A New Kind of Bacon? Smoked Back Bacon Strips!

“Canadian bacon” or back bacon strips

I’ve not posted many recipes in the past few years, in part, because I’ve largely focused on learning to smoke meats and vegetables. It takes time to develop expertise and there are a plethora of expert smoking sites and YouTube channels that do a great job of sharing techniques and recipes (links below). I felt I had little that’s novel to share.

That changed when a bacon-making friend inspired me to smoke bacon and I had a new idea: Why not make “Canadian bacon” or back bacon in strips like “American” bacon or streaky bacon?

You likely know Canadians typically serve round slices of what’s called “back bacon” that is made from pork loin and Americans serve strips of what’s called “[streaky] bacon” that is made from pork belly. So, the obvious answer to “Why not?” is that a pork loin is roughly cylindrical and easily sliced into rounds once cooked, and a pork belly is flat, easily formed into a rectangle, and sliced into strips once cured.

But bacon isn’t about making something quick and easy – it’s about making something great, e.g., typically with a week-long cure in sugar and salt then a low and slow smoke. Note there are many pork loin preparations other than rounds such as a roulade a.k.a. rollade (Dutch). Why not cut pork loin as if for a roulade, but then cure and smoke it flat and cut into strips? That’s what we’ll do!

Here, I show a typical process of making nitrite/nitrate-free “uncured” bacon, but modified to result in back bacon strips. I say “uncured” because, although a salt/sugar cure is performed, it is my understanding that the U.S. federal government stipulates this be called “uncured” when not prepared using nitrates (nor possibly even nitrites) for meat preservation. What I show, here, is safe preparation method because (a) the bacon is cured in the refrigerator and (b) the resulting bacon fully cooked. If you’d rather use curing salts, e.g., carefully measured Prague powder #1, go for it! If you do, consult some other recipe or instructions since nitrite/nitrate curing salts are poisonous if accidentally used in excess.
Even if you change the cure ingredients, the rest of the process below is the same.

I’ve made this bacon a couple times and think it’s great. Why? Well, back bacon strips are meatier but still have lots of sweet, smoky bacon flavors like from traditional bacon strips. I attribute this largely to the dramatically increased surface area that the flat, rectangular roulade-style pork loin cut offers during curing and smoking leads to more flavor being imparted.

Cut

A whole pork loin cut into three parts, sized for roulade-style cut and bacon strips.

Cut a pork loin into sections and trim the exterior fat as you desire. (You will fully cook the bacon during the smoking step, as in traditional back bacon preparation, so personal preference rather than food safety is your guide in trimming the fat.) The length of each resulting pork loin section determines how many slices you can make from each “flat.”

Next, for each section you will use to make bacon, make a long spiral cut through the section with the knife’s blade aligned lengthwise along the section. The loin’s circumference and the thickness your cutting leaves determines how long your bacon slices will be. This is because you will ultimately slice the bacon strips across the meat’s grain. For the spiral cut, I use a sharp, pointed chef’s knife but you could probably also manage it with a sharp or serrated meat slicing knife as well. Be careful not to leave the resulting flat piece too thin; 1 inch thick is just about right.

If the resulting flat is uneven in thickness, carefully thin it in places by hitting it with a meat mallet until roughly even in thickness. If you’ve not made a roulade before, I suggest watching some YouTube videos showing this cutting method. Don’t worry if the flat isn’t perfectly evenly thick nor exactly square; variety will give the resulting bacon some organic, natural character. Just cut and shape it slowly so you don’t leave divots or holes which will result in short, unevenly cooked bacon strips.

A pork loin section cut roulade-style, and smeared with salt, brown sugar, and maple syrup

Cure

For a flat piece of the size shown (about 10 inches square), prepare a simple paste/mixture consisting of (a) 1/3 cup salt, (b) 1/3 cup brown sugar, and (c) 1/3 cup pure Maple syrup. Smear the mixture on the pork loin flat and place it in a sealed container, such as a gallon-sized Ziplock bag, removing air if possible. Be sure the mixture coats both sides of the flat, and place in the refrigerator for about 1 week.

Once each day while curing, flip the flat over, distributing the cure mixture and liquids to contact all portions of the flat.

Pork loin “flat” dated and curing (in refrigerator)
Flip pork loin “flat” daily while curing (in refrigerator).

Dry

After about 1 week’s time curing, it’s time to prepare the flat(s) for smoking.

Pork loin flat after one week cure

Rinse all the cure mixture from each pork loin flat and pat them dry.

Rinse the flat with water and pat dry, e.g., with paper towel.

Once rinsed and patted dry, place each flat on a wire rack, and return to refrigerator to dry for about one day.

Place the flat on a wire rack to dry in the refrigerator for about 1 day.

To be honest, I’m not sure this drying step is necessary, but it is a common step in traditional bacon recipes. Instead, it seems to me the flat could be dried in an initial, short cold smoke (to also impart more smoke flavor) or during the hot smoke/cooking process. This might even leave the interior a bit moister, if desired.

Smoke

Once dried, the flats are ready to smoke. If you don’t smoke meats, I suppose you could just cook this low and slow in the oven; I’ve not tried.

I happen to smoke foods in my gas grill using a cold smoke generator and I suggest smoking on Hickory or Maple, here.

Cook fully to an internal temperature of 160°F or more.

There are lots of time/temperature combinations that would work. The goal is to slowly cook the cold meat to greater than 160°F, internally throughout. For example, smoke at about 225°F for about 2.5 hours. Rotate the flat periodically to cook more evenly.

One way to smoke the cured flats is at 225-250°F for about 2-2.5 hours.
Use an instant read thermometer, probing many locations, to assure 160°F throughout.

Be sure to use a thermometer, preferably instant read, to check the internal temperature throughout the flat, in different places during the cook. Since it is a relatively thin piece of meat, it will reach higher temperatures faster near the heat source and edges if you’re cooking with indirect heat.

Cool the bacon and refrigerate to make firmer for slicing.

Once smoked, the pork loin flat, now bacon, proper, develops beautiful color. It’s time to let it rest to cool, then place in the refrigerator for slicing. I tightly wrap it in aluminum foil for a few hours in the refrigerator. You can reuse the foil to wrap packs of slices.

Slice

Once refrigerated and firm, it’s time to slice your bacon to desired thickness.

I can get straight, near perfect slices, just like store bought bacon, by using a flexible, sharp, serrated carving knife.

Hold the bacon flat down firmly to a cutting board with your non-knife-holding hand. Then, for each slice, place the blade edge down to the top of the flat, straight and at the desired thickness. Slowly slice straight down with even back-and-forth motion. Go slowly! You just spent a week making this and bacon slice appearance is important!

Refrigerated bacon strips cut using a good slicing knife, e.g., Victorinox.

Serve

Store your back bacon strips tightly-wrapped as you would other bacon. To reduce air contact, I wrap it tightly in aluminum foil, then place in a new Ziplock storage back.

Since it’s fully-cooked, back bacon strips can be eaten as a cold snack. Otherwise, serve it warmed in a fry pan or on a griddle like bacon strips.

Thick-sliced bacon frying on a griddle.

Since back bacon strips are leaner than typical bacon strips, you might like to fry it in a bit of water. This keeps it from sticking to the pan, due to the released sugars while also keeping it moist for serving.

Fry bacon slices with a bit of water in the pan.

Note that frying can make the smoke ring more distinct. Remember, this is uncured bacon, so the pinkness (shown in photos) is not from curing salts but from the wood combustion gases interacting with the meat’s surface while smoking.

Maple cured and smoked back bacon strips.

Lastly, it makes a great B.L.T.!

A rustic B.L.T. made with back bacon strips.

Please let me know if you try this and make your own back bacon strips!

Also, do let me know if you’ve heard someone invented and/or sold back bacon strips made from pork loin before. To the best of my knowledge, I invented back bacon strips, but am willing to consider that I may have only reinvented this method! :)

Here’s the video with the curing method on which mine is based; I use ~1/3 cup of each ingredient (for one square flat of pork loin) where they use 1/4 cup (for one seemingly smaller square of pork belly):
Curing and Cold Smoking Bacon the Old Fashioned Way
Note that back bacon, though, is fully-cooked to a higher temperature than pork belly bacon!

Peace,
Dave

P.S. Here’s a recipe for another kind of bacon that may be of interest:
Old Fat Guy Cooking: Maple Buckboard Bacon, You Can Make It

Habanero and Jalapeno Poppers

Habanero and Jalapeno Poppers: bacon or vegetarian with epazote.

Habanero and Jalapeno Poppers: bacon or vegetarian with epazote

To keep New Year’s Eve hot, I prepared spicy poppers: some with the “traditional” jalapeno and some with the more adventurous habanero.

These may seem pretty straightforward to prepare (just take a bit of time), but I’ll give a few suggestions and tips, after having made them a few times.

Ingredients

Popper ingredients

Ingredients:

  • fresh jalapeno peppers, halved lengthwise, seeded, and deveined
  • fresh habanero peppers, halved lengthwise, seeded, and deveined
  • cream cheese, softened to near room temperature
  • bacon, strips cut to half length
  • epazote, dried & crushed

Halve, seed, and devein t

Halve, seed, and devein the peppers.

When preparing these on a broiler pan under the broiler, wrap the top of the pan in aluminum foil and cut slits in the foil (where the slits in the pan are) so that bacon grease will drain. Also, pour a half cup of water into the bottom of the pan to keep the drained fat from burning and be careful to not tip the pan.

DSC06972

Add water to broiler pan to keep drained fat from burning.

Carefully fill the pepper halves with cream cheese, optionally wrap with bacon (tucking one end underneath, perhaps with the help of a knife tip, so they stay wrapped), and place them cheese-side down (at first) on the broiler pan.

Pepper halves filled with cream cheese

Pepper halves filled with cream cheese

Place them under the broiler and cook the bottom side of the poppers before the cheese melts.

Cook the bottom sides first so the cheese doesn't melt out.

Cook the bottom sides first so the cheese doesn’t melt out.

Once the bottoms are done, flip them upright with tongs and complete the cooking. I sprinkled the vegetarian poppers (without bacon) with epazote for a extra dash of flavor before it gives way to the heat.

Flip the peppers with tongs and complete the cooking under the broiler.

Flip the peppers with tongs and complete the cooking under the broiler.

Now you have a spicy appetizer for your parties, and one that intially tastes of cheese and bacon or spice, then after 20-30 seconds the heat kicks in nicely. :)

Vegetarian habanero and jalapeno poppers with cream cheese and epazote.

Vegetarian habanero and jalapeno poppers with cream cheese and epazote.

Even though some people that eat these poppers might think you’re trying to kill them, you’ll know you really love them.

Love people.Cook them tasty food.

Love people.
Cook them tasty food.

Happy new year to you all! Love people and cook them tasty food.

Rigatoni and Mornay Sauce

Rigatoni and Mornay Sauce

This is pretty much an upscale version of mac and cheese.

For 6-8 servings, it’s rigatoni (1 pound dry pasta), prepared al dente, mixed with chopped stewed tomato (1 can, drained), one finely diced large jalapeno (with seeds), all tossed with cream sauce, then put in a baking pan (10″ x 10″ x 2″), topped with more cream sauce, and sprinkled with red pepper flakes, dried oregano, and optionally 1/4 pound of bacon pieces (cooked in advance). Then it was baked for 30 minutes at 375°F until lightly browned. Set for perhaps 10 minutes then served topped with thinly sliced fresh jalapeno pepper.

The somewhat thick sauce is a Béchamel sauce, of butter (~1/4 cup) and flour (~1/3 cup) roux with milk or cream (~2 1/2 cups), with a bit of shredded sharp white cheddar (~1/4 pound) and powdered garlic added:
“Mornay sauce”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mornay_sauce

Related recipes:
A friend recently inspired me by posting this recipe:
“Macaroni and Béchamel Sauce”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8VI6FzZXfs

Also, I’d recently seen an episode of Cook’s Country (from America’s Test Kitchen on PBS) with this recipe; if you want to make your own mac-and-cheese, this is a great place to start:
“Macaroni and Cheese with Tomatoes”
http://www.cookscountry.com/recipes/Macaroni-and-Cheese-with-Tomatoes/23438/

Poached Tilapia with Creamy Shiitake Ragoût

Poached Tilapia with Creamy Shiitake Ragoût

I poached the tilapia fillets in the cream sauce with the vegetables, i.e., a sauce of vegetable stock, heavy cream, cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, dijon mustard, fennel seed, thyme, salt and pepper. I used dried mushrooms, but the texure of fresh mushrooms would likely be better with this delicate fish.

I prepared couscous in vegetable stock and served it layered in the middle.

This was inspired by a related recipe for Pan-Seared Cod with Creamy Fennel Ragoût.

Lettuce Wraps

Lettuce Wraps

Failing to find a recipe that used a significant amount of whipping cream and Romaine lettuce, I settled on these lettuce wraps using just the lettuce. :-)

They’re much as set out in the recipe below except I used bacon (optional) and fried firm tofu… to see if I could cause a bacon/anti-bacon explosion. Oh, and I added chopped peanut… so, y’know, it was a typical sort of asian lettuce wrap meets BLT.

“Lettuce Wraps”
http://chinesefood.about.com/od/fusionrecipes/r/lettucewraps.htm

Here’s that P.F. Chang’s version that everyone seems to like:

“Ginger Chicken Stir-Fry Romaine Wraps with Citrus Soy”
http://www.pfchangs.com/chefscorner/ginger_chicken_stirfry.aspx

Pita Pizza

Pita Pizzas

I’m temporarily drinking fake (non-alcoholic) beer, so perhaps some ersatz pizzas are in order!  These two were prepared in a toaster oven on pita bread brushed with olive oil:

  • BBQ sauce, garlic, swiss and Gruyère cheeses, applewood smoked bacon, white button mushroom, red onion, and jalapeno.
  • Kyopoolu (sauce), swiss and Gruyère, bacon, mushrooms, red onion, oregano, and fennel seed.
Which was better?  Hmm, both were awesome, it’s a tie.
An aside: I find Clausthaler Golden Amber and O’Doul’s Amber to be the most palatable of non-alcholic beers that are widely available in the states.