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Today we’re making homemade bacon.
In his Peters Creek home, Erik Johnson is prepping a massive amount of meat to make some of his signature bacon. This man is no stranger to meat.
“Growing up my grandparents who lived in North Dakota made polish sausage every year, so from the time I was about six years old I was pretty comfortable making different meat products,” Johnson says.
In addition to bacon, Johnson makes sausage and jerky, both with wild game and store-bought meat. Right now he’s working with two massive pork shoulders, which he says will take about eight days to turn into delicious bacon.
“I bought two packages of pork shoulders, so a total of about 30 pounds of bacon and it’s going to cost me about $60, maybe $70 when you include the salt and sugar. So all said and done that’s pretty cheap bacon. That’s $2.50 or $3.00 a pound tops,” Johnson explains.
Johnson carefully weighs out the spices for his maple and brown sugar bacon recipe, while his dog Rhubarb stares longingly and licks her lips. “Rhubarb is a bacon-and-anything-else-that-falls-on-the-floor dog,” Johnson says.
It is a simple recipe; one part brown sugar, one part salt and one part maple syrup.
“I get the real stuff, I don’t get any of the sketchy breakfast syrup that has heaven knows what in it,” Johnson says. After the mixture is finished Johnson puts each shoulder in a gallon-sized Ziplock bag. He massages the ingredients in with force, almost like he’s kneading bread dough.
Next, the meat sits in the fridge sealed for one week. After that comes the interesting part; the meat is taken out of its bag and left uncovered in the fridge for a whole day.
“What that does is create what’s called a ‘pellicle’ on the meat. It’s a shiny, almost sticky layer of proteins that form on the meat when it’s left in the exposed air. And that pellicle is what’s going to absorb the smoke flavor,” Johnson explains.
Johnson says the smoking process can either be done in a smoker, or in a standard grill on low heat with wood chips. But neither of us are patient enough to wait a week, so Johnson tosses a couple of already-finished bacon strips on the skillet.
This doesn’t look like your typical store-bought bacon. Johnson says that’s because he doesn’t use nitrites, a preservative commonly used to prevent bacteria from gathering in meat. He says this practice isn’t for everybody, but for him, it’s a risk he’s willing to take.
“It’s largely up to you whether you try to use nitrites or not, realizing if you choose not to food handling and food safety is of paramount importance to make sure you don’t end up with any sort of nasty food borne infection. This bacon will taste somewhere in between bacon, ham and pork chops. And it will cook white just like a regular piece of pork would,” Johnson explains.
All right, enough talk. It’s time to see if this bacon tastes as good as it smells. The bacon is thick, smoky, and has a nice sweet finish to it. And while Johnson is pleased with the recipe, like a true bacon enthusiast he’s already thinking of ways to improve it. He’s got his sights set on some birch trees that he’ll be tapping this year.
“And if all goes well it’s possible that next year I’ll be making, instead of maple and brown sugar bacon, birch syrup and brown sugar bacon. That would be the pinnacle of achievement for me,” Johnson says.