I don’t fit a lot manly stereotypes. I’m not an armchair quarterback, don’t go hunting, don’t own guns, have no use for a man cave, don’t like fishing and have no working knowledge of automobiles. I like doing laundry, spending the majority of my home time in the kitchen and I love shopping for new clothes. Chances are, if you have a preconceived notion about me based solely on my gender, it’s probably wrong.
Except cooking with fire.
Gods bless America, I love cooking with fire.
Last year I finally trashed my old propane gas grill. It was a hard break-up because it was my first outdoor grill and together we learned a lot about fire, meat, cooking meat on fire and singeing arm and hand hair before dinner. The grill had rusted out, had a faulty starter and ran out of propane mid-chicken. While the chicken finished off in the oven, I figured I could either head out the next day to get more propane or I could buy a new grill altogether.
I went with the latter.
And with the latter, I also chose to switch fuel sources and buy a barrel-style charcoal grill. It’s an inexpensive Char-Griller with 830 square-inches of grilling space that utilizes cast-iron grates. Barbecue fanatics and YouTube recipe makers will tear this grill to shreds and modify it to the point where it’s no longer recognizable but it looks cool to me and it’s made some lovely steaks, shrimp, chickens, mushrooms and vegetables.
Sure, I wanted to switch to charcoal as a fuel source, hence the decision to purchase this grill, but my real reason was the side fire box upgrade. The fire box was sold separately and I made the upgrade shortly after the first of this year. I’ve been wanting to get my feet wet in the world of smoking and I now had my first-ever legitimate offset smoker. I was PUMPED.
Now before you start with the “they make automated smokers blah blah blah blah” let me just tell you that I’m not at all interested in them. Are they both handy and dandy? Sure, but they take out a lot of the effort that makes smoking meat so special. The idea of babysitting a piece of meat for hours at a time may be bothersome for folks, but to me it’s a challenge worth accepting.
I broke my smoker’s cherry with some barbecue ribs a few weeks ago using a dry rub and 3/2/1 smoking method. I learned a lot during this first smoke and made some pretty incredible ribs considering they were my first-ever on the barbecue.
Not much more information to give here, not even photos, because this post is about bacon, y’all.
I had been digging through some articles from barbecue guru Meathead Goldwyn and started thinking about how perfect it would be if I could learn how to make my own bacon. After having success with the ribs, I knew bacon had to be my next project, so I headed to the market to pick up a pork belly.
I started with a 5lbs pork belly and after washing it off, threw it up onto my cutting board, knife in hand, ready to take the skin off. The first lesson I learned: pork belly skin is a pain. In. The. Ass. to take off. I had a pretty crappy knife I was using, but from what I can tell, there is no good or easy way of doing it at home. Sure, I could have a butcher take it off for me, but my intention was to do it all and do it all myself. I hacked and scratched and peeled and tore at the skin until it was removed from the pork belly, though there was an enormous amount of fat still attached to the skin.
I’d later learn that the difference between pork rinds and cracklins is cracklins have a layer of fat on them. Fine, then. It was decided — I was also making cracklins.
I special ordered some pink curing salt (since the shit isn’t safe for human consumption and isn’t sold in stores) and once it arrived, I mixed it in with some salt, black pepper and brown sugar — a simple dry-rub and equally simple cure.
After curing for about a week, it was time to rock. I took out the cured pork belly rinsed it thoroughly and patted it dry. It went back in the fridge on a rack to further dry off while I prepared the skins. According to Meathead, it’s best to cut the skin into strips and then boil it for half an hour. This helps render a lot of the fat from the skins and will also help prevent the skins from getting tough later on. Once these were ready, I fired up my grill and prepared a few chunks of hickory. We were about to make smoke.
I received an iGrill Mini for Christmas and finally got to use it on my ribs. It worked perfectly as long as I was in range, which was frequently as I continued to add coals and wood chips to my fire. With the iGrill inserted into the thickest part of my pork belly and my grill fired up to about 180 degrees, I threw on both the pork belly and the skins.
The skins were supposed to smoke for about an hour, which they did, and I took them off while the pork belly finished. After about 45 more minutes (1 hour, 45 minutes total) the internal temp of my pork belly had reached our goal of 150 degrees — it was time to come off.
It’s encouraged to chill the slab of meat before trying to slice it because it’s easier to slice that way. It’s also encouraged to go ahead and slice off a piece of the hot shit because you’ve worked hard and, by gods, you deserve it!
My skins went back on to the grill over indirect heat while I grilled some chicken breasts for weekly meal prep. They grilled for about 45 more minutes and were puffy and popping around when I pulled them. They looked fantastic.
In the end, my cracklins weren’t great. They were still tough and not that enjoyable to eat. Then again, I’ve never had cracklins so maybe this is how they’re supposed to be. Who knows. What I DO know is that my bacon came out great! The flavor is definitely there and I’m very proud of what I was able to make.
The next lesson I learned is that I need a slicer. Hand cutting the bacon is laborious and inaccurate. I’ve ended up with bacon that’s sliced so thick it’s almost like strips of salty ham. I’m still not mad.
For real. This stuff is good, you guys.