From Jeff Biesinger's guide to do-it-yourself bacon:
Recommended equipment: Digital scale, ziptop plastic bags, Weber-type kettle grill, thermometer. Sheet pans with wire racks that fit in a fridge will assist with drying.
Many nonsupermarket butchers have pork belly, fresh or frozen, including Lupas Meats, Broadway Market (892-4809); An Chau international food store, 3306 Bailey Ave. (837-2303); Lorigo's Meating Place, 185 Grant St. (885-3623); Federal Meats, numerous locations; Johnny's Meats, 1191 Hertel Ave. (876-2500).
Call first, and expect to pay $2 to $5 a pound. Most butchers will order it for you, though you might have to buy a case, about 30 pounds.
If you want to buy local, heritage breed pork belly, contact pork producers like T-Meadow Farms (434-7206), who sell pork belly, $7.75 a pound, at the Williamsville Farmers' Market on Saturdays.
Curing can be done wet or dry. Biesinger prefers dry curing because it requires less cure mixture and takes less room in the fridge. All cures should contain a small amount of Instacure #1, a blend of salt and sodium nitrite available locally at The Sausagemaker, 1500 Clinton St. (888-490-8525). Sodium nitrite will give the bacon its distinctive pink color and cured flavor, and will provide protection from botulism.
You can mix your own cure or use Tender Quick, a Morton Salt product available at Wegmans. (Follow package directions.)
If you're blending your own, "Charcuterie," by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, offers this basic cure recipe: Mix together 450 grams kosher salt, 225 grams sugar, 50 grams Instacure #1.
"Charcuterie" suggests using 2 ounces (50 grams) of its basic cure recipe per 5 pounds of belly.
Apply the dry cure to the meat as evenly as possible. Seal it in a ziptop bag, put it in a pan in case it leaks, and put it in a refrigerator that's between 32 and 40 degrees.
Flip the belly daily for six or seven days. After the belly has cured, it should feel firm. Rinse the belly with cold fresh water and pat it dry with clean paper towels.
Good smoke flavor requires a dry meat surface before smoking. Surface moisture attracts bitter creosote, while a dry tacky surface provides a nice landing place for the fickle aromatics. "I find that I need 24 to 36 hours in a fridge to get the surface really dry. I put the slabs onto wire racks and the racks on sheet pans in the fridge."
To finish the bacon, it needs to be smoked and heated to a safe cook temperature. Weber kettles work well because you can build a small fire off to one side.
Wrap hickory chips or other smoke wood in aluminum foil, half a cup at a time. Close the packets, and poke holes in them. Put the belly on the grate away from the fire, put the chip packet on lit coals, and close the lid. The interior temperature should be between 200 and 275 degrees; much higher will dry out the meat.
Use a thermometer to determine whether the bacon is done. For preservative reasons, you want to take the bacon to a safe temperature; 150 is generally accepted as safe.
When it's warm enough, take the bacon out to cool. If your meat came with rind, when it's cool enough, carefully slice off the rind. Once fully cooled, wrap and refrigerate. "I have kept bacon cured this way in my fridge for months. You can fry some up now, but it tastes better the next day."