Makin' Bacon
July 16, 2008 4:20 PM   Subscribe

I just opened up my box of pork bellies (to cure my own bacon, duh) and discovered that the skin in still on. This wasn't mentioned in my recipe and I can't find any real info about it! Do I leave the skin on? Remove it? Remove it before it's been cured (wet-cure), before it's been cold-smoked, or before I eat it? I'm using the recipe from this episode of Good Eats.
posted by arcticwoman to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
From my memory - the skin is pretty tough - would make for some very chewy or very crunchy bacon. I would suggest removal - then roasting into "crackle" for yourself or pets/dogs.
posted by jkaczor at 4:45 PM on July 16, 2008

Response by poster: I'm still researching, and I see that the skin is left on in all the recipes that require hot smoking (the sacrilege!) or dry rubs, so I'm thinking of leaving it on. When do I take it off, though?
posted by arcticwoman at 4:46 PM on July 16, 2008

Response by poster: I mean, I know it will have to come off at some point before I eat it, I'm just not sure when. As an aside, what is this 'crackle' you speak of? Sounds delicious.
posted by arcticwoman at 4:48 PM on July 16, 2008

Heh - "crackle" is usually a fairly generic term for fatty rind which has been roasted or fried - it is very tasty (but oh so bad...) - are you in a rush? I can ask my wife when she gets home - she may know more on the subject.

Hmmm - Goog is bringing up a few things for "skin-on pork belly", but nothing definitive.
posted by jkaczor at 4:54 PM on July 16, 2008

Hmmm - looks like people remove it - this useful thread seems to ask what to do with it... "cracklins"...
posted by jkaczor at 4:57 PM on July 16, 2008

what is crackle/crackling?! it is EVEN BETTER than bacon.
posted by elle.jeezy at 4:59 PM on July 16, 2008

Response by poster: I'm not in a huge rush. The brines are sitting in the fridge coming down to temp before I can put the bellies in. Thanks for looking around for me. :) And I think it's pretty cool that your wife is a bacon-making expert.
posted by arcticwoman at 5:00 PM on July 16, 2008

While not expert specifically in bacon (god, I wish - but then, I'd be dead already) she loves to cook, bake, smoke, etc... It's gotten to the point that we rarely go out anymore as we will almost always be let down and can almost always do better at home.

(Which is wonderful, but bad as well...)
posted by jkaczor at 5:03 PM on July 16, 2008

for hot smoking and grilling, you leave the skin on because it protects the fat and meat. If you want to remove the skin eventually, for wet-curing and cold-smoking, I'd just take it off the hunk after curing, before smoking. This will allow for formation of a pellicle right on the eatable parts, greater smoke penetration, blah blah.

Cracklins - rendered skin - are delicious, delicious things, but the skin needs a fair amount of fat attached for it to work right. You won't have that, since you're trying to leave the fat on the meat. So eh, just get rid of it after you cut it off.

OR! Leave it on. Rind bacon is common, and delicious - when you fry up a slice of bacon, the skin renders and gets crispy, chewy, porky, awesome.
posted by peachfuzz at 5:04 PM on July 16, 2008

Rind bacon.
posted by peachfuzz at 5:06 PM on July 16, 2008

From Bruce Aidell's "Complete book of Pork"

If you're going to use the belly to make your own bacon or pancetta, have the skin removed, which makes it easier to slice and fry.

In my house the bacon expert is my husband, who's at his chef job now. But I'll see if he can add anything when he gets home.
posted by saffry at 5:09 PM on July 16, 2008

I've made bacon several times using the dry cure, hot smoke method in Charcuterie. Every time the belly has come with skin attached, sometimes with the bonus of having nipples. (If you're curious, bacon nipples taste like crunchy, smoky pork fat). I've left it on it's never prevented the cure or smoke from penetrating the meat. A 7 day cure and 4-6 hour smoke have been plenty for even the thick center cuts of pork belly.

You'll probably get less wasted bacon if you remove the skin after smoking, it toughens up when it dries out so it's easy to separate from the soft bacon with a filet knife. Also, I haven't tried this yet because I don't have enough bacon rinds saved up in my freezer, but I've been told that you can use them to cover a leg of lamb, beef tenderloin, piece of venison, or any other very lean meat for the most amazing roast of your life.

Finally, don't hate on hot vs cold smoke just on Alton's word. I don't have a link handy, but on's famous Charcuterie thread someone tried bacon with identical cures on both hot and cold smoking and couldn't tell the difference in a taste test. Then again I may be biased, here in AZ it's only cool enough to cold smoke anything for 2 months out of the year!
posted by TungstenChef at 5:34 PM on July 16, 2008

Smoke with the skin on, then slice it off afterwards. TunstenChef has the right idea, but in my experience the skin is far too hard to over a roast, but what I do is keep the skin in the freezer, and anytime I'm cooking beans, or sometimes rice, or sometimes pasta, or really anytime I want more smoky flavor, I'll cut off a square and throw it in the pot.
posted by ewagoner at 8:10 PM on July 16, 2008

Another vote for leaving the skin on. My first ever bacon had nipples and everything, which was somewhat off-putting. I left it alone, proceeded with the salt cure and smoked with the skin on. This is the rind on your regular-cut rashers, and are a tasty treat normally given to whichever animal is begging the hardest. I like ewagoner's suggestion very much - beans can take a bit of smokey fat and this would be ace. I'll be filing that piece of info for the next smoke-up.
posted by ninazer0 at 8:25 PM on July 16, 2008

peachfuzz writes "Leave it on. Rind bacon is common, and delicious - when you fry up a slice of bacon, the skin renders and gets crispy, chewy, porky, awesome"

Ya just leave it on. Half (OK, maybe a 1/4) of the fun of making your own bacon is getting bacon with rind the way $DEITY intended. We usually slice it pretty thick, somewhere around 3/16ths of an inch and fried in cast iron. We've always sliced it with a motorized meat slicer, I don't know how it would be to slice by hand with the rind on.

Also I'll second the skin being great for beans. You can buy skin from butchers for cheap and we cut it up into 1/4x1/2" pieces and toss it into the pork and beans.
posted by Mitheral at 8:30 PM on July 16, 2008

I don't really have anything of value to add -- just, I can CURE MY OWN BACON?! The thought had never crossed my mind. My mind is blown. Must. Bacon.

(What? If Google can be a verb, so can bacon.)
posted by runningwithscissors at 10:51 PM on July 16, 2008

Back bacon in the UK is always cured and served with the rind still on, whereas streaky bacon (i.e. from pork belly) often isn't. You can always leave the skin on during curing, and remove it before slicing if you don't like the look of it.

Lightly scorch the skin with a blowtorch before brining to take off any stray hairs. Allegedly this also helps the skin take up the cure. I've tried blow-torching and not blow-torching and I can't see any difference in taste though.
posted by roofus at 1:49 AM on July 17, 2008

Actually, we make a lot of bacon here in east Europe, and the rind/skin is almost always left on. We buy bacon in big slabs, and you cut the rind off when you slice it. People think the idea of skinless/rindless bacon is sort of a weird western thing.

The folks over at the blog Paupered Chef have been posting the results of their bacon experiments in the USA, including attempting to cure guanciale. Worth a look.
posted by zaelic at 6:36 AM on July 17, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, thanks everyone. I hesitate to mark a best answer because all the comments were so good. We've decided that since we have a fair amount of pork belly (erm... 25 lbs), we're going to try a few things. The bellies are currently all still skin-on and brining. We will probably take the rind off of a chunk or two before it sits to form the pellicle, and smoke the rest rind-on. Then we can experiment with slicing the rind off after smoking, and having rind-on bacon. Hey, why not? Now that I see there is no one way to do it, I might as well try and see what I like.

Also: my pork bellies came with nipples. Shudder. At least the other person I'm doing this adventure with isn't squeamish.

Last thing: will a butcher be able to slice/wrap all this stuff for me, or do I have to do it all by hand? I am not very good at slicing evenly.
posted by arcticwoman at 2:40 PM on July 17, 2008

Response by poster: Also, oh my god, I am going to have the best split pea soup in the universe this winter. Hells yeah for bacon rind.
posted by arcticwoman at 2:42 PM on July 17, 2008

I would absolutely try to find a butcher to slice the bacon for you. It's difficult to do evenly, and I get at least 50 slices from a 5 lb batch. Your wrists (and knives) will be crying for mercy trying to do that x5. I don't know if a supermarket butcher will be allowed to do something like that for you, but if you have a relationship with a local butcher they'd probably be happy to throw the stuff on the meat slicer for you. If you don't have a local butcher, I'd suggest finding some deer hunters and asking them. A lot of people take their deer in and pay a butcher to make it into sausage, rather than do it themselves. I'm sure that anyone who handles random dead deer will have no problem slicing some gnarly-looking pork bellies for you.

Also, I discovered last night that has broken up their massive Charcuterie thread into a sort of FAQ (see post #4). There's a mountain of good info there, and more than enough pictures of home cured meat to keep you excited about the hobby for years.
posted by TungstenChef at 11:04 AM on July 18, 2008

Response by poster: Ok, today was the day of truth and I thought I'd come back here and update the future (ture...ture...ture...) on how it went. We started with two pork bellies, cut in thirds. One entire belly was brined in the recipe from the link in the OP, for the other one we substituted maple syrup in for the molasses. We left the skin on until after smoking and we cold smoked 2/3 and hot smoked 1/3.

Overall... a little underwhelmed. The hot-smoked bacon was probably the nicest pork roast I have ever had, but it certainly wasn't bacon. It wasn't salty at all and it just didn't have a bacon flavour or texture. I will certainly never do that again. The cold-smoked bacon was much better. It tasted like bacon, had the texture of bacon, and was quite nice. It certainly wasn't salty enough but it was saltier than the hot-smoked. I have no idea how that happened. The maple cure was WAY better than the molasses cure, for both hot and cold smoked. Next time we will double the salt in the recipe, and double the maple syrup. Or else we will try a dry-cure.

Leaving the skin on until after curing worked just fine. It came off so beautifully from the hot-smoked bacon, but was a little tough to get off the cold-smoked. It's in the freezer, waiting to flavour soup. Thanks everyone for the help.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:13 PM on July 20, 2008

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