Another Huge Success. I cured the entire belly this time, again in two halves. I made one half With No Weird Stuff, as the Law demands. The other half had only added brown sugar. Both are really good. The brown-sugar cure definitely added some sweetness and seemed to bring out other flavors as well. Ruhlman notes that extra sugar will make the smoking add more flavor so I’m guessing that is what happened.
This belly was purchased at the local Costco. They had a lot of bellies there and the price was about the same as the butcher shop. I am hoping they will continue to carry them when I want to get them. The belly was a good bit thicker than the one I got before. It also already had the skin removed, which saved me quite a lot of work. It did deprive me of the skin for cracklins, but they were able to leave much more fat on the belly than I had in my earlier effort. Tradeoffs.
At some point, I will seek out higher quality pork. We have had great success and are very pleased with the results using these commercial bellies. It will be interesting to see whether a belly from a small-farm raised hog really does have the difference reflected in the cost to make it worth using for us. Being Food Enjoyers and not Food Connoisseurs might make it a cost not necessary.
I show the smoking setup I used in the photo attached (the two parts of the collage were taken on different days). I use a grill and some hacks to get it to smoke at the temperature I want and still have smoke. A couple of bricks and a rack made a two-level area just right for these half-bellies. The old pan with the wood chunks is sitting directly on the gas burner. You can’t see it here, but I have about 75% of the burner holes covered with foil to be able to keep the temperature below 200ºF. I only light the one burner, mostly covered, and then keep it turned almost as low as it will go to get that temperature. I really like this grill. It has fairly heavy steel, a gas side, a charcoal side, and a side smoke box on the charcoal side. I use the gas side for most smoking because it is less hassle (I am generally really lazy). One thing the gas side does really well is get really, really, really HOT. I have gotten it hot enough that my probe thermometers exceed their maximum possible reading. The, highly inaccurate, dial thermometer on the grill lid shows it going to 700ºF+. The drawback is that it is very difficult to get a temperature below 300ºF with hacks like I describe above. But you can, so there.
12.32lbs total. Split 6lb3¾oz; 6lb1½oz.
One half cured with brown sugar added
Other half cured with just the cure mix
Cured 14 days
Smoked with apple chunks at 210º to internal temp of 145º
Smoking took about 3 hours.
Happy surprise: this belly from Costco is much thicker that the previous belly from Fergusons and has a much thicker layer of fat (which seems a good thing right now). It also came with the skin already removed which cut out about 80% of the effort for me.