How to cure bacon at home
Bacon falls into the unusual category of foods that is easy to make from scratch, but still remains far more popular in its mass-factory form.
Assuming you have kosher salt and spices at home, it will cost you about $7.00 per pound to make homemade bacon. Cheryl (@wryandginger) was able to procure us a 10lb milk fed pork belly for $60.00 at the Seaport Farmers Market in Halifax. The additional cost is for the smoking wood chips and charcoal.
What you need:
- A pork belly – expect it to be between 5-10lbs. Call ahead and let the butcher know you want it to make bacon (and ask nicely if they will trim the skin off for you)
- A box of kosher salt
- Flavours. We made several batches – your first time out you will probably want to try plain (just salt) and/or maple (use real maple syrup). We also made a batch with fresh rosemary and one with a mexican spice mix
- A smoker (or access to someone else’s smoker). Don’t worry, if you promise them homemade bacon I am sure they will want to share.
- A meat slicer will help. You can certainly slice your bacon by hand (as was done for hundreds of years), but if you want the bacon in perfect strips, this will help.
- Instructions. Well conveniently we’ve provided some below. These were heavily influenced by this post.
Curing the Bacon
Smoking the Bacon (a word from @firepuncher our Smoking Pro)
Make sure you have circulation all around the slabs of bacon. One way to do this is by using a multi tier rack. Additionally, the smoking should be done as indirect from the heat source as possible. If you are using a dedicated Smoker unit then there will be a manual.
We used a Kamado Joe ceramic grill for a couple of reasons. It uses charcoal which is superior to gas for smoking. It has exceptional control over the combustion process; therefore one load of charcoal will be plenty for this project with no need to add any like you might with a steel smoker. A gas grill is definitely not sufficient to smoke anything like this.
A heat deflector was placed over the charcoal and a 3 level rack above it. This allowed us to rotate the bacon from top to bottom without cooking it.
For wood, we used Maple cut from a tree in our backyard the night before, so it was still green. We also put in Apple smoking chips, which were purchased commercially and are available everywhere. Larger chunks are better for an extended smoking project as they tend to last longer, avoiding the need to add more during the process. A very important note with chips or dry chunks, is that they must be soaked prior to adding to the charcoal. If you don’t soak them really well they will burn up quickly and catch fire, leaving you with no smoke source. Over night is pretty much the minimum here.
The temperature is very important as well. Don’t smoke any higher than about 200F. Use a probe thermometer and slowly bring the meat to an internal temperature of 150F. This is important for food safety and to avoid cooking the bacon. Use a lot of wood of the flavour you like. Hickory and Maple are the most popular, but Apple, Cherry and Mesquite will give a good spicy flavour of your choice. The length of the smoke will vary with the type of smoker you use. Three hours is usually the minimum, but if you are very indirect you can go much longer. Let the probe temperature be your guide. When you are finished, remove the bacon from your smoker and let it rest in a container in the fridge. Cooling it will firm it up, making the next step much easier.
Slicing the Bacon
You can do this by hand, but if you have a meat slicer, you will be able to get a product that more closely resembles butcher-bought bacon.
Now, leave about a pound of sliced bacon in the fridge for yourself and divide the rest up for freezing (or sharing with your friends).
Have questions? Leave a comment below. If you’ve made bacon and have tips, tricks or flavours we should try – let us know. If you found this interesting you should consider visiting @wryandginger, @firepuncher and @bessyn‘s Twitter feeds. They are often talking about homemade foodie projects like this one.