Someone mentioned buckboard bacon to me, and I got excited. I'd never tried it before. It's a shame as this turned out to be one of the finest pieces of charcuterie pieces I've ever made or tasted. Not only did it take a lot less time to make than most other charcuterie pieces, but it also tasted really, really good.
I am probably going to get ridiculed, but I think I liked it more than capicola. Both are made from the same cut - pork neck. To be objective, I have to compare them side by side, but as of right now, this fine piece of meat is my favorite.
What is buckboard bacon made of?
You may say that backboard bacon doesn't have to be made from pork neck, and any part of pork butt/pork shoulder will do. True. But trust me, pork neck, also called coppa, is the top choice for making backboard bacon as its perfect plump shape, meat-to-fat ratio, and marbling are absolutely perfect. There is a good reason why the Italians make capicola from pork neck and not the rest of the pork shoulder.
How is backboard bacon made?
Buckboard bacon is made the exact same way as smoked cured bacon. First, you cure the meat with a mix of salt, curing salt (Cure #1) and seasonings, just like you would cure regular bacon. The only difference is that you would start off with a piece of pork butt instead of pork belly.
Next, you would smoke the meat for 3-4 hours. Longer smoking, 6-8 hours, would be even better. It will make it double-smoked buckboard bacon. Commercial producers call double-smoked bacon bacon that is smoked twice as long as regular smoked bacon. I used to think double smoked meant smoking bacon on two separate occasions. But in reality, it just means longer smoking.
Finally, you would raise the internal temperature of the meat to 154F - 158F, as you would smoked kielbasa. This will qualify your buckboard bacon as 'fully-cooked'. This can be done by either gradually raising the temperature inside the smoker until the internal temperature of the meat reaches at least 154F, poaching the meat in hot water, or baking the meat in the oven with steam.
Some notes on seasonings
Everything is relative. Seasonings that taste good may not taste as good when comparing them to other seasonings. At the very least, to get a good taste, you need to season buckboard bacon with black pepper.
Salt and pepper, combined with the aroma of smoke, is all that is needed to make buckboard bacon shine. You can add other flavors and elevate the taste but be careful not to spoil the taste.
I've tried buckboard bacon 3 ways: 1 - with plain salt and pepper; 2 - with a carefully formulated mix of pepper, cayenne, raw sugar, onion and garlic powder, coriander, and marjoram, and 3 - with salt, pepper, and garlic and honey. Each variation tasted fantastic on its own.
Side by side, the garlic and honey version won. I love that subtle sweetness and a gentle hint of garlic in every bite. This is my go-to buckboard bacon recipe, without a doubt. If you'd like to tone that sweetness down, there isn't much of it there, but if you do, just cut the honey in half. You will like it.
Try to get that 'thin and blue,' clean smoke going. Dirty, nasty-smelling smoke will kill the flavor and the taste by introducing off-flavors and bitterness. Clean smoke will add enticing smokiness and sweetness, depending on the wood you choose.
My favorite smoking wood here is hickory and pecan. Maybe a couple of chunks of cherry. Oak works well, too, but I like the pronounced savory notes of hickory and pecan and the sweetness of cherrywood smoke.
I smoke at about 130F - 140F. This way, the meat does not dry out, and the fat doesn't melt. Not significantly anyway. This is the same temperature at which I smoke my Ukrainian and Polish meats and kielbasa.
If your smoker can't maintain such a low temperature, you can always smoke at the lowest possible temperature. You may be surprised.
The hot-smoked kielbasa that I smoke at 225F has a very good texture and can easily compete with traditionally smoked kielbasa. You will have to limit smoking time to whenever the meat reaches 158F. Don't smoke past that, or you will dry out the meat.
As mentioned above, you can finish the cooking in the smoker, water bath, or oven. All are legitimate methods, although finishing in a home smoker is always a big challenge. Especially for a large piece of meat such as buckboard bacon. If you go this route, once the meat is fully smoked, increase the smoker temperature gradually by about 15 degrees every 20 minutes until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 154F - 158F.
You can also do the same in the oven. Bake the meat in the oven with a pan of hot water underneath at 175F-185F until the internal temperature reaches 154F - 158F. Depending on the size of the meat, it may take an hour to two hours. Using convection will expedite things but will dry out the meat a little.
Poaching is the best way to finish smoked meats and sausage. I use this method most of the time these days. Simply put the meat into a vacuum sealed bag or a Ziploc bag making sure to expel all air.
Place the bag into a large (20 qts+) pot of water heated to 167F and let the meat poach for 30 minutes or until it reaches 154F - 158F. In cold weather, heat the water to 176F and ensure it doesn't get below 158F.
After that, place your bacon into a water bath to chill it quickly. Your backboard bacon will be ready for consumption at this point. Slice and enjoy or cook as you would raw bacon. Your choice. You can also dry it. It will only get better after a week of drying.
Drying is an optional step, but I love what a week of drying does to smoked meats.
Hang your buckboard bacon in a cool room or your curing chamber at around 55-57F and 75% RH for a week. The meat will lose some water and become firmer. The flavor will intensify, and the color will become darker and richer. An absolute delight to eat.
If you don't have a cold room or a curing chamber, don't sweat it. Wrap the meat individually into an unglazed butcher's paper and refrigerate for a week.
- 1000 g pork butt Pork neck (coppa, money muscle) part recommended
- 22.5 g kosher salt
- 2.5 g Cure #1
- 10 g black pepper coarsely ground
- 50 g honey
- 3 cloves garlic large; pressed
- Weigh the meat in grams. Divide by 1000, then multiply each ingredient by that number. For example, if your belly weighs 2650 g, you need to multiply the ingredients specified above by 2.65. Use the US Customary measurements if you want but it may be a little more challenging.
- Combine the salt, Cure #1, and black pepper in a small bowl.
- Rub the dry cure mix evenly on all sides of the pork butt. Evenly apply pressed garlic.
- Place the meat into a Ziploc or vacuum-sealer bag and drizzle honey spreading it evenly over the meat. Seal and efrigerate for 7 days, flipping and massaging occasionally. If using a Ziploc bag, expel as much air as possible before sealing the bag.
- Remove the meat from the bag, scrape off excess seasonings with the back of a knife, and pat dry with paper towels.
- Place the meat on a cooling rack fitted over a baking sheet. Refrigerate uncovered overnight.
- Remove the meat from the fridge and let warm up to room temperature over the course of 1-2 hours. Insert meat hooks.
- Meanwhile, preheat your smoker/smokehouse to 135F - 140F. See notes.
- Hang pork bellies in the smoker and let them warm up for about 30 minutes without smoke.
- After 30 minutes and once the meat's surface is dry, apply smoke. Smoke for 3-4 hours, depending on how smoky you want your buckboard bacon and how much color you want on it.
- Place the meat in a Ziploc or a vacuum sealer bag. Poach at 167F (75C) for 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches at least 154F (68C). Chill the meat under a cold shower or in an ice bath for a few minutes or in a cool room (50F - 55F / 10C-12C) for 10-12 hours.
- Hang the bacon in a cool room or a curing chamber for 5-7 days to dry at about 55F (12C) and 75% relative humidity. See notes.
- Remove bacon from the curing chamber, wrap it into an unglazed butcher's paper and refrigerate or vacuum seal, and freeze for longer storage.