As you probably know, last fall we decided to raise 2 pigs. We sold 1 (in 2 halves) and kept the other one for our family. Our ~200lb live pig yielded about 125lbs of meat. However, our butcher doesn’t smoke meat, so instead of paying someone else, we decided to smoke our own meat.
First, I had to take the pork belly which was a full side of bacon and break it down into smaller pieces for curing. One of the problems (in our opinion) is most of the bacon you purchase in the grocery store is cured with chemicals and given “artificial smoke flavor”. So, with a little reading online and some Youtube videos, I decided to use a very basic cure: 2lbs of brown sugar mixed with 1 cup of Kosher salt. I mixed the dry ingredients, sliced each side of pork belly into thirds, and rubbed the pieces with the mixture. Each pork belly was about 11lbs of meat with the skin still on.
Then we vacuum packed the meat and put it in the refrigerator for 12 days. We also cured 1 of our hams and left the other one uncured.
We already had a large 6′ grill. Last fall I was going to sell it because we didn’t use it much, but I didn’t get any legit interest, so we decided to keep it. The problem with the grill is the way it is built makes it very hard to control the temperature in the grill when cooking with charcoal and adding more charcoal requires shifting the cooking surface. So I wheeled the grill into the garage to make some changes.
I had done some reading about smoker designs and decided to add a side mounted fire-box to funnel the smoke into the grill without using direct heat.
One of the decisions was whether I was going to cold smoke, or hot smoke the meat. Other than the obvious temperature implication from the names, there is a bigger fundamental difference. Cold smoking the meat imparts flavor into the meat at low temperature, while frequently debated, less than 120F is a commonly referenced, but less than 90F is generally considered better. Hot smoking is done at temperatures above 120F but generally closer to 165F. Hot smoking imparts flavor too, however, it also actually cooks the meat, which is not what I wanted to do. I decided to cold smoke our bacon and ham. Once I had the charcoal hot and the apple wood smoking, I loaded the grill with meat.
I had a few strategically placed thermometers to monitor the temperature. It didn’t take long to figure out the meat directly over where the firebox connection was would be hot smoked if I left it there. Luckily, with a 6′ long grill, I was able to quickly rearrange the meat to the other end. For the next 5 hours, our meat was smoked at about 75F (it was in the teens outside).
The butcher had allowed me to borrow his slicer, so after cooling the meat, I cut the skin off the bacon and ham. The ham went straight into the oven for dinner. The bacon was put in the freezer for a few hours to stiffen for slicing.
Small farm pigs don’t give the same big huge slices of bacon that you get in the store. But, we did manage to get the bacon sliced as much as possible.
In the end, our pig gave us about 10lbs of packaged bacon, which means we lost just over 50% in weight from the starting point through the juices extracted by the cure and trimming the skin off the bacon. Before the night was over, we tossed a few sample scraps on the stove. The meat was very sweet (from the brown sugar) and had great flavor. It was a fun experience, but I don’t think I will be going into the bacon business any time soon.