All posts by Jeremy Newell

My bacon has nipples, how about yours?

Wait – whuut??

Ok, let’s back this up a bit…

Two weekends ago we slaughtered our first pig, complete with traditional dip-scalding and scraping to remove hair and pigmented skin. We had lots of help, which is good because it is a lot of work!

The belly slabs and the jowels were liberally rubbed with a cure of 50/50 salt and sugar and stored in a cold animal-proof place. As the week progressed, the moisture drawn out would get discarded and more cure applied as needed. At the end of the week, the cure is rinsed off and the slabs are dried and wired-up for hanging.

Meanwhile, two hams, some hocks, and trotters were all immersed in a brine of again, about 50/50 salt and sugar and left for the week. As this was a bit long for brining the small pieces (too salty!), after the brine was poured off, we soaked them in fresh water for an hour or so to draw some of the salt back out. Then all pieces were dried and tied for hanging.

Hanging where, you ask? In our smoker! Our goal was to cold-smoke these pieces to get the flavour and to be able to freeze them and then thaw and cook at a later time.

We dug a bit into a hillock and built up three sides of firebrick reclaimed from an old chimney. There is a monstrous 20″ x 20″ paver as the base, the firebrick is dry-stacked (as this is a “temporary” setup), and a matching 20″ x 20″ paver on top. We shaped a few bricks for the terracotta pipe vent to direct the smoke out the back.

smoker firebox
smoker firebox
smoker firebox built into hill
smoker firebox built into hill

We filled in around the bricks and overtop the terracotta pipe with a clay-heavy soil. The front of the firebox was closed up with an old electrical panel cover – door opens to add more damp shavings; whole panel comes off when we need to dig out ashes! A bit of scavenged flashing helped to keep smoke from seeping out where the panel meets with the top paver.

The smoker box is several frames of wood stacked on each other. In the top frame we drilled some holes to slide electrical conduit through, from which we hung the meats! The lid is a full plywood pallet upsidown. Hard to see, but we inserted a long-probe brewing thermometer in the side to keep an eye on temperatures inside the box.

hillside smoker
hillside smoker

We initially made a hot fire of dry wood to have a good bed of coals and to ensure the pipe was warmed up so we would get an adequate draw – four feet of flame says our draw was too good and the temperature in the box was over 300 degrees F! We cooled the fire down by adding damp alder shavings and restricting the air intake. We cooled the smoke box down by wedging one of the frames up a bit to let some cool air mix in and by rotating the lid to let more smoke and heat out. There was plenty of smoke passing through so we weren’t missing out on the whole reason for this setup.

Those tweaks did the trick and we landed right on target of 75 deg F. About 5 or 6 hours of smoking has left a very nice smokey flavour in the bacon – not subtle and not overpowering, I don’t think it get’s much better than this!

Bacon slab, skin on, with nipples!
Bacon slab, skin on, with nipples!
Bacon slices, nipple skin removed.
Bacon slices, nipple skin removed.

Best. Bacon. Ever. xD

Windrow Composting

When we take nourishment from the consumption of animals, we like to get the most out of each creature that we possibly can; this is done both out of thrift and out of respect for the life taken to sustain our own.

What this often means in practice is that we will roast a whole chicken and eat the meat and skin, then boil the carcass for broth and pick the last scraps of meat from the bones for soup. From a fatty animal (like a side of pig) we will render the fat and use the lard for cooking. Or from a hairy animal we will enjoy the meat and bones and try our hand at tanning!

But we still end up with parts that we are not prepared to make use of directly: boiled bones and scraps of cartilage, entrails and defatted skin. What to do with these?

There are several options! Many municipalities in the Vancouver area now accept these sorts  of scraps in their green waste collection programs. Not so in lovely rural Sooke. A typical in-the-kitchen vermicomposting setup can only accommodate a very small amount of meat scraps, and certainly not the entire collection of one deer’s viscera. A digester composter is a great solution, except for areas with hungry bears wandering through – your digester bin may not survive the pillaging and this sets up a bad situation for the bears.

So what to do? Compost like the pros!

A windrow is a row of organic matter deposited by machine harvest, raked by hand, or… blown together by the wind! Windrow composting makes use of the piling up of organic materials to harbour an inner core that is safe and stable for the necessary micro-organisms to thrive and do their work.

Windrow compost piles can be intensively managed to produce top-quality soil, with constant temperature and humidity monitoring, regular turning, active aeration, and measured carbon:nitrogen ratios. Or you can opt for decent results and lot less effort by setting up a passively aerated static windrow pile.

To allow aeration into the windrow (to promote the aerobic bacteria, not the stinky anaerobic ones) we started by laying down a bed of branches.


On the bed of branches we spread out two hay bales that had gotten wet and were starting to moulder.


The branches will allow air to be drawn into the windrow as it releases CO2. The layer of hay will keep warmth in the core and not have the composting material simply fall down and plug up the airways the branches provide.

A few more branches and then we add our treasure of deer guts and the meat scraps we had been collecting in the freezer (not wanting to send them to landfill).


And then we pile on the hay – another 6 bales! It is important to make the mass large enough that the inner core can be quite warm and the outer lay will insulate. There also needs to be a lot of carbon material (brown organic matter like hay/straw/leaves/wood chips) in comparison to the nitrogen material. A low C:N ratio would be 50:1, I’ve seen much higher ratios recommended on the ‘net depending on materials used. At 50:1, even the 8 bales used here might not be enough for the amount of meat scraps we put in. We’re going to see how the pile settles after a week or two, then likely add on some more straw. And some lumber tarps will be added to keep the rain off (too much moisture reduces core temperature and leads to anaerobic conditions).

Here’s how it looked when we called it “done for now”. It is about 4 feet tall at the peak.


The neat thing that makes this ‘pile’ a ‘row’ is that as we generate more scraps we add them to one side of the pile and cover with more branches and straw. We keep building this sideways into a row and the composting core that we’ve established here will grow sideways too as more material is provided. Eventually we will be able to dig in to our starting point of the windrow and pull out excellent fertile soil!