Why This Recipe Works
To get just the right balance of salty-sweet for our bacon we used a 2:1 ratio of maple sugar to salt. Cooking low-and-slow for nearly 2 hours over pungent hickory chunks imparted just the right amount of smoke flavor without overwhelming the pork. Finally, while not critical to the recipe, a touch of pink salt lent that characteristic "cured" taste to our bacon and helped preserve it for weeks in the refrigerator.
|1||cup maple sugar|
|½||cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt|
|1||tablespoon peppercorns, cracked|
|2||teaspoons minced fresh thyme|
|¾||teaspoon pink salt|
|1||bay leaf, crumbled|
|1||(4-pound) pork belly, skin removed|
|Hickory wood chunks, 4 pieces soaked in water for 1 hour|
PINK SALT: Curing salt goes by many names, including DQ Curing Salt and Insta Cure #1, but it's most commonly labeled pink salt, so that's the term we use in the test kitchen. Curing salt is important for curing meats because it contains nitrites, which prevent bacterial growth, boost the meaty flavor, and preserve the red color. You can find curing salt in specialty food stores or through online retailers such as Butcher & Packer. (Do not substitute Morton's Tender Quick or Insta Cure #2.)
MAPLE SUGAR: Maple sugar, which is made from maple syrup, is available in many grocery stores and online from King Arthur Flour and various Vermont maple farms.