At The Butcher & Larder, perhaps Chicago’s most acclaimed butcher shop, head butcher Rob Levitt’s all-natural bacon recipe features an unexpected spice: toasted fennel seeds which offers appealing subtle notes of licorice, some might even say cocoa, when crisped. It’s much less labor intensive than you’d think—the only secret is your patience.
5 pound pork belly slab, skin-on
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons fresh ground black pepper
3 tablespoons toasted fennel seeds
1 tablespoon crushed pepper flakes
Combine dry spices in a bowl. Rub spice mixture onto all visible surface of pork belly. Place into plastic tub, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for eight days. Please be patient. Afterward, remove pork belly and wash under cold water for about 20 minutes. Wash the plastic tub as well. Then, place slab back onto clean plastic tub and refrigerate overnight, this time uncovered.
At this point, you can eat the bacon as is—it’ll taste more like salt pork, but it’ll still be delicious. But to kick its bacon levels up to level 10, smoke your bacon. The easiest way is with a Weber grill.
Light a small charcoal fire on one side of the grill. Once white-hot, place a foil pan of wood chips on top (cherrywood or applewood would be good). Place the grate in the grill and cover. When the temperature in the grill is 180-200 degrees, put a foil pan full of ice atop the grill (over the fire) and the bacon next to it (not over the fire). Cook slowly until a thermometer in the thickest, meatiest part of the belly reaches 145 degrees. If the grill stays under 200 degrees, this will take 2.5-3 hours. Let rest and cool completely.
Now you can bacon.