(note, this is one of the posts that didn’t come through on my export/import … so the comments from the original post will appear at the end of this post … rather than in the normal comments section)
I wasn’t sure how to categorize this post/food because it’s nothing like anything I’ve discussed here before. Ultimately, it needed its own category!
You’re probably asking the same question I did when I first heard the phrase Buckboard Bacon. What is it, and how does it differ from regular sliced American bacon?
Well, the difference is simply a matter of cuts. Both types of bacon are cured and smoked in pretty much the same way, but regular American bacon is made exclusively of pork belly. In fact, Americans love their pork belly bacon so much that pork belly futures are one of the hottest commodities on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CMX), right next to the rest of a healthy breakfast: OJ futures and Wheat (toast) futures, too. We do love our breakfast foods in this country!
Pork belly is exactly what it sounds like. It’s that very strong 2-4 inch thick piece of skin, meat and fat that covers a pig’s belly, stretching from rib/backbone, side to side. Its alternating layers of meat (muscle) and fat provide both strength and padding in that area, keeping a pig’s guts in … while keeping everything else he drags his belly on … out
The problem was, when I strapped on my white lab coat and hopped aboard my trusty red scooter to go looking for pork belly to use in my home bacon experiment … I couldn’t find any. I picked up a bag of Morton Tender Quick Meat Cure at the very first local grocery store I walked into–so far/so good–but I encountered a problem as soon as I approached the meat counter. And the next meat counter in the next grocery store. And at the next one after that. Ultimately, every butcher at every one of the local big chain grocery stores said “Wow, no one’s asked for pork belly in forever. I guess I could order you some if you really want it … but it’ll take me a few days to get it.” In frustration, I ended up at my local butcher shop … and I do have a good one. It has an amazing variety of foods crammed into a tiny space … but the biggest thing in the house are the price tags. They didn’t have any pork belly for sale officially, but they graciously offered to sell me some of the pork belly they’d bought to make their own in-house bacon … for the exact same price as their bacon: $5.99/pound.
Um? No thanks!
So I went to the Home Canning group at Yahoo, one of the places I rely on when it comes to finding great recipes and food resources. That’s where I discovered another canner who’d also decided to try making his own bacon about the same time. He’s the one who first mentioned buckboard bacon … and who pointed me in the right direction! Thanks, Mark!
In contrast to your normal sorts of pork belly bacon, Buckboard Bacon (aka: pioneer bacon or homestead bacon) is made of cured and smoked pork that’s not pork belly. There are no requirements cut-wise for buckboard bacon. It’s simply some cut of pork other than a pork belly, that’s been brined and prepared in the exact same way as traditional bacon.
Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of it before. I’d never heard the words buckboard and bacon tied together before myself, not until I started researching how to make my own bacon at home. I already make my own sausages at home, and I have been for more than three years now. They’re so awesome that I will NEVER go back to buying mass-produced sausages again. So, I figured it was worth trying to make my own bacon at least once. Besides, ya’ll know I love a good food adventure!
In our conversation, Mark turned me onto a great website where they discussed how they made their own buckboard bacon at home. It looked like a really easy recipe to follow, so I’m sending kudos out to Thirdeye, and his fabulous Playing with Fire and Smoke blog for the inspiration! You guys ROCK!
Realizing I could make bacon without pork belly opened up the world of possibility for me! My first thought was: I could do something with a lot less fat in it! So I threw a leg back across my trusty red scooter … and found a whole boneless pork loin at Cash & Carry for $1.69/lb.
My loin was approximately 10 pounds, so once I got it home, I cut it into four pieces … and then bagged them up in two separate gallon zip-loc bags, with two chunks of pork in each bag. I measured my cure and brown sugar directly into the bags, putting half of each into each individual container. For this first experiment, I didn’t have maple sugar on hand, so I simply combined those teaspoons with the brown sugar teaspoons, and just used brown sugar for them all.
Once I got all my cure and sugar in the bags, I closed them lightly, sealed the zippers, and then I used the bags themselves to rub the cure and sugar all over the meat, turning the individual pieces over and over inside the bag until all sides were well-coated. Once all the meat was nicely covered, I piled both bags into a large square plastic container (just in case the bags leaked), covered it (to keep the dreaded refrigerator funk out of it), and then I stored it in the bottom of the refrigerator.
Once a day, I went into the plastic container and turned each of the bags over, making sure to separate the two chunks of meat in each bag and then reposition them against each other in a different way, so that the spot where they touch wouldn’t be problematic. Based on the thickness of the meat and the instructions on thirdeye’s site, I decided that seven days was the right amount of time to allow my meat to cure, so they sat in the bottom of my fridge for a week, only getting disturbed once a day for their daily turning.
At the end of that time, I put all four pieces of meat into a large stockpot filled with cold water, and then let it soak for about two hours before I took the next step … smoking my bacon!
I made one of Alton Brown’s amazingly creative “flower pot smokers” for myself about five years ago. I know it sounds bizzare, but it’s made of your basic terracotta flower pot. More than that, it’s powered by a single-burner, 1,000 watt electric hot plate, a couple of thrift-store pie pans, and just a couple of cups of wood chips … so it cooks amazingly low and slow as it perfumes your meat with smoke. Plus, it’s so efficient that you can easily smoke upwards of 40# of meat in this baby … for less than four cups of wood chips! I know! I’ve done it! And–all total–the entire rig cost me less than $50.00! It’s the most inexpensive, amazingly efficient smoker I’ve ever used. The terracotta provides the same sort of insulation against heat loss as one of those very expensive ceramic smokers, and the electric hotplate heating unit is not only easy to operate … it just keeps right on working, no matter what I throw at it!
I knew it was the perfect tool for smoking bacon!
Normally, this is how I load the smoker:
- in the very bottom of the pot, you have the electric hot plate. If you decide to make one of these for yourself, I strongly suggest you find a hotplate that’s at least 1,000 watts. My first one was a 750-watt model, and it just didn’t work as well. I had problems getting it up to the proper heat … especially here in the cool and damp of Seattle. The hotplate needs to be able to fit inside the flowerpot and to sit flat on the bottom. You’ll also be running the cord out of the hole in the bottom of the pot, so don’t forget to grab yourself some bricks to set your smoker on, in order to get that bit of lift that will allow the cord to swing free from the underside of the pot.
- on top of the burner, I place a smoker rig that I make using two metal pie pans and a couple of standard office-type metal binder clamps. Simply, I put water-soaked wood chips in the bottom of the slightly bigger pan (they’re both thrift store pie pans), then I top that pan with another pie pan, this time inverted. Using the binder clamps, I attach the lips of the two pans together. This doesn’t have to be a pretty rig … or even necessarily a 100% secure one. You want there to be a gap between the two pans in some places around the edges. That’s where the smoke will escape. And there’s method to this madness. In AB’s open-pan version, the chips sat/burned/smoked exposed, right underneath the surface of your meat. I didn’t like that way. It sooted up the bottom of my meat too much for my tastes, so I devised the two-pan model to cut down on the concentration of smoke and soot. It basically acts like a smoke and heat diffuser, so it does disburse them both over a larger area … but it doesn’t hold the overall heat back one iota.
- in the top of the pot goes the wire BBQ rack. Mine is your basic round replacement rack that you can buy in lots of different places. It’s job is to hold the meat.
- and then you use the drain tray for the flower pot as your lid. You just flip it upside down and set it on top. Works like a champ!
I needed a little less direct heat with the bacon this time, so here’s a picture of the way I set up my pot for this job:
The metal pans inside are my dual pie pans with the wood chips in between. As you can see, I added some wood pieces to the edges this time. My plan was to keep the bacon above the heat for a while–mostly just exposing it to the smoke in the very beginning–so I set it up so that the smoke could escape from the pot, but not as much of the heat.
I added the lid next, sitting it on top of the wooden pieces to start warming up. The radiant heat from this lid will be all that’s warming my meat in the beginning … and it will be doing it very, very slowly.
My meat has been curing for seven days now, and then I allowed it to soak in cold water for two hours before smoking, just to pull some of the surface salt off of it. This is what it looked like as I started to load my smoker.
I covered the top of the lid with heavy duty tinfoil (to catch the drips), set a round wire rack on top, and then arranged my meat on the rack. The rack is about 2″ tall, so it really suspended the meat above the lid nicely, allowing it to dry out as it began picking up the wonderful smoke flavor.
Last, but not least, I added a large cardboard box over the top of the meat. It not only kept any dust/prying eyes off of my bacon, it also helped trap the fragrant smoke all around the meat … and kept it there to do its magic.
I kept an eye on it periodically, just to be sure that the smoke was still flowing, and that it wasn’t getting too hot for the cardboard box. It took about two hours to burn off the first tray of wood chips, so I replaced it with another one at that point, and let it run for another two hours.
At the end of those four hours, the chunks of pork loin were nicely dry and very aromatic, but only slightly cooked … according to plan! As the smoke finally stopped on the second load of wood chips, I then pulled the box off the top, along with the meat, rack, and tin foil. I opened the smoker lid and removed the wood blocks. I then moved the tinfoil, rack and meat inside the smoker, positioning them on the inside rack this time. I covered them with another sheet of tinfoil and then put the heavy terracotta lid back on top … this time, basically exposing the meat directly to the 220 degrees inside my smoker.
I let the meat cook for an additional two and a half hours from there, until the bacon was lightly browned all over, and firm to the touch. If you’re a temperature probe kinda cook (I’m not, but I know many of you are), there are temperatures/directions on the Playing with Fire and Smoke blog.
My final product, after chilling overnight in the fridge!
We decided that BLTs were the perfect way to try the new bacon, so we set about slicing it thin and browning it on the electric griddle:
It was … amazing! There’s really only one way to describe it. It was salty and sweet and meaty and smoky and just everything you’ve come to expect from excellent bacon … without most of the fat. In fact, my pork loin was so lean that I really only have a tiny strip of fat along the outside of each slice … so if you really wanted to get rid of all the visible fat on your buckboard bacon, it would be amazingly easy to do.
Let’s put it this way … we’ve eaten BLT’s for dinner for two nights in a row now. Final grade?
I haven’t tried canning any of it yet (I’ve had a busy week), but my plan is to put at least two jars of this bacon up in my pressure canner … and the rest frozen, part as a hunk and part sliced. I want to see how well it holds up over time in each case, so that I’ll know the best way to store it ….
….but I already know the best way to eat it … and that’s ravenously!
This entry was posted on 19. August 2010 at 00:15
2 Responses to “Buckboard Bacon :)”
- Bob Leibold says:
19. August 2010 at 09:55
Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Hi again, I am going to try this, and I am going to follow your instructions to a T, but, there is always a “but”, right? But, I can’t open your pictures, and I ‘m frustrated here…..I wish you would mention what size flower pot, I am assuming when you say flower pot, you mean those, now I can’t come up with the correct color, but those cheap clay easily breakable flower pots that are sort of brownish in color??
And, a single burner 1000 watt hot plate, where did you happen to find one and it fits into the bottom of the pot?? No, I don’t expect you to build me one, but on second thought…………… Hmmm, I think I’ll go back and click on some of the links you provided and see what comes up. You have me intrigued and I and my family simply love bacon. Your wood chips bought commercially? Lots of questions, I’m sorry. OK OK, I’m coming to your house for breakfast. lol…………………..Bob
- Lane says:
19. August 2010 at 21:31
I decided that your questions were a good excuse to give a detailed description of the smoker, just in case others were interested, too … so I just made that my next post to the blog! Just click the “next” button, and thanks for the prompting!