The internet believes in two things: cats and bacon. Since Chan would object to being smoked, it looks like I'm going with bacon. (NOTE: No cats were smoked in this Instructable.)
Step 1: Get Your Belly On
I'm fortunate enough to have a fantastic butcher nearby who keeps things like whole market packed pork belly on hand at all times (Carniceria Central on Gano street in Providence, RI). You're more likely to find it portioned like I do in the second picture. My smoker isn't big enough to handle the whole thing in one piece, and since I know I'm going to freeze most if it anyway, I cut it into three large pieces.
When you buy it, make sure you get un-cured, un-smoked pork belly that still has the skin on. I accidentally cured a beef brisket once that had already been cured for corned beef unbeknownst to me. Too much salt. Sooooo too much salt.
Step 2: Make the Cure
Curing requires salt and sugar, and Instacure #1. Instacure #1 is salt with 6.25% sodium nitrite. It is used in wet cures to keep bad things from growing while the cure happens. It is not safe to directly consume. It is colored pink to keep it from being mixed up with regular salt -- and is often known as 'pink salt,' but this can be confusing now with the marketing push for Himalayan Pink Salt (which does *not* have sodium nitrite). This container of Instacure has lasted me well over a decade now.
For an entire belly the size I used, double this recipe. Most bellies you find in the market will already be cut down to a reasonable 2-3 pound size.
- 50 grams kosher salt
- 12 grams Instacure #1
- 50 grams sugar (white or brown)
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
Step 3: Rub-a-Dub-Dub
Stick the belly in a large ziploc (the 2-gallon size work best). Rub the cure thoroughly into both sides of the belly, then remove the air and seal the bag. Put them on a sheet pan or in a baking pan in the fridge, starting with the skin side down.
Cure for 7 days. After two days, flip the bags. On day four, flip again. One more flip on day 6.
Step 4: Wash 'n Dry
Remove the bellies from their curing bags, and rinse them very well in cold running water, using your hand to gently scrub them and remove the exterior cure as you rinse. Put them on a cooling rack above a pan of some type and pat them dry with paper towels. Put them back in the fridge overnight (not in bags). This forms a "pellicle" -- a skin of proteins that helps the smoke cling better to the meat.
Step 5: Get Your Smoke On
If you have one, insert a temperature probe into the thickest part of the belly. Our goal is an internal temperature of 145-150 degrees F. If not, you'll need to regularly check the temperature after the first 1.5 hours.
Regarding smokers, I am partial to my digitally-controlled smoker just for ease of use, but ended up doing this batch in my Big Green Egg. However you do it, the goal is very low (225 degrees F roughly). Depending on the weather outside, it can take anywhere from 1.5 hours to 3 hours (which is why I say work from internal temperature instead of giving a smoking time).
Regarding wood, I'm a firm believer in Apple for pork (though for pork shoulders, I start on Apple, then finish with hickory).
Step 6: Post Processing
After the bacon (it's now bacon, not just a belly) comes out of the smoker, while it's still hot, use a sharp knife to remove the skin. I cut the skin up into 3" square pieces and freeze them. They last forever, and are instant flavor for soups and many other things. Taste frequently when you cook with them to make sure you're not getting too much smoke.
Step 7: How to Cook
You can cook these on a stovetop, but IMO the best result comes from using the oven.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Overlap the edges so that there's a parchment paper reservoir to catch the grease.
Put a cooling rack on the paper, add raw bacon.
Put in a cold oven, turn it on set to 375.
After 25 minutes, use tongs to flip the bacon (2nd picture)
Cook for 15 minutes more, then start watching closely in 5 minute increments for it to achieve maximum deliciousness. I've never had it go more than 50 minutes, even with very thick slices.
Now make the best BLT you've ever had!