Servings: 10 Prep: 15 mins Cook: 2 hrs 30 mins Total: 5 days 2 hrs 45 mins
It can’t be any big secret that I love smoked, cured pork. Bacon is the head honcho in the realm of cured pork products, but ham is a very close second!
Canadian bacon is not the same thing as bacon. Bacon is made from the fatty, belly muscle in the lower area of a pig, whereas Canadian bacon is made from the loin, along the back of the animal. This is where pork chops come from. Canadian bacon is also not the same thing as ham, a smoked and cured meat typically from the hind upper leg of a swine.
I was recently chatting up a young woman from Montreal. I mentioned I’d just made a video for Canadian bacon, and she had no idea what I was talking about. I explained what it was, even going into some detail. She insisted she’d never even heard of the thing and acted like I was daffy. If you’re Canadian, like my new Canadian friend, you may also be wondering what the heckfire I’m talking about.
My understanding is that Canadian bacon is an American thing. In Canada, bacon is bacon, and Canadian bacon is what would be referred to as “Back Bacon”, which is also similar to the back bacon found in the UK (though, with a bit more fat attached to it). What I call bacon, is sometimes referred to as “Streaky Bacon” in other parts of the world. There’s also a Peameal Bacon, which is where this all got started.
Peameal Bacon is an unsmoked, cured pork loin, rolled in ground yellow peas. It was invented in the mid-1800’s. Around the same time, the UK was experiencing a pork drought, so they started to import pork from Canada. This included the Peameal Bacon! In the UK, they called it Canadian Bacon, but evolved it into a smoked, peameal-less bacon, closer to what Americans call present day Canadian Bacon. Americans in the UK loved it and brought it back home. I just find it amusing that we get Canadian bacon… from the UK!
Nowadays, Peameal bacon is served in and around Ontario, though the peameal has been swapped for the more affordable cornmeal. Apparently the best Peameal bacon sandwiches are found in Toronto. Sign me up! In the meantime, in the US, we have this wonderfully smoked tube of cured, center-cut pork loin!
Let’s get a bit into my own history with this…
A few years ago, I tried to make a ham. Here’s a video of the outcome. It took several weeks and contained several moving parts. The end result was nothing short of stunning, with incredible flavors, loads of moisture, and a perfect pink color. When I shot the above video, I couldn’t have been happier with the results!
… until I cut deeper into it. When I shot the video, I was thrilled, and excitedly quickly went to share it. However, after slicing bits from the sides and gobbling them down, I placed the entire thing in the fridge to chill, so I could portion, pack, and freeze. The next day, I pulled it from the refrigerator and started slicing. Everything seemed great, until I got about 4-inches (10cm) into it. All of a sudden, there were these gray, lifeless blotches. I kept slicing, and the blotches got bigger and more depressing.
As it turns out, the outside approximately 4-inch (10cm) perimeter of the ham was perfect, but the ham was simply too large for the brine to have absorbed deeply into the center. As a result, the outside was perfect, colorful, and flavorful, but the inside was… and I don’t know a more pleasant way of saying this… rotting meat. It was horrendous. And, once I saw what was happening, it was also clear that an old decaying meat flavor was subtly evident in even the most magnificent slices of ham.
As much as I say things like, “No wrong answers,” and “Eat your mistakes,”… sometimes, sadly, there are wrong answers, and the mistakes should be discarded. This is/was, one of those few, rare times. In fact, the memory of it was so pronounced, I never attempted it, again. Had I just injected the brine into the ham, I’m sure it would’ve been fine. Instead, I opted to feel shame, pout, and never discuss it, again. Another wrong answer. Hey, I’m human!
This brings me around to my own version of Canadian bacon! As noted at the top of this recipe, I’m a huge fan of smoky, cured pork. However, it tends to be quite expensive and frequently contains wonky ingredients in the brine. If I make my own, it’ll be far more affordable, and I’ll also have total control over the ingredients used. Being in a place where saving some money made sense, I started tinkering more and more with bolder cuts of meat. I decided to try to make a Canadian bacon, which is ultimately very much like a smaller, narrower ham. Given that the diameter is much smaller, I had no concern that the brine would make it though. Confidence restored, I decided to take the plunge.
This time, it was amazing, through and through!
Because I was so scorched by my ham episode, I decided to follow a specific recipe, only modifying a few things, namely the sweeteners and acid (I was out of lemons). This is the recipe I used.
Even following this recipe, I still maintained some nervousness. I’ve written a good deal about the behavior of sugar, as well as its sugarless counterparts. Sugar, like salt, has hygroscopic properties (will attract and hold water molecules). This is great for holding moisture within a piece of meat, but if you remove the sugar, will it still hold water? I believed the salt would be more than enough satisfy this requirement, but I didn’t truly know. I just hoped it would.
Below is the recipe I created. It’s virtually identical to the original, except I nervously swapped out the maple syrup for Lakanto Pancake Syrup, and the sugar with Golden Lakanto. Finally, because I was out of lemons, but had some apple vinegar, I made this substitution. Interestingly, I would consider this swap to be more in tune with a Canadian bacon, anyway. The rest is roughly the same!
Here’s a bit of my own experience…
Here’s the loin in a vacuum pack bag with the brine.
This is a terrible photo, but it’s difficult to photograph the inside of my refrigerator, as it’s being backlit. However, the important part is that this is the approach I took. See, in the original recipe, the author spoke at length about the pellicle, a thin skin of proteins that form on the surface of meats, as they dry. This will help the smoke cling to the surface. The original recipe suggests 2 routes, one of which involves placing the meat on the countertop, with a fan blowing on. The other is simply to allow the meat to stay, uncovered, in the refrigerator for about 24 hours. I opted for the second route, as it seemed a bit safer and didn’t involve a weird room-temperature system involving one of my dusty fans. So, I placed the brined, washed, and dried pork loin on a rack, in the fridge, for 24 hours.
After 24 hours of drying, it looked like this (and yes, that’s an overturned dishrack).
Placed in the smoker.
Here’s a short video of me slicing into it. It’s difficult to see from the video, but you can see me running my finger along the cut surface. There was an incredible amount of moisture once I cut into it. It trickled down the slice. I ran my finger along the surface, then quickly jammed it into my mouth. Delicious! I wish you could see the trickle!
I personally cut some bigger slices, which I used as steaks, or cubed up and tossed into some eggs, but I also cut about half of it into very thin slices, which I chilled, vacuum packed, and froze… giving me a nice collection of sandwich meat!
Aside from it being better than any Canadian bacon I’ve ever purchased, it also had some toothiness to it. In sausage making, there is a casing which is stuffed with the ground forcemeat. When the sausage is cooked, the casing tightens and will form an almost “snap-like” texture, when biting through it. Canadian bacon tends to have a very similar snap-like quality on the surface but is achieved without a casing. I wondered if mine would have this quality, and it very much did! My assumption is that this comes from the pellicle, a thin membrane of dried, concentrated, smoky goodness. It holds in all the moisture, while collecting the smoky flavors, resulting in an extraordinary texture when bitten.
For me, the big takeaways are, as much as this feels like a long-winded recipe, with a lot of moving parts, it’s actually very easy to do. The hands-on processing time is actually very small. Most of the time spent is just waiting. There’s likely less than 15 total minutes of actual work involved, with most of it just being time brining, drying, or smoking. So, it’s time consuming, but incredibly easy to do and is a very hands-off experience. I also control the ingredients. It’s incredibly cheap to do, costing very roughly $3.00 per pound (.45kg). It’s also something easily done in bulk. I could easily brine and smoke several loins at once, resulting in 30 to 40 lbs. of the stuff, all with very little effort!
Finally, I should say that this could all be done without a smoker. For those who like the concept and want to pursue such a thing, you can do the final step in an oven. You’ll lose the smoky flavor, but it’ll still have a great taste and texture. I suggest giving it a go!
Note: Roughly double, triple, quadruple, etc. this recipe for each 5 lbs. (2.27kg) of pork loin being used.
Nutrition Note: I’ve never been able to locate a reasonable approach towards handling the nutrition with brines. Most of it is discarded, with only trace amounts of the other ingredients being absorbed into and maintained within the meat. In these recipes, I just set all the values to zero, short of the actual pork loin. Yes, a trace amount of some of these carbs will eek in, but I strongly suspect they’re largely negligible.
Canadian BaconPrint Pin Rate
- 8 cups ice water divided
- 3.2 oz salt (roughly 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp Kosher salt or 1/2 cup of table salt)
- 1 1/2 Tbsp (20g) pink salt (6.25% sodium nitrite curing salt)
- 1/2 cup sugar-free pancake or maple syrup
- 1/2 cup sugar replacement
- 8 cloves garlic peeled and rough chopped
- 4 fresh or dried bay leaves
- 1 Tbsp dried thyme or a generous handful of fresh thyme
- 1 Tbsp whole black peppercorn
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 4 lbs. center cut pork loin
- Bring 4 cups (920mL) of regular water up to a boil. Once it boils, turn it to a low simmer. Whisk in the salt, pink salt, syrup, and sweetener. Continue whisking until the salt and sweetener completely dissolve.
- Add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, and vinegar. Remove from the heat.
- Fill a 4 cup (920mL) measuring cup with ice. Add water to the cup, so the end result is 4 cups of very cold, mostly ice, ice water. Whisk this into the hot brine. This will cool it down, more quickly.
- Place the brine in the refrigerator and allow it to chill, thoroughly. It shouldn’t take long.
- While the brine chills, you can trim your loin of any fat or sinew on the surface. Frankly, I don’t do this, as I believe the fat is good and the sinew will just be sliced through when the time comes to enjoy it. I’ve personally never found it to be an issue, as far as loins go. However, if you’d like to trim it … trim away!
- Once the brine is chilled, fold back the top of a vacuum pack bag, or a 1-gallon sealable freezer bag. Place the loin inside the bag, then carefully pour the chilled brine into the bag. Seal the bag with a vacuum pack machine, or remove as much air as possible, then seal the bag with your fingers. Place the bag in the refrigerator. I went for 4 days. Turn the bag over, at least once a day. I essentially flipped the bag around, each time I opened it. This helps the brine permeate the flesh evenly.
- After 4 days, open the bag, discard the brine, and wash the loin. Dry the loin as much as possible, then place on a rack, over a baking tray or casserole pan and allow it to rest, uncovered, in the refrigerator for a further 24 hours. This will allow the pellicle to form.
- The next day, set up a smoker (or turn on your oven) and stabilize the temperature at a range between 200° and 225°F (93° to 107°C).
- Place the dried, cured loin in the smoker or oven and cook until the internal temperature reaches 150°F (66.5°C). This will take between 2 and 3 hours.
- Once the desired temperature has been achieved, remove the bacon from the oven or smoker, wrap in parchment paper and set somewhere warm, allowing the muscle to relax and absorb moisture back into the flesh, for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, slice and serve!
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