat, angling the knife blade toward the skin. Better yet, ask your butcher to skin it for you. Do not discard the pork skin. Direct grill it over a medium flame on both sides (start belly side down) until crisp and golden brown to make “brownies”—crackling crisp bits of skin to fold into pulled pork. Or deep fry it in oil to make chicharrones (pork cracklings). It can also be used to give flavour to beans or greens.

Next is seasoning the meat, the basic ingredients are salt and sugar and optional curing salt (sodium nitrite) and pepper. You can achieve a wide, subtle range of flavours by varying the source and proportions of these ingredients: white sugar or brown sugar, maple sugar, or even freeze-dried cane sugar juice. Ground or cracked black pepper or hot pepper flakes. Bacon makers in Scandinavia add juniper berries and other aromatic spices. For this round, we used maple syrup, brown sugar, and curing salt to make maple bacon for breakfasts. How you season depends on who you ask, and the type recipe you use, since this recipe is mostly liquids we simply poured the ingredients into a large zip lock bag mixed and mixed it well before placing the meat inside…

Click here to read about the entire process.