Perfecting a fat slab of bacon at home is a skill worth practicing. Your friends and family will thank you.
Bacon is made by dry-curing or brining pork belly and then smoking the slab(s). Most store-bought bacons use nitrites and nitrates as a preservative, come from commercial farms, and are often frozen and thawed. If you have access to pigs—or know a farmer—you can make bacon locally sourced from organic pork, and you can make fresh bacon without the synthetic preservatives.
Nitrites and nitrates save the bacon’s color, prevent the fat from going rancid, and inhibit bacteria growth. But there are competing opinions about the health impact of consuming nitrites/nitrates, and the World Health Organization has linked the compounds to cancer in humans.
As an alternative, salt can be used in larger quantities to brine and essentially cure your at-home bacon. It won’t keep as long as nitrite/nitrate-rich bacon, but you’ll find the slab disappearing quickly once you get a taste of it.
SMOKED JALAPENO BACON RECIPE
I use the same brine for many things that end up on the smoker. The ratios are easy to remember and simple to adjust as needed. In the end, it produces consistent results. It is actually a modification from a Betty Crocker turkey brine recipe I found many years ago. A similar whole brined turkey recipe is still offered by Betty Crocker. I have been toying with the same basic ratios of that recipe and they work for many meats.
The duration of the soak and the presence of additions such as brown sugar and sliced jalapeños make this brine a bit different than that of your Thanksgiving turkey.
—3 pounds pork belly
—1 pound sliced jalapeños
—1 gallon water
—1 cup kosher salt, or more to taste
—1 pound brown sugar (or if you’re me, you’ll use the whole bag—be warned, this bacon will then burn in the frying pan if not carefully tended to. But it’s worth it.)
—1 tablespoon peppercorns
—1 tablespoon coarse ground pepper (optional)
Trim the skin from your pork belly, if you prefer.
In a large bowl, crush the jalapeño slices thoroughly. This aids in extraction.
In a large boiling pot, boil one gallon of water. Remove from heat.
Stir in salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, and jalapeños. Simmer until cool.
Submerge the pork belly in the brine. Refrigerate for 7-14 days.
Remove the pork belly from the brine after 7-14 days and rinse. Pat dry.
Rub the pork with ground pepper if you like.
Smoke indirectly at around 200 F for 3-4 hours.
Your bacon is done. Slice it. Fry it.
Go ahead and try a strip, and then tell me if you don’t eat the whole slab soon after.
The same general recipe works for other smoked meats with minor modification to the instructions. For example, try this same recipe with trout, but don’t leave them in the brine for more than 24 hours. Try it on chicken breasts (depending on the cut, smoke for 2-4 hours) or pork ribs (which could smoke for 6 hours or more). Be adventurous.
Feeding your friends and family delicious homemade bacon is a great way to make them appreciate you.
Visit Betty Crocker at bettycrocker.com/recipes/brined-whole-turkey for the brined whole turkey recipe that inspired this smoked jalapeño bacon recipe.
This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Home.