THE SMOKEHOUSE

SmokehouseMy brother and I finally put our heads together and started a build.  We are also putting a full blown kitchen into part of my garage just for curing and smoking meat and making awesome mac ‘n cheese! (in fact plumbing was run into the space yesterday)….WOOT!

 We designed the smokehouse so that the floor of the smokehouse is at exactly the same level as the door into the kitchen.  Eventually we will have a covered walkway between the kitchen and the smokehouse.  This way, we can load up racks with meat in the kitchen and just roll it straight into the smokehouse.  Easy!

 

Firebox:  I converted a 55 gallon drum into a firebox using a kit you can purchase at a hardware store.  I lined the inside with fire bricks. (purchased on craigslist for $15 and then power-washed, inside and out)

THE FIRE BOX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Floor:  We decided to raise the floor of the smokehouse up onto concrete footings.  The floor is made out of 2×6 untreated lumber and wrapped in aluminum flashing to keep it protected from the weather.

 

THE FLOOR

Framing:  We framed the walls with 2×4 lumber (untreated) from the local hardware store.  In one of the pics you can see how the door of the smokehouse will line up with the door of the kitchen.

 

FRAMING

 

 

We’ll be able to walk right out to the smokehouse.

 

Door:  I picked up an old closet door for $10 bucks and some old pallets for free.  I decided to face the old door with pallet boards and then treat the exterior facing boards with marine grade poly (spar varnish).  The inside of the door is lined with 1/4″ untreated plywood.

 

FREE PALLETS = DOOR.  YES!

Walls:  We found untreated cedar fence slats at the local Home Depot for $2.49 each and grabbed up a bunch of them.  We also grabbed a few 2×6 cedar boards and used a table saw to slice them up into 2″ wide strips.  We used the cedar pickets and cedar strips to do a board and batten wall design. (got that idea from this site!!  THANKS!!)

Roof:  I had some old tin roofing out in my barn.  The roof is 1/2″ untreated plywood covered in the tin roofing.

 

Eventually there will be storage under the overhang.

 

 

 

 

Inside the house.  Ain’t it perty?

Almost there:  We still have a few things to do, like add shelving under the overhang for storage of wood, etc.  I have run smoke through it a couple of times and it drafts well.  I think I need to add a damper to the chimney to control the flow of smoke out of the house.

I am also thinking about getting a programmable PID controller and hotplate so that I can have better control over the internal temp when I need it.

Here are some current pics.

 

 

Won’t be too long now before we can start smoking and selling bacon!!

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Porchetta Bacon?….What is Porchetta?

porchettaStanding in line in Montalcino, Italy at an open air market… waiting hungrily for a slice of that whole, deboned, herb rubbed, salty, roasted pig on the butcher’s counter.  The one with the perfectly crispy skin.

“Sliced or on a sandwich’ the server asks each patron in Italian as they step up to the counter.  ‘Sliced’, I say when it is my turn.  He grabs his knife and slices away at the aromatic roast until I tell him to stop.  He hands me pork slices, wrapped in butcher paper, and I cannot wait to sit down and dig in for my first taste of porchetta.

So, what exactly is porchetta?  It is a dish that originated in central Italy in the province of Rome.  It is a whole pig, deboned, arranged in layers of meat and fat and salt and herbs and then roasted to perfection.  The skin is crisp, the meat is salty and tastes of herbs like garlic, and thyme and rosemary and fennel.  It is pig perfection.

I took inspiration and created the recipe for my ‘Porchetta Bacon’.  The dry cure is filled with savory herbs that lend themselves well to the flavor and aroma of this bacon.

A Little Slicer of Heaven

Best Choice 10″ Commercial Grade Slicer

Finally broke down and spent a little bit o’ cashola on a new commercial grade slicer.  It is not a top of the line Berkel or Hobart but I cannot afford these, in some cases even used, so I went with one that I found on Best Choice Products website.  Here is a link to the one I purchased.

10″ Meat Slicer

I decided to go with this one because of the reviews I read on Amazon about this slicer.  I’ll include a link to the Amazon page as well if you want to read the reviews.  I purchased directly from Best Choice Products website because, at least at the time of this posting, it cost less, no shipping and no sales tax.  Sweet deal.

Amazon

I used the slicer for the first time today to slice up some Beer Cured Pork Loin Bacon and some of my home cure brown sugar and molasses bacon.  So, I thought I would write up a review.

Best Coice 10" Slicer

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

This thing is heavy and well built.  The only plastic on it is the guard on the tray.  Everything else is metal.  I am very impressed with the quality and I believe, if I take care of it and regularly maintain it, it will last me for years to come.

This slicer is a gravity fed slicer, which means that the meat tray is angled toward the blade so that the meat is pulled by gravity down toward the blade as you slice.

It comes with a built in blade sharpener (I have not had to use it yet so cannot review it) above the blade.  You can see it in the picture above.  The attachment has a sharpening stone built into it so that you can simply press a button on the sharpener to engage the stone against the blade when you need to sharpen.

I found the adjustments to be very easy.  There is a big knob on the side of the machine to adjust the thickness that you wish to slice.  It is very easy to turn and can really finely adjust the thickness.  You can also set an adjustment screw on the back of the slicer so that the slicing plate does not move out of alignment, giving you very consistent thickness of slices.

Adjusting the thickness.
Adjusting the thickness.
Setting the thickness stop.
Setting the thickness stop.

The meat tray is very heavy duty.  You can slice meat up to about 7.5 inches long (so for bacon, imagine 7.5 inch slices).  There is a solid metal holder with teeth that you can easily place on top or behind the product you are slicing to hold it in place and to add a little pressure to the product to help feed it into the blade as you slice.  It also has a handle so that you can slice by holding the meat tray or by the main handle on the front of the machine.

My only gripe is that I wish the depth of the product tray was a little deeper.  For the bacon slabs I was slicing, I had to place the guard on top of the pork belly until I sliced enough that it could go behind it.  Not a big deal really because it still sliced really well.

The guard with the handle.
The guard with the handle.
Belly in the product tray.
Belly in the product tray.

To power on the slicer you press a button on the side of the machine.  The button is plastic covered, which I found to be great for cleaning.  I didn’t need to worry about spraying it.

The slicer is super quiet.

Powering on the slicer.
Powering on the slicer.

SLICING

Slicing was super easy.  This is a belt driven unit with 1/3 horsepower.  I found it to be more than enough for slicing through pork belly as well as the pork loin bacon that I sliced today.  There was no hesitation in the machine at all, even through the thickest part of the pork loin.

As you slice, it is very easy to allow the sliced meat to simply fall into your hand, safely, behind the blade.  I caught the pieces as I sliced and just stacked them up as I went.

When you reach the end of the meat, there is a little gap between the guard and the blade (for obvious reasons, you don’t want that metal hitting the blade) so there is always a little bit of the product left that won’t slice.  I found it to only be about a 1/4 inch.  Not a big deal to me as I always use the scraps for recipes that I need bacon in.

I did notice the some small meat particles were being flung out the back of the slicer as I sliced.  I found that there is a little metal plate that can be adjusted with 2 screws, just behind the blade.  I adjusted it forward slightly (toward the blade) and this guard then prevented those little bits from being flung by the blade.

Overall it slices VERY well and I am completely happy with how easy it is to slice with this machine.

Sliced belly bacon.
Sliced belly bacon.
Sliced Pork Loin Bacon
Sliced Pork Loin Bacon
Packaged Breakfast Bacon
Packaged Breakfast Bacon

CLEANING

Many of the reviews that I read complained about the difficulties in cleaning this machine and in the lack of usable instructions.  (OK, the instructions are useless.  Translated from some language into gibberish).  However, I found cleanup to be very easy.  Yes, it is a little time consuming, but this is a commercial slicer with more moving parts, so it will take a little longer than a slicer designed for home use.  Still, it only took me about 10 minutes.

You unscrew a knob on the back of the slicer to remove a rod that holds the gauge plate on.  This gives you full access to the front of the blade.  If you wish, you can use a phillips head screwdriver to remove three screws, allowing you to remove the blade completely.

I found that I did not have to do this.  I could easily gain access to the entire front of, and back of the blade easily.  I simply used a sanitizing cleaner and sprayed down all the parts of the slicer.  I wiped it clean with paper towels, then sprayed again with a food grade sanitizer and let it sit for a few minutes, then wiped it down again.

I found that it was easy to get into all the cracks and gaps that I needed to in order to remove any debris and to sanitize the slicer.  Overall, I think cleanup and keeping the machine sanitized was rather easy.

Removing the rod to hold the meat deflector.
Removing the rod to hold the gauge plate
Removing the gauge plate
Removing the gauge plate
Slicer after finished slicing.  You can see the little meat debris under the blade.
Slicer after finished slicing. You can see the little meat debris under the blade.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I would recommend this slicer to anyone who wants a more commercial grade slicer but does not wish to break the bank.  I find it to be very well built, easy to slice the products that I need to slice and cleanup is relatively easy.  I am sure it will last for many years with regular maintenance.

CONS

This is not a high end commercial machine. It is not designed for day in and day out use and not designed to be run hour after hour.  However, it is still light years ahead of any of the ‘home kitchen’ models available.

It is made in China and is an off brand product.  So, getting replacement parts may prove to be a challenge.  (NOTE:  Best Choice Products customer support was very timely in answering any questions that I had about this product.  Their chat system on their website works well)

Beer Cured Buckboard Bacon, Anyone?

Time to try something new.  I have done buckboard bacon which is simply bacon made from the pork shoulder or butt instead of the belly.  I have also dry cured many, many slabs of belly at this point.  So, I figure it is time to start learning and trying a few new things.

Today I decided to do a wet cure using beer and to cure a cut of pork I have never tried to make bacon from.

I purchased a pork loin roast.  The loin is typically what Canadian bacon is made from.  It is much leaner than the belly or the shoulder.  I chose a loin roast of about 5 lbs with a really good fat cap on it.

I then decided that I would cure it in a wet brine made with beer.  I took a walk down the beer isle, trying to decide what style of beer would work best.  Beer and bacon go really well together….  I’ve thrown back a few while munching a great BLT…  I settled on Killian Red Ale.  I like the deeper, sweeter flavor and thought it would work well.

Now for the fun part, to make the cure.  I settled on a pretty typical cure with just a few extra herbs and spices added…  Here is what I did.

Ingredients
Ingredients
  • 5 pound pork loin roast
  • 1/2 cup of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cure #1
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 bottle Killian’s Red Ale
  • Ice

I heated up the water in a large pot until not quite boiling.  I stirred in the salt, cure, and brown sugar until well dissolved.  Then,  stirred in all of the other dry ingredients.  Last, I added the beer and then enough ice just to cool the cure down to room temperature.

I then cut the pork loin roast in half (just to make it fit in the pot) and added it to the cure.  Place a bowl on top of the roast so that it is kept from floating out of the cure.

Into the fridge to cure for a week.  I’ll turn the meat around in the cure every other day or so.

Next weekend I’ll smoke it and slice it.  I’ll add another post then covering how I smoked it.  I am thinking about using a cherry and oak blend.  I usually do an apple blend, but I think I want a sweeter wood and I really like cherry….  cold smoked for several hours… yes please.

****************  ONE WEEK LATER  **********************

It is now February 1, 2015.  Yesterday I loaded up the ol’ smoker with this beer cured bacon along side of some of my brown sugar and molasses cured pork belly.

First, I took the pork loin out of the cure and rinsed it well under cold water.  I must say it smelled amazing.  The combination of garlic, pepper, onion and bay really balanced well with the sweetness from the beer.

I set the loins back in the refrigerator, uncovered for about an hour to let the loin dry out a bit.

SMOKING

I used my MasterForge 40″ electric smoker with the cold smoker attachment (I’ll write up a real review on this at some point) and loaded up the cold smoker with a combination of apple and oak.  I ran the smoker at 85 degrees for one hour without smoke to allow the cured pork to dry out a bit more and to form a pellicle.  (Honestly not sure if I let it dry long enough, but it took on the smoke really well either way)….

I then turned on the cold smoker to begin the smoking process.  This raised the internal temp of the smoker to about 95 degrees, which is too high, so I lowered the temp back down to about 75 degrees.

Oh MAN does that smoke smell good once it gets going.  My wife says that it is her favorite cologne; the smell the smoke leaves in my clothes.  Gotta love a woman who loves a man that smells like smoked pork.  🙂

I let it cold smoke for about 7 hours before raising the temp of the smoker to 200 degrees and bringing the internal temp of the pork to above 150 degrees.

When I pulled the loin from the smoker, I must say that the smell was intoxicating.  The beer really shines through in the recipe.

Let it cool in the fridge over night before slicing and tasting.

TASTING

I through a couple of thin slices in a pan this morning and fried them up.  Smelled so good…  kind of like a ham mixed with bacon and because it is made from the pork loin, it is much leaner than regular bacon as well.  Which is actually the way it tastes.  It is a cross between a piece of pan fried ham and bacon.  The beer really hits forward with a slight hop flavor, followed by a subtle sweetness.  The saltiness from the cure, spice from the pepper and garlic and subtle remaining sweetness round out the taste.  It truly is like eating a kicked up slice of ham with a finish of bacon.  Nothing wrong with this at all.

Beer Brined Pork Loin Bacon

Chocolate Heaven – Recipe #3

Well, 86% said you want to try it and the other 14% said that, yes, I should make it.  So, I did.  I mixed up the cure and and got the pork belly a curin’. (I’ll update this post again next week once it is finished curing).

INGREDIENTS

Chocolate Heaven

Cured with cocoa, coffee and molasses this is sure to be a salty sweet slice of crunchy heaven.

Ingredients (per 5 lbs of pork belly)

4 T Sea Salt

1/2 C packed brown sugar

2 T Dark Molasses

1 tsp Cure #1 (pink salt)

2 T dark cocoa powder

2 tsp dark roast coffee grounds

PROCESS

I am just going to post the pics with descriptions.  After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Gather together all of the ingredients you and tools you need.
Gather together all of the ingredients you and tools you need.
Start by adding the brown sugar and molasses to a mixing bowl.
Start by adding the brown sugar and molasses to a mixing bowl.
Mix the sugar and molasses together into a paste.
Mix the sugar and molasses together into a paste.
Add all other ingredients, minus the curing salt.  REMEMBER - if you want to taste the cure, do it BEFORE you add the curing agent.
Add all other ingredients, minus the curing salt. REMEMBER – if you want to taste the cure, do it BEFORE you add the curing agent.
After mixing together all other ingredients (and tasting if you are going to do so) add the pink salt/ cure #1.  Since I am making enough cure for 5 lbs of belly, I followed the instructions and added one level teaspoon.
After mixing together all other ingredients (and tasting if you are going to do so) add the pink salt/ cure #1. Since I am making enough cure for 5 lbs of belly, I followed the instructions and added one level teaspoon.
This is the package of cure #1/ pink salt.  Please remember to store it away from other spices and away from children and pets.
This is the package of cure #1/ pink salt. Please remember to store it away from other spices and away from children and pets.
Now for a bit of math.  AAAHHH - NOOOOOO!!!   Yes.  Since I am not curing 5 lbs, I need to figure out how much cure to use. In this case, I am curing 1.5 lbs of pork belly.
Now for a bit of math. AAAHHH – NOOOOOO!!! Yes. Since I am not curing 5 lbs, I need to figure out how much cure to use.
In this case, I am curing 1.5 lbs of pork belly.
After calibrating the scale for the weight of the bowl, I weight the cure.  8 oz.
After calibrating the scale for the weight of the bowl, I weight the cure. 8 oz.
Since I am only using 1.5 pounds out of 5 lbs, I divide 1.5 by 5. 1.5 / 5 = .3 or 30% I need 30% of the cure used for 5 lbs of belly. 8 oz x 30% = 2.4 oz So, I measure out 2.4 oz of the cure.
Since I am only using 1.5 pounds out of 5 lbs, I divide 1.5 by 5.
1.5 / 5 = .3 or 30%
I need 30% of the cure used for 5 lbs of belly.
8 oz x 30% = 2.4 oz
So, I measure out 2.4 oz of the cure.  (store the remaining cure in an air tight container for later use)
Rub the 2.4 oz of cure into the meat.  be sure to cover all sides and edges of the meat well.
Rub the 2.4 oz of cure into the meat. be sure to cover all sides and edges of the meat well.
Place the pork belly and the remaining cure into a 1 gallon zip-lock bag and place in the fridge for 7 to 10 days.  Remember to turn the bag over every day or so.
Place the pork belly and the remaining cure into a 1 gallon zip-lock bag and place in the fridge for 7 to 10 days. Remember to turn the bag over every day or so.

Once the belly is finished curing, I plan on rinsing the cure from the belly really well.  Then, I am going to apply a second cure to the belly.  It will be a mix of just cocoa powder and sugar.  I will leave that for one more day before smoking in an effort to give it a darker chocolate taste.

I will update the next steps next week.  Stay tuned.