A Christmas Dream Come True with DIY Pepper Bacon

This past Christmas, I went down to Tampa to hang out with Eric's family. We met up with his brother Jeff, who was transporting a bunch of cooking tools to their parents' house. One of the hefty packages was a smoker! I couldn't contain myself. We set out a plan of smoking every since thing, from cheese to tomatoes, the Christmas beef roast and breakfast bacon. I've made bacon before and used nitrate salt (which can be controversial). This was my first opportunity to have a truly smokey hunk of meat for Christmas. 

First, we obtained a quality slab of pork side with the skin on. Three days before we would have Christmas breakfast, I put the slab in a large zipper plastic bag with the salt, sugar and pepper. I then placed the bag in a small sheet tray in case it leaked anywhere. When you have a lot of food to prepare, dad or mom can mistakenly stack things on top; so it's good to take the precaution.

Every 8 hours, I'd flip it over and massage the meat so the brine got all over. It starts dry but after a couple of hours, it starts to release water.

The day before Christmas breakfast, I drained the bag and patted the pork dry with paper towels. We stuck it in the hot smoker for about 4 hours, until the outsides were a little red and the internal temperature read 150 degrees F. 

Here it is, skin side up:

And the under side!

The side! Look at the stripes!


I let it cool in the open air and then wrapped it to rest in the fridge. The next morning, I cut thick slices and we par-cooked them in a cast iron on the range and finished them in the oven. It was a little too salty, but nothing a little egg and toast couldn't fix.

It's not crispy "commercial" bacon because it's cut so thick, but it does have this addicting cracklin rind that is fun to chew on.  My original brine proportions were 1:1 ratio of salt and sugar (measuring 1/2 cup each). I've adjusted the salt in the ingredient list below but if you fry up a piece and it's too salty, you can boil the other slices in water for 5 minutes to tone it down. Pat dry and store for up to a week (if it'll last that long). Or if it's not salty enough, add some in the frying pan.

Don't use any oil to cook these. It will have its own natural fat. You can also save the fat for frying other things later on!

Things you'll need:
2lb slab of pork side with skin
1/3 cup of kosher salt
1/2 cup of sugar
Freshly cracked pepper
Large zipper plastic baggie
Sheet pan
Smoker (optional)

If you don't have a smoker, don't fret! The bacon is most of the way there after curing in the fridge. If you aren't against liquid smoke, you can brush a little on each slice before frying. Otherwise, it's still perfectly satisfying to slice up and cook without the smoking part.

What proportions do you use for bacon brine at home? Let me know so I can try it and adjust.