Homemade Bacon – nitrate- and hassle-free

It seems weird, but homemade bacon is one of the easiest recipes I know – and now it’s one of my favorites.

Part of it is because I have a great smoker: it’s a Masterbuilt M7P, and it grills, smokes (both with charcoal or with propane), and has a few other attachments to allow for steaming, boiling, frying, and even campfire cooking.


But I digress. Point is, you need a smoker. You can get a good one for the same price you paid for that fancy grill you have in your backyard right now, and this can grill or smoke.

Once you have the equipment, the ingredients are relatively easy. For unflavored bacon, you only need a pork belly, kosher salt and brown sugar. If you want to flavor it, it’s pretty simple to do so. I’ll explain that later.

Pork bellies may or may not be hard to find: I live in San Diego, and after messing around the first few times I made bacon with going to a commissary (you need a friend in the military to take you shopping for that to work) and going to a fancy butcher shop (waaaay to expensive), I settled on buying my pork bellies from a local Korean grocery store. They are quite cheap ($5-$7 for about a pound and a half), and the bellies are already helpfully trimmed into lovely little blocks, just waiting to be cured and smoked.

Step 1: Once you get the belly home, place it in a large (gallon size) freezer bag, and add one cup brown sugar and two cups kosher salt. [Note: if this doesn’t coat your pork belly completely, add more of both sugar and salt, just make sure there is twice the amount of salt to sugar.] Make sure the salt and sugar is both completely mixed and completely coating the meat. Refrigerate.

Depending on the size of your pork belly, this curing process will take between 2-7 days (7 is for a really huge, dense piece of meat – most pork bellies will take between 3-5 days.) You will be able to tell the belly is cured when the freezer bag has liquid in the bottom and the meat is hard to the touch.

Step 2: Remove the meat and rinse the salt and sugar off, and put it on a clean plate.

Now is where you add flavoring if you desire; I recommend either coating the belly with cracked peppercorns, (real!) maple syrup, or even sriracha for a spicy bacon.


Step 3: Place the belly, on the plate, flavored if you like, with no cover or wrap, in your refrigerator. This will cause an invisible film to develop on the meat, which will act like a magnet for the smoke when you smoke the meat. Leave it this way for at least 12 hours (preferably overnight).

Remember you will need to soak your wood chips for smoking, too, so this would be a good time to put them on to soak!

hickory chips for smoking

The next day, remove from the refrigerator and let sit for about 20 minutes (just to bring it to room temperature) before smoking.

Step 4: Smoke it! Keep your smoker’s temperature between 200-300, and depending on the size and thickness of the meat, the smoking will take between 4-7 hours. 

Make sure you use a digital meat thermometer, or otherwise keep an eye on the internal temperature of your bacon. Once it reaches an internal temperature of 160, it’s ready, but feel free to smoke it longer to increase the wood-smoke flavor.

meat thermometer

Save or pin this recipe card for easy use!

Bacon recipe card

 

Barbacoa Bao Bun Tacos with Avocado-Pineapple Slaw

This is a great recipe to impress a crowd at your next party or impromptu gathering. It uses a Taiwanese-style bun with pre-cooked Mexican-style slow-cooked beef, and the slaw — which is more like a salsa when it’s ready — makes it a perfectly rounded snack or appetizer.

Barbacoa is traditionally made with slow-cooked beef head, and although the name and the low-and-slow style might make some Americans think of BBQ beef or pulled beef, the taste of Barbacoa is more akin to a slow-cooked beef stew with vegetables. The pre-cooked barbacoa from Del Real Foods (which is perfect for a quick snack like this) has great flavor but no spicy heat, but you can spice up the final version of your tacos later.

bao buns

A note about the bao buns: These are available in the frozen section of most Asian markets (like H Mart or 99 Ranch). Sometimes they are called Gwa Pao or Gwa Bao — or my personal favorite, “Taiwanese Hamburger Bun.”

For most brands, like the one I purchased, they are already fully cooked and split in half, and are prepared by simply removing them from the package and microwaving them for about 45 seconds. You can also just let them thaw out for about 20 minutes.

tacos

Barbacoa Bao Bun Tacos with Avocado-Pineapple Slaw

(Makes 10 small tacos)

  • 1 package (10 buns) of frozen Bao buns
  • 1 package fully cooked Del Real Foods Barbacoa
  • about 2 cups chopped green cabbage (approx. 1/2 of a small cabbage head)
  • 1 20-oz. can sliced pineapple with juice
  • 2 large, ripe avocados
  • 1 red onion
  • 1/2 cup white or apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
  • 1/4 cup cotija cheese
  • 1 jalapeno (optional)

First, prepare the slaw, which is sort of a fresh variation on curtido. Chop half of the onion (leave the other half for garnish), and 1 1/2 avocados (save half of one for garnish, too).

Then chop the pineapple slices and place the chopped onion, cabbage, avocado and pineapple in a large mixing bowl. Add the pineapple juice from the can, plus the vinegar, salt, pepper, and oregano.

salsa ingredients

If you’re going to add the jalapeno, dice it and add it now. If you’re serving a crowd with varying tastes, it might be best to cut the jalapeno into larger slices and add it as a garnish when you assemble the tacos, so people who don’t like the extra heat can just remove the pepper.

spicy

Blend all of the slaw ingredients thoroughly (use a food processor or a vegetable chopper) and set aside. You can prepare the slaw up to three hours ahead of time — just not too much longer, or else your avocados might color a little.

This last step of blending the slaw in your food processor might not seem worth it, but trust me, it is. This way the bits of pineapple, onion, avocado and cabbage will adhere to the meat and the bun, instead of falling out.

slaw1

Put the barbacoa in a saucepan over high heat and let cook briskly for about 8-10 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and evaporated. Be sure to break up any big chunks of meat.

after

This will concentrate the flavor as well as giving the meat a nice sauce for your tacos.

Prepare the bao buns last — check the package, but more than likely, they are ready in the microwave in less than a minute, so obviously they need to be ready last.

barbacoa bun

Fill each bun with meat first, then add the slaw, cotija cheese and other jalapeno, onion or avocado.

closeup

Serve immediately.

with a beer

Crazee Burger’s movin’ on up to a new location

I was lucky enough this week to be among the first to experience Crazee Burger at their new digs, at the intersection of 30th and Lincoln in North Park — the new location just had it’s “soft” opening on June 17.

I have to admit that I came late to the party — I never visited the old location, and the only time I ever had Crazee Burger previously was at the Mission Valley Craft Beer and Food Festival in April. My boyfriend and I took complete advantage of the “unlimited” tastings and had — let’s say, more than one — of the Kobe beef, wild boar and buffalo sliders.

They were awesome.

MV samples

One of my favorite things about Crazee Burger — come on, everyone loves the fact that you can eat things like elk, camel, kangaroo and ostrich, in addition to their many specialty beef burgers — is their sauces. The sliders we enjoyed at the festival were topped with creamy horseradish and chipotle, and their many specialty burgers are topped with inventive sauces perfect for pairing with rare meats.

sauce

For example, their Gator burger is topped with a curry fruit tapenade, their duck burger features a white wine/hoisin reduction, and the turkey burger is served with an orange marmalade glaze. The Cajun burger I enjoyed (which has a spicy blackened beef patty and sauteed onions) is topped with a delicious – but spicy! – smoked chili sauce.

Cajun burger

If “exotic” elk, duck, buffalo and ostrich isn’t your bag, you can choose from a huge number of specialty burgers, all made with top-notch organic beef. I basically need to find an excuse to come back here at least 10 more times to experience all of these.

beef options

The Chubby Charlie especially has me drooling … especially if you follow Crazee Burger’s Instagram feed. And the El Jacobo? I love chorizo. The Texas?! I love BBQ sauce.

And the cheeses … so many cheeses.

So if you’re craving the perfect burger for whatever mood you’re in, head down to visit the new location at 30th and Lincoln. In addition to a bigger, and by all accounts, better spot, the new menus will have duck burgers and elk burgers.

Be sure to let me know in the comments or on social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) about your favorite Crazee Burger burger. Happy eating!