Mix sugars and sea salt (and vegetable powder, if using) then evenly distribute over front and back of elk bellies.
Drizzle maple syrup evenly over elk bellies. Massage bellies so the dry rub cure is uniformly moistened and all ingredients are evenly distributed over bellies.
Wrap bellies in waxed butcher paper or store in a nonreactive container (like a deep stainless steel pan or a glass casserole). Cover with plastic wrap. Store curing bellies in refrigerator.
Once a day for 3 days, use your hands to turn over bellies and redistribute cure. (Liquid from the curing bellies will begin to pool so be sure your packaging or container doesn’t leak.)
Rinse each belly under fresh, cool water. Pat dry with a clean, lint-free towel. Let dry bellies rest uncovered on a clean cooling rack or pan in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
Chris recommends stocking your smoker with fruitwoods (apple, cherry, etc.) to highlight the sweet flavors of the game. If you prefer a heavier smoke, use hickory. Smoke the cured bellies at 130°–150° for 2–3 hours, then slowly bring temperature up so bellies smoke for additional 60–90 minutes at 180°–200°
Have a taste of the elk bacon right outta the smoker. You deserve it. Then let bacon cool completely. (It’s easiest to slice when it’s cold.) Store covered in refrigerator once it’s cooled completely. To serve, fry or bake thick slices as you would regular bacon. Chris recommends pulling it before it’s too crispy, when the texture and flavors really sing.