You don't have to be a "nose-to-tail" gourmet to enjoy bacon, and you don't even need pork belly when you have its analogous beef cut: beef navel. You might know beef navel by another name -- the pastrami cut -- but you may not have seen what smoking does to it. Smoking separates beef bacon from pastrami, giving it a complex aroma and a texture akin to pork bacon without concealing its identity: Nothing obscures beef bacon's meatiness. In fact, mesquite is the only wood that permeates beef navel's beefy flavor, so it's your best choice for smoking.
Mix together 1 cup of kosher salt with 1 gallon of water for every 5 pounds of beef navel in a stainless-steel pot.
Add aromatic ingredients to the brine, if desired. Pork bacon usually isn't brined with aromatics, but if you want a piquant, peppery bite, for example, you can slice a few Thai chilies in half and add them with a few crushed garlic cloves.
Add 1/4 teaspoon of liquified smoke for every gallon of water if you want to impart a smoky taste to the bacon; it's optional. Add 1/4 cup of brown sugar per gallon to the brine to soften the saltiness, if desired. Bring the brine to a low simmer on the stove.
Simmer the brine until the salt dissolves, about 5 minutes; then let the brine cool to room temperature. Transfer the brine to a food-storage container large enough to hold it and the beef; then place it in the refrigerator.
Rinse the beef and add it to the brine after it chills to refrigerator temperature. Brine the beef for 48 hours, turning it over and stirring the brine after 24 hours. Take the beef from the brine and dry it.
Smoke the beef in a smoker at 80 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 hours. Use a combination of sawdust from a smoking wood, such as mesquite, and wood chunks, not chips, for a long, slow smoke.
Let the beef bacon cool to room temperature; then wrap it in plastic wrap. Let the bacon sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Slice beef bacon with the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices for bacon strips. Cook beef bacon using the same methods as you would for pork bacon: frying or baking.