Start to Finish: 30 minutes Servings: 6 Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Hog jowl is cut from the lower jaw of the hog, unlike “traditional” American bacon, which is cut from the pig’s stomach. Diners often note that hog jowl has a smoother texture in the mouth and a richer flavor than everyday bacon. It is particularly prevalent in Southern recipes for black-eyed peas, a traditional New Year’s Day dish that generations of revelers believe brings good luck in the new year.
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- Hog jowl, smoked and cured
Remove the Skin
Lay a skin-on piece of hog jowl on a cutting board with the skin-side face-up.
Hold a boning knife sideways with the sharp edge pointing toward the side of the jowl. Saw under the skin at one corner to start separating the skin from the meat. Keep the sharp edge of the knife angled up slightly to minimize the amount of fat and lean meat that you trim away.
Hold the corner flap of skin away from the jowl once you start separating it from the meat, so you can see where you are cutting. Continue slicing right under the skin to separate it from the jowl.
Discard the skin or reserve it for another recipe.
Slice and Fry the Jowl Meat
Wrap the jowl in plastic wrap. Place it in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Freezing the meat briefly makes it easier to cut thin slices.
Heat a skillet on the stove’s medium heat setting.
Unwrap the frozen jowl and lay it skin-side-down on your cutting board. The interior side of the jowl -- the meat side -- is typically less smooth and even. The jowl is more prone to slipping as you cut it if you lay it meat-side down.
Cut a 1/2-inch-wide chunk off the pointiest or narrowest end of the jowl with a slicing knife to see which way the meat runs. Orient the jowl so that the stripes of lean meat run vertically away from you.
Position the edge of the knife about 1/8 to 1/4 inch away from the end of the jowl. Slice a strip of bacon off the jowl.
Continue cutting slices of bacon until the unsliced portion is about 1 inch wide. Set the remaining chunk of jowl meat aside when it is too narrow to hold steady and slice safely.
Dice the bacon slices into small pieces about 1/4 to 1 inch wide, depending on what you need. Small pieces fry faster than slices. You can wait to cut the slices of bacon after you fry them, if desired. If you're making biscuits, you may want to cut them biscuit size.
Place slices of bacon or bacon pieces in a dry, preheated skillet. Turn the slices with tongs or stir small pieces with a wooden spoon as necessary to cook the bacon evenly.
Fry the pork until the lean meat is crisp and the fat is semi-translucent. Since it's a cured meat, jowl meat may remain pink rather than turning brown. Check the crispness of the lean meat to determine doneness. Hog jowl bacon doesn’t get quite as crisp as traditional bacon, but the lean meat should be somewhat crispy on the surface and around the edges.
Transfer the cooked bacon to paper towels to drain excess fat. Serve it while it is warm; add it to a dish such as black-eyed peas immediately after draining it; or refrigerate it in airtight plastic food packaging until you are ready to use it. Use cooked hog jowl bacon within four to five days of frying it.
Hog jowls may also be labeled “Dixie Bacon” or “Dixie Squares.”
Some butchers remove the skin or rind from hog jowls before packaging them. Removing the skin from a skin-on hog jowl is optional. It’s edible but may be chewy or tough if you leave it on the bacon, causing diners to nibble around it and discard it.
Pig rinds are deep-fried pieces of pig skin that have been stripped of all the fat and meat. You can re-purpose skin that you cut off the jowl -- before you fried the bacon -- to make homemade pork rinds.
Sharpen your knives before trimming and slicing the hog jowl, especially if you decide to leave the skin on the meat. Raw pig skin can be tough, and you need a very sharp blade to cut through it. A chef’s knife is acceptable if you do not have a slicing knife to slice the uncooked bacon.
Wrap the uncooked end chunks of jowl in plastic wrap; place the wrapped chunks in a resealable plastic freezer bag; and freeze them to flavor soups or vegetables.
Cured hog jowl is the porcine cut traditionally used to make Italian guanciale -- the pancetta- or bacon-like ingredient that flavors pasta carbonara dishes. Many traditional Italian chefs do not use smoked jowl meat in guanciale, but it’s not forbidden. Use leftover hog jowl in Italian recipes that call for chopped bacon or pancetta.
Do not partially cook hog jowl bacon for later use. Partial cooking does not destroy all of the illness-causing organisms that may be in the meat.