Have you ever wanted to make your own bacon at home in the smoker or even in the oven (if you don't have a smoker)? Well, I have taken the time to write up instructions and there's even a companion video that goes along with this in case you'd rather watch it being done.
All you have to do is find a pork belly (Costco, Sam's, butcher shop, etc.) and order some curing salt #1 from Amazon and you'll be good to go. I'll show you exactly what you need to do and when you're done you'll say, “Man that was easy!”
Disclaimer: Curing salt can be dangerous if used in very high amounts. The amounts used in this recipe are WAY below what is unsafe and you can rest assured that if you follow this recipe, you are WELL within limits and don't have to be worried about it.
I studied this for years before I attempted to tell anyone else how to do it and, even so, I only recommend wet curing, semi-hot smoking and cooking the meat to safe eating temperatures since that is the safest method. I leave the dry curing and cold smoking of bacon to the professionals.
The 1 ounce (heaping TBS) that I use and recommend for 1 gallon of water in this recipe is bare minimum usage and only for reproduction of flavor that we have come to expect in our bacon. It is extremely safe in these amounts.
Having said that, you should always be cautious when using curing salts to make sure that you measure correctly and follow safe curing and cooking methods.
This tutorial is not a declaration that I know all things about curing bacon. I am a student of curing bacon and simply share what I have carefully researched and learned over the years. Everything you do is at your own risk and if you do not feel that you are able to follow these instructions carefully, then do not proceed. Buy your bacon from the store already made and be happy.
Some other names for curing salt #1 are instacure #1, Prague powder #1, and pink curing salt #1.
For this recipe, we'll add 1 ounce of pink curing salt #1 to a gallon of water. An easy way to measure an ounce of this is to use a heaping TBS (learned this from a guy who made cured meats for sale his entire life and his father did the same).
Here's my 1 ounce of curing salt #1 (heaping TBS):
Step 1: Make the Curing Brine
Place 1 gallon of cold water into a large stock pot or other large container.
Into that water add 1 ounce (equivalent to 1 heaping TBS) curing salt #1, ½ cup white sugar, ½ cup dark brown sugar, and ½ cup coarse kosher salt.
Use a wooden spoon to stir this mixture for about 1 to 2 minutes or until everything is dissolved into the water.
Set the brine aside.
Step 2: Making the Pork Belly more Manageable
To make the pork belly more manageable and to make it fit better into household sized containers, I recommend cutting in half or thirds right off the bat.
I usually cut mine in half.
You can also leave it whole if you prefer but you'll need a fairly large container so it will fit.
I have not seen a store sell pork belly halves but if you find one, then you can skip this step.
Step 3: Pork Belly into Curing Brine
Place the pork belly into your brining container then pour the curing brine over the meat to cover.
If for some reason, the brine does not cover the pork belly, simply make up another batch. The size of your container and it's relative size to the pork belly will determine how much curing brine you will need.
I use a deep 6 quart rubbermaid container from the “w” mart with a red lid and a clear bottom. A whole pork belly cut in half fits perfectly into it with 1 gallon of curing brine if you want to just go purchase something that works.
If the pork belly is floating above the surface of the water, place a zip top bag full of ice on top of the meat to help hold it down. You can also use a small bowl, saucer, etc. to weigh it down.
It's important that the pork belly be submerged during the curing process.
Step 4: The 10 Day Wait
With the lid on the container, place it into the fridge for 10 days.
During this time you will need to open the bowl every day and flip the pieces of meat over, move them around, turn them around, etc.
This is to ensure that all sides and areas of the meat get cured evenly.
Step 5: The Fry Test
On day 11, the wait is over and it's time to proceed but not so fast, oh impatient one!
We have to make sure the salt is perfect for YOU before we get too far along. The ½ cup of coarse kosher salt gets you in the correct range and I think it'll be perfect for most of you but it's still a good practice to make absolutely sure.
Remove the pork belly from the curing brine and cut off a small sliver of meat from one of the edges.
Fry that piece up in a pan just like you would any other piece of bacon.. nice and brown and crisp!
Taste it and see what you think about the salt level.
Bacon is supposed to have a nice salty flavor but it should not be overly salty.
If it's too salty:
Dump out the curing brine, rinse the container. Place the pork belly back into the container and cover with cold, fresh water.
Place the container back into the fridge for 4-6 hours where some of the salt will leech out of the pork belly into the fresh water.
Do another fry test.
If it's still too salty, repeat the soak with fresh water and another fry test.
Do this until it's perfect for you and your family.
If it's perfect:
proceed to the next step.
Step 6: Pat Dry and Air Dry in the Fridge
The pork belly takes on a lot of water during the curing process and we want to let the outside of the pork belly get nice and dry so it will smoke better and end up a better product.
Pat the outside of the meat dry with paper towels and place the meat on a pan with a rack.
Place it back into the fridge for 24 hours.
I've heard of people only doing this for 4-6 hours and it seems to work okay but I think 24 hours is much better and you've waited so long for this, go ahead and finish it up right!
Step 7: Smoke Time (Finally)
The time has come to finally smoke this stuff up and make it into a glorious slab of bacon!
Fire up the smoker and set it up for indirect heat at about 180°F (82°C) if possible with plenty of smoke. I like hickory, pecan, and maple the most and/or a mix of these. In a pellet smoker, I've also had great luck with these and various competition blends.
Pellet smokers work really well for this if you have one that puts out good smoke. Some pellet smokers are just grills, they don't do much smoking even at low temperatures but I digress!
When the heat is right and you have good smoke, place the pork belly right on the grate and close the lid.
At this temperature, you can expect it to take between 6-8 hours. The last 2 pork bellies I have done took right at 7 hours but thickness, actual smoker temperature, and even weather will play a huge part in how long it actually takes.
We are looking for that pork belly to reach 145°F (63°C) in the thickest part.
Let the magic happen!
Step 8: Ready to Slice Yet?
When the pork belly reaches 145°F (63°C) in the thickest part it is ready to slice but I do recommend giving it a couple of hours in the freezer to firm it up. This will make it slice a LOT easier.
I put my halves into jumbo zip top bags and into the freezer for about 2 hours.
I then pull out one half at a time and slice it up before getting the other one out for slicing.
Step 9: How to Slice
Rule #1: Slice across the grain to make the bacon more tender.
I use an inexpensive slicer from Amazon that I've had for several years.. a Chefs Choice 609, since I don't make bacon too often.
You can also just slice it by hand and this is where placing it in the freezer before slicing really comes in handy.. makes it a LOT easier.
Make sure your knife is razor sharp and then tell yourself that craft bacon isn't supposed to be perfect like that store-bought stuff. It's supposed to look like it was cut by hand.
Step 10: How to Store the Bacon
I usually vacuum pack the slices and give away about half of what I make to my kids, friends, family, etc. and then the other half goes in the freezer. Bacon thaws quick so just throw a pack in the fridge the day before you need it and it'll be ready for you.
Wet cured bacon will last in the fridge for about a week but I err on the side of safety and anything I'm not giving away, goes in the freezer. I also recommend freezing to the people I give it to if they don't plan to use it within a few days.
If you have specific questions about making homemade bacon in this way, please ask in the comments below and I'll do my best to get you an answer. If I don't know, I'll find out.
There are also a ton of people over at our forum at smokingmeatforums.com that know WAY more about curing and making bacon than I do and that would be a great place to ask as well.
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