Sunday, August 30, 2015

August 30, 2015: Battle of Four Bacons

MY LIFE WITH BACON continues this week with a bacon cook-off among four different varieties. They all look so different, you'd think they come from different animals!

Left three slices: Open Nature
next group: Oscar Mayer
Middle group: Pederson's Natural Farms
Far right: Home made

FIRST UP: OPEN NATURE Applewood Smoked Uncured Bacon Center Cut. "100% Natural*. No Antibiotics. No Preservatives. No Nitrates or Nitrites**." Don't you just love those asterisks? The first one says: 'no artificial ingredients - minimally processed'. The second one says: "except for those naturally occuring in celery powder". Minimal processing is processing. Celery powder is manufactured. There HAS to be nitrites and nitrates in bacon, or it wouldn't be bacon and/or would be full of germs.

Upon opening the package, I sensed a nice, smoky applewood aroma. Package weight 12 ounces; actual weight 12.7 ounces, and it cooked down to 3.7 ounces and produced 175 ml of bacon fat. It had nearly a 100% thickness variation. Some slices were about 1/16 thick and others were about 1/8! I think this is a form of artificial artisinal-ity. Do manufacturers actually set their cutters to be un-even? To be artificially craft-y? It seems so in this case.
This bacon had a lot of aftertaste and industrial oily-ness; crispy factor 2 out of 5; flavor 2, and overall below average. Not recommended.

NEXT: Pederson's Natural Farms Uncured Hickory Smoked bacon. Another "uncured" bacon. Uncooked bacon had more of a sweet smell, almost like pineapple. Funny coincidence, I was scanning the NY Times book review and there's an interesting book this week about the history of Hawaii. I might pick it up.

The package showed 10 ounces and the uncooked bacon weighed in at 10.2 ounces; final weight after cooking 2.8 ounces and produced 150 ml of bacon fat.

Unlike the artificial artisiniality, these slices were industrially even. Almost perfectly identical. The protein ribbons cooked into a very richly colored pallete. The texture of this cooked bacon was kind of like a fruit roll-up - odd - quite salty but too sweet and not enough real bacon flavor. Seems to be a 'made up' bacon. Odd.

THIRD: My old standby, Oscar Mayer. These are the 'center cut' variety, left over from a few days ago. It cooked up very wet looking and seems more like Canadian bacon than regular bacon. Wife comments: "No good. Oily. Unimpressive." She detected a hint of beefiness in the flavor. This was an odd batch; just OK.

LAST AND BEST: My home made bacon from last week's blog post. It weighed in at 10.2 ounces and cooked down to 4.1; produced 120 ml of fat. Son Jack had a couple of friends over, and the universal opinion is it was the best. See last week's post for flavor profile. Salty and good!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

August 23, 2015: Tequila Cured, Hickory Smoked Bacon from Scratch and a Field Report from Paul

MY LIFE WITH BACON CONTINUES this week with some home made bacon. I purchased the pork belly, as I said last week, from Hofherr's market in Northfield, IL

BUT FIRST: FRIEND PAUL VISITS FARM in Vermont and has a field report.

Paul Rokos reports:
"My wife loves goats. As a birthday present we spent this past weekend at Trevin Farm, beautiful goat 40 acre farm in Green Mountains of Vermont. We spent the weekend learning how to make goat cheese, milking goats, helping with chickens, ox and horses. Eating two fabulous breakfast and having a cooking lesson and dinner with Chief Troy. 

I never knew goat cheese could be so good! The secret is in the love, care, and healthy diet that Chief and gentleman farmer, Troy Peabody provides them. This loving care and this fabulous rich goats milk is also the reason I bought a half a share in a pig for next spring. Troy fed the mother pig goat’s milk during her pregnancy to ease the stress on the mother and insure healthy babies. The mother looked fabulous and I could tell the piglets were going to produce great roasts, butt, and BACON! 
So I ended a beautiful and relaxing weekend, know that come March, I’ll come back, enjoy another night at the farm and pick up my butcher, smoked ham, and bacon."
Thank you, Paul! Great story and I'll have to visit there and get some pork belly. Speaking of pork belly... how about

MAKIN' BACON THE RIGHT WAY - from scratch. I gave you a little preview last week, and here's the whole story.

You start with quality product; many of you know that I get mine from Seah Hofherr of Hofherr's Meats in Northfield, IL. Sean comes from several generations of purveyors, and he's carrying on this most excellent tradition. Great shop and friendly staff, plus outstanding product makes every visit fun.

The belly you see above was butchered very recently and is fresh as can be. I rinsed it off thoroughly, and hand applied a homemade rub based on this recipe from Traeger wood pellet grills (but not exactly). Before applying the rub, I gave the belly a heavy dose of Charbay distillery Tapatio Tequila (see bottle on the left). We enjoy Charbay's vodkas and especially the tequila.

The above-noted recipe is for bourbon; I substituted outstanding tequila as an experiment.
After complete cure was applied, I put the belly in a zip lock and kept it refrigerated for a full week, with daily turning. What a great aroma.

Once finished, I rinsed once again, and prepped the smoker. The chimney lit up quickly, using my father-in-law's technique of rolling and knotting the newspaper (thanks, Rich!). Great concept and execution! I used hickory wood for the smoke. I thought it'd be a great combination - tequila rub and hickory smoke. I was right.

Smoking took about 90 minutes, give or take, and I pulled the belly off at the appropriate internal temperature. Incredible smell and great color. I think I'll figure out how to 'hang' the belly on a hook from the smoker cover - I think it might produce a more even drying effect. Always be improving your techniques!

Hand slicing is tedious and I tried to be as even as possible. For a brusses sprout & bacon dish, I cooked some up and chopped it. Heavenly!

Subsequently I fried up a bunch for the family - universal applause. The colors were like an artist's pallette and flavor and aroma were outstanding.

I left a few slices out on the Himalayan salt block daughter Jennifer gave me for my birthday, and it disappeared. Son Jack ate it up late that night!  Great concept - bacon as a midnight snack!

Good stuff. I'll do a more complete review next week with a commercial bacon. I'll try to be as unbiased as possible!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

August 16, 2015: Benton's Bacon and Charbay-infused Cure!

MY LIFE WITH BACON CONTINUES this week with a cook of Benton's Smoky Mountain Coutry Hams bacon, and the supposed 'fact' that BACON IS BETTER THAN SEX.

LET'S START OFF WITH CHARBAY, possibly the best, and certainly my favorite micro-distiller in the world. Later in this post, I'll talk about my use of Tapatio tequila, in... - bacon!



It's up - due to the dreaded porcine virus then, its down - the virus is licked & supplies RISE, now - up again as demand goes up! Seriously? Eat your bacon. Just eat it!


Wow, check out this infographic, a public service announcement provided by the manufacturers of Bacon Salt.  Apparently 45% of Canadians perfer bacon to sex. Hmmmm. That may explain a few things about some of my friends north of the border...

THIS WEEK'S BACON IS Benton's, about which I wrote two weeks ago. Here is a video documentary about the proprieter and his smokehouse; very interesting! So I ordered three pounds.

This bacon had the sharpest smoke aroma of any bacon I've ever opened.

It looked great cooking up, although it had a few curled slices, which I quickly clipped:

Close up:
This bacon was pretty unique.

It weighed one pound, .3 ounces and had a very strong aroma of hickory smoke upon opening. Very strong.

It produced a whopping 215 ml of rendered fat! But also only reduced to a net weight of 5.1 ounces after cooking.

Most bacons get down closer to 4 ounces post cooking and produce a lot less rendered fat.  Anyone have an idea about the physics of this bacon?

It cooked up crispy in the 'landscape' mode but chewy in the middle. The flavor was good, HOWEVER, and I must add this caveat - it was WAAAAAY too sweet.

Mr. Benton does say that the cure is simple - just sugar, salt and pepper.

Rating: 2.5 on chewiness, 2.5 on flavor (would score much better if less sugar), 3 on crispness. I have two additional pounds which I'll do in the future.

MAKIN' BACON! AGAIN! I visited my friend Sean Hofherr - a quality purveyor of meat and related products in Northfield, Illinois.  He's my go-to guy. Here's a portion of a new pork belly and the cure mix I made for it:

Next week, I'll show you the hunk 'o porky goodness being rubbed with my homemade cure. I also treated the meat with a high quality tequila from Charbay. It's called Tapatio and is the finest stuff I've tasted.last weekend, and procured a nice hunk of pork belly. If you're a reregular reader, you know that Hofherr's is a high quality purveyor of all things butcher-esque. 


On the same trip, I bought a nice piece of "Boston Butt" for smoking on Sunday. The "butt" is actually a pork shoulder, and I prepared it on Saturday night by injecting it with my own mix.

To prepare the chimney filled with hardwood charcoal, I used a trick I learned through wife Debbie, from dad Richard Peck - to roll up and then tie the newspaper you stuff in the chimney. I've been doing it this way for some time and it works infinitely better than just crumpling up the paper. It hasn't gone out yet and seems to get the charcoal ready quicker!On the left, you can see the paper rolling up; on the right it's tied in a knot.

It smoked most of Sunday - most of it left the building for son Sam's pot luck lunch at work - Coyote logistics.  Just look at that mahogony coloring, after finishing! Awesome taste and texture, too. Thanks for the meat, Sean!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

August 9, 2015: Block Island Bacon

MY LIFE WITH BACON CONTINUES this week with bacon on vacation: bacon-tation.


Had some bacon and eggs on the road recently, while taking a vacation overnight on Block Island. We usually do go to Rebecca's - a walk up cantina with inside and outside seating. Great food, prepared to order.  I asked my normal question: "Where does your bacon come from?" when I visit a restaurant. The answer from the short order cook: "A Pig!". Smart ass.

At the bottom is the website for dining on Block Island, and a photo of my dinner at Ballard's!!

BALLARD'S RESTAURANT ON BLOCK ISLAND is a must-visit destination. Lobster above, nearly a 3-pounder, was awesome. Thanks Hutch (father in law) and Jo! Ballard's site here.

August 2, 2015: Island Bacon, and Cat eats a guy's bacon

MY LIFE WITH BACON CONTINUES THIS WEEK from the road with another short post.

HOW ABOUT SOME MONEY ISLAND BACON? Cooked up some Stop & Shop bacon there and three boys made it disappear. Wasn't as crispy as expected but good solid bacon flavor. Three sixteen year old boys ate them all in about five minutes.


MAN TRIES TO HAVE CAT ARRESTED FOR EATING HIS BACON along with his girlfriend. Cops say they can't arrest the cat. But what about the girlfriend? Story here.