Introduction: Miss Betsy's Excellent Bacon
After making my "Cold Smoke Generator" and the cold weather was finally here, I was ready to make Austrian Speck or real bacon. That takes time, patience and a big enough smoke box along with the above mentioned "Cold Smoke Generator" (lacking a wood stove and an airy attic to hang my pork as they still do it in the farm houses in the old country)
You start out with a call or visit to a trusted butcher to order some fresh pork belly with the skin on! I took 2 bellies, 9 lbs. each and I paid $2.70 a pound. 18 pounds seem quite a lot but once your friends have tasted your bacon they will line up to get more and after all, it is easy to vacuum pack and freeze it!
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Step 1: Cutting the Bacon
How you cut the pork belly depends all on you; you can quarter it to get about the size you are used to or divide it in 9 pieces with about 1 pound each and approximately 8x4" in size. The smaller pieces resemble more the Austrian Speck and are easier to cut into uniform slices later on, but that is just me.
Step 2: Curing
In Austria the bacon is traditionally dry cured without the addition of sodium nitrite ('Insta Cure' is a known name for it). So the formula is very simple, mix 4 cups Kosher salt and 2 cups brown suger per ~ #10 pounds of pork belly. At least that's what I did. Remember that curing and smoking is not an exact science and depends a lot on your personal preferences.
Additionally you can add a variety of things to the rub: different kinds of pepper, garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries, caraway or dill seed and so on. Use your imagination! 2 - 4Tbs. per #10 of each ingredient is not overpowering in my experience. Rub and cover your bacon pieces deliberately with your mix.
PS.: Without the addition of pink curing salt your meat will turn brown during curing and smoking, that does in mo way mean it is spoiled !
Step 3: Storing
For the following storing and curing at ~40F you need a non reactive container as this nice large plastic box with lid that holds my pork pieces tightly packed. It was stored in my extra fridge in the garage for 10 days. Every 3 days I took the box out, poured off the liquid which collects at the bottom and restacked the bacon pieces.
To check for saltyness, cut off a 1/8" slice, fry it up and taste it.
In the unlikely event that the meat is to salty (What is called "Salt PorK"), rinse off all the salt, put the meat back in the container and fill it with clear, cold water and keep it another day in the fridge. The water draws out the salt and the meat will be ok then.
If everything is alright, rinse off all the salt and pat the meat dry with paper towels. I threaded kitchen yarn through the individual pieces to be able to hang them up for smoking. You will notice that the meat shrunk some and is firmer as when you bought it. That is just natural as the salt draws out the water and also the reason why home made bacon is so much tastier than the store baught ***.
Step 4: Getting Ready
Some years ago, when I made my fist batch of Speck, I found the metal cabinet in the picture. I added a door, cut 2 holes in top and bottom and had my smoke box! Underneath you see the smoke generator and on top a kinda smokestack to prevent rain or snow from entering the smoker.
Before you start smoking though, you are supposed to let the meat hang and dry to build a 'pellicle', which is a tacky gooey layer that forms on the outside of the meat. It is obviously essential for proper smoking.
Step 5: Smoking
There are many ways to produce cold smoke, one of it is with my contraption I mounted under the smoke box. Contrary to many recipes you will find on the net, I insist that you keep the temperature in the smoke box under 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit else the fat starts melting. On the other hand you don't want the temperatures fall below freezing. That is the reason for installing a thermostat, set to 45 F, and a lamp inside the box. I had to move the meat directly above the lamp because I noticed these pieces getting to warm!
Step 6: The Harvest
Making proper bacon is nothing for the impatient! Westfäler Schinken, Tirolean Speck or Prosciutto are not made in 1 day and my Speck is neither. The smoke generator works for about 2 hours without tending. You should be able to start the smoker 2 - 3 times a day. No problem if you don't get to it; the meat needs time to mature and further loosing water. The cold weather, smoking and curing will keep the meat from spoiling! After 6 to 8 weeks the bacon will be done. To check on the progress you can cut a slice off once in a while and taste the doneness. Be it fried or, as it should be, thinly sliced with some dark bread, fresh grated horseradish and pickles, it is truly delicious.
Your homemade bacon keeps well vacuum packed and frozen and after opening at least 4 weeks in the fridge.
Please read about Austrian Speck at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speck