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Wet-Cured (Brined) and Vacuum-Cured Bacon


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I just scored a slab of Berkshire pork belly from Matt Jennings (our own stinkycheeseman) at Farmstead here in Providence RI. He asked what I was going to do with it, and I babbled about red cooked pork belly (Grace Young's from a recent Saveur), rillons (Stephane Reynaud's from the new Pork & Sons cookbook), and, of course, bacon.

"Berkshire, so you gotta brine it first, man," says Matt. "Couple days, then the dry cure."

"Uh huh," says I, nodding like I know what that would actually mean.

Well, now I'm home and I'm realizing that I don't really have much of a sense of what precisely I should do to get this beautiful flesh curing. My bacon chops, such as they are, came from working through Ruhlman's Charcuterie (click), which doesn't mention any wet-then-dry curing. However, the dry curing has yielded some slightly spotty results now and then, so I'm game to try brining as an evolutionary advance in my bacon makin'.

So, the questions. Any ideas about the brine solution? Should I adjust the dry cure in any way? I'm happy to go by feel at this point, but would the total amount of time curing be reduced because of a more efficacious brine?

Chris Amirault

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Chris,...have no fear- 'porkchop' is here. (Or so they called me in culinary school..

don't know if that was a good thing...hmmm.)

Now of course this thread could go on for EVER, but as a starting point- here goes:

Brine: (now you may know all of this, and if so- my apologies)

The three most critical aspects of brining, are salt, sugar and time. The salt and sugar are great because they help offset each other- and the salt provides the 'kick' and the sugar the residual sweetness and eventual suppleness to the pork.

Contrary to popular opionion, you really want brine to be much sweeter than saltier. This is especially true if you are brining large batches of pork belly, as we do. Don't forget- you can always make up for the salt factor later in your dry cure.

(yes- we dry cure AFTER brine. A much more effective way.)

Best ratio for brine: 3/4 quart salt to 1 full quart of brown sugar, per gallon of water. This is the La Laiterie *secret* brine recipe...although I guess not that secret anymore! You should of course heat up your brine in a pot, steep it with fresh herb sprigs, shallots, garlic, juniper berries and the like. Then cool down your brine, strain it and once cool- submerge the belly. Let it sit for anywhere from 2 to 4 days (depending on the size of the belly).

After that, you can COMPLETELY dry it off with a kitchen towel- no paper towels here- the real thing. Make sure you absorb as much of the moisture as you can, as this is always going to be your worst enemy with bacon- moisture. Moisture is what makes cured meats spoil quickly. SO dry it GOOD, man.

Once dry, proceed with your dry cure rub....sorry- for this you are on your own. Ours has taken over two years to perfect and we think we might finally be there, so no details on that one.

After you cure for however long you'd like to- (play around a bit...cure some for only a day, and others for a week and see what happens), rinse it all off, COMPLETELY dry again and then smoke that SH*T!

Preferred chips are either maple or cherry (again- a Laiterie preference), and smoking time can varry depending on so many factors- size of belly, size of smoker, etc... But plan on at least 4-7 hours, turning often and inspecting chips often.

Once smoked, refrigerate wrapped well in plastic wrap (or freeze. The stuff freezes beautifully!). Best to slice it when it is still slightly frozen (it will be easier), and then bake it off.

Sit back, drink a cup of joe, scramle some eggs in truffle oil and dig in.

Now that my friend, is the perfect Sunday..... :biggrin:

Good luck.

-porkchop

(Matt)

Matt Jennings

Owner, Chef, Cheesemonger

Farmstead / La Laiterie at Farmstead

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Nice work, Matt :smile: I'm intrigued by your idea of a very sweet brine.

So, the questions. Any ideas about the brine solution? Should I adjust the dry cure in any way? I'm happy to go by feel at this point, but would the total amount of time curing be reduced because of a more efficacious brine?

My contribution, FWIW: I've never tried (nor heard of) using both dry and wet curing on one piece of meat. I'm scratching my head and thinking, "why ?"

I've made a fair amount of bacon at home, all wet-cured, in a brine based on Keith Erlandson's Sweet Pickle recipe from "Home smoking and curing" (with additional input on techniques from Dubbs & Heberle's "Quick and easy art of smoking food"). It's an 80% brine (80% saturated), which apparently is just enough to float a raw potato. Of course if you own a scale you can measure it.

For me, wet curing is just infinitely more temperature-controllable, particularly in a domestic fridge that's being opened regularly.

2litres Water (bottled if your tap water isn't appealing) - refrigerate / chill to 1-2C

10.5oz pickling salt

3.5oz soft brown sugar

For flavour, I coat the meat with a dry rub of black pepper and fresh bay leaf, ground together, before submerging it.

You can get excited about adding sodium nitrate and/or nitrite: I just use an unrefined salt, like they did in the old days. It's vital to keep the brine cold while curing - around 1C is ideal; over 2C is no good - and the meat must be weighted to keep it submerged. I find 3.5 days in the brine is about right for bacon-level saltiness. This doesn't give an even cure (less salty in the very centre), but that evens out during the drying period that follows (a week, still in the fridge). In deference to the neighbouring apartnments, I don't smoke it.

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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My contribution, FWIW:  I've never tried (nor heard of) using both dry and wet curing on one piece of meat.  I'm scratching my head and thinking, "why ?"

That's a good question. I'm thinking that the initial brining will allow for better, more even penetration of the basic cure, but I could be wrong. Matt, what ye say?

Chris Amirault

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Matt, you mention no details on your rub, but can you answer one question? Does it include pink salt?

Oh, and on the smoking. At what temp do you prefer to smoke the bacon?

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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All,

We have chosen to both brine and cure for the following reasons:

1. Brining cuts down on the time needed to cure, and in a restaurant environment, the less prep time an item takes, the better.

2. Brining prior to curing provides the extra depth of flavor and perfect balance of sweet/salt that we are looking for. We also think that the belly sitting in both a wet and dry cure saturates the bacon and helps it get those 'little crystally' components, more.

3. We know this is an unusual method, but trust us- we've tried everything under the sun to achieve the proper balance for our bacon. So far, this has worked best.

As far as smoking goes, I can't divulge too much information just becuase of legalities- afterall- I want to keep making this amazing stuff! :laugh: However, we prefer a cold smoke method, with an abundance of fresh, circulated air, hovering around 70 degrees.

To be a real believer, come on in and taste the bacon. Grilled cheese becomes a treat, and burgers- sublime.

Now we are moving onto other cured goods. We've been experimenting with lots of other cured pork items, various cured and smoked seafood, and now poultry.

Once satisfied with the results, some of these things will make their way on the menu. Some great helps in all of these processes have been books, videos, and internet guides for which we can't express enough thanks.

You all- and egullet- are no exception to those who continually contribute to our own strive for culinary (and tasty meat) excellence.

-Matt

Matt Jennings

Owner, Chef, Cheesemonger

Farmstead / La Laiterie at Farmstead

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Oh- and Susan,

I actually don't use pink salt right now. We used to, but all of the ones I found had some various weird 'extra' additives to it, and being that we like to keep as all-natural as possible, we have decided to stick with straight, good 'ol kosher salt-

diamond crystal only.

Keep me posted!

-Matt

Matt Jennings

Owner, Chef, Cheesemonger

Farmstead / La Laiterie at Farmstead

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So I went with Matt's brine recipe above but bumped it up quite a bit, as my experience with a few other brines (notably the duck ham from Charcuterie) suggests that these flavors will carry through the dry curing and the smoking. So I added 2 T black pepper, 4 bay leaves, 4 cloves of garlic, 12 juniper berries, 12 allspice berries, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 giant shallot, and a few sprigs of sage.

Chris Amirault

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Chris, keep me posted on your rub (proportions) and the finished product. I have a nice belly in the freezer -- not Berkshire -- but raised by a semi-retired farmer in S. MN. He no longer raises hog commercially, but just a few to keep his friends in good pork.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, due to several unforeseen circumstances, I left that belly in the dark brown brine for a full seven days. I don't think that there's going to be significant problems, but, well, I guess we'll find out.

Dry cure:

  • 50g kosher salt
    60g turbinado sugar
    40g ground tellicherry peppercorns
    8g pink salt

I also vacuum-sealed them for the dry cure for the first time. I'll open, dry, and smoke them according to feel. More soon!

Chris Amirault

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Chris - did you fry up a sliver of meat to taste for salt ? I'm assuming you know you can adjust the salt level if necessary, by soaking in fresh water.

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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I admit to lingering doubts about the value of a second, dry cure, but I'm willing to wait for Chris's no-doubt tasty results.

However, I believe in the brine. It yields more uniform flavor than the rub recommended in the Polcyn-Ruhlman book. For guidance, I consulted Paul Bertolli's excellent Cooking by Hand, where he uses some fairly precise calculations (and some elaborate justifications, most of which I find convincing) to arrive at a brine recipe. Since I was going to go through it for the belly I scored last night, I figured I might as well show my work. (I should add that Bertolli doesn't specifically recommend brining as a step in making American-style bacon. In fact, the only bacon recipe in the book is for tesa, flat version of pancetta, and it's dry-cured.)

Bertolli starts with the assumption that meat is 60 to 70% water, noting that the brine can actually be diluted by the water in the meat. To prevent bacterial growth, he recommends a brine strength of three to five percent, and opts for the lower amount, since he prefers more lightly salted meats. Sugar is added to balance the salt. (Bertolli uses two percent.) On top of this, he calculates nitrite strength using the federal guideline of 200 ppm for immersion-cured meats, and helpfully reminds you that this concentration must be figured for the entire contents of the vessel: meat and brine.

All of this sounds horribly complicated at first, but it breaks down into a series of arithmetical steps, none of which is difficult. To see a real-world example, read on.

1. Weigh the meat. The belly I've got is 11.7 pounds.

2. Figure out how much brine you're going to need to cover it. I guess there are a couple of ways to do this, but the easiest is to put the meat in the container you'll be using, fill the container with water, take out the meat, and measure. I just did this, and found that two gallons would work (barely).

3. Calculate the water weights. Using 65% as the water component of the meat, that's 7.61 pounds. Water itself is 8.33 pounds per gallon, so that's 16.66 pounds. Total water weight: 24.27 pounds.

4. Calculate the salt content. For a 3% brine: 24.27 x 0.03 = 0.728 pounds

5. Calculate the sugar content. For 2%: 24.27 x 0.02 = 0.485 pounds

6. Calculate the nitrite. Here's where it gets a little tricky, mainly because pink salt isn't entirely nitrite (it's usually 6.25%; check your package), and because of that, we're dealing with pretty small amounts.

a. Add up the weight of everything -- water, meat, salt and sugar: 24.27 + 0.728 + 0.485 = 25.483.

b. Remembering the 200 ppm guideline, multiply your total weight by 200, and divide that sum by 1,000,000. So: 200 x 25.843 = 5096.60. 5096.60/1,000,000 = 0.0050966. That's how much nitrite, in pounds, we need. But --

c. Remember, pink salt is only 6.25% nitrite. So divide 0.0050966 by 0.0625. That comes to lessee . . . 0.08155 pounds of pink salt. But --

d. Yikes. Really teeny number. So we convert to grams. 454 grams to the pound: 0.08155 x 455 = 37 grams, more or less.

7. For the sake of convenience, convert your other additions to grams: 0.728 x 454 = 330 g salt; 0.485 x 454 = 220 g sugar.

8. This is where Bertolli gets really picky, but in for a penny -- in for a pound. He calculates the regular salt in the pink component and subtracts it from the total salt. Since pink salt is 93.75% plain salt (100 - 6.25), multiply 0.9375 x 37 = 35 g (rounded). Okay, that's more than an ounce -- more than 10% of the salt component -- not so picky after all. Subtract that from your salt addition, and you get (330 - 35 =) 295 grams.

9. Now you can assemble your recipe:

2 gallons water

295 g salt

220 g sugar

37 g pink salt

10. Add to this whatever other seasonings you wish; these are the essential components. And of course, you can vary the concentrations of salt and sugar just by using different percentages in the calculations.

I'm not suggesting that everyone convert to this method. It's tedious, and I'm not sure it's a responsible for improvement in my bacon so much as the simple switch from a straight dry cure to brining. What it does do is ensure a proper concentration of nitrite, as well as allow you to replicate (or modify) a brine precisely, even if you have different cuts of meat and different quantities of brine.

Dave Scantland
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dscantland@eGstaff.org
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Hi, Dave. Kudos to you for being thorough and precise. Seriously. That's cool !

Mind you, step 8 ? 330-37 = 293 already. Sheesh. Is calculating that much fun ? :biggrin:

May I ask an ignoramus's question about pink salt ? If I, say, go and pick up some of the 'pink salt' that I think is from India and has become a fashion in Tokyo over the last few years, will I have something with 6.25% nitrite ? What is the particular 'pink salt' you mean ?

For clarity, I believe one of the main points about nitrate/nitrite is it keeps the meat red-pink, rather than brown-grey. I was never bothered enough (I figure it's like dyeing kippers). I've been happy with my bacon - what am I missing by not bothering with them ?

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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Hi, Dave.  Kudos to you for being thorough and precise.  Seriously.  That's cool !
This is what I do -- or try to do -- as victims of a number of my previous posts will attest. But thanks!
Mind you, step 8 ?  330-37 = 293 already.  Sheesh.  Is calculating that much fun ?  :biggrin:
I'm lost. Are you saying the difference between the whole pink salt number and the pink salt minus regular salt number is inconsequential? If so, I agree. It's pretty much within the margin of error. I was just being faithful to my source!
May I ask an ignoramus's question about pink salt ?  If I, say, go and pick up some of the 'pink salt' that I think is from India and has become a fashion in Tokyo over the last few years, will I have something with 6.25% nitrite ?  What is the particular 'pink salt' you mean ?
The pink salt that has all of us statesiders excited is this. It's uniodized sodium chloride mixed with sodium nitrite, along with a couple of other things that keep it well-mixed and -- not to be dismissed -- identify it as something other than regular salt (that's why it's pink). I suspect that what you're seeing from India and elsewhere (Hawaii, for instance) is not this but "sea" salt that's been colored by small amounts of minerals that survive the evaporative process and get swept up in the cultivation.
For clarity, I believe one of the main points about nitrate/nitrite is it keeps the meat red-pink, rather than brown-grey.  I was never bothered enough (I figure it's like dyeing kippers).  I've been happy with my bacon - what am I missing by not bothering with them ?

I agree with you about the color -- what's the point? But there are two other issues that nitrite/nitrate addresses: preservation and taste. On the first count: if you're smoking uncooked pork (or any protein) for long periods of time, you're subjecting it to the 40 F to 140 F danger zone, where bacteria thrive. Nitrites are effective at preventing the growth of botulinum bacteria (among other lesser nasties). Since, if I recall correctly, you're not smoking but rather roasting your bacon, this isn't a significant issue.

But the taste might be. Certainly Americans, anyway, associate the tang of nitrite (whether they know it or not) with "cured meat." Leave it out, and you're missing something, I think.

Dave Scantland
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dscantland@eGstaff.org
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Eat more chicken skin.

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Update. Yesterday, I unwrapped the bacon, dried it off, and set it in the fridge develop a pellicle for a day. It's now in the Bradley with apple pucks; the first three hours were cold, and now I'm bringing it up to 150F. Two concerns: the lack of skin, which saddens me, collagen-in-my-beans-wise, and a butcher who clearly thought that fat was a bad thing. I'm estimating an 80:20 meat:fat ratio, which is way off....

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Here's what it looked like after I sliced it up tonight:

gallery_19804_437_453931.jpg

You can see what I meant up-topic about the meat:fat ratio, which was pronounced after cooking. Aside from that, though, it tasted great.

The wet cure seemed to have allowed the flavors (and the sugar, in particular) to penetrate very deeply, moreso than with a dry cure. Hard to say, of course, given that I've only got this batch to go on, but I'm going to be using this method from here on out.

Chris Amirault

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Looks beautiful, Chris, if leaner than typical. Were you pleased with your rub? Would you change any of the ingredients or proportions next time?

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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It's pretty nevertheless, Chris. One thing I was concerned about with your technique was penetration of the nitrite. It looks like it worked though. Unfortunately, there's nothing you can do about the fat. My sincere condolences.

I used a recipe similar to Chris's for my brine additions, but substituted a combination of molasses and white sugar for brown sugar. (Yes, I adjusted the Bertolli formulation to account for the sugar in the molasses. I could backtrack and explain it, if anyone's interested.) I brined for three and a half days and dried it for one. Today I put it on the (Bradley) smoker for six hours at 95 F or less, using alternating cherry and apple pucks. It's finishing in the oven now at 180 F, but a preliminary fry-off predicts a good result.

Duringthe smoke, something interesting occurred, and I wonder if anyone else has encountered it. It was warm here, today (I'm in Atlanta; it was probably in the low 80s today), so to keep the smoker temperature down, I loaded the bottom rack of the smoker with ice. After a couple of hours, the bellies started to "sweat." (They weren't warm in the sense of cooking-type temperature, hence the quotation marks.) Still, I'm guessing that the differential between the cold smoke and the warm (probably 80 - 90 F) meat caused moisture to condense on the surface of the meat. I patted it dry, and repeated this procedure whenever I checked the ice level or switched the racks.

Has anyone else witnessed this phenomenon? What do you do about it?

Dave Scantland
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dscantland@eGstaff.org
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Eat more chicken skin.

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  • 2 months later...

I've now cured my fourth batch using vacuum sealed bags, and I think that this method works best with my set-up.

I'm coming around, btw, on the lack of a need for a second cure. Seems excessive to me; that batch was, in the end, overcured. I can understand a dry rub, perhaps, immediately prior to drying for the pellicle, but that's it.

I've never gone for a cold cure with ice, Dave, so I've never seen that -- but your explanation makes sense to me.

Chris Amirault

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