There are few single ingredients that are so universally adored as bacon. And the only thing better than bacon is homemade bacon.
Curing your own bacon, at least once, is a great experience for any meat enthusiast. Although it’s a fairly lengthy process (at least, compared to running to the store and just buying some), it is a wholly satisfying one, and in addition to the sense of achievement it also yields some tasty rewards. It also gives you control of what exactly is going into the bacon, the degree of quality of the pork itself and of course, the flavoring and level of smoke. And not only that, but it gives you complete control over the thickness of the slices – get as thick or thin as your heart desires!
Fresh boneless pork belly prior to curing Pork belly after curing
There are a few things you’ll need to make your own bacon. Firstly, curing salt (aka Prague powder) which can be bought at better grocery and specialty food stores or ordered online. Second, you’ll need a smoker of some kind (because obviously that’s how you get the smoke flavor!). A pellet grill is perfect for this task because it’s fabulously easy to use, and will only take a couple of hours. I prefer fruit woods like Apple or Cherry to pair with pork, but of course you can go for something stronger like Hickory. Finally, you may want to consider investing in a great quality thermometer. I use and recommend the Thermapen, and also used a Dot to monitor the temp of the smoker.
The finished and cooked product
This recipe serves as the core foundation for a bunch of different types and flavors you can try. All you need to do is adjust some of the ingredients and experiment with additions. Brown sugar, molasses, garlic, bourbon, different wood species and a host of other options can be used to create your own signature bacon, and let’s be honest, it’s going to be one helluva tasty process of trial and error.
And of course, once you have all that bacon, you can turn it use it to create completely magical meals like this:
Published: Oct 12, 2010 · Modified: Mar 31, 2021 by Michael Ruhlman · 142 Comments
Homemade bacon is the best. Here’s how to cure bacon at home. I’ve long commented on the fact that curing your own bacon is no more difficult than marinating a steak. Mix all the ingredients together and put them in a plastic bag with the meat. Refrigerate for 7 days, the roast or smoke in your grill. Use the recipe below. The aromatics, the bay leaves and everything else below can be considered optional. There’s nothing more satisfying to make than homemade bacon.
But there are other strategies for making homemade bacon. You could make a brine if you feel more comfortable with that. For those of you concerned about reaching the right salt and pink salt levels, you could use a technique called equilibrium brining, which I first read about in Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine. To do this, combine the weight of the meat and the weight of the water, then add 2% of that weight in salt, and 0.25% pink salt, in addition to aromatics. This can cure from seven days up to twenty-one days (and maybe longer). This way you will never have bacon that’s too salty, since 2% is what you’re striving for. It also gives you great flexibility on how long you cure (say you’re traveling or something comes up the day you intended to cook it).
The most common question I get is, “My bacon is too salty, what can i do?”
Answer: Slice as usual, cover the slices or lardons in water and bring to a simmer. Drain the water and continue cooking.
If, before you smoke or roast it, you fear that it might be too salty. Cut a piece from the center of the bacon, cook it and taste it. If it’s too salty, submerge the belly in water for 8 to 24 hours. Then proceed with the smoking or roasting.
The recipe below is a concise primer and step-by-step for making homemade bacon, or rather curing your own bacon. Follow it and you should have perfect, delicious home-cured bacon every time.
And once you’ve done that, you’ll want to make your own pancetta!
January 27, 2021
Niman Ranch and Slow Food USA hosted a live cooking demonstration on how to cure your own bacon with 2020 Food + Advocacy Snailblazer Award-Winner Chef Adrian Lipscombe. Chef Adrian shared her process for curing bacon at home using Niman Ranch pork belly and then transformed this bacon into the perfectly balanced sweet and savory bacon jam.
Watch a recording of the demonstration:
How to Cure Your Own Bacon
- 5-7 pounds pork belly
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup honey (preferably a dark honey, I used buckwheat)
- 1 t ablespoon red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon ramp powder or onion powder
- ½ t easpoon cloves
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon of cracked black pepper
- 2 teaspoons celery powder (or Pink Curing Salt)
*please note you can change desired spices for bacon.
- Food grade container, with lid or a 2 gallon Ziplock bag
- In a medium bowl combine the brown sugar, kosher salt, honey, red pepper flake, garlic powder, ramp powder (or onion powder), cloves, allspice, black pepper and celery powder (or curing salt), stirring until well mixed.
- Rinse the pork belly with cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Add half of the curing mixture to the top of the belly. Use your hands to rub it into the flesh, evenly coating. Flip over and rub the remaining curing mix onto the other side of the pork belly. Seal the bag, removing as much air as possible. Place seasoned pork belly in desired storage container and refrigerate. Flip the belly once a day for the next 5-7 days.
- Remove the pork belly from the cure and thoroughly rinse the pork. Use several paper towels to COMPLETELY dry the pork belly on all sides. Place a rack over a baking sheet and rest the pork belly on the rack. Refrigerate uncovered for a minimum of 6 hours or overnight.
- The bacon has cured and it can be sliced and cooked if desired. To achieve the smoky flavor it will need to be smoked.
- Choose desire wood. I preferred to use a mixture of apple, cherry and oak.
- Smoke Bacon at 225 degrees for 2-3 hours, internal temperature must be 150-155 degrees
Once bacon is smoked, allow to rest to cool. Wrap bacon and refrigerate overnight. It is easier to cut slices of bacon if the bacon is cold.
- To cook, heat oven to 400 degrees, slice bacon to desire thickness and place on a wired rack sheet pan. Allow to cook for 15-20 minutes, flipping bacon half way through.
Don’t stop there! Find out how to make Chef Adrian’s perfectly balanced sweet and savory bacon jam.
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Dry-curing bacon is an extremely easy process. First make-up the cure using the ingredients below. This is a basic cure recipe, if you want to experiment with additional ingredients feel free to do so – herbs, sugars and other dry flavourings give good results.
Basic dry cure ingredients
- 2 kilograms of salt
- 15 grams of saltpetre (optional)
- 200 grams sugar (optional, see below)
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns (optional, see below)
If you want a recipe based on the weight of the raw meat, follow this rule of thumb:
- 15% salt
- 1.5% sugar
- 0.5 grams of saltpetre per kg of meat
If you’re not planning to smoke the bacon then the addition of some molasses or other robust sugar adds some sweetness to the flavour, and can deflect over-saltiness. Similarly the addition of cracked black or mixed peppercorns produces more interest in the flavour. Personally I like smoked bacon, so rarely add anything beyond the salt and saltpetre.
These quantities are approximately what you’ll need to get started dry-curing a whole belly from a pig at pork/bacon weight. You’ll need to make more of the cure mixture as the curing proceeds, I find it easy to make up a couple of batches in advance and keep them in an air-tight container.
To make the cure just mix all the ingredients together. Then take each piece of pork to be cured, a handful of cure mixture, and rub the latter thoroughly into the former. Keep doing this with generous handfuls of cure until the meat is well covered and all surfaces have been worked over – be sure to get cure into every nook and cranny to prevent any spoilage of the meat.
Rubbing in dry cure
Once each piece is done place it in a plastic box – I use a food-grade plastic cool box, with a lid and a handle. Something very like this Thermos cool box. Once all the meat has been processed and stacked in the box put a lid or secure cover on it and leave in a cool place, such as a garage – one of the benefits of using a cool box is that you can use frozen blocks to keep the temperature down.
Pop it into the coolbox
Every 24 hours for the duration of the curing period, remove the meat from the box and pour away the liquid that will have leached from the pork – you’ll find a huge amount leaches in the first 24 hours, then progressively less. While the pork is out of the box rub more cure mixture into the meat, and re-stack in the box reversing the order, so those pieces which were covered by liquid last time are on top this time.
Duration of curing
We dry-cure our bellies for 5-6 days, and loins for 4-5 days. You can cure for up to 2 weeks, which will increase the time the bacon will keep for, but will also increase the saltiness of the finished product.
Once the curing period is completed, soak the cured pork in clean, fresh, water for 2 hours, discard the water, then soak for a further hour in clean water. You’ll find a huge amount of conflicting advice about how long to soak dry-cured bacon for, but this is what we’ve found works best for us – it results in a bacon that’s not too salty for our palate and keeps very well in the freezer. Your experiences may differ, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
After rinsing, the bacon needs to be dried to allow a pellicle to form on the surface. The pellicle is a layer of protein which serves 3 purposes – it prevents the fat in the meat from rising to the surface and spoiling; it provides a surface to which smoke molecules will cling more effectively; lastly it seals in moisture, preventing the bacon from drying out completely.
We hang our bacon in a cool out-building, using butchers’ hooks, for between 24 and 48 hours, until the shiny, slightly tacky pellicle is well-formed.
At this stage you have green bacon, and if you don’t want to smoke it, it’s ready to eat and store.
- Previous « Principles of curing
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About Dan Champion
A self-confessed geek, Dan would spend 20 hours per day in front of a computer if he didn’t live on a 12-acre smallholding in the east of Scotland (and if his wife would let him). He also built this website.
Introduction: Home Cured & Smoked Bacon
The internet believes in two things: cats and bacon. Since Chan would object to being smoked, it looks like I’m going with bacon. (NOTE: No cats were smoked in this Instructable.)
Step 1: Get Your Belly On
I’m fortunate enough to have a fantastic butcher nearby who keeps things like whole market packed pork belly on hand at all times (Carniceria Central on Gano street in Providence, RI). You’re more likely to find it portioned like I do in the second picture. My smoker isn’t big enough to handle the whole thing in one piece, and since I know I’m going to freeze most if it anyway, I cut it into three large pieces.
When you buy it, make sure you get un-cured, un-smoked pork belly that still has the skin on. I accidentally cured a beef brisket once that had already been cured for corned beef unbeknownst to me. Too much salt. Sooooo too much salt.
Step 2: Make the Cure
Curing requires salt and sugar, and Instacure #1. Instacure #1 is salt with 6.25% sodium nitrite. It is used in wet cures to keep bad things from growing while the cure happens. It is not safe to directly consume. It is colored pink to keep it from being mixed up with regular salt — and is often known as ‘pink salt,’ but this can be confusing now with the marketing push for Himalayan Pink Salt (which does *not* have sodium nitrite). This container of Instacure has lasted me well over a decade now.
For an entire belly the size I used, double this recipe. Most bellies you find in the market will already be cut down to a reasonable 2-3 pound size.
- 50 grams kosher salt
- 12 grams Instacure #1
- 50 grams sugar (white or brown)
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
Step 3: Rub-a-Dub-Dub
Stick the belly in a large ziploc (the 2-gallon size work best). Rub the cure thoroughly into both sides of the belly, then remove the air and seal the bag. Put them on a sheet pan or in a baking pan in the fridge, starting with the skin side down.
Cure for 7 days. After two days, flip the bags. On day four, flip again. One more flip on day 6.
Step 4: Wash ‘n Dry
Remove the bellies from their curing bags, and rinse them very well in cold running water, using your hand to gently scrub them and remove the exterior cure as you rinse. Put them on a cooling rack above a pan of some type and pat them dry with paper towels. Put them back in the fridge overnight (not in bags). This forms a “pellicle” — a skin of proteins that helps the smoke cling better to the meat.
Step 5: Get Your Smoke On
If you have one, insert a temperature probe into the thickest part of the belly. Our goal is an internal temperature of 145-150 degrees F. If not, you’ll need to regularly check the temperature after the first 1.5 hours.
Regarding smokers, I am partial to my digitally-controlled smoker just for ease of use, but ended up doing this batch in my Big Green Egg. However you do it, the goal is very low (225 degrees F roughly). Depending on the weather outside, it can take anywhere from 1.5 hours to 3 hours (which is why I say work from internal temperature instead of giving a smoking time).
Regarding wood, I’m a firm believer in Apple for pork (though for pork shoulders, I start on Apple, then finish with hickory).
Step 6: Post Processing
After the bacon (it’s now bacon, not just a belly) comes out of the smoker, while it’s still hot, use a sharp knife to remove the skin. I cut the skin up into 3″ square pieces and freeze them. They last forever, and are instant flavor for soups and many other things. Taste frequently when you cook with them to make sure you’re not getting too much smoke.
Step 7: How to Cook
You can cook these on a stovetop, but IMO the best result comes from using the oven.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Overlap the edges so that there’s a parchment paper reservoir to catch the grease.
Put a cooling rack on the paper, add raw bacon.
Put in a cold oven, turn it on set to 375.
After 25 minutes, use tongs to flip the bacon (2nd picture)
Cook for 15 minutes more, then start watching closely in 5 minute increments for it to achieve maximum deliciousness. I’ve never had it go more than 50 minutes, even with very thick slices.
Few words get as much of a reaction as bacon. It’s a universal language that we all speak.
And it’ll cure what ails you.
Having a rough day?
Forget the wine. Here, have some bacon.
Don’t know what to make for supper?
Who needs supper? Let’s just have bacon.
Pondering what makes the world go ’round?
Yeah, you guessed it…bacon.
Thanks to the Chinese who began salting pork bellies back in the 16th century, we have a most scrumptious culinary gem that makes mouths water and eager groans commence upon the slightest whiff of its immediately recognizable aroma.
But how, exactly, did bacon make its beginnings in a time prior to refrigeration? Well, back in those days, entire animals were preserved- and enjoyed- without the need of a stable 32-degree environment.
Bacon as we know it today is a flavored sibling of the far more savory and valuable preserved specimen of which we will be discussing in this article.
Yes, I am telling you that there’s such thing as a better bacon.
Let’s learn how to get it into your kitchen and onto your plate.
(This post contains affiliate links.)
What You Will Need:
- the very best quality pork belly you can source, with the skin on
- 4 cups coarse kosher salt
- 4 cups cane sugar
- tub made of plastic or glass, large enough to fit your pork belly
Dry curing your pork belly is the process of removing the liquid from the flesh so that bacteria does not have a place to grow. If bacteria cannot grow, you have a shelf-stable, room temperature-stable product. I understand that our spoiled, refrigeration- dependent minds immediately hesitate at the idea of meat hanging from our ceilings. It seems weird. Cool…but weird. I get it. And yet people have been doing it this way much longer than we’ve been doing it our way.
But what about botulism? Don’t we need nitrites/nitrates?
Botulism is caused by a neurotoxin that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. This bacterium needs an oxygen-deprived environment in order to produce. Salt cured meat suspended from the rafters as opposed to being stuffed in a jar means botulism is an entirely unnecessary fear.
Depending on the size of your pork belly, you will need to decide if you want to cut the belly in half or not. How will you be hanging it? Will it be easier to hang and fit better in your curing tub if it is in smaller slabs? The bellies that I used from one of our pigs were almost 9 pounds each. I cut each of them in half to give me 4 square slabs, which fit my space better.
Mix your coarse kosher salt and cane sugar together in a large bowl that has a cover. The reason behind using coarse salt is that it takes longer to break down and be absorbed into the meat. The goal is not an overly-salty bacon. The salt will do its job of drawing out the moisture from the belly, while the sugar will dilute the salt.
Sprinkle some of the cure over the bottom of your curing container. Lay the first of your belly slabs into the tub (skin side down) and sprinkle an even layer of cure over the top of it. There is no need to rub it down. No need to scrub it into the skin or sides. Just a nice, even layer over the fleshy surface of the belly.
Do not give in to the temptation to lay the salt mixture on too thick. It’ll do its work without the excess. Repeat the process with each of your slabs.
You will have plenty of cure left over; keep it in your covered bowl. Place a cover on your tub and put it in your refrigerator. Mark it with a piece of masking tape and the date.
After 24 hours, you will find that a sizable amount of liquid has formed in the bottom.
You will also find the all of the cure has dissolved.
Remove the slabs, pour out the liquid, and sprinkle some cure in the bottom of the tub. Replace the slabs (preferably rotating them so that the same piece isn’t sitting on the bottom again), sprinkling cure evenly over the surface just as you did before.
Repeat this process every 24 hours. You want to keep the meat from sitting in the brine if possible. I found it helpful to put an inverted plate on the bottom of the tub to keep the bottom slab from sitting in water. Every day, you will notice less and less liquid accumulating. As the days pass, only sprinkle cure on the areas where it has been dissolved. There’s no need to add salt mixture to a surface where salt has not dissolved. Continue doing this daily until just a small amount of liquid is being extracted (up to two weeks; the longer the cure time, the saltier it will be).
At this point, your bellies are ready. You will notice that they have stiffened considerably, their thickness and weight reduced. Rinse any remaining cure off with cold running water. Pat dry with a towel and hang in an area that sees traffic- in my house, the kitchen is the perfect (and most logical) place. You don’t want your bacon somewhere that sees a lot of humidity or little airflow (bathroom? yuck.). Moisture is not your friend.
You can now begin using your bacon at any point. Simply cut a piece away from the rind and fry as you would any other bacon.
Except…it is so much more than “any other bacon”. It isn’t flavored. It’s the real deal.
And it’ll keep at room temperature for 6 months to a year under good conditions. Although I would imagine it won’t last nearly that long, considering it will be a constant temptation, just begging to become a part of your every meal. And I bet that not only will you always have an exciting conversation piece for your guests, but the way you look at bacon will forever be changed. For the good.
I know it has for me.
What a beautiful thing.
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