Nothing gets the day started like the smell of sizzling bacon. Some people only think of bacon as the packaged stuff, but it's actually just pork belly that's been cured and smoked. That's right, bacon is already cooked—but you probably wouldn't find any pleasure in eating it before it's crispy. Brined with maple syrup and smoked with maple wood chips, this bacon has an intense maple flavor and aroma that perfumed the Test Kitchen long after it was devoured.
Though a stovetop smoker would work just as well for cooking bacon, we hacked our oven and turned it into a smoker for an easy at-home alternative. It's very important that the wood chips are well lit, so the oven fills with smoke. Once the bacon is in and the oven door is shut, leave it closed. Don't check on the bacon until it's almost the end of the cooking time to prevent any smoke from escaping. Later on, when you want to slice the bacon, it helps to put the bacon in the freezer to firm it up for clean, easy cuts.
People have strong opinions on whether to cook bacon on the stovetop or in the oven. We tried both ways, and the bacon turned out great no matter what. Our only opinion is if you cook it on the stovetop, put it in a cold pan over medium heat until the fat has rendered and the bacon is golden brown.
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: Two 1-pound bacon slabs
Prep Time: 1 hour and 5 minutes, plus 5 days of curing
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours and 5 minutes, plus 5 days of curing
Two 20-ounce pork belly slabs, skin removed
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon curing salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup maple wood chips
1. In a large sealable plastic bag, combine the pork belly, sugar, kosher salt, maple syrup, curing salt and pepper. Seal the bag and massage the ingredients around the pork belly to incorporate. Allow to cure for 5 days in the fridge, flipping the bag each day.
2. After curing, remove the pork belly from the bag and rinse it with cool water. Place it on a wire rack over a baking sheet and refrigerate until the outside of the pork belly is dry and tacky, 1 hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 200° and arrange a rack on the bottom and one in the center of the oven. Line a cast-iron skillet with tinfoil and fill with it wood chips. Almost completely cover the pan with foil and heat over high until a steady stream of smoke is coming out of the opening, 3 to 4 minutes. Quickly transfer the pan to the bottom rack of the oven and remove the foil covering the top. Place the baking sheet with the pork belly on the center rack and cook until it has reached an internal temperature of 150°, 60 to 70 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
4. Slice the bacon lengthwise to the desired thickness and cook.