How to cure bacon at home

Cured bacon before it has been smoked

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

1. Pork carries all sorts of unpleasant things, so be sure that everything is very clean and you wash your hands often (my fear of food borne illness is legendary amongst my foodie friends). Be forewarned that as with any home curing experiment – botulism is a concern. You can learn more about this unpleasant treat here.A rolled up Pork Belly on a counter top

2. Unroll your pork belly on a clean, easy to wash surface (in our case we used wax paper on counter top). Your pork belly may still have skin on it (the pork belly really is the belly of the pig). If it does, trim the skin off completely.
A pork belly unrolled and flat on a countertop
3. Cut the pork belly into more manageable pieces – we ended up with 4 larger chunks. Trim any weird flaps of fat, but leave all the rest AS THE FAT is the most important part of your soon to be delicious bacon.
4. Very thoroughly rinse each chunk of pork belly individually. Then and dab them with paper towel until they are dry. Place each in a separate plastic, glass or bakeware container. DO NOT use any type of metal dish. Any metal will cause an unwanted reaction between the acids in your meat and the salt.
Bacon curing in a plastic tupperware bing
5. Season your pieces individually. In all cases you will sprinkle your belly with kosher salt and rub it in on both sides. You don’t need a lot, a half-to-a-cup of salt will cover a whole 10lb belly. If you are flavouring your bacon, do this after the salt. In the case of maple syrup (the most popular flavour), a half of a cup of REAL maple syrup will do for the first stage of a 10lb pork belly.
6. Place each seasoned piece of pork belly into a separate container and into the refrigerator with one end propped up by a small plate (half an inch to an inch in the air is more than fine). The salt is going to suck moisture out of your pork belly; you want this liquid to run away to the end of the container (away from your belly). Be sure your container is covered with a snap lid to prevent germs and other flavours/scents in your fridge from creeping in.
7. On day two, wash your hands thoroughly and open your containers. Empty out the liquid and very lightly re-salt both sides. Additionally, if you have made maple bacon, you’ll want to rub a bit more syrup. Other types of herbs like rosemary probably don’t have to be repeated. Return the bacon to the container in the fridge, remembering to prop it up again.
8. On day three through five repeat your process of draining the container and salting the pork belly (you don’t really need to add any other flavouring after day two). Each day you should notice that your pork belly is getting a little more stiff, as more and more moisture is removed.
9. On day six your bacon is finally ready for the last step. Again, taking care to ensure that everything is clean, drain your belly again and rinse it very well. VERY VERY WELL. This will help remove excess salt (our first batch was too salty). Then pat it dry with paper towel to prepare it for the smoker.

Cured bacon before it has been smoked

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.

Bacon prepped on a smoking rack

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.

Apple wood chips soaking in a sink

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.

Meat SlicerBacon being sliced on a meat slicer

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).

Enjoy!

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.

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