When researching how German bacon (Bauchspeck) is made, it became clear that regional differences abound. Some of it is dry cured and (cold) smoked, other recipes air dry it, while some do all three.
This recipe tries to recreate the taste of German bacon with a two-step process of dry cure, then hot smoking (hot smoking is easier and quicker to do at home than cold smoking). This German bacon is cooking bacon, not the deli meat which is eaten with bread.
You can talk to a butcher about buying the appropriate piece of fresh pork or you can buy a half or whole pig from a farmer and instruct them not to make bacon but to wrap the fresh side (and freeze it). You will almost never be able to go to the grocery store and find a fresh side at the meat counter.
For more information about Bauchspeck, see the section after the directions and Note for this recipe.
- Lay the fresh side of pork on a clean counter. It should look like a big slab of American bacon, well-marbled with meat and fat, but with a light pink or light gray color and it should not have much smell. Trim it if necessary, to fit in your plastic bag. Leave the skin on, if possible.
- In a small bowl, mix together the kosher salt, pink salt and sugar. The pink salt can touch your skin, but do not ingest any of it since it can be toxic in large quantities. Because most of it is washed off before smoking, the bacon will be fine to eat. The reason we use it in addition to regular salt is that it is very good at preventing bacterial growth, especially botulism.
- Rub the salts-and-sugar mixture all over the surface of the meat, patting it in place as you can. Mix up more if you run out.
- Place the meat in a plastic bag, remove as much air as possible and close the bag off.
- Place the bag of meat in the refrigerator for six to seven days. Some liquid will be drawn from the meat after a few hours. This liquid will act as a brine for the meat. Turn the bag two or more times a day in the refrigerator to redistribute the liquid.
- Remove the meat from the bag. Discard bag and brine. Wash meat in running cold water and pat dry. Place on a cake rack (which is placed over a cookie sheet if possible) and let it air dry in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
- Prepare your smoker. Start your charcoal fire in the bottom of the smoker an hour before you want to smoke the meat.
- Soak 2 cups (or so) of wood chips (preferably alder for this project) in some water.
- Place your smoking tray (or aluminum foil tray) on top of the charcoal and add 1/2 cup wet wood chips. Place the grill about a foot above that.
- Place the meat on the grill, cover and smoke 2 to 3 hours, until the internal temperature is 150 degrees F. or above. Add more wet chips, as needed, to keep the smoke up.
- This bacon can now be eaten directly, fried like breakfast bacon or used in many recipes. Cut the bacon into 4- to 8-ounce pieces, wrap well and freeze for future cooking adventures.
Source: This recipe is adapted from "Charcuterie" by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (W.W. Norton & Co., 2013). Charcuterie refers to the preparation of meat products, such as bacon, sausages, salami, terrines, pâtés, among many others. The book has several other recipes for German sausages which are well worth making as well as more information on salting and smoking.
More About Bauchspeck
Geräucherte Bauchspeck or German bacon used in cooking (not for breakfast) and differs from American bacon or Frühstücksspeck in several ways. It is smoked over alder or fir, it is less sweet than most breakfast bacon and it is not watery.
In Germany I just went to the butcher and bought 100 or 200 grams that they cut off a big slab, wrapped in butcher paper and taped. I had to cut off the skin (Schwarte), dice it into the size called for in the recipe and often cut around little bones left in it.
In the U.S., the bacon comes presliced and usually prepackaged, with no bones or cartilage. You can use it in German recipes calling for Speck but the flavor is slightly different.
It's funny that we never think of preparing some of the ingredients we buy until we cannot find them in the store. You can buy German bacon online (Schaller and Weber), but some people will want to try their hand at making their own. While most of us will never be great butchers, it is surprisingly simple to make bacon, even bacon that tastes like the German kind.