Thursday, February 2, 2012

(2nd Movement - Fantasia - Finale) The Bacon Chronicles, pt. 2

When last we left our hero, he was hanging precariously off a cliff, his arch nemesis Dr. Monsanto cackling maniacally above.  Will he hold out, folks?  CAN he hold out?  Will he survive and what will be left of him!?!  Find out in this, the next exciting installment of Braised in Captivity!!!

Set to the tune of Tom Waits' "Filipino Box Spring Hog"

This is it, gang...the exciting and surprise-filled conclusion to what I've been playfully referring to as The Saga of Baconalia (I don't really call it that).  So let's get to it...

So this is what we left off with last time.  The pork belly has been cut to size, trimmed, and rubbed with our curing rub (the details of which can be found here.)

Day 1
This is after day one.  You can see that a surprising amount of liquid has been released.  So far so good!

Day 7

I had the plan that I was gonna document this process photographically day by day...but honestly, Braisers, all the photos looked pretty much the same....the meat darkened slightly, a little more liquid was released....but it all pretty much looked the same.  The feel of the meat was a different story.  There was a difference between the raw meat and the cured end product.  It was firmer...not as 'flabby' feeling I guess would be the right way to say it.  By the end of day 7, I wasn't satisfied with the degree of firmness of the pork belly, so I let it go for another couple of days.  The end result was this:
Day 10

As you can see, there's a good amount of liquid and large portions of the meat has darkened.  It felt uniformly firm (not IS still raw meat after all).  Time to smoke!

Ok, now just pull out the 'ol smoker and....wait....did I forget that I don't own a smoker again?  Damn.  Looks like we're gonna have to be creative. 

Soaking Applewood chips prior to smoking
I chose Applewood.  I figured I could get them started to smoke on the range, then add the cured pork belly - separated by racks before wrapping the whole lot in foil and finishing in the oven.  

After just a few minutes on the range, the chips were smoking nicely.  It was time to lay down the racks, put the pork bellies on, cover, and wrap in foil.  

The procedure in Charcuterie stipulated that the pork bellies were to be roasted into a low temp oven (200 degrees or so) until they reached an internal temperature of 150 degrees....about 2 and a half to 3 hours.  The smoking was optional....but I figured why the hell not, right?  

Oh, I damn near forgot to tell you guys.  I did the pork belly three ways.  One was just the curing rub and nothing else.  Another was with the cure rub and a good amount of pepper (pictured).  The third was with a mesquite rub I had laying around the kitchen.  It's usually used for BBQ.  

After about 3 hours I checked the temp on the bellies.  As you can see, they were split into two groups.  This is purely for space and time constraints.  If you have a smoker large enough to accommodate this amount, don't be afraid to do it all at once.  In group one (foreground, three bellies), the temp was perfect.  150.2 degrees.  I mean just LOOK at it!  Gorgeous.

Still pliable...mostly pink but still kinda translucent.  Now it's fully cooked at this you can eat it just like it is right out of the oven....and that's exactly what I delicious.  It was like sex...only it'd make you breakfast.  Literally.

The smoking method didn't really do much I know I'm gonna have to come up with something different next time around.  But for now I was just gonna have to be content with what may have been the best bacon I've had in a long time.  So with my stamp of approval, it was sliced up, portioned out, and cooked.  

So in the end we got 

To look like....

Not too shabby for a first time out....but this was just the first group (I had two, remember)....and that was the mesquite group.  I was SUPER eager to try this perfect bacon with that mesquite and light smoke taste.....

.and that's when tragedy struck...

Braisers...maybe it's time for a little story.  

When I first started cooking professionally, I was pretty reliant on recipes.  Specific measures of ingredients, weights, and cooking times.  Then one day the boss asked me to make something on the fly (sans recipe) and I put together a little something or other (what it was isn't important...which is good, cuz I don't remember what it was).  As it was going into the oven, I asked "How long do we cook it for?"  His response:  "Till it's done."

Well....what?  What do you mean 'till it's done'...when will THAT be!?!?  What kind of bullshit is this? 

When I pressed him for something more tangible ("I've gotta KNOW when to take it out of the oven!") he explained that I'd been doing this long enough to know how different kinds and sizes of meat were cooked and for how long.  "How long do YOU think it's gonna take?" he asked.  "I dunno....30 mins?"

"So check it in 30, jackass."

Just like that, huh?  Well....yeah.  It came out and I'd estimated properly.  An eye opener if there ever was one.

Why am I telling you this?  Because when you have a recipe, and it gives you a specific time to cook something, use it as a general guideline but be prepared to take it out early or leave it in a little longer.  In other words; cook it till it's done, jackass.

There are so many factors involved; temperature of the meat, quality of oven, size of oven, conventional/convection, shape of meat, the list goes on...and I'd made a rookie mistake.  I'd relied too heavily on someone else's assessment.  I assumed they knew better than I did.  I assumed that because I'd never done this before, my instincts somehow didn't apply.  

AND I assumed my oven's thermometer was accurate.  *facepalm*

Turns out that side of the oven (it was a double) had decided to run hot that day.  When I temped the meat my heart sank...

One hundred.

Compare that to the previous pics.

When I picked it up I knew....this was completely different than the other slab.  I'd felt this before when I cooked roasts...there was no give.  No loving feeling.  This meat wouldn't rub your feet after a long day at the office.  It wouldn't buy you flowers just because.  It wouldn't give you a reach-around even if you asked've got needs too, ya know!

No....this mesquite pork belly was cooked.  It would never be bacon. 

 Cutting into it, it was still pretty nice.  But more akin to a slow cooked brisket.....which gave me an idea....


I sliced it up like I did the other slab.  Only this time it got some more seasoning and tossed in a pan to crisp up just a little....then some BBQ Sauce....

Who wouldn't want a BBQ Bacon Pork Belly Sandwich?   No one I want to know.... I just heard the audible outrage from all of my vegetarian friends.  Meh, let em yell....this shit was good!  I'll write some bullshit about how a grilled Portobello mushroom cap is a reasonable alternative to a hamburger or something later.  Heh...right after I write an entry about why you shouldn't drink scotch.  Or why feeding gorgeous women won't pay I right?  Eh?



With the regular, actual bacon I whipped up this little dandy:

 Introducing my new friend: The BLT Salad. It's as simple and delicious as it gets, Braisers.  It's just some greens (any you'd like, but I went for iceberg, romaine, and spinach), some tomato, crumbled bacon and a drizzle of 1000 Island dressing. 


So what have we learned from this excursion into the magical land of cured meats?  We'll I don't know about you, but there are a few adjustments I'd make to the process:

1. Rather than using a large covered container to cure the pork belly, I think I'd go with the sealable plastic bag method.  The reasons are thus; first, even though uncovering something and flipping the meat isn't DIFFICULT, just flipping the meat without getting your hands dirty I'm sure would make it that much easier.  Just flip it before you go to  work/school/strip club or whatever and you're set.  Also, I think having the meat in more consistent contact with the curing liquid would hasten the process (if you remember, I had to add a couple days to that step).

2. Use the right tool for the job.  You want something smoked?  Get a smoker.  Either that or I'm gonna have to jury-rig a better method....stay tuned on that.  I'm sure I'll post something when I find it.  Incidentally, if you have suggestions, I'm willing to hear them.  If I try and like your idea, not only will I mention it here - thus making you world famous -you'll also receive a FREE subscription to the Braised in Captivity blog!!  That's right,'ll get virtually nothing. 

3. Check your oven temperature!!  Check your meat often (heh heh)....or better yet, get a remote thermometer. The pointy part goes in the meat, the calculator-looking part stays outside the oven and more than likely there's a beepy part that lets you know when the desired temperature is reached.  

4. If you mess it up...don't worry.  It's bacon, it'll forgive you.  It could still turn out to make one of the best sandwiches you ever had.  Kinda like a good dog.  Wait, what?

Thank you, Braisers, for joining me on this journey!  You guys have really been very supportive of this whole food blog mixed with dick and fart jokes thing and I love you all for it.  Well...those of you that are hot, anyway.

Don't forget to join the Facebook Page for updates, some exclusive photos, cool cooking videos and articles, and a preview of the next day's blog!  Thanks again, and keep yer chin on the good work....or something or other. 


  1. You didn't hear a peep from me on your pork belly sandwich comment. You know this veggie is somewhat obsessed with bacon products. Though, I think I may have been dropped or shaken as a baby.

    Nice post and I loved your story about your boss' orders. It surely is a turning point when people lean to cook on the fly.

    Much love... XOXO

  2. Are you supposed to rinse off the curing solution? I made this & it came out SUPER SALTY, how should I do differently next time?