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

 

October Unprocessed Made Easy: It’s the Little Things

How’s your October Unprocessed challenge going? This is my second year going clean for the month of October, and I see why this is really a lifestyle change instead of a simple diet or weight loss challenge. The more you employ small changes into your daily routines and everyday meals, the more an Unprocessed challenge won’t feel like such a challenge.

Obviously, living unprocessed is harder than it looks. It’s a great month-long challenge simply because it’s kind of hard to stick with. But making really small changes every day can help you eat clean the other 11 months of the year.

Here are a few small things that have worked for me, year-round:

Homemade condiments

Often, condiments and sauces are some of the first things people ask me about when I tell them about the Unprocessed challenge, but those sauces are some of the easiest things to make from scratch — and to leave out all of the mono-whatdjacallit sodium-hydrox-o-OMG. Seriously, read the label of the bottles in your fridge sometime. Most of them start with simple ingredients (salt, vinegar, tomatoes, etc.), and them all of a sudden, it goes off the rails with additives and stuff you can’t pronounce.

The solution is simple: Give up the labels and make your own. It’s very simple to make fresher, tastier, healthier versions of most of the condiments in your refrigerator right now. For the cost of a bottle of BBQ sauce laden with corn syrup, or mass-produced sriracha, or preservative- and dye-packed ketchup, or fake mustard, you can make a far better, healthier, tastier, cleaner version at home.

Here are my favorite condiments to make at home:

mustard

– salad dressings (usually I use a few tablespoons of homemade mustard or homemade jam, and put it in a mason jar with a bit of vinegar, some fresh herbs and olive oil, then shake it up)

sriracha (also kraut and kimchi)

curry ketchup and roasted corn relish

– roasted habanero salsa (and also a really awesome tomatillo salsa, but it’s not my recipe)

This week, I finished up a batch of homemade sriracha by draining the liquid from my fermented peppers …

fermented red peppers for hot sauce

then as I pureed the peppers for the sriracha,

homemade sriracha

… I used the liquid to soak a bunch of mustard seeds for a spicy homemade mustard.

spicy mustard

Awesome.

And have you ever tried store-bought sauerkraut? If you have, you probably hate kraut now, just on principle. Grab a jar or a nice chemical-free crock, and try making your own probiotics for a great project and a delicious and healthy nosh.

sauerkraut

Replace pasta with vegetables.

Lots of paleo recipe sites like this one have great ideas for replacing pasta with “zoodles,” or zucchini noodles. They’re easy to make and lots of fun, particularly if you have kids and need help getting them to eat properly.

Personally, I am a huge fan of spaghetti squash. It’s very simple to prepare; you can steam it my stabbing it with a few holes and either microwaving it (for about 2-3 minutes per pound) or slow-cooking it (4-6 hours on low setting, covered halfway with water), then using a fork to pull off all of the stringy bits, then mix it with your favorite sauce or pasta topping.

spaghetti squash

You can also cut it in half when it’s raw (you’ll need a wicked sharp knife) and roast it for the same effect. No matter how you prepare it, a medium-sized squash will give up enough stringy strands for at least 3-4 servings.

Replace meat with vegetables, or with better (aka cleaner) meat

Do you Portobello?

I love to replace hamburger patties with the big, hearty mushrooms, or just grill them with a little oil-and-vinegar salad dressing and serve as a side dish or vegetarian entrée option. No one will miss the meat when you grill up these babies. Eating Rules also has a great Portobello recipe this month.

cookout 019
Homemade bacon is beyond compare.

It’s stupid easy to make, and the homemade version is far better than any store-bought, nitrate-packed, pink slime. I take a nicely trimmed pork belly (my local Korean grocer does it perfectly and doesn’t look at you curiously when you request pork bellies), put it in a freezer bag with 2:1 ratio of kosher salt and brown sugar, then let it sit refrigerated for 3-4 days. When the meat is tough to the touch, it’s ready.

Rinse the meat, leave it in the fridge overnight without a cover, and smoke it for 3-6 hours, or until the internal temp is 160. That’s it. It’s unprocessed. It’s nitrate-free, it’s super-easy to make, and it’s f***ing delicious.

homemade bacon
Make your own cleaner version of everyday foods

Speaking of things that are easy to make, and the homemade versions far surpass the store-bought … my yogurt make is one of the best purchases I’ve made this year. You only need a bit of yogurt starter and some good milk, and the machine does the rest. I just make plain yogurt, then add organic honey or homemade jam. Bonus if you add some of this chow-chow from Friend in Cheeses Jam Company … it’s amazing! It’s all delicious and organic, and still unprocessed.

homemade yogurtAnd don’t forget, the idea is to control the ingredients. Think about other every day meals you can make from scratch instead of purchasing processed.

Fresh is best 

I have a subscription to a local farm network, so I get a weekly delivery of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. (I use Farm Fresh to You and I love it, but there are literally thousands of services out there, depEnding on your location.)

Cooking seasonally and locally usually means you’re eating the best, and no matter what you get in your weekly delivery, a recipe for it is only a Google search away. And when in doubt … CURRY. This is my favorite recipe for pumpkin curry, but you can literally replace the vegetables with anything. I did the same recipe with cauliflower. Yum.
curry

Lastly, don’t forget to use all of your gadgets! If you’re concerned about added fats, oils, and greases, you can’t go wrong with the clean taste of outdoor cooking and smoking. I used my outdoor smoker to pretty quickly (less than an hour) smoke a couple of pieces of salmon, plus some yams, fingerling potatoes and sliced delicata squash. A little olive oil, a few herbs, and you have a delicious unprocessed dinner in no time.

0salmon

 

October Unprocessed: Kicked-up Oktoberfest Soup

I have found some truly amazing recipes for October Unprocessed (check out my Pinterest board for them all here), but there are a few that are fast becoming my favorites. I am particularly happy to work with other things I make from scratch (even before the OU challenge), like homemade, nitrate-free bacon, and sauerkraut I made in my own fermenting crock.

I found this excellent recipe by Sweet & Sauer for a bacon, potato and sauerkraut soup, and I had to try it … although I kicked it up a little. I like my soups to be nice and chunky, and I generally use vegetable stock or chicken stock, where this recipe calls for water.

Oktoberfest soup

I added some German favorites like dill and beer, so call my kicked-up version “Oktoberfest Soup.”

Kicked-up Oktoberfest Soup

  • 8 ounces bacon (my recipe for unprocessed, nitrate-free bacon is here)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, cubed
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4-5 new potatoes (about 1 pound)
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 2 cups sauerkraut (my homemade recipe is here)
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill
  • dash of hot sauce or sriracha (my homemade recipe is here)
  • lots of black pepper
  • half a bottle of good beer
  • just a little bit of salt*

I rendered the chopped bacon with the onions and garlic, then added the hot sauce, the chopped carrots and potatoes, and the dried dill and pepper.

050

Then I added the beer (be sure to scrape up all the good bits stuck to the bottom of the pot) and the water. Bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the sauerkraut at the end — *and salt to taste, ONLY if you need it. There is a lot of salt in the bacon and in the kraut, so taste it first and make sure — you don’t want to overdo it.

The hot sauce, the dried dill, the good beer and the bit of sweet earthiness from the sweet potato make a huge difference in the flavor of the stock. Make sure you use a tasty beer, as the flavor of it will concentrate as the soup cooks.

Kicked-up Oktoberfest soup

A quick note about adding the sauerkraut at the end: I found the best result when I put cold sauerkraut on the bottom of my soup bowl, and then ladled the hot soup on top. If you heat the kraut over 110 degrees, the probiotic goodness of the sauerkraut might be compromised … although it will still taste very good. 🙂

After October Unprocessed is over, I think I will try a slightly processed, slightly spicier version … I want to get some good marinated pork belly (my local Korean grocery has the best stuff in their deli, but I am sure it’s processed on some level) and make a stew from it with noodles, then add my homemade kimchi at the end. I think it would be fantastic.

Stay tuned.

oktoberfest soup recipe card

Going Paleo? This is the best liver recipe ever.

A lot of people are taking up Paleo diets these days, which consist of meat, vegetables, fruit and nuts, NO sugar and only small amounts of starch. It has inspired a lot of creative recipes using replacements for sugars and starches, and some of them are downright fantastic (check out my friends at Chowstalker.com for some of the best recipes, guaranteed Paleo-friendly.)

After a while, Paleos realize there is only so much steak and bacon a body can really eat, and they often start looking for healthier alternatives to that porterhouse steak or bacon-wrapped chicken breast. After all, if you buy it in a store, liver is inspected closer than your average steak or burger meat (plus, you know, no pink slime), and contains a boatload of vitamins, minerals and protein. It also contains a lot less fat and calories than most meat (before the bacon, anyway).  After I did a recent blog post on a delectable smoked chicken liver paté, I was contacted by many of them who wanted to eat more liver but simply didn’t like the taste of it.

Much of this reaction is simply psychological in my opinion. My sister and I ate liver all the time when we were kids, and LOVED IT, because we ate it before anyone told us we were supposed to hate it. I remember going to a restaurant when I was about 8, and my little sister and I ordered liver and onions off of the adult menu, prompting the waitress to look warily at my mother and ask “is this a joke?” Nope, mom told her, bring it on. They will eat every bite.

Part of it is also that my mom knows how to cook and make it so delicious we couldn’t help it. How, you ask? Same way you make everything tasty: bacon.

Best Beef Liver Ever

(This can also be made with chicken livers. Feel free to substitute different types of bacon, or to add more garlic, herbs, etc. This is just the way I like it.)

  • about 2 lbs. of beef liver, sliced
  • one large onion, sliced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, diced
  • handful of sliced mushrooms
  • 5-6 slices of bacon
  • salt and pepper, other herbs or spices to taste

First, crisp the bacon in a big skillet (I recommend using a deep cast-iron skillet if you have one). Once the bacon is cooked most of the way, add the onions and garlic.

Then add mushrooms, as well as any other herbs and additional flavorings you might like to taste (like rosemary, parsley, thyme, garlic powder, paprika, or chili pepper).

Then scoot all of that to the side of your skillet and sear the liver slices on each side (for about one minute). Once the meat is seared on both sides, pile the onions, mushrooms and bacon on top of the liver, turn the heat down to medium and let the meat cook through for 5-10 minutes.

This will ensure a nice caramelized sear on the meat, as well as making sure it all cooks through.

 

liver recipe card

Decadent Smothered Pork Chops

I grew up in southern California, but spent my high school and college years in Tennessee, and a little time in Texas and surrounding areas as well. As such I think I have learned a lot of amazing things about southern food to add to my repertoire.

One of the easiest and tastiest of those dishes is smothered pork chops. It can be adapted to your favorite flavors, and it uses relatively few dishes and ingredients.

pork chop recipe card

I start with some bacon, sliced sweet onions and cremini mushrooms. I rendered the bacon and sautéed it all briefly in a cast-iron skillet, until the vegetables were tender. Then I removed the vegetables and bacon (leaving the bacon grease and juice in the pan), then added more vegetable oil and the coated pork chops.

I like to use a bone-in pork chop, but you can also use a boneless tenderloin slice or other similar cut. I also prefer the flour coat/ egg wash / breadcrumb dredging, but feel free to switch it up to use your favorite coating or flavored batter (although I have to say, personally, I think bread crumbs keep the pork chops nice and crispy even after smothering). Once the chops have been browned on each side, remove them from the pan and set aside.

For the sauce, I like to add the bacon, mushrooms and onions back to the pan with a cup or so of chicken stock, then whisk in cream or milk and some corn starch to thicken the sauce. You can also make a roux of butter and flour in the pan, then add the veggies, cream and stock until it thickens.

Once the sauce is thick and creamy (check the seasonings at this point, too, and add more if necessary), add the pork chops BACK IN for a few minutes in the gravy.

If you make sure the chops are both well-coated and fried very well at very high temperature, then they will retain their crispy outer shell even when they are drowned in sauce.

Serve immediately and enjoy!

Create your own bacon. At home. No, really.

Who knew that it could be so darn easy? If you have a smoker, a pork belly, and some salt and spices, the magic that is homemade bacon (i.e., home-cured in your fridge and home-smoked) can be all yours.

I embarked on this awesome adventure with my friend and fellow food blogger The Neighborhood Foodie, who for the last couple of months has been working in Amsterdam, so we haven’t gotten to nerd out on a cool project in a while. She took a stay-cation in San Diego at the beginning of January and we decided to go food-blogger crazy and make some of our own bacon.

As my house is the one with the smoker parked outside, it needed to  be a joint venture.

About a week before we got started, she purchased a few slabs of pork belly (ask your local butcher to hook you up), and used a recipe with no nitrates or preservatives. Just salt, sugar, time, and love. Trust me: once you try this, you’ll never miss that nitrate-filled, preservative-packed bacon from the store.

It’s a two-step process: curing and smoking. Both steps are needed to turn pork belly into bacon. Both can be done at home, if you have a smoker.

* I want to interject a side note here about my M7P 7-in-1 Outdoor Cooking System. I bought this online (Overstock) for about $150 with free shipping. It cost another $40 for a used propane tank. This baby grills, smokes, boils, steams, and fries, and you can do any of those tasks with either propane or charcoal heat. It’s the best $150 I ever spent. I highly recommend this model (no, I haven’t been hired by the company or anything) or a similar multi-tasking machine. Trust me. After you do a cool project like bacon — or smoked garlic, or smoked jalapenos, livers for a sweet pate, or a nice beer-can chicken, or cedar-planked salmon and brie, or a holiday crab boil (it also comes with a steamer pot and a big stainless steel pot for boiling) or just a nice grilled piece of chicken or pork with minimal effort — you will see. This thing pays for itself.

For every 5 lbs. of pork belly, mix 4 cups of kosher salt and 2 cups of brown sugar, coat the pork as well as possible, and refrigerate it in a freezer bag or loosely wrapped in plastic (I’d recommend the bag, because it gets pretty wet in there). If you are adding other spices or flavors (we did one slab with Jamaican jerk seasoning, one with maple, and one with chili and cocoa), add it at this point. If you are coating the bacon instead of flavoring it — say, in ground peppercorns, for example — you will want to save that for after it’s cured and before you put it on the smoker.

If you have done a few searches for homemade bacon recipes before you settled on this awesome blog, you’ll probably notice that there are a lot of opinions out there about how to do this right. Some cooks swear by “pink salt” – salt and nitrates, used for preserving the color of the bacon – and insist that it is part of every bacon recipe, and some cooks insist that you don’t use any such thing. Others, like us, prefer to do it au naturale, like this Cool Material post.  It’s up to you and you have to do what makes you feel right. We opted for a more natural recipe with simple salt and sugar, and without all the preservatives. The only down side to having bacon free of nitrates and preservatives is that you have to eat it faster. Darn.

Seal the baggie with the pork and seasonings and refrigerate for at least 7 days. Every day or so, move it around and massage the meat a little to encourage distribution of spices and salt. There’s a complicated scientific explanation for what happens inside that bag, but essentially, the salt forces the moisture out of the pork belly, curing it and pushing those juices out. If it’s a lot of moisture you might want to drain it out.

After at least 5 days, uncover the meat and rinse off the majority of the salt and flavorings. Let it sit on a plate or baking sheet in your fridge, uncovered, for at least another day. Again, there’s a deep science-y explanation for that happens, but the idea is that this step will create a sort of film over the surface of the meat, which will act like a sticky, gooey magnet for the delicious smoke.

After at least 7 days of curing … make sure the meat is firm, like bacon … it’s ready for smoking. Use your best judgment when it comes to the type of wood; many people use apple wood, cherry, hickory, mesquite, even alder. If you have the time, you can also mix it up and experiment with what sort of wood best brings out the flavor of the meat.

Since I like to experiment, I tried a couple of different kinds. I prepared a smoker full of soaking applewood chips for 3 of the bacon types: the chili-cocoa, the brown sugar and the Jamaican jerk spice. Since the maple bacon wasn’t quite hard-to-the-touch and needed a few more days of curing, I decided to wait and smoke the maple bacon with the lighter, fruitier flavor of alderwood. (I thought about mesquite, but in the end decided the mesquite would totally overpower the maple flavor. I’ll save my mesquite chips for smoking a nice peppery bacon.)

After the chips have soaked in water for a couple of hours, fire up your smoker and let it get to about 140 degrees. Then give each piece of pork belly a good, thorough rinse, and drop it lovingly and gently on your smoker.

Don’t let it get hotter than 200. A slab of meat that is between 2 and 2 1/2 lbs. will take about 2-3 hours to fully cook to the desired internal temperature of 150; but temperature is more important than time, so if after 2-3 hours it hasn’t reached 150, let it continue to smoke until the meat is at 150.

Now, it’s bacon.

After the bacon is fully smoked, it will still need to be sliced and fried. Since the bacon isn’t packed full of nitrates and preservatives, it won’t look like the pink stuff you buy in the store.

USE bacon recipe card

Chef Katherine’s show-stopping sprouts – 3 ways

For anyone who doesn’t like brussels sprouts, this recipe will change your mind. Forget your childhood memories about being forced to finish every last bite, about the bitter bite of the sprout, probably boiled or steamed so as to remove all possibility of flavor.
 
How, you ask, would one make a vegetable so reviled into something spectacular?
 
Same way we make everything spectacular; we fry it and then cover it in bacon. Then drizzle it with some love in the form of balsamic vinegar and good port wine.
 
 
For those who don’t eat meat or would like a vegetable dish that’s not quite so … shiny … I also developed two vegetarian and likely healthier alternatives. I did three versions: the original Bo Beau recipe; one with sesame oil, mushrooms and scallions; and another with a delicious pomodori al forno.
 

Try your own variations of this recipe!

 
The recipe comes from Chef Katherine Humphus at Bo Beau Kitchen +Bar in San Diego, where she serves this crispy sprout recipe every day. It’s one of their most popular dishes and is my favorite of everything I have tried there. Chef Katherine was kind enough to share the recipe with me!
 
Chef Katherine Humphus’s Crispy Brussels Sprouts
 
  • 1 cup sprouts, trimmed and quartered
  • vegetable oil for sauteeing
  • 1 tbsp pancetta, diced
  • salt and pepper
  • tbsp shaved parmesean
Crip pancetta and remove from heat; set aside. Heat two inches of oil in a skillet to 375 and fry sprouts for 30 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon, toss with pancetta, salt and pepper, and plate with balsamic port reduction (recipe follows) and parmesean.
 
 
 
Balsamic port reduction
 
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup port wine
 Place in small saucepan and reduce over medium-high for about 15 minutes until the consistency of maple syrup.
 
 
I also did two vegetarian versions of this whopper.
 
Don’t like bacon? (Then get off my page! Ok .. kidding …)
 
 
Try sauteeing a few mushrooms and chopped scallions with some sesame oil, and toss that with the crispy sprouts instead.
 
 
How about a rustic, summery feel?
 
Try roasting tomatoes with basil and garlic and tossing the mixture with the sprouts. (Note: both variations were drizzled with the balsamic/port reduction.)