Saturday, March 24, 2012

Not Your Average Sandwich! - Episode 3: BACON!!!! Taking the BLT to New Heights!

Hi, I like bacon! You like bacon! Let us rejoice in its joyous salty smoky porcine goodness!
Commence drooling...

Everyone knows and loves the BLT: bacon, lettuce and tomato on toasted bread with mayo. But like all good things, with some love and effort, you can take a well-loved, but fairly mundane, standard and kick that sucker up to heights undreamed of! How?, you ask. Well, one way is by replacing boring old iceberg lettuce with something more snazzy, like arugula or red leaf. Or heck, omit the lettuce altogether and swap in some avocado!

But if you really want to take it to a new level, make your own bacon. Yup, you heard me: Make. Your. Own. Bacon. It's craziness, I know, and it takes a fair bit of time. But wow, there's something beyond satisfying about taking something as ubiquitous and fantastic as bacon and making it all your own.

So what is bacon exactly? Well, according to wikipedia, it's cured pork meat. What cut of meat and how it's cured varies around the world and even across the street. Your standard bacon in North America is made from pork belly, but other nations use the shoulder, loin, fatback, and so on. Our neighbours to the south often refer to a cut known as Canadian Bacon, which we call back bacon. It can be brined (or 'wet-cured') and it can be dry-cured. It can be used directly after curing (so-called 'fresh bacon') or it can be dried or boiled, but I think the best bacon is smoked to get that extra level of flavour. Some people even double smoke their bacon (cold-smoked for days at first, then hot-smoked for a few hours). But, I figured I'd keep it a little simpler than that.

Now, my way of making bacon has two basic steps: curing and smoking. As I mentioned, you can skip the smoking step, but why would you want to??!?! So, let's get to it!

Making Bacon (anyone else remember that Maple Leaf ad from the 80s with the little kid saying "makin' bacon, makin' bacon" over and over again?)

First off, you need to pick up some pork belly. It's available at most butchers and supermarkets. How much you pick up depends on how much bacon you want to make. I noticed that, as opposed to store bought bacon, when frying up homemade bacon, it doesn't shrivel up as much. That might be because I cut my strips very thick, but I think it has something to do with the quality of the meat; I somehow doubt that the meat used in the giant bacon factory is as high quality as that which you get at the local butcher. All this to say that a little pork belly goes a fairly long way. I think I picked up maybe a little over a kilo or so (about 2 pounds), so that's the weight I'll use for proportions in this post.

Once it was home, I cut the skin and a few millimetres of fat off the pork belly, cut the belly in half to make two square pieces, and placed them in a non-reactive dish. A glass-pyrex lasagna pan works well.

Next, it's time to make the cure. I happen to be lucky enough to have Sriricha Salt on hand (that Kari made from the Sriracha Cookbook by Randy Clemens), so I used a bit of that, but it's by no means necessary. Then again, I could use this opportunity to reprint Mr. Clemens' recipe for you so you can use it yourselves!

Sriracha Salt


- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 5 tsp Sriracha sauce


- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
- In a bowl, mix salt and Sriracha. Spread out mixture thinly over baking sheet and allow it to dry uncovered for about a day or two, stirring once or twice.
- Store in an airtight container for future use.

And there you go! So now let's get to our cure!

Bacon Cure


- 1/2 cup mixture of kosher salt and Sriracha salt. How much Sriracha salt you use depends on how spicy you want your bacon. I used a tablespoon which wasn't really enough for my taste, I didn't get much heat off the bacon. So, I'd say 2 tablespoons of Sriracha salt and the rest plain kosher salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup (optional)

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, but only add the maple syrup if you're going to be curing your pork belly right away.

If you're not planning on curing the meat right away, put the mix of the other ingredients in some kind of sealable container or plastic bag until you're ready to use it.

If, like me, you got an instant hankerin' to get that piggy goodness a-curing, you'll get to it right away.

Curing Bacon

Take the bacon cure and apply it liberally to all sides of the pork belly, pressing it into the meat. You want to get a crust of cure on all sides of the meat. It's going to be sitting around for a while in this cure, so you need a good layer.

Once you've applied the cure, wrap the meat in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge in some sort of bowl or pan that can collect any moisture that will leak out of the meat, because it will, and that's all part of the process.

Leave the pork belly in the cure for anywhere from 4 to 7 days. During this time, the salt and sugar will be absorbed into the meat, causing it to dry out and contract a little bit. You'll see this happen within a couple of days. You can reapply more cure if you like, but I found it unnecessary to do so. As I said before, there will also be some liquid collecting at the bottom of the container. Leave it there, or you can rub it back into the meat (that sounds messy though, since the liquid is mostly maple syrup). Either way, it'll get reabsorbed and keep adding flavour to the meat.

When you're ready to get the meat on the smoker, take it out of the fridge and let it sit out for an hour or two to warm up a little, it helps the smoking process. Now, should timing issues arise, as they did with me, you might not have time to smoke the meat after 7 days. I suggest you freeze the cured meat in a ziploc-style bag. Once you're ready to smoke it, let it thaw out overnight in the fridge. It'll be ready to go, but when you remove it from the bag, pat it dry with paper towel. You don't want any moisture on the meat before it goes in the smoker.

And now, let's smoke our bacon!

Smoking Bacon

So, we've talked at length about smoking on this blog, so check the link for this post to get the detailed basics. In this case, the desired smoking conditions are 225 to 250 Fahrenheit for about 4 hours for 2 pounds. The more meat you smoke, the longer it'll take. As usual, I use lump maple charcoal to build the fire. For smoke, I used a handful of apple wood chips, soaked in water for about 30 minutes (hence, apple-wood smoked bacon!). As you smoke the bacon, rotate each piece every 30 minutes or so to ensure even smoking on all sides. Because the bacon is already cured, there's nothing that needs to be added while it smokes. Once you've smoked it for 4 hours, it's ready to go. Remove it from the smoker and let it rest for 30 minutes before slicing.

You can slice the bacon however you want. I like thick slices of bacon, so I just used a kitchen knife and sliced about 3 millimetres thick. If you prefer your bacon to be the same thickness as what you get at the supermarket, you're going to need a deli slicer, or surgical precision with a knife.

Bacon slices and slab

Now, this is a post about making sandwiches, so we should maybe get on that!

Making the BAT (Bacon, Avocado and Tomato) Sandwich 

The regular BLT is a pretty damn tasty sandwich in its right, but I find ordinary iceberg lettuce utterly boring, except maybe on a hamburger. So, I picked up a box of mixed greens (red leaf lettuce, spinach and other greens) and decided that instead of using the greens in the salad, I'd have them on the side with a tasty little dressing. So, what the heck should replace the lettuce? Hmmmm, well, avocado's green, that'll do as a replacement (it's also really freaking delicious!). And with that, we have the BAT!

Fryin' up the goodness!
Bacon, Avocado and Tomato Sandwich

Makes 2 sandwiches


- 6 slices homemade bacon, cut about 3 millimetres thick
- 4 slices rye bread
- 1 ripe tomato, sliced
- 1 ripe avocado, pitted and sliced
- 2 tbsp mayonnaise
- black pepper to taste


- Fry up bacon slices in a skillet to desired doneness. Thicker-cut bacon can be cooked until very crispy (even a little burnt) on the outside while still being tender on the inside, so it's pretty hard to overdo it. Set done bacon on paper towels to drain.
- While frying bacon, put bread in the toaster and toast to desired doneness
- Spread mayo and pepper on bread and layer bacon, tomato and avocado. Slice sandwich in half and serve with salad.

Quick Dressing for Green Salad

- 2 tbsp avocado or olive oil
- 1 tbsp tarragon vinegar
- juice of 1/8 lemon or lime
- small pinch red pepper flakes
- small pinch kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp maple syrup

- Whisk all ingredients together and toss over greens.

And there you have it - a celebacon! (like celebration, but with bacon... shut up, it's funny!)

The BAT with the L on the side...


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