But there were lots of bowls containing lots of pork parts in lots of places in several fridges. I needed to get them "working". After all, you can't EAT bacon until the bacon is done being made... and nobody else was going to make this bacon, but me!
*I actually didn't do all this on one day - some lard was done on one day and the rest the next. Sausage was made on one day and then smoked the next - so technically, this entry encompasses two days for those of you who are paying too close attention.*
I started with the leaf fat. I wasn't going to use any of that for sausage. Apparently it is too hard for sausage and doesn't work well being instead prized for biscuits and pie crusts. So I diced it up into smallish chunks and tossed it into the crock pot.
|Leaf fat in the slow cooker|
Covering and setting the cooker on low will, over the coarse of the whole day, turn the fat into lard. It helps to put 1/4 cup of water into the bottom so that as the initial fat starts to melt it doesn't start to scorch or burn first. Once everything is starting the cook down and become liquid, cant the lid open a bit to let the moisture evaporate.
|Floaty (is that a word?) bits|
Here it is after several hours. For what its worth, I removed the skin before I rendered this out. What is floating around in there are essentially the "husks" of the above cubed fatty chunks.
Think of them like bacon. You have the meaty part and the fatty part. When you fry it up, the fatty part doesn't really disappear leaving you with a couple slivers of meaty parts. It still holds some sort of structure. These little bits are essentially the outside structure.
|Strained floaty bits|
Here are some of said floaty bits on a paper towel. I'm not quite sure what to do with them. Are they cracklin'? I thought they were. Some say that cracklin' is instead the skin that is left on when rendering lard. I thought those were pork rinds.
Who the heck knows... I've got to do some research on this.
|Hot rendered lard in canning jars.|
Make sure you don't skip the straining step. Any little chunks and floaty bits that you leave in the liquid fat with cause it to go rancid that much sooner.
Let it cool on the counter and then put it into the freezer or fridge until ready to use.
|Both types after cooling (left is back fat lard, right is leaf lard)|
I repeated the process with the back fat. I wound up with 4 pints of leaf lard and 2 pints of back fat lard.
To the right is a side by side comparison. The whiter jar on the right is the leaf lard. It should have much less pork flavor than the back fat lard on the right - which is why it is preferred for baking.
We used some leaf lard in some corn bread the other night and I have to say, it was excellent.
|Getting some help mixing spices|
Now it was time for the sausage. I planned to do about 10 lbs of cold smoked kielbasa. I had 5 lbs of grass fed beef round roast and about 4 lbs of pork trimmings and a pound of back fat. After mixing up the spices. The meat was ground, mixed, and stuffed into hog casings.
They dried in the fridge over night to develop a pellicle - which is the tacky sticky "film" that develops when meat starts to dry out. This is what gets the smoke to adhere. If you casings are still wet when you try to smoke them, you'll get bad results.
I planned to cold smoke the kielbasa. I understood this to be a way to get much more mellow and deep smoke flavor. Since there was a curing salt in the sausage I wasn't worried about letting them sit in warm (55 degrees) Big Green Egg for 10 hours or so.
The Big Green Egg is a little tricky to convince to smoke without generating heat. After all, I wanted to smoke the sausage, not cook it (I'd cook it later once I'd applied lots of smoke to it). So, I used something called an A-Maze-N-Pellet Smoker.
|A-Maze-N Pellet smoker in the bottom of the Big Green Egg|
Its a pretty slick little thing. You fill it with your choice of wood pellets and light it. Provided it has enough airflow, it creates a nice stream of steady smoke for more 12 hours (which was more than I needed). AND, it generates about as much heat as a lit cigarette.
I hope to tinker with using it to smoke salmon and cheese at some point. But for right now, I'm still in pork mode.
After 10 hours of cold smoke, the sausage went into the fridge to rest. I see people say that this lets the sausage equalize the flavors and such. For me, it was more that it was late and I was ready to hit the sack.
The next day it rained and so I just cooked the sausage in the oven to an internal temp of 150 degrees. Cut it into sections and vacuum sealed it up.
Sadly, I have no pictures of brining the bacon or the ham. The brine recipe comes from a well regarded source on The Smoking Meat Forum website. It's called Pop's Brine and seems to yield good results and has a loyal following.
I injected the ham with a good bit of the brine and put it in a 5 gallon food safe bucket and covered it in two gallons of the brine, weighting it down with a big zip-lock filled with water to keep it under the brine.
For the three bacon sections, I put two of them in another bucket with the same brine (1 gallon) and weighted them down the same way. The other section was rubbed down in a curing mix taken from Ruhlman's book "Charcuterie" that I mentioned in another post. It is regarded as being overly salty but I had some guidance from a Facebook post (Thanks Mark!) to just use 4% of it based on weight. So if the meat weighed 2000 grams (2 kilograms) then 4% of that would be 80 grams of basic cure mix to rub the meat down with. Put it in a tightly sealed zip lock back and stick in the fridge. It will draw moisture out and almost make a brine so be sure to flip it daily so that all sides get plenty of time in contact with the brine. After 7 days, you pull it out, rinse it off and let it dry in the fridge (that pellicle thing again!) before you smoke it.
|The cure-rubbed bacon after a week.|
I realize I am fast forwarding a week here with this picture but here is the piece of bacon after it was rinsed and dried off.
It's sitting the fridge as I type this and will go into the cold smoker tomorrow morning for most of the day. Hopefully it comes out well. But if not, there's two more curing in a brine that will be ready in about another week.