Bacon, the loveliest food in the world. The creation of bacon is an age old process, one mastered eons ago. The earliest record of bacon I could find was 300 B.C. There is no reason that the walking dead should stop humanity from enjoying it’s crowning culinary achievement. In fact, knowing how to make bacon will save your… bacon… post apocalypse. Curing meat for long term storage is something of primary importance to the post apocalyptic survivor. Eating squirrel and other single-serve meat is good, but time consuming. To really thrive through the zombie apocalypse, you’ll need the ability to cure and store meat.
The first rule of bacon is that there must always be bacon. Zombies are no excuse for not having it. Unless you are surviving in the middle of New York City, post apocalyptic pig farming is going to be a necessity. Pigs are fantastic, magical animals, they turn vegetables into bacon.
The term “curing” means to coat meat in a mixture of salt and sugar to extract excess moisture from the meat, thereby enhancing its flavor and texture. As one of the oldest methods of preservation, the use of salt will ensure that bacteria cannot grow as the meat cures.
Important science bit:
Curing bacon requires the use of sodium nitrite, which can be found in various packages and labels, and is typically called “Curing Salt” or “Prague Powder”. Curing salt is a mix of 94% salt and 6% nitrite. If you’re using commercially available “curing salt”, you’ll find it’s pink in color. This is NOT “Pink Sea Salt,” which is sea salt colored pink by other minerals. The nitrite serves two purposes, the first is that it keeps bacon that lovely pink color when cooked, otherwise it would turn grey and taste a little less bacon-y and a little more ‘fried ham’. Secondly, and much more importantly, the nitrite stops the growth of many bacteria, such as Clostridium botulinum (Botulism). If you’re unable to find sodium nitrite, it’s perfectly safe for a healthy adult to eat bacon that’s been fried well done, the cooking kills botulism in just a couple of minutes. In any case when handling raw meat, extraordinary hygiene practices should be taken.
Basic Bacon Cure
- 7 cups meat curing salt
- 4 cups sugar (white or brown)
- 3 ounces of nitrite (saltpeter)
This cure produces a mild-flavored bacon.
Maple-Peppercorn Bacon Cure
- 4 ounces kosher or sea salt (Try not to use iodine added table salt)
- 4 tsp Prague powder or pink curing salt
- 1/2 cup sugar (Ideally raw sugar, not processed white stuff)
- 1/4 cup cracked peppercorns
- 1 cup maple syrup
- 10 pound fresh pork belly, skin removed
Coat the pork belly in enough cure to evenly cover the meat. Put the pork in a two-gallon zip-top bag and stick it in the fridge or underground cellar for seven to 21 days, until the pork belly is firm to the touch. Flip the bag every day. Check firmness every few days. If certain spots are still spongy, sprinkle with regular salt, massage it in, and put it back in the fridge. The longer it cures, the more intense the flavor of the cure. Modern FDA rules state that this should happen at 40 degrees (F) or less, although for millions of years bacon was cured in caves at 55 degrees (F). Just don’t eat it raw. Take the cured belly out of the bag, rinse off the cure and let air dry in the fridge (uncovered) overnight. Discard the excess cure. While it is okay to cure several pieces of meat at once, if you do, make sure that they are touching as little as possible. The cure can’t flow where the meat is touching, and that part won’t cure properly.
The next step is smoking the bacon. The goal is to have your smoker as cool as possible, below 275 degrees (F). Smoke the pork belly to an internal temperature of at least 140 (F). Modern FDA rules say 150 degrees, although at that point your bacon is “fully cooked” and doesn’t fry as well. It takes somewhere between two and four hours to bring a shoulder roast (for Canadian bacon) or 1 – 2 hours for a belly (American style bacon)
By cooking to 150 degrees (F) you’ll also start to render out (melt away) some of the delicious bacon fat. You can use any wood to smoke your bacon, I prefer apple wood, although hickory is good as well. Different wood leads to different flavors. Once the bacon has reached the appropriate internal temperature, let it cool to room temperature.
The science of curing meat is fascinating to me. Keep in mind that cave men accomplished this task, and survived for millions of years. Once you understand the science of charcuterie (The french word for curing meat) then a whole world of survival preparation is available to you. Corned Beef, bacon, ham, sausage, all fall into that category.