This is the recipe that kicked off Meat Club. Portland-based chef Ben Bettinger taught a charcuterie class, and this is the first recipe that he taught me (Ryan) how to make.
After we smoked the Bacon, the next day I received a text message from the wife of a friend whom I took the class with. The text read, "If you haven't tasted the Bacon yet, stop whatever it is you're doing and try it. It's the best Bacon I've ever had!" I immediately cooked the Bacon, and she was right, it was some damn fine Bacon.
• 20 lbs. pork belly
• ¼ cup Instacure No. 1 curing salt
• 4 cups Kosher Salt
• 1 cup black peppercorns
• 1 ¼ oz. whole bay leaves
• 8 cups brown sugar
The butcher and the belly: Ask your butcher for two quarter-bellies. A quarter belly piece is normally around 12 lbs. After trimming, two quarter bellies results in around four pieces weighing about 5 lbs. each, one for each person.
Measure out all of the ingredients from your shopping list, so that they are ready to work with in the subsequent steps.
Divide the pork bellies up into roughly 5 pound sections. Trim any abnormally large parts, so that the height is generally the same across the belly. What's abnormal? Think about eating it. If you'd say "damn, that's some fatty Bacon!" then you should trim it down a tad.
Rinse each pork belly piece, and pat dry with a paper towel.
Using a Spice Grinder, pulverize the black peppercorns and bay leaves. These should measure out to equal roughly:
• 1 cup finely ground black pepper
• ½ cup finely ground bay leaves
Everyone gets to play! Find a space for each person to prepare their belly.
Place a plastic tablecloth or numerous trash bags beneath each prep station surface to catch the loose spices, which will make cleanup much easier.
Lay a few layers of plastic wrap over the cutting board. This will eventually be wrapped around the belly.
Divide the salts, brown sugar, and spices evenly and place at each prep station.
Place the belly on a cutting board and sprinkle Instacure No. 1 curing salt over the belly. Wearing food preparation gloves, massage the curing salt into both sides of the pork belly.
Sprinkle a thin layer of black pepper and bay leaves over the belly. Next, sprinkle brown sugar and Kosher Salt over the belly.
Massage the spices into the meat until packed on well. Flip, and repeat the process on the other side.
Wrap each of the spice-laden pork bellies separately in plastic wrap. Place the wrapped bellies on a baking sheet to catch any leakage.
Using masking tape and a Sharpie, label the package Bacon: Smoke on April 30, 2014. Place the bellies in the refrigerator for 7 days.
7 days later, remove each of the pork bellies from the plastic wrap and rinse them off with water to remove the spice rub.
Either pat each of the bellies dry with paper towels, or use a Bacon hanger to hang the meat and air dry it.
Divide the 5 lb. pork bellies into 4 equal parts.
This will help the smoking go more quickly, and will make it easier to store and prepare your Bacon.
Place the pork bellies in a Smoker set to a temperature of 170°F / 76°C, until the bellies reach an internal temperature of 145°F / 62°C, which should take around 4 hours.
Apple wood is the smoking wood of choice for this style of Bacon, because it adds a light, fruity layer of smoke. You can also use the wood from other fruit trees such as cherry or pear.
When ready, remove the pork bellies from the Smoker and place on cooling racks.
Using a meat slicer or a sharp chef's knife, slice the Bacon into strips.
Wrap each ½ lb. of Bacon in wax paper. Place it in Butcher Paper or sealable freezer storage bags, and label with a Sharpie Bacon: made April 23, 2014. Place in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or the freezer for up to 2 months.
Please cook the Bacon before consuming it.