Making bacon is easy, inexpensive, and the result is even tastier than store-bought. Beyond that, there are several reasons I make my own bacon: I get to decide what goes into it (meat from pastured, organically fed animals) and what does not go into it (nitrites, which are added to most commercial bacon).
While most commercial bacon in the United States is smoked, bacon and many of its cured meat cousins in other countries are cured but not smoked. With bacon, the smoking step is more about adding flavor than it is about preserving the meat. Smoked or unsmoked? That's up to you.
Most commercial bacon contains nitrites, which are sold to the home cook in blends called "curing salt" or "Prague powder." Nitrites preserve the bright pink color of the layers of meat in bacon and other preserved meats, as well as helping to eliminate bacteria. In very small amounts they are considered safe to consume, but they are a potential health hazard, so many people choose to leave them out.
Here is the basic method for curing bacon, with instructions at the end for getting that smoked flavor if you decide you want it.
- 2 to 3 pounds/0.9 to 1.3 kg pork belly
- 1/2 cup/113 gr brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons/45 gr kosher or other coarse, non-iodized salt
- 1 1/4 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon curing salt (optional)
Nowadays, so few people cure their own bacon or salt pork at home that most butchers don't carry fresh pork belly. I order mine from a local farm. You can also ask the butcher at your local supermarket if it is possible for them to order it for you. Pork belly is usually a very inexpensive cut.
Rinse the pork belly under cold water. Pat it dry with paper towels or a clean dishcloth.
Combine the sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
Rub the seasoning mixture into all sides of the pork belly, using your scrupulously clean hands. Spend a couple of minutes massaging the seasoning/curing mixture into the meat.
Place the pork belly, along with any leftover curing mixture, into a plastic bag and seal it shut. Store it lengthwise in the refrigerator for 10 to 14 days, turning the bag over occasionally. The bacon should be fully cured at this point, with a firm texture and no soft spots.
Rinse the bacon and again pat it thoroughly dry with paper towels or a clean, dry dishtowel.
Unsmoked Bacon, Oven Method
Roast the cured bacon in a 200F/93C oven until the internal temperature reaches 150F/66C. This should take about 2 hours. Store the bacon in a tightly sealed container or bag in the refrigerator for up to 1 month or in the freezer for up to 1 year.
Or if you prefer, give it a smoked flavor by using one of the two methods below.
Turn It Into Smoked Bacon
- Using Real Smoke
If you have a smoker, or want to make a simple smoker, you can use that to smoke your bacon. Use hickory or apple wood shavings for the best flavor.
Skip the roasting described above. After rinsing off the cure, place the bacon on a rack and let it dry for 1 to 2 hours to form a pellicle (sticky surface layer of proteins that forms on the surface of the meat: the smoke will cling to it resulting in a more flavorful bacon).
Smoke the cured, air-dried bacon at approximately 200F until it reaches an internal temperature of 150F/66C, which should take between 1 and 2 hours.
- Using Liquid Smoke
Alternatively, you can "cheat" by using liquid smoke. If you opt for this version, be sure to buy liquid smoke made from natural (usually hickory) smoke and not one of the harsh-tasting synthetic versions. Roast the cured bacon in a 200F/93C oven until the internal temperature reaches 150F/66C. This should take about 2 hours. Then:
Baste the cured and roasted bacon with the liquid smoke. Use a pastry brush to evenly coat all sides. Place the bacon on a rack over a pan (to catch any liquid smoke drippings) and air dry for 30 minutes. Transfer to a tightly sealed container or bag and refrigerate for up to 1 month, or freeze for up to 1 year.
Cut the bacon into several pieces and then freeze those individually for the most convenient use later on.