In which there's a story about a pig and recipe for bacon

This is a true story about a pig.  I've met her.  She's lovely.
(and I don't usually say that about pigs)

Early last summer, our friend Mel was working around her place fixing fences and stuff, when all the horses in the pasture suddenly lifted their heads and STARED into the trees near the creek.  

Horse people know that when one horse does that, it can mean anything--or nothing.  But when a bunch of horses do that all at the same time, there is usually a Reason.

And there was:  down by the creek Mel saw a half-grown white piglet rootling around for food in the vegetation.  The piggie had a bum leg, and had obviously escaped from some neighbor's pen--possibly while also escaping whatever critter had grabbed her by the leg.

Mel put up signs notifying the neighbors about the pig, but nobody responded.  Since the piggie was doing fine on her own, nobody worried much about her until the summer got really hot and dry, and the creek dried up.  Then Mel started leaving out bowls of water for the piggie.  But still, she never saw the pig up close.

One day in late summer, Mel was out feeding horses and chickens and the piggie showed up and, as Mel says, demanded to be domesticated.  

Mel explained to the piggie about what happens to domesticated pigs, but the piggie was insistent:  she wanted food and water in bowls, and she wanted her back to be scratched just so.

So, Mel rounded up some food and water.  While the piggie chowed down, she and the barn kids built a fence around the pig.  The piggie didn't mind the fence at all, as long as somebody came by several times a day to scratch her just so.

Mel explained to the barn kids about what happens to domesticated pigs, and the kids (mostly) accepted this, although they pleaded that the piggie was, after all, a Very Nice Pig.

When Mel talked to people at the feed store, the people there who know about pigs explained that what happens to Very Nice Domesticated Pigs is not the same as what normally happens to domesticated pigs:

Very Nice Pigs, apparently, are pigs that are highly desirable as breeding sows.

And that is the reason that, if you go visit Mel these days, she will welcome you and invite you to give some just so scratches to Amnesty, the Very Nice Pig.

Jim’s Home-cured, Home-smoked Bacon

Here are the instructions for making your own bacon. It's easy, fun and much tastier than store-bought.

For the prep, you will need:
 a 2-gallon food storage bag
room in the fridge or a cool place to store the package while it cures.
We use the shop, which never gets above 45 degrees in winter or 55 degrees in summer. If you aren't putting it in the fridge, you'll need a 5-gallon food-grade pail with a proper lid to keep random critters out (In our case: dogs, cats, and chickens).

For the smoke, an actual smoker is the best option. However, you can do this on your barbecue.
You'll also need a sharp knife and other Accoutrements de cuisine.

You can buy #1 curing salt online for around $10/pound. Since you're only using 1 tablespoon at a time, your curing salt will last a long time.  Also, do NOT try to substitute something else for this; only pink curing salt will work to process the pork belly. A slight non-sequitur: If you're worried about nitrates or nitrites, then you'll be glad to know that there are more in a celery stick than a slice of this bacon.

Now, go to Costco and wander around until you get to the meat department. Then wander around until you find pork bellies. The last time I was there, they were $2.99/lb. and about 9.5 pounds average weight.

Stop by the store and pick up either Kosher salt or non-iodized table salt. Get a big box or bag of this.
You'll also need brown sugar and white sugar.

You're ready now. 

Step One is preparing the belly. Get it out of the package, rinse, and pat dry. I use the sharp knife to divide the belly into two chunks to fit my smoker. I suggest you divide it for your situation.

Step Two is making the curing brine. A curing brine chemically changes the meat in order to preserve it, as opposed to the flavoring brine I use on the turkey. Here's my basic curing brine recipe:
In the 2-gallon Ziploc, combine:
1 Gallon clean, cold, potable water,
1 cup plain (non-iodized) regular table salt or Kosher salt,
1 cup sugar,
1 cup brown sugar, and
1 heaping tablespoon of #1 curing salt.

Mix everything together until dissolved; will remain dissolved, no heating needed. Do this in the sink. I find a large stock pot useful to support the bag.

Add the chunks of pork belly to the brine, then seal the bag while burping out as much air as you can.

Now put it in a cool place and ignore it for 10 - 14 days. Really. After two weeks, the raw pork belly will have cure into salt pork.

Take the salt pork out of the brine and let it drain. Use the brine to kill weeds or something-or just pour it down the drain.

Step Three is smoking the bacon. (I know; "How do you keep it lit?" Sigh.)

The two important parts of this step are indirect heat and temperature. If you're using a smoker, follow the manufacturer's instructions. If you're smoking the bacon on a grill, only use the burner (or push the charcoal) on one side. You aren't cooking the meat, you're smoking it.

Get chips or chunks of your favorite hardwood. I like cherry, apple, mesquite or hickory. Our smoker uses dry chips. If you're doing this on the grill, you'll want to soak them. For the grill, make foil packets of soaked chips--you can google the instructions for this.

Place the chip packet on the coals. Place the slab of salt pork on the "cool" side.

Tempurature is the other key. Use a meat thermometer and check the internal temperature every 30 minutes or so. When it reaches 156 degrees, STOP. This is the point at which the proteins and fats have changed to bacony goodness.

Any longer or hotter and you end up with cooked salt pork-also a good thing, but it isn't bacon.

Cool the bacon to a handle-able temperature, then wrap in foil and put it in the freezer. This is really important for slicing the bacon. Frozen bacon is easy to slice; hot bacon, not so much.
That's it. Now, go play.


  1. The best part about this story is the Very Nice Pig's name.


Post a Comment

To err is human. To be anonymous is not.

Popular posts from this blog

In which we start the year with something old, something new, and something blue

In which the ears are the keys to good communication with horses

In which the Solstice is here at last, and the sun begins to return