Magazine article Sunset

Makin' Bacon

Magazine article Sunset

Makin' Bacon

Article excerpt

MASTER CLASS

Curing and smoking your own is a lot easier than you might think. By Margo True

THE HITCHING POST II in Buellton, California, is famous for appearing in the movie Sideways, but some come here for another reason entirely: the bacon. "I started making bacon about seven years ago for fun, to give to special customers," says executive chef Brad Lettau. He experimented with the seasonings until he hit upon an alluring combination of molasses, black pepper, brown sugar, and salt. Now his monster slices (cut half an inch thick from smoked slabs, then grilled until crisp-edged) are something of a cult item.

Lettau, whose easygoing nature makes him an ideal guide to the hows and whys of bacon, cures just enough for burgers Monday through Wednesday, with sometimes a little extra for topping salads. The good news for those of us who live far from Buellton: He's thinking of going into commercial production someday. In the meantime, he's sharing his recipe with us.

What about nitrite?

Brad Lettau cures his bacon without sodium nitrite, a salt used commercially to ward off bacteria. (Sodium nitrate, also sometimes used, converts to nitrite in the body.) Bacon made without nitrite tastes porkier and is browner; nitrite is what adds that familiar "bacon-y" taste and rosy hue.

Lettau's bacon is absolutely safe to make at home because it's roasted well. But if you're considering using sodium nitrite, here's what to know. In the 1 970s, studies suggested it could be carcinogenic; however, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Medical Association have since concluded that, in the small amounts typically added to food, it isn't harmful. In fact, we get nitrite from vegetables (especially celery and spinach).

If you opt to add sodium nitrite to Lettau's recipe (page 90), all that's required is 1 teaspoon of pink curing salt (a mix of 6.25 percent sodium nitrite and 93.75 percent salt) for every 5 pounds of meat, mixed in with the dry rub in step 1. The bright pink color means you won't mistake it for table salt. Find it on amazon.com.

BRAD'S HOMEMADE BACON

MAKES 5 TO 8 LBS. BACON (25 TO 40 THICK SLICES) / 6 TO 8 DAYS

Making the bacon is a three-step process: Cure, smoke, and roast. To light the small amount of charcoal required, you'll need inexpensive paraffin lighter cubes, available wherever barbecue supplies are sold. You'll also need wood chunks 2 to 4 inches wide. "They give off a little more smoke than chips and last longer," says Lettau. He uses fragrant California red oak chunks (find at fruitawoodchunks.com), but easyto-find hickory, apple, and cherry make good-tasting bacon too. If you would like to use curing salt, see "What About Nitrite?" (page 88). For directions for smoking bacon on a gas grill, see sunset.com/bacon-gas-grill.

1 cup plus 1 tbsp. Diamond Crystal kosher salt or % cup Morton's kosher salt*

1/2 cup each granulated sugar and packed light brown sugar

1 rindless pork belly (5 to 8 lbs. without rind)

2 tbsp. each molasses (not blackstrap) and cracked black pepper

1. Mix together salt (and curing salt, if using; see page 88) and sugars in a bowl with your hands. "That way you can break up the lumps in the brown sugar." Rinse pork belly, pat dry, and cut in half crosswise (with the grain).

2. Rub pork halves all over with molasses [A]. "Get it into all the nooks and crannies. …

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