For as much as I don’t buy into bacon culture (to the point where I mention it in the About Me section), I still like to have it on hand and of course, I love to eat it. When I have good stuff on hand, I can use less of it and it makes things taste better. I make bacon about three or four times a year. This most recent time, I was inspired by a recipe for sorghum bacon in Garden & Gun’s cookbook. If you’re not familiar, G&G is an obviously-Southern magazine memorializing the enjoyment of the house and nature. It’s a fun and ridiculous magazine to read.
I returned from a trip Down South a few months ago and Danielle and I bought a jar of sorghum at a gas station. It’s an ultra-thick, kind-of-sweet syrup with a malty edge to it. It’s not my first choice of sweetener, but it has a good complexity to it and a little bit gives sauces and braises a certain depth.
I followed the G&G recipe, reproduced here. Keep reading to find out how it turned out!
Bacon starts off with a cure, which is a dry mix of salt, sugar, spices and curing salt. This recipe then adds a few tablespoons full of sorghum and then it goes in the fridge for a week to sit. During that time, the cure draws out water from the pork belly. It turns into a brine and the cure starts penetrating the belly, bringing salt all the way to the center of the meat. This is what preserves it and amplifies the porky flavor. I flipped the bag every day to make sure that it distributed properly.
After seven days, I took it out of the bag and rinsed it thoroughly. Here’s what it looked like:
See how much darker the red meat got? That’s the curing salt setting the proteins to a deep red. You could store this meat right now and have salt pork, which isn’t a bad thing at all. A few more simple steps, though, take it to bacon. The final step is a hot smoke.
This is crucial: the bacon must rest, uncovered in the fridge for a night. Put it on a wire rack. You do this because it makes sure the surface is dry and slightly tacky. This means that the woodsmoke will stick to it much more easily.
The next day, I built up a small fire of charcoal in the grill, put applewood chips in and smoked it. Most meats get a cold smoke, but bacon needs to cook to 150, so it went very close to those glowing coals. I damped down the grill to keep the smoke in and proceeded to babysit the fire for about two hours, on and off. When I was finished, I took it inside for some photos (see the top photo on this post!) and then set it to cool off outside (since it’s winter, why pass up free cooling?). When it was cool, I sliced it up.
Here’s a short video I shot on Instagram about the whole thing:
After it’s cooled, you can slice it however you’d like. I squared mine up with a knife and then used my deli slicer to cut a mix of thick and thin-cut pieces.
Notes about the recipe:
- My piece of pork belly had a lot more fat on it than I’d wanted. That meant that many pieces cooked into nothingness. Next time, I am going to be more choosy in the piece I select.
- The sorghum ended up burning (it’s sugar). It didn’t add much to the dish, either. I would skip the sorghum (or any other syrup) next time. The sugar in the cure itself is fine, but burning the edges of the bacon was bothersome.
- This really doesn’t need as much smoke as you’d think. I put in about four handfuls of applewood smoke over two hours. A little smoke goes a long way. It permeates the whole piece over time.
- I wrapped up a few parcels of bacon in separate plastic wrap sheets and then froze them. This let me pull them out when I was ready to use them. It thaws in no time.
In addition to devouring it in BLTs and with breakfast, I used it in all sorts of other things. From braised cabbage to cannelini beans, it lends a rich smokiness. This is really a good gateway into making your own cured meats and charcuterie. Get your pink salt on Amazon and your pork belly at Whole Foods and get to work!