Miss Betsy's Excellent Bacon

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Introduction: Miss Betsy's Excellent Bacon

About: You might call me "Jane of all trades, mistress of none"; "all" is definitely an exaggeration but I am interested in lots of "trades" and try to master at least the basic steps so that I understand what the ...

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!

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

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    39 Discussions

    [quote]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. [/quote]

    So your saying that the Pork Bellies need to hang in the Smokehouse for 6 to 8 weeks and keep having Smoke put to them?

    1 reply

    I'm saying that's how I do it and how it is done for centuries in Austria to get the consistency of Speck or Westfalia bacon.

    I realize you say to make "proper" bacon you need to patient. 6-8 weeks seems like a very long time, can it be done any quicker?
    I really like your cold smoke generator by the way, very nice simple design which seems very functional and certainly better than paying for a commercially built one.

    Thanks for this instructable.

    I live 6 miles from the austrian border...
    The best speck i ever tasted, was in Italy. In the Fassa valley.
    It is only slightly smoked, more dry-cured.
    For that, you need the right moisture and air temperaure.
    In central Europe, you need to live upwards from 1000 meters above sea level to have the right climate naturally. I'm thinking about a way to emulate it for a while.
    There isn't a quick and dirty way to do it. But the speck speaks for itself.

    I have a 50 year old smoking chamber, that i bought for next to nothing. But the climate allows not too many smoking sessions per winter.
    I cured and smoked 400 pounds of salmon two years ago with huge success. While at it, the temperature fell to the single digits Fahrenheit.(-10°C).
    I added a temperature controlled 2000W electric grill lighter to keep the salmons above freezing.
    I now have a fridge, that i want to convert into a cold smoking chamber for the summertime.

    Probably the jews and muslims didn't eat porc, because the winters in their deserts weren't cold enough. Curing meat this way, needs cold temperatures in the beginning to keep bacteria from growing, until the water content is low enough, or the salt content high enough.
    (No religious pun intended, i'm happy to have the organically grown pigs for myself...)

    I also have a cutter and a mincer to make sausages. I have a wonderful "Weisswurst" recipe, i made a couple of times.
    I just always had my hands too deep in the sausage dough, to write a instructable about it...

    By the way, i'd always try to not freeze such high-class foods as a perfect speck or a smoked or graved salmon. Speck and smoked/graved salmon keeps for a while, if kept cold. That was the whole idea behind it, to start with.
    Bake a perfect bread and enjoy it, before it spoils.

    3 replies

    Thank you for your extensive comment and there is 1 line that tells it all: "There isn't a quick and dirty way to do it. But the speck speaks for itself." I definitely would like to taste your Weisswurst with some of my homemade sweet mustard or have some of your salmon; but what are you doing with 400lbs. of it? Would love to continue via messages.

    Hahaha
    I made the 400lb salmon with a friend of mine.
    He owns a business and gave it to his best customers as a christmas present.
    This year, we canned 1lb tins with self made sauerkraut... (i made a instructable about krauting ;-)
    He always wants to give something special and personal.

    I also made sweet "bavarian" honey mustard for the Weisswurst.

    Here some pics to drool about...



    IMG_20101020_194441.jpgIMG_20101020_194418.jpgIMG_20101020_194401.jpgIMG_20101020_194347.jpgIMG_20101020_194340.jpgIMAG0163.jpgIMAG0114.jpgIMG_20101222_214201.jpg

    Darn, the Weisswurscht looks just right to suck it out and the pizza/Flammkuchen looks delicious too!

    Is it necessary to smoke the bacon, or is curing sufficient? I understand what flavor smoking adds, but I live in the city and smoking meat is not an option for me. Thanks!

    1 reply

    Well, yes, sure that is possible and the result will be "green bacon" which is fine to fry but why bother then in the first place ? There are ways though which take less time than my bacon and could be done even on a Park BBQ with some wood-chips in an afternoon! I have read several articles on the net that might help you.

    On the proviso that own smoke bacon vacuum encapsulated and in freezer hold 4 for weeks, so that neni good value. Good must hold hung on ceiling pole year and more. We on the proviso that smoke bacon, alternatively rib and meat in December so that co-operative store and good in summer. Because is already warmth so thereout drop fat, and other is that excellent.

    Where did your source your fresh belly? I can buy it at the commissary(military) but, it isn't always a uniform thickness. I liked the look of your belly better. TIA.

    1 reply

    I got my pork belly from a local butcher and the thickness varied between 2 and 4 inches. I know from my last batch that that does not influence the outcome. If you are in doubt, don't cure the thin pieces as long as the thick ones or press the pieces till they have equal thickness :) No kidding, I know that is done.

    Very cool!

    I also love bacon, Miss Betsy, but you need to eat it with care, or your attractive little banner may become a wide billboard! :-)

    3 replies

    Thank you for your concern and your warning. I keep it to the absolute minimum that is needed to keep my body functioning :)

    Fat doesn't make a person "fat" and bacon is often a daily staple for low-carb practitioners (such as myself).

    Excellent Ible, Miss Betsy!!!

    Could you show more detail about the smoke generator? Or perhaps create an 'ible on it? I noticed that the pipe from the generator to the smoke box was located at the bottom of the smoke generator.

    1 reply

    In the article and in the side column there are links to my "Cold Smoke Generator"

    Just a little confused.....How long did you smoke the bacon? Daily for 6-8 weeks? Surely not.