There are thousands of Southern-food cookbooks, but only one Garden & Gun magazine bent on compiling the best of the best of old and new recipes for its dedicated readership. Whether it’s the classics or the updated hits that drive the modern Southern culinary movement, you’re in for some seriously delicious hospitality. Now, bring home that bacon. And some sorghum syrup.
The thick strips of bacon hawked by the likes of producers such as Allan Benton in Madisonville, Tennessee (Benton’s Hickory Smoked Country Bacon), and Sam Edwards in Surry, Virginia (Edwards Hickory-Smoked Sliced Bacon), beat their grocery-store equivalents handily. Their only real competition is bacon made from scratch, which has one definite advantage: When you’re the one starting with a slab of pork belly, you can customize the seasonings to suit yourself. Here, sorghum syrup lends sweet nuance to the salt and grease of freshly crisped pork. You’ll need some curing salt and — ideally — a smoker, though you can get by without one. This recipe does take a bit more time than just frying a skilletful of strips. But you know what comes to those who wait? Really good bacon.
Tip: This recipe works without a smoker, although the result will skew more on the Canadian side of bacon — deliciously porky but lacking that depth of woodsy flavor delivered by true Southern smoked bacon. Unwrap the cured pork belly, rinse and dry it, and place it on a wire rack set over a baking pan and bake at 175˚F for 2 to 2 1⁄2 hours, until it registers 150˚F on an instant-read thermometer.
- 2 1/2 pounds pork belly, skin removed
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pink curing salt
- 1/2 cup sorghum syrup
- applewood chips
For the bacon
Rinse the pork belly and pat it thoroughly dry with paper towels. Mix the brown sugar, kosher salt, pepper, and curing salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle the mixture evenly on all sides of the pork belly, pressing with heel of your hand to help the salt mixture adhere.
Place a piece of plastic wrap twice the length of the pork belly on the countertop. Drizzle 1 ⁄4 cup of the syrup evenly on top of the fatty side of the pork belly, then place the pork belly in the center of the plastic wrap syrup-side down. Drizzle the meaty side of the pork belly with the remaining 1 ⁄4 cup syrup and bring the sides of the plastic wrap up and over the pork belly to wrap it tightly. Place in a zip-top bag and refrigerate for 1 week, turning halfway through the week.
When you’re ready to smoke, remove the pork belly from the bag and rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of the salt mixture. Pat dry with paper towels, place on a wire rack set over a baking sheet, and return to the refrigerator unwrapped to air-dry for 24 hours.
Remove the pork belly from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Prepare a smoker with wood chips according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Place the pork belly directly on the rack of the prepared smoker and smoke for 1 1 ⁄2 to 2 hours, until the pork belly registers 150˚F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the smoker and let cool. Refrigerate overnight before slicing lengthwise into strips. The bacon will keep, tightly wrapped, for 1 week in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer.