Homemade Bacon

Yep, I said it. Homemade bacon. When I said those words to my oldest child it was as if it was the best day ever. It has been a long time coming, but I finally went through and have made some of the best bacon I think I have ever had. I am honest when I say that as well. I have had good bacon, and Nueske’s is probably some of the best I have had in Wisconsin, until now. Let’s just say there is something about homemade bacon. Not only the satisfaction and almost giddiness that you get when you finally taste the bacon, but the texture is something to be reckoned with.

I do want to give credit to my colleague at work. This is one of the guys that if we are not in a meeting, or rushing off to support some technical issue, that he is the one I am talking to, or vice versa, about food, around 9:30 a.m., every morning. He was the one who was talking about charcuterie, the art of preparing meats such as bacon, pancetta, sausages, confit, and more, primarily from pork. The old school way, and now maybe the only way, to craft and preserve meat. It was he who excited me in this path and informed me to pick up the book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing.

Lets get started on this simple recipe of making homemade bacon.

Pink Salt for Making Bacon

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs of pork belly, skin on
  • 1/4 cup of basic dry cure
  • 1 tbsp cracked black pepper (optional)
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder (optional)
  • large ziplock bag or sealed plastic container large enough to hold the pork

Dry Cure:

  • 1 lb of Kosher salt
  • 8 oz granulated sugar
  • 2 oz of pink salt, approximately 10 tsp

Please note that the dry cure makes a lot, probably enough to keep me making bacon for a year, if not more, and you only need a quarter cup of the cure.

Pink Salt for Curing Bacon

So begin by locating a good pork belly. You might ask, ‘where am I going to find four pounds of pork belly!?’. No worries, locate a good butcher, and stick with that butcher. I have been going to Ray’s for some time now, and I knew that when I would ask if they had pork belly, in that quantity, that I would have to look no further. In all honesty, Ray’s Butcher Shoppe was more than happy to order my pork belly, roughly over nine pounds worth! That was double the bacon, and I am already planning my next savory bacon because after all, this bacon was spot on, and not it is time to experiment with flavor.

So begin by mixing your dry cure, making sure everything is thoroughly mixed.

Homemade Bacon

Take your pork belly and begin sprinkling the 1/4 cup of dry cure all over the belly. Top, bottom, and all sides. Make sure everything is coated, rubbing it into the pork.

Place this into a sealed plastic bag or container, placing in a refrigerator, and wait.

I say wait, but because you are looking at about 7-9 days before the next process.

About every other day, flip the bag or meat making sure to redistribute the cure liquid, a process called overhauling.

In seven days, check the pork for firmness. If it feels firm at the thickest point in the belly, it should be cured. If not, let it go another day before checking again.

Once you have reached the firmness, mine went for about 8 days, remove it from the refrigerator, and container, and rinse it under cold water.

Homemade Bacon

Pat dry with paper towels, and place it back into a clean, sealed container for one more day. At this point the pork builds up a tackiness that I preferred so that I could season the outside the following day.

Now is the day we have been looking for. The day to rub and smoke and slow cook the bacon. This step takes approximately two hours to cook, another hour or so to cool down, then you can begin slicing, and cooking the way you prefer to cook your bacon.

Mix the black pepper and garlic powder. Sprinkle over all sides of the cured bacon.

Smoked Bacon Recipe

Your next choice is to place it directly in the oven, or into your smoker if you have one. I have one, so I decided to light some coals, bring it to approximately 200 degrees, and place the pork inside, covered, skin side up, for roughly one hour. About 30 minutes in, I laid in my soaked cherry woodchips onto the coals, and let it smoke for about the additional 30 minutes.

At this time, I preheated my oven to 200 degrees inside the house, and finished the cooking process there, uncovered, on a wired rack.

Once the additional hour is done, check the temperature of the meat. You are looking at 150 degrees. Once you reach that temperature, remove it from the oven, and let it cool to room temperature.

Now is the fun part. Slicing it. If you have a really sharp knife, begin slicing into your desired thickness. I have a meat slicer (which I totally love) and it worked amazingly well on the bacon. I cut my belly in half to fit on the slicer, and began making thin slices, then thick slices. I took the remaining pork and cubed it, making lardons to be used later on in soups, stews, and other recipes.

Slicing Bacon border=

So now you are left with a lot of bacon. The best thing to do now is to save some thick, some thin, and some lardons to be used in the next several weeks. Take the remaining bacon and seal it the best you can before placing in the freezer, or package it up, and give it away.

The next and final step is to cook it. I made mine later in the night so I needed to try it out. I had the kids waiting in line for fresh cooked bacon, and let me tell you, it was worth the wait.

Remember that giddiness I was referring to? I think I was chuckling to myself while cooking the bacon. Maybe I was tired, but I do not think so. I was excited. Extremely excited that the bacon I just cooked had a texture and flavor like nothing other. It was bacon at its finest. A simple cure, a waiting game, and the ultimate pleasure of making something that almost everyone loves. My kids were even talking about it. Kids in the block came over and asked me if it was true that I made my own bacon. One just showed up this morning asking for some, and as the other kids said, “this is the best bacon I think I have ever had”. Enjoy.

Smoked Pheasant Breast

That’s right, I said it, smoked pheasant breast. Pheasant is something you do not normally see when you go grocery shopping, however, I was lucky enough to be provided one from a hunter, a hunter I have yet to meet. They call him “Boot”, and as he has been following my site for some time, and has interest in cooking, he decided to give us a couple of fairly large pheasant breasts and had the curiosity to see what I would produce.

Pheasant is much like chicken if you think about it, however, just a bit more gamy in flavor, but a good flavor at that. As I opened the bag to inspect the pheasant breasts, I was startled to see the wing feather still attached. I thought that was pretty darn cool, but later learned that it is something that must be left on while hunting to indicate the catch. As my wife and children were out of the kitchen and off doing other things, I quickly removed the feathers, and quickly discarded them. I wanted them to try the “chicken”, and the sight of the wing might have freaked them about a bit.

Pheasant Breast Recipe

So here I was, looking at these great pheasant breasts. They looked nothing like a regular chicken breast. These were a bit more dark in color, and did not have any skin attached. I know what I wanted to smoke them, but I also wanted some flavor in there as well. With that said, I came up with a bacon wrapped pheasant breast, generously seasoned in salt,

  • 2 whole pheasant breasts
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tbsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 orange, zested and juiced
  • 2 pieces of thick cut bacon
  • Wild rice, cooked
  • 16 oz mushrooms, preferably a mixed medly
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup of craisins
  • Additional salt and pepper for taste
  • 1/2 cup of Cherry wood chips, soaked in water

So I began by generously seasoning the breasts with salt, pepper, and the zest and juice of the orange. I then wrapped the breast, covering most of it with the bacon. Place it in the refrigerator while your smoker, or in my case, my grill/smoker heats up. You want it about 250 degrees.

Once your smoker is ready, add the breasts, then head in and make your wild rice. Cook the wild rice according to the directions on the package. During this time, get a large cast iron skillet out, heat up the butter on medium heat, and add in all of your mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms begin to caramelize, about 20 minutes or so, stirring often. Once the rice is cooked, fold in all of the mushrooms, as well as the craisins. Set aside.

Pheasant Breast Recipe

The breast should take you about one hour to cook, but about 45 minutes in to the cooking process, add the wood chips to the coals and let the breasts get a nice hit of the cherry smoke. Once the breast is cooked remove it from the smoker, and let it rest for about 20 minutes. When you are ready to plate, get a platter out, lay down the rice, and add the breasts to the top of the rice. Slice, and serve.

Truly great flavors, and a nice new take on serving something different on the table. Oh yeah, and the wild rice and mushrooms were a great pairing with the pheasant. I used the leftovers, believe or not, and made pheasant pot pies. Enjoy.

Homemade Steak Rub

Grilling season calls for a good steak every now and then. I admit that I love a good steak, but in all honesty they are hard to come by, and they can be rather expensive if you dine out. When done right, a grilled steak is heavenly. For years I always take my time when it comes to grilling steak. I remember years ago I knew very little about grilling steak, or the cuts of beef for that matter, but after many years and many trials, I think I have got it down, well, as least how I like grilling steak that is.

So this past week we decided to hold a family get together and meet my sister-n-laws new boyfriend. It was declared a casual gathering where we would hang out, have a couple of beers, and relax. At first I wanted to do something family-style in the sense of a large platter of food, but after consulting with my in-laws, it was decided that we would have steak on the grill.

At first my reaction was ‘steak on the grill, really?’, but then after thinking about it, I thought, ok, that is standard grilling fare, and for the most part, easy to do. But I had to do something to make these steaks shine, and that is when I thought I would concoct a steak rub. A rub so simple that it really brought these steaks to the next level of flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 4 tbsp coarse salt
  • 1 tbsp course cracked black pepper
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tbsp granulated garlic
  • 1/2 tbsp dried rosemary, lightly crushed
  • 1/2 tbsp crushed red chili flakes
  • 1/2 tbsp dried thyme

Simply place everything in a small bowl and mix well.

When you are ready to grill your steak, lightly coat both sides of your steak with the rub, and let them sit at room temperature while you get your grill on an extremely high heat.

Trust me on this rub, it is a real winner and impressed the new guy!

Quick Pickles

I had a real craving for pickles not too long ago, and as we normally have them in the refrigerator, we were all out. I typically never have a craving for pickles, but for some odd reason, I had the idea of making burgers in the cast iron skillet, topping it with a bit of cheese, and simple pickles. Sounds strange, I know, and is never one of my thoughts when it comes to a burger, but as stated, I had a craving for pickles.

Easy recipe for making pickles

I knew exactly what I was going to do, and that was to make quick pickles. After all, I did some recent pickling with carrots and daikon for one of my favorite Banh Mi sandwiches. So I would use that similar technique and use them on a couple of fresh cucumbers I had laying around.  These quick pickles are pretty darn good, and have a nice balance of acidity from the vinegar, and some sweetness and spice from the sugar and Thai chili pepper I put in there.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of distilled white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp dry dill weed
  • 2 cloves of garlic, lightly smashed
  • 1 Thai chili pepper (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cucumbers, cut into thick slices

Begin by adding the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, garlic, and chili pepper to a sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring well to mix in the sugar. My kids cannot stand the smell of cooking vinegar, and I do it quite a bit with Asian dipping sauces, however I think they are now getting used to it! Once boiling, remove from the heat, and add the dill weed. Let the pickling mixture completely cool. Add in the bay leaves.

To a clean mason jar, add the cut cucumbers, arranging them the best you can. Pour in the cooled mixture, cover, and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, however overnight is probably best. When you are ready, open and serve. Now you have pickles any day of the week, and is probably much more affordable than getting them at your local market.

These are good in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, then they get pretty soft. They typically do not last that long in the refrigerator though. Enjoy.