I learned how to cure and smoke my own bacon. Yup, the food of the gods...BACON.
For those of you who don't like bacon, well honestly, I'm really sorry, really, really sorry. So along with my bacon I decided to throw on a few beef short ribs...hehe
So why do we smoke food? Besides the obvious - taste - it's a really old way of food preservation. The meat is cured in salt and possibly spices, and other flavours, then smoked to dry out the meat. There are 2 ways to smoke - hot and cold.
Hot smoking exposes the foods to smoke and heat in a controlled environment. Although foods that have been hot smoked are often reheated or cooked, they are typically safe to eat without further cooking. Hot smoking occurs within the range of 165 °F (74 °C) to 185 °F (85 °C). Within this temperature range, foods are fully cooked, moist, and flavorful. If the smoker is allowed to get hotter than 185 °F (85 °C), the foods will shrink excessively, buckle, or even split. Smoking at high temperatures also reduces yield, as both moisture and fat are "cooked" away. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoking_%28cooking%29)
Cold smoking can be used as a flavor enhancer. The item can be cold smoked for just long enough to give some flavor. Smokehouse temperatures for cold smoking are below 100 °F (38 °C). In this temperature range, foods take on a smoked flavor, but remain relatively moist. Cold smoking does not cook foods. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoking_%28cooking%29)
Last week I hot smoked a pork belly in maple smoke - yummy. Today I did a cold smoke. It took 1 week to cure the pork and 6 weeks to smoke it. It also took about 1/2 pound of charcoal, 1/2 pound of maple chips and a whole lot of cherry wood. The wood is all soaked in water so it smokes rather than burns and you have to keep a pretty close eye on the entire process. I checked every 30-60 minutes. It was actually fun tweaking the chimney on the smoker to control the heat and finally, it was done - and it was yummy.
Most of the bacon is going into the freezer because there is a lot of it. The short ribs will go in the pressure cooker tomorrow night and I'll call that dinner!
So why am I so excited about having smoked my own bacon? Well it certainly doesn't taste like the saline laden stuff in the grocery store! No nitrates. What are nitrates, well: in this day and age, it's mostly for preservation of colour. I plan on freezing my bacon and cooking it before I eat it, so there's no worries of any kind of spoilage happening. Nitrates are not good for us, they are a proven cancer causer, and I know there are enough other chemicals around us that cause us cancer, this is one less. Most grocery store bacons are heavy in saline solution so you are paying for water weight that gets cooked out. When I fry up my bacon, there is no water in the pan (just the fat). So here is the story in pictures:
My lil' ol' smoker
Maple chips soaking
Cherry Wood Soaking
Pork Bellies just starting to smoke
The lovely hot box filled with cherry wood
Short Ribs 2 hours in
The smoker - smokin'
After 6 hours
The finished bacon (and it was awesome)