Coarsely crushed black peppercorns(optional and amount according to personal preference)
**REFER TO BLOG POST FOR A COMPREHENSIVE TUTORIAL AND STEP-BY-STEP PROCESS****You can vary the flavors according to your preferences (see Recipe Notes) but do not adjust the salt or Prague powder amounts**
For the Wet Cure Method:Add all the cure ingredients together in a large bowl and stir. Place the pork belly in gallon ziplock bag or container that just fits the size of the pork belly and pour the brine over it. If using a ziplock bag, place the bag in a container in case there is any leakage. Place it in the refrigerator for 7 days, flipping the bag over (or the pork belly itself if curing it in a container) every 2 days to ensure both sides of the pork belly are equally cured.**A one-gallon bag will hold a 3-pound pork belly. If you're following the recipe to use a 5 pound pork belly and plan on using the wet cure method with ziplock bags you can cut the pork belly in half and divide the brine equally between the two bags.
After 7 days the pork belly will have firmed up. Remove the pork belly from the brine and thoroughly rinse it off. Some people say you should let the slab of bacon air dry for up to 24 hours before you smoke it. But many experts agree there is no need to do this. These experts argue that in leaving it wet the smoke actually sticks to the bacon better than if it's dry. At this point if you like you can rub it down with some cracked peppercorns and, if you want it sweeter, some brown sugar, honey or maple syrup. Proceed to smoking (see below).
For the Dry Cure Method:Place all the dry cure ingredients in bowl and stir to thoroughly combine them. It is essential that the pink curing salt is evenly distributed across the whole pork belly. We recommend using a spice/coffee grinder, a small blender or a mortar and pestle. Thoroughly and evenly rub down all sides of the pork belly with the dry rub. Place it in a ziplock bag or container (like a casserole dish), with the fatty layer side down, and cover it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate it for 5 days. Flip the bacon over, redistribute the liquid that will have formed (if it's in a ziplock bag simply turn the bag over and give it a massage), and refrigerate for another 5 days. After 10 days the pork belly will have become quite firm and stiff. Remove it from the the container or bag, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry with paper towels. At this point if you like you can rub it down with some cracked peppercorns and, if you want it sweeter, some brown sugar, honey or maple syrup. Proceed to smoking.
To Smoke the Bacon:Preheat your smoker to 175-180 degrees F (do not exceed 200 F). (We use and love the Masterbuilt Digital Smoker). Smoke the bacon fat side up (as the fat renders it will run down over the meat) for 3+ hours or until the internal temperature of the bacon reaches 150 degrees F. (We use and recommend this instant read thermometer.) Add a handful of wood chips a couple of times during the smoking process. (Good options include hickory, apple or cherry.)If you're using a grill, set up it up for 2-zone cooking and smoke the bacon over indirect heat at 175-180 degrees F (don't exceed 200 F) for about 3 hours or until the internal temperature of the bacon reaches 150 degrees F.Once the bacon reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees F, transfer the bacon to a plate and immediately place it in the fridge to cool down.
To slice the bacon, slice it across the grain. You can use a large sharp knife or, for perfectly uniform/professional slices use a meat slicer.
To store the bacon: If you plan on using the bacon within 2 weeks, wrap it in several layers of plastic wrap followed by an outer layer of foil and keep it refrigerated. If you're not going to use it within 2 weeks you can freeze it for up to 3 months. To freeze the bacon: You can either use a vacuum sealer like Food Saver or you can lay the slices out on wax paper in the same fashion as store-bought bacon and place another sheet of wax paper over it. Fold the sides around the bacon. Place the wrapped bacon in a ziplock bag. If you prefer the pieces not to stick together you can cut strips of was paper and place them between each slice of bacon. When you're ready to use it, simply remove the bacon from the freezer and let it thaw.
*Important Note: If you're using more than one slab of bacon do not overlap the slabs while they're curing, let them cure in a single layer.*Other flavor ideas for your bacon include Asian-Style Bacon (Chinese 5-spice powder, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, honey, powdered ginger, powdered garlic), Maple Bacon (dark maple syrup and brown sugar) and many more. Use your imagination! *But always keep the salt and pink curing salt ratios the same.*