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Making your own bacon is easy, according to Chili montes, the chief bacon maker for San Francisco’s übergourmet Bi-Rite Market: Just buy a first-rate slab of pork belly, trim it into a rough rectangle, rub in a salt cure, and wait. A week later, you’ll have the most delicious, versatile, long-lasting hunk of meat your fridge has ever known, ready for thin-slicing, chopping into lardons, or even roasting for a main course. To get a belly of mind-blowing deliciousness, track down a local operator raising heritage breeds with healthy feed (check out eatwild.com to search for a hog farmer in your area, or order direct from heritagefoodsusa.com). The only specialty item you’ll need is curing salt, which you can also find on the web ($2; butcher-packer.com).
1 pound kosher salt
2 ounces pink salt
8 ounces brown sugar
12 ounces cracked black pepper
3 ounces cracked juniper
20 bay leaves, crushed
1.2 ounces nutmeg
One 3–5 pound slab pork belly, skin on
1 bunch fresh thyme
10 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled
Mix all the dry-rub ingredients (everything above except the thyme, garlic, and the belly itself) in a bowl and set aside. You’ll have more than you need for one belly.
Trim the belly into a rectangular slab. Put 2 cups of the dry cure and the thyme and garlic into a one-gallon Ziploc storage bag, add the belly, close the bag, and then shake and rub until you’ve massaged the cure into the entire belly.
Refrigerate for seven days, flipping over the bag every day or two. After a week, poke the belly with a finger: If it feels firm throughout, it’s cured. If it still feels a little squishy in parts, put it back in the fridge for a couple more days, or until it does feel firm.
Rinse off the cure and dry with paper towels. You now have what’s called fresh bacon, and if you want, you can skip the smoking and just slice it up, slap it in a skillet, and fry it crisp.
To smoke, soak 2 cups of hickory wood chips in water for 30 minutes, place in a pouch made of aluminum foil with holes poked in the top, and set over a gas-grill burner on low. When the chips begin smoking, place belly over a nearby unlit burner. Close lid and keep heat around 200 degrees.
Once the belly reaches an internal temperature of 150 F, remove it from the grill and let it rest overnight. Then, after slicing it, panfry or crisp in the oven on a baking sheet at 350 F. Homemade bacon will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or in the freezer for two months.