Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Brown Sugar and Honey Bacon Smoked on a Pellet Cooker

[FTC Disclaimer] I have no affiliation with Thermoworks or Beswood.  I genuinely my Grilla a few years ago as a thank you for cooking on their Memphis In May team.

I love bacon but who doesn't?  I recently cured, smoked, and sliced a batch of Brown Sugar and Honey Bacon.  


How to smoke bacon on a pellet cooker smoker

Curing and smoking your own bacon takes a little time and refrigerator space, but it is well worth the effort. 
  • You get truly smoked bacon, not something that was sprayed with aerosolized liquid smoke and cooked in a big oven.
  • You get to make choices about the seasonings.
  • You get control of the thickness of your slices.
  • You save a good bit.  I pay less than $3 a pound for pork belly, but bacon at the stores is running $5 to $7 per pound depending on the type.


Bacon smoked on a Grilla pellet smoker

One tip, wear gloves when handling the bacon cure.  First, it's just a good idea any time handling curing salts.  Second, if you don't, you will find that minuscule paper cut that you forgot existed.

Brown Sugar and Honey Bacon

adapted from Chris Lilly's Fire and Smoke: A Pitmaster's Secrets

Ingredients

  • 8 pound pork belly, skinless
  • 6 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1.5 teaspoons pink curing salt (Prague powder #1)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup black pepper, coarse ground/16 mesh
  • 1/2 cup local honey

Instructions

  1. Mix the salt, sugar, and curing salt together making sure that it is evenly mixed.
  2. Remove the pork belly from packaging, rinse it off and pat dry.  Sprinkle the salt mixture all over the outside of the pork belly. Press the salt mixture in with the palm of your hands to ensure that it sticks.  
  3. Place the pork belly in a non-reactive container, fat cap side facing up.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the pepper across the top and press into the pork belly.  Drizzle the honey across the top.
  4. Cover the container and place it under refrigeration for 8 days.  On every other day (Days 3, 5, and 7), flip the pork belly.
  5. On Day 8, remove the pork belly from the brine and rinse it off with cold water.  Sprinkle the other 1/4 cup of black pepper across the fat cap side of the pork belly.
  6. [Optional] Place the bacon slabs on a rack and sheet pan and leave them uncovered in the refrigerator overnight.  This will dry the surface and create a pellicle.  
  7. Preheat your smoker to 200°f using your choice of smoke wood(s).  Smoke the belly until it reaches an internal temperature of 155°f, about 2 hours.
  8. Remove the pork belly from the smoker, allow it to cool, and let refrigerate overnight.
  9. [Optional]  Vaccum seal the unsliced bacon in gallon sized vacuum seal bags and allow it to age in a refrigerator for a week.
  10. Slice the bacon to your desired thickness.  Cut any end pieces into chunks to use as "seasoning bacon" for things like pinto beans, collard greens, and BBQ beans.  Vacuum seal and freeze any slices that you won't use in a week or so.


Curing bacon and Canadian style bacon.
Plastic hotel pans [Amazon Affiliate link] with lids are ideal for the curing/brining process.  They are non-reactive to the curing salt, and they fit nicely in most home refrigerators.  On the first day, it will seem like there isn't enough liquid. But by the 2nd or 3rd day, you'll have plenty of fluid like shown here.


Cured bacon ready to go into a smoker.  I cut the pork belly in half just to make it easier to fit into a smoker.

Smoking pork belly on a Grilla pellet grill.
I used a Grilla pellet cooker to smoke the cured pork belly.

  • I like using the Grilla pellet cooker for bacon because it does a better job smoking steadily at a lower temperature and its heat is 100% wood fired.  This is a strength of pellet cookers.  I also like the convective effect from the fan inside, it keeps the smoke flowing over the pork.
  • For kamado grills, like Big Green Egg or Kamado Joe, I find it's a bit harder to make sure that wood is burning in the coals while cooking at such a low temperature. When I do use a kamado, bury your wood in the coals close to where you will start your fire to make sure the wood is burning while the bacon cooks.  It helps to have a Flame Boss fire controller to maintain cooking temperature.
  • For a kettle grill, you want to bank your coals and wood off to the side for an indirect cook or a fuse burn around the edge.
I used Grilla's competition blend of pellets (oak, hickory, and cherry).  Hickory, apple, and cherry are also good choices of smoking woods for bacon.


Placing bacon into the Grilla pellet grill to smoke.
Putting the bacon into the Grilla smoker with the peppered side up.

How to cook bacon on a Grilla pellet grill or smoker.
Use a remote probe thermometer to monitor the internal temperature because bacon is definitely one to cook by internal temperature, not "time/temp".  Thermoworks ChefAlarms® are the ones that I use most often because they have upper/lower alarms, max data points, and I just trust the Thermoworks line of products.  

Smoked pork belly bacon with a Thermoworks ChefAlarm in the background.
When the bacon slabs are done, I put them on a cooling rack and let them thoroughly cool in refrigeration before we vacuum seal them to age.

Beswood 250 radial meat and cheese slicer slicing a slab of smoked bacon.
You can slice bacon by hand with a 10-12" slicing knife, I did our first few batches this way.  But since then I have relied on our radial slicer for quick and even slices.
A note about the slicer because people always ask about it.  It is a Beswood 250 [Amazon affiliate link], and it reminds me of a scaled-down version of the commercial Hobart slicers we used at a grocery chain where I worked in a previous life. I have owned several slicers meant for home use, and the Beswood blows them away in several areas.
    • Motor power - This slicer doesn't bog down as soon as the meat hits the blade.  It has a 240 watt motor compared to the 130 watt motor of some other home slicers.  
    • Blade size - The 10" blade dwarfs the 7.5" blade of other slicers, and this unit includes blade sharpeners.
    • Smooth operation - Other models I have used were a bit stiff and jerky when moving the slide back and forth, but the Beswood is as smooth as glass.
    • Size of stock that it is able to slice - Smaller models wouldn't accommodate my slabs of bacon without cutting them in half, width wise.  The large tray and blade fits a whole slab, minus a half inch whacked off of each side to square it off.  
    • Durability - I burned through 2 Waring Pro model slicers in the time frame that I have had this Beswood, and it doesn't show any signs of dying anytime soon.

    If you are looking for a radial slicer to use at home, I highly recommend you put this slicer on your short list.
    Thin sliced bacon on a Beswood 250 slicer.
    The thickness is up to you.  We'll often do about 1/3 thick sliced and 2/3 thin sliced. This time we did them all thin. 

    Eight pounds of bacon.

    Sliced and vacuum sealed home cured bacon
    We vacuum seal ours right away.  We keep 2 or 3 packs out because we will use that in a week or so.  The rest go into the freezer.  They thaw easily and with a very little drop in quality.


    Homemade bacon, egg, and cheese on scratch-made biscuits.
    A quick note - we have found that homemade bacon cooks faster and at a slightly lower temperature than store-bought bacon.  

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