Introduction: Makin' Bacon - Skin on Vs. Skin Off

Picture of Makin' Bacon - Skin on Vs. Skin Off

After my first attempt at curing and smoking bacon at home, I came across some discussions that mentioned skipping the skinning process altogether. The main consensus was that it's just easier to take the skin off after smoking. However, there wasn't a definite answer on the whether or not the cure or flavor was affected. So I decided to do a side-by-side cure/cook. This instructable also outlines the process I have used to make bacon for a few years now and it has always come out great! It's also a great opportunity to make some delicious pork cracklings too!

Step 1: The Bellies and the Cure

Picture of The Bellies and the Cure

I started with two whole bellies, about 18 lbs total. I cut both bellies in half, skinned two halves and left the other two untouched. I decided to use this opportunity to try out some other flavors: Plain, Coffee, BBQ, and Maple Brown Sugar. The four cure recipes I used are below. 1/4 of the Base Cure was used for the plain portion and the remaining 3 portions had spices or ingredients added. The different cures were mixed up, rubbed on, and refrigerated for 7 days (flipping once a day to redistribute the juices/cure).

Base Cure -- Split into 4 parts, 1 part used for Plain

  • 1 TB Pink Curing Salt
  • 1 Cup Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 Cup Pepper

Flavor Additions (Added to 1 part of the base cure)

Coffee

  • 1/4 Cup Ground Coffee

BBQ

  • 1/2 TB Chili Powder
  • 1/2 TB Paprika
  • 1/2 TB Cumin
  • 1/2 TB Garlic Powder

Maple/Brown Sugar

  • Rubbed with Maple Syrup Before Cure is Applied and Right Before Smoking
  • 1/2 TB Cinnamon
  • 1/2 TB Nutmeg
  • 2 TB Brown Sugar

Step 2: Smoking and Slicing

Picture of Smoking and Slicing

The day before the smoke, the cure was rinsed off and the bellies were soaked in water for 12 to 24 hours. I fired up my weber smokey mountain, patted the bellies dry, and smoked at 225F for 4 hours/internal temperature of 150F. The end result turned out great. The skin came off very easily with the "skin on" belly and the only difference that I could tell is that you don't have the nice looking smoky bark on half of the slab of bacon. Some BBQ Gloves help when it's time to take the bacon off the smoker and during the skin removal. After the skin was removed, I wrapped the bellies in parchment paper and allowed them to cool in the fridge. If the bacon is too hot, slicing is a mess. I used a large slicing knife to make thin cuts of bacon and vacuum sealed them in 1/2 LB portions.

I noticed no difference in the effectiveness of the cure or the overall flavor of the final product. It's much easier to just leave the skin on and remove it after cooking. I believe the initial skinning process can be skipped without any repercussions. The maple flavor came out the best and was my favorite. When it's fried up it smells and tastes just as you would imagine, smoked pork covered in maple syrup. Perfect with some pancakes or waffles. I saved a bit of skin and made cracklings.

Step 3: Trimmings and Pork Cracklings

Picture of Trimmings and Pork Cracklings

After the bellies are smoked, you need to trim them to get good full slices of bacon. You will end up with quite a bit of trimmings and skin. I freeze the chunks of smoked pork belly, remove them from the freezer as needed, and add them to things like beans or greens. With the skin, I like to cut them into small pieces, freeze them, and use them in stocks and soups.

On the day of the smoke, I like to make cracklings. These are super simple to make and are absolutely delicious. I look for pieces of skin with some fat still on them, cut them into small 1 inch by 1 inch squares, throw them in a skillet, and cook them on medium heat until crunchy. When crispy, I remove them, place them on a paper towel to soak up excess grease, and sprinkle on some BBQ rub or just plain salt.

Comments

4DIYers (author)2016-10-30

Ohhhh, that looks so delicious!

Dandeman321 (author)4DIYers2016-10-31

Oh it is! A world of difference between this bacon and the cheap stuff.

kshaunfield (author)2016-10-31

Thanks for sharing this. What kind of wood did you use for smoking? I know hickory and applewood are both fairly traditional. I wonder how significant a flavor impact wood type will have on already flavorful cured bacon? We've got something like 80# of homegrown pork belly in the freezer that needs cured and smoked. Which reminds me of another question...any idea how many pounds of cured/smoked bacon you get from the raw pork belly (seems like there would be a fair amount of moisture loss)? Thanks.

Dandeman321 (author)kshaunfield2016-10-31

No problem! For this batch I used Cherry but I've also used maple and hickory in the past. And correct, I haven't noticed a huge difference between woods. I think my yield rates were about 66% original weight, so about 1/3 of the weight was lost to moisture/skin/trimmings. Sounds like you got a bunch of smoking to do!

BeachsideHank (author)2016-10-27

Is there something special about the kosher salt or is any non- iodized salt acceptable?

Thanks.

It may just be the grain size, I know use koshering salt frequently when grilling because it has much larger grains than regular iodized table salt so it adheres to the meat for better penetration.

Hannewanja (author)quixotiCfluX2016-10-31

Salt is iodized just for health reasons. Iodine is necessary for your thyroid to produce hormones. Most people did not get enough of it through their regular diet. In most western countries Iodine is added to salt and store bought bread because almost all people use these products. Except for the grain size (as stated above) it shouldn't influence the result.

Good question. I'm actually unsure of that. I assume you could use sea salt or other non-iodized salts. Gut feeling tells me to stay away from iodized salt. I liken the cure to a rub for BBQ. You want those big flakey chunks so it spreads nicely.

bbqandbeer (author)2016-10-28

1 TB of pink salt!? Thats quite a bit. Whats the formula of pinksalt to pound of meat?

Dandeman321 (author)bbqandbeer2016-10-28

1TB of pink salt for 18 lbs of pork belly. Is that considered too much? I used 1 teaspoon for each 6 lbs of meat.

bbqandbeer (author)Dandeman3212016-10-28

I must have read it all wrong. It looked to me that it was 1TB per 4.5 #. 18#/4= 4.5... Now I read it as 1TB for the whole batch and then you split the salts into up in 4 as well. Got it. My bad.

Dandeman321 (author)bbqandbeer2016-10-29

No worries! Yeah it was quite a bit of meat. So that 1TB was split up between 4, 4.5lb slabs.

jessyratfink (author)2016-10-28

This is great - love seeing food experiments like this :D

Dandeman321 (author)jessyratfink2016-10-28

Thanks!

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