Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Making Berkshire Jowl Bacon: Part 2 of 2

In my first post on how to make jowl bacon, I described the first steps on getting your curing started. In this post here, Part 2, I cover how to bring your curing jowl bacon to completion.
After a day on cure, the water in the jowl should have leached out and turned the curing salt and sugar into a wet paste.  Flip the jowl each day and check to make sure the jowl is still covered in cure.  If a bit of the cure dribbles off leaving a bare spot on the jowl, just smear some back on to cover it.

The jowl is done curing when the meat on the jowl feels a bit firmer, like a well-cooked steak.  The fat on the jowl has so little water to lose that it really won’t feel much different than it did at the start.  My jowl took four days to cure. When the jowl is done, rinse off any excess cure and pat the jowl dry with a towel.  In these photos, I added a lot of black peppercorns in the beginning for flavor.  Since they were pressed firmly into the jowl, I didn’t lose too many when rinsing off the salt and sugar.

While the jowl could be smoked right now, it is better to let the jowl dry out in the fridge for a day.  This will form what is called a pellicle: a dry, slightly tacky surface on the meat.  The smoke will have a much better adhesion to the surface of the jowl with a pellicle, which gives a stronger smoke flavor in the final product.  Just place the jowl on a roasting rack placed on a baking sheet and let it sit in the fridge overnight.
Jowl Rinsed of the Excess Cure
The next day it is ready to smoke!  If you already have a smoker, you’re set to go.  If not, you can smoke this using a kettle-grill.  This is a bit more work, since you need to keep the coals in the grill hot enough to smoke the wood, but not so hot that you roast the bacon.  There are enough suggestions, tips, and forums on smoking with kettle grills to fill an encyclopedia, so it’s best to do some internet sleuthing and see what works best for you and your grill model.

One resource on smoking on a kettle grill: (http://smokenatorforum.proboards.com/thread/281/smoked-bacon-on-weber)

In a nutshell, the jowl should be smoked for 2-3 hours around 200 F until the jowl hits 155 F.  While some people like to smoke jowls and bacon for twelve hours or more, that seems a bit excessive to me. It makes sense that a commercial operation doing 100 lb batches might need that long.  But three hours is plenty of time for just one jowl, with a small surface area, to get a good coating of smoke.  After a while you’re just going to be wasting wood and not creating any additional flavors.
Berkshire Jowl Bacon After Smoking
Once the jowl is cooked, it’s best to let it firm up in the fridge to slice easier.  But nibbling off a little end of hot, fresh-from-the-smoker jowl is always a good idea.  Do not be alarmed if the jowl tastes very salty when eating a first slice from the edge.  The edges, which have had more exposure to the cure, will be saltier than the rest of the jowl.  Some recipes even recommend saving these jowl ends for stewing, as you would bacon ends.
And that’s it!  Slice it thinly with a knife, crisp up in a hot skillet, and enjoy the porky fruits of your labor.  Though keep in mind, if this seems like too big of a project, North Woods Ranch has delicious ready-to-cook smoked and cured jowls ready for the frying pan.

Recipe at a Glance:
1 Full Berkshire Pork Jowl
¼ Cup Kosher Sea Salt
¼ Cup Light Brown Sugar
2 Teaspoons Instacure #1 Sodium Nitrite
3 Tablespoons Coarsely Cracked Black Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a ceramic or plastic container (not a reactive metal like aluminum or cast iron).  Make sure the curing salts and sugars are evenly placed over the jowl.  Put the jowl in a refrigerator and flip once a day to evenly distribute the cure.  

After four days, the jowl can be rinsed in cold water of any excess cure. Let the jowl dry in the refrigerator overnight, then hot smoke it at 200 F until it reaches 160 F internal temp.  Slice the bacon for rashers, or keep it in chunks for stewing and braising.