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  1. Smokehowze’s Honey Cured Pork Belly Bacon Using Equilibrium Cure Method This bacon was 11 pounds (~ 5 kg) of skinless pork belly from Costco. After much study, I choose for this bacon to employ an immersion cure using the equilibrium cure method. This was a sweet pickle cure as it involves a sugar component. The flavor profile in this bacon was honey and brown sugar with a hint of black pepper in the cure followed by low temperature smoking accomplished using a cherry, hickory, and maple blend. The Final Belly Bacon Slabs Gotta Hand Cut Some First Slices for a Treat (yes.. that is a jar of pickled eggs in the background) Need to cook at low heat because of the honey or it will burn The Equilibrium Cure Method An Equilibrium Cure is an immersion brine cure method where the initial salt brine and the sodium nitrite percentages (PPM) from the Cure #1 (pink salt) are based on the amount of water by weight for the covering pickle solution brine (i.e., 8 quarts in this case ~ 7.5 kg) ) PLUS the weight of the water in the meat (65% meat weight less any major bone weight) or about 3 kg effective water. Thus in this case, the percentages for salt and the nitrite PPM (as well as other seasonings) are calculated on 10.5 kg of water. The way it works is that the solution equalizes over the cure time and settles at the final desired ratio where all the water both in and around the meat reaches an intermixed equilibrium state through diffusion/exchange mechanisms in terms of salt and nitrite (as well as seasonings). Hence, there is no over or under cure and as long as the meat is in solution for sufficient time for equilibrium to be reached with full penetration into the meat there no issue for leaving it there longer (up to a point). Thus, it is a more accurate curing method than a dry rub cure or even certain other immersion or injection curing methods – however, because the initial solution percentages are lower than other methods this immersion cure will take longer for proper meat pickup. If the meat is near 2 inches thick or greater, then the same covering pickle solution must be injected into the meat so that there is curing from the inside out and from the outside in. This method differs from certain other immersion methods that utilize a high concentration of brine and nitrites (excess cure solution) and presume about a 10% inflow/pickup into the meat or the use of an injection only cure at a certain percentage by meat weight (e.g. 10% pump) of a 10 times concentrated amount of nitrite by PPM where there is potentially a greater end result variability. This equilibrium method cannot exceed the PPM nitrite of the solution, which is from the onset quite close to the final desired PPM. It works similarly for the salinity component which will closely match the solution salinity. Per USDA information, the PPM of nitrite on the belly bacon was set to be 120 PPM at the end of curing. As I wanted a lower salt bacon, the salinity of the brine was established at 1.75% for final cure. Prep of the Meat and Building the Brine The belly trimmed as required and rinsed plus soaked in a mild solution of water and vinegar for about 15 minutes to cleanse it. After soaking rinse and set aside in fridge while the brine is prepared. At the same time, the amount of water used for the cleansing soak was measured to determine how much water would be required to fully immerse the meat with a couple of inches above it. This is needed for the proper salinity and PPM calculations. The brine mixture was prepared with the salt and all seasonings and heated to boiling. It was then cooled some and the Cure #1 (pink salt dissolved into the solution). Finally it was put in the fridge until well chilled. After that the belly was placed in the brine (I used a large meat lug with a lid) and weighed down with an inverted dinner plate. A Nice Belly Cure Time & Smoking Cure time was 14 days in the solution at 38 degrees. Every few days I stirred the solution and flipped the meat but since I had the full belly on a perforated plastic support rack to hold it off the bottom of the container I really did not need the flip. Another 1.5 days was spent uncovered on a drying rack in the fridge before smoking to form a pellicle and permit final equalization of the solution in the meat now outside the immersion. This levels out any gradient in/across the meat. As this is a low salt cure, I would not do an extended drying phase beyond 1 or 1.5 days lest the bacon sour or go rancid. Smoking was performed for 7 hours with smoke the full time in my converted electric kitchen over smoker starting at 130 degrees smoker temperature increased over time to 150 degrees smoking temperature. The smoke was a mix of cherry, hickory and maple food grade smoking sawdust. The belly was set out at room temperature and let warm up for about an hour prior to introduction into the smoker. Out of the Brine and Ready for the Drying Step (At this point I cut the full belly into three appropriate size slabs) The finished belly was removed from the smoker at 130 degrees internal temperature – at this point the meat had changed in character externally and became tenderer when probed. As this is not taking the meat internal temperature to at least a 155 degrees internal final cook point, the bacon is still considered “raw” and requires cooking before eating. I purposefully chose not to make this a fully cooked bacon in the production step. Going to a minimum of 125- 130 internal temperature also sets the meat protein and makes for better handling of the bacon in the slicing and in its uses in cooking. Just Out of the Smoker (The aroma is outstanding) Post Smoking Phase After smoking, the bacon was wrapped and placed in the fridge for 1.5 days to mature the flavor. It was further chilled in the freezer (but not frozen) for a short period of time before slicing to make slicing cleaner and to avoid fat smear. I took advantage of my Berkel 827A commercial meat slicer and sliced and vacuum packaged the bacon in 1 pound portions using my Vacmaster VP215 chamber style vacuum sealer. I would not have enjoyed hand slicing that much bacon. Final meat yield was 9 lbs. Ready for the Freezer My Smokehowze Labels. I print labels on Waterproof (so they do not come off in the freezer or later) - #5524 Avery Shipping Labels for all my Charcuterie - handy for us and especially useful for the ones you give to friends. The end result was a nice bacon with a good flavor and the family has confirmed this. Because of the honey (1.75%) and the brown sugar (1.5%) the bacon needs to be cooked at a lower temperature or it will burn. There is not a heavy honey element at this percentage – more like a subtle note. This pork belly was also leaner than what you get in most off the shelf bacon probably 40 % fat instead of 50+ percent. Assessment I now have completed my bacon trifecta with this Belly Bacon, with my Buckboard Bacon (pork butt) and with my Canadian Bacon (pork loin) all utilizing variants of immersion curing. Pork Butt Buckboard Bacon Recipe Post https://www.kamadoguru.com/topic/14884-smokehowze’s-pork-butt-bacon-buckboard-bacon-recipe-using-an-immersion-cure/#comment-173484 Pork Loin Canadian Bacon Recipe Post https://www.kamadoguru.com/topic/14380-smokehowze%E2%80%98s-pork-loin-bacon-canadian-bacon-recipe/#comment-165363 I really like this equilibrium immersion cure method for its preciseness of the salinity and PPM on the nitrite (which must be carefully controlled) and the ability to not have to worry about over curing and having the meat end up too salty. This may become my preferred curing approach on any of the above bacon types. I hope you can get some ideas from this. Enjoy!
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