Is smoking really a healthy habit? If it involves a home grill, a little pork belly and Prague powder #1, then yes, it sure is!
We recently discussed smoking at home, but only touched upon the finer points that will lead you down the garden path of homemade bacon glory. If you haven’t already had a look at the previous article, (Smoking Hot! Turning your home grill into a smoker,) please do. It will help you understand the basics behind converting your grill into a smoker, and hopefully will inspire you to join the bacon making trend sweeping the nation.
As you may well know, I’m a huge advocate of thinking outside the box when it comes to your grill. There are endless ways in which to manipulate the average outdoor barbeque, and a range of recipes that is limited only by the cook’s creativity. One skill that sets a grill master apart from the crowd is smoking. The ability to control heat, and to utilize the subtleties of smoke is an art. While it may seem daunting, rest assured, this is something anyone can learn.
A brief word of caution before we begin: Take care to follow safety instructions when it comes to the handling of meat, curing salt and temperatures for smoking. While it is a great hobby, home smoking is not without certain risks, all of which are easily managed with careful attention to detail.
First things first. You’ve got a grill, and you’re ready to smoke. Perhaps you’re using something that is already setup for smoking, like the Echelon Fire Magic Grill, (with a built in smoke tray for your wood chips and heat zone separators for temperature control, this grill is a cadillac in the bacon making world,) or perhaps you’ve customized another grill, (I might recommend a Sole Gourmet Grill, or even a Big Green Egg, so long as it has a large cooking surface and a tight fitting lid.) The key to successful smoking lies in temperature control. Whatever grill or barbeque you are using, please ensure that it is capable of maintaining a low temperature of 225F for several hours. A lid that seals well and a large cooking surface are also very important.
Next, decide just what it is you are going to smoke. For conversation sake, let’s assume you are going to make bacon. Bacon is one of the most gratifying food items to produce, and is a simple way to cut your smoking teeth. You will be sure to impress your friends and family, but be forewarned, you will be hooked! Once you’ve made your own bacon, there is simply no going back to the store bought variety.
Using a grill, either gas or charcoal, will result in a hot smoking environment. Knowing this is important for two reasons: firstly, hot smoking requires the use of a curing salt known as Prague powder #1, and secondly, your bacon will be fully cooked once it is smoked.
Curing salt is used in the preservation of meat to inhibit the growth of bacteria, specifically Clostridium botulinum, or botulism, and to maintain a bright color. Prague powder #1 contains 93.75% salt and 6.25% sodium nitrite. It is what makes bacon taste like bacon, as opposed to pork. Prague powder #2, used for meats and sausages that are cold smoked and air dried, contains sodium nitrate as well as nitrite. Both these salts are often dyed pink to prevent accidental consumption. It is very important to follow recipes and instructions when using curing salt, as too much, or even improper handling can be toxic. You may not substitute one for the other as Prague powder #2 can become toxic when exposed to high heat.
Whether you are planning to smoke bacon, beef, ham hocks or tongue, the process remains constant. First you cure the meat, then you smoke it. The cure is a crucial component, and will affect your end product as much as the smoke itself. Be it salt rub or brine, your cure should include kosher salt, curing salt, a little sweetness and whatever herbs and spices you most enjoy. The cure is where you impart most of your flavor, so feel free to experiment. I’m a big fan of maple bacon, but have received good reviews with honey, molasses, and even palm sugar. So long as you follow the recommended formula of 2 teaspoons of curing salt for every 5 lbs of meat you will be in good shape, and your bacon will be safe.
My stand-by recipe is as follows:
• 5 lbs pork belly, skin removed
• 2 ounces kosher salt
• 2 teaspoons Prague powder #1
• 1/4 cup maple syrup
• 1/4 cup brown sugar
Combine the salts and sugars, spread the mixture evenly over the pork belly. Place in a plastic bag or non-reactive (either glass or stainless steel) container and refrigerate.
Store in the fridge for seven days, turning every other day to ensure even exposure to the cure.
On the seventh day, remove from the cure, (which is now very liquid) rinse in cold running water and pat dry. Place on a wire rack and back in the fridge, uncovered, over night.
Ready your smoker by getting it up to temperature with one element, (200F – 225F) and get the smoke rolling. Place the belly on the cooking surface furthest from the heat source. Turn the belly (now bacon!) every half hour until it reaches an internal temperature of 150F. Have a taste!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katie Sanders is a professional chef and freelance writer who lives and works in British Columbia. She received her culinary training in Vancouver, and went on to work in some of the city’s finest establishments as a cook and pastry chef. Her primary area of expertise is dessert, but she has a deep affinity for any food that can be consumed with a good glass of wine.
After several years of intense restaurant work, Katie decided to pursue a quieter life in the country. She now lives and works in Canada’s most prestigious wine country, the Central Okanagan.