Last week I indicated that the two pork bellies from my meat CSA were destined to become bacon. He Who Will Not Be Ignored expressed an interest in helping me, so it was time for a lesson about Where Food Comes From. We began with the Maple-Cured Smoked Bacon recipe from Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, two pork bellies, fifty grams each of kosher salt and dark brown sugar, and twelve grams of pink salt (salt and sodium nitrite, also know as InstaCure #1). We chose to omit the maple syrup, preferring a more savory bacon.
I combined the salts and sugar in a bowl and mixed thoroughly to break up any lumps and distribute the pink salt.
We placed the belly skin side down in a glass baking dish, then I sprinkled the cure mixture over all of the surfaces. (Look carefully at the bookshelf below my arm, you’ll see the spot where Carcuterie belongs, between Richard Olney’s Variety Meats and Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast.)
Now it was time to rub the cure into the bellies.
I covered the dish tightly in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. Every other day I turned the bellies over to let each side absorb the brine that had formed at the bottom of the dish. After seven days I rinsed off the cure and dried the bellies, then let them air dry in the fridge for another twenty four hours. This allows the formation of a pellicle, “a tacky surface that the smoke will stick to” (Ruhlman, pg. 78).
A day later, I removed the bellies from the fridge and let them come to room temperature while I prepared my smoker. The hard work had been done, all I had to do was fire up my Char-Griller to give the pork a three-hour smoke bath. I filled a basket with hardwood charcoal, set it in the smoker box, and lit it with a small stick of fatwood. While I waited for the charcoal to burn, I inserted a digital probe thermometer into the thickest section of one of the bellies. I had to smoke until the internal temperature reached 150 °F. I was ready, or so I thought.
A Wholly Unexpected Interruption from Officers of the Local Police and Fire Departments
The doorbell rang. A police officer was standing on my front porch.
“There’s a fire behind your house.”
“A fire? Are you sure you don’t mean my barbecue grill?”
“Yeah, that. It was on fire, so we put it out.”
“I don’t understand. Could you show me?” I followed her around to the back of my house, where I’ve always had the grill set up. Parked in front of my driveway was a fire truck, flanked by two firefighters in full-on gear (turnouts, helmets, boots – the works), one of whom was holding a fire extinguisher (call him SFD 1), and a third who appeared to be the driver. My grill had been dragged to the edge of the driveway, where I could see water pouring out of it. The charcoal basket had been removed and doused with water, I could hear it hissing.
“Your grill was on fire. We put it out.” said SFD1.
I looked at the grill, but didn’t see any scorch marks or signs of it having ignited. (I don’t use thermite to light charcoal.) “Do you mean the charcoal in the firebox?” I asked. “You could have closed the lid, and it would have smoldered out.”
Changing the subject, he said “You’re not supposed to have a grill so close to your house.” The back wall of my house is solid brick, a fireproof substance, or so I had been led to believe. The back yard, such as it is, consists of a paved driveway and a strip of dirt with a few ornamental plants.
Realizing that I was facing four of the city’s finest, and remembering advice from She Who Must Be Obeyed, I bit down every snappy retort that came to mind and asked “Where in my yard can I use the grill?”
“It has to be ten feet from all residences.”
“I’ve been grilling in that same spot for ten years. What changed that you showed up today?”
“Well, you’ve been lucky for ten years. One of your neighbors called in, said your house was on fire.”
Looking directly at the police officer, I said “I don’t want to be in violation of a city ordinance. Can you please explain the requirements to me?” She nodded, as if to say you’re doing the right thing.
That didn’t go over to well with SFD 1. “I already told you. Ten feet from any residence.”
“I don’t want you to have to make a return visit. Could you please show me where on my property I can safely operate my grill?”
“Right here,” he sad, pointing at the end of my driveway, where it met the sidewalk. “This is ten feet.”
“It’s very close to the sidewalk. Isn’t a hot grill in this position a public safety hazard?”
“It’s on your property, it’s OK.”
Looking at the police officer again, I asked “Are you sure I’m not going to get in trouble for endangering passers-by?”
“Nope. You’re fine, just like he said.”
“One last question: What did you use to douse my grill?”
“Water. Your grill is fine. In fact, if you wait a few minutes, you can still use the charcoal.”
And with that, they all drive off, leaving me with a waterlogged grill and a basket full of charcoal that was still lit. Yes, after all of that effort, they didn’t actually manage to extinguish the “fire.”
We Now Return to the Recipe, Which Is Already in Progress
I dried out the grill, returned the basket to the firebox, added more charcoal, and relocated everything to the city-approved “safe” distance. I had to prop up one side of the grill to make it level, a problem I didn’t have in my original location.
With the grill up to temperature, and a big hunk of cherry log on the coals, I set the bellies in to smoke for three hours, watching from my rear porch window the whole time, lest another busybody “neighbor” interfere with me and my bacon.
Three hours later I had smoked bacon:
I cut the skin off while the slabs were still warm.
Then I split each slab in two.
I vacuum-sealed three of the slabs and sent them to the Deep Storage Facility, along with the skins. I wrapped the fourth in plastic and put it in the fridge to firm up.
What did I do with my slab o’ smoky goodness? You ‘ll have to wait for tomorrow’s post.