How I do it:
Making the bacon involves the coming together of heritage pork, quality spices and salt, time and smoke.
The bellies come from a Berkridge and Big Black cross breed raised by Mark Keller up North – just across the Oregon line. I get them from Prather Ranch Meat Co. I like these bellies because they are especially lean but with the perfect layer of fat.
Over the years, I’ve developed a salt and spice rub that I really like. There are warm spices in there—juniper and clove— as well as black and red peppers and brown sugar. I use Egadi sea salt from Sicily—it has a nice salinity and its grain is perfect for curing.
After the bellies have cured, they are ready for the smoker.
I’m old fashioned. To me, smoke comes from fire. Outside. From real wood – not briquettes or sawdust or pressed together pellets. Chips are okay, but I use split logs. I have tried different hardwoods (I never, ever, use soft or green wood!) and I currently favor a mixture of hickory and yellow oak. I like good, smoky bacon, with a good smoke aroma and flavor. Not too strong, but some “smoked” bacon I’ve tasted out there tastes like it was pressed against a picture of a pack of matches.
I have a dream of a smoker, made by David Klose in Houston, Texas. It’s an offset fire-box smoker, like my old Oklahoma Joe, but it has a vertical smoking chamber, allowing me to hang several bellies and for the smoke to slowly rise over all sides of the bellies at once. It’s a thing of beauty!
Once the bellies are smoked, you’ve got some Damn Fine Bacon! You can eat it right off the smoker, but it’s best to chill it down first. It slices easier for one, but it also lets the bacon settle into its glory.
A word about rind. The rind is the skin of the belly. Traditional English bacon is thick sliced and the rind is left on. When it fries up, the rind coats the pan with lovely unctuous gobbets, which add a lot to the experience of it. One is left with chewy, undigestible bits. The Brits don’t seem to mind. Americans generally don’t care for it, so I’ve left it off. If you want some rind-on bacon, though, let me know…. I can make a small batch with it on for you. In the past, I have smoked the bellies with the skin on, then pared it off in sheets. The smoky skin does amazing things in a braise!