The Ultimate Recipe: Homemade Bacon
These days it’s almost cliché to rant about one’s love for bacon. What’s that t-shirt I’ve seen guys wearing? “I’m a vegetarian except for bacon” or “I put bacon on my bacon.” Yeah, yeah, we get it. Bacon is delicious. I love it, you love it, and the poor vegans are left out in the cold yet again, ignorance being bliss most likely. Of course I love bacon. It’s not a fad. It’s not like bacon is Hootie and the Blowfish and I’m in 5th grade trying to get my first kiss. Liking bacon is kind of like asking someone if they like music or sex or breathing air.
So how to take bacon mania to the next level? I decided to try my hand at making some porky heaven of my own. As usual, I grossly underestimated the amount of work that the process would require. It is a bit of a production so let me put the disclaimer out there that one needs about a month of empty fridge space, a smoking device of some sort, and of course, several pounds of fresh pork belly. Good luck finding a 5 lb slab at Whole Foods. I’ve tried more than once, so online is your best bet.
Luckily, I was able to talk one of my bosses at the restaurant into ordering me a whole slab of pork belly as well as the freedom to help myself to the pantry. The production is a bit of a pain, but the process is pretty simple: Rub meat with a cure mixture and store it in the fridge. Once the liquid has been leached out and the meat nice and firm, soak in warm water to mellow out the saltiness. Finally, and if possible (this I highly recommend to give it that extra flavor and help break down the protein), smoke the cured belly for several hours.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was originally written some time ago and with a very basic understanding of curing and preserving meats. Some of the information in the following section is a bit inaccurate, but the comments following the article shed light on the errors as well as newer, more efficient techniques to making your own bacon. If you are serious about making your own bacon, do not let this post be your only reference point. (6/8/2012)
I went about trying to put together one of the more basic recipes out of Micheal Ruhlman’s Charcuterie, using only salt and sugar. The pink salt he recommends is helpful in keeping the fat from becoming rancid, but his timeline of 5-7 days curing in the fridge I found to be way off the mark, and I gave up on the pink salt after the first week. Granted, this was my first attempt, but I ended up having to cure 11 lbs for a solid 4 weeks, and I could have let it go for longer.
You see, I started off following his method to the letter; weighing all of my ingredients, adding a bit of garlic and crushed peppercorns, but all the liquid that came out just melted my cure right off. After five days I checked the slab and found it swimming in its own liquids. So I re-cured using only salt and sugar at a ratio of about 3 to 1 salt/sugar, and this time elevating the slab on a wire rack to keep it relatively dry. Again, tons of liquid leached out. The cure mix was soaked. Essentially, I found that every 5-6 days I needed to pull the bacon out of the pan, change out the cure for a fresh rub and regularly check the slab for firmness.
So my advice is to keep the slab elevated on a rack of some sort for the first couple weeks until most of the liquid has been removed and then bury it in the cure mix to finish it off and get that nice firmness you want. In the future I also plan to try to work in 5 lbs batches instead of a whole 10 lb slab to help cure more evenly and hopefully more quickly.
Once you are finally done with this step, the slab needs a bath in warm water for about an hour or two. This is a step that I didn’t take and ended up wishing I had. I rinsed the cure off, but the water bath would have gone a long way to mellowing out the overwhelming salty, sweet flavor. The pre-smoked bacon tasted OK, but once I served it with say, eggs, I realized how ridiculously salty the pork was.
At this point you can freeze the bacon and it will keep for months or a couple weeks in the fridge, or…
Smoke that sucker. To me bacon isn’t really bacon without that smoky flavor and I found that a hot smoke helped break down the meat so that once sliced and in a pan, the bacon just melts in your mouth. I sliced mine to fit in my bullet (about 7 lbs) and smoked it for about 3 hours at around 160 degrees Fahrenheit tossing in soaked wood chips every 30-45 minutes. Keep in mind that in order for the smoke to stick to the meat, the belly needs to be dry, so taking the slab from the bath to the smoker is NOT a good idea. Dry the meat the best you can and let the meat cook under low heat for 30 minutes or so before adding the smoke chips. Ideally letting the slab air-dry for a couple days in the fridge would get you the best results.
Finally, and I know this is extremely tempting after all this effort, don’t slice into the belly right after it’s been smoked! Don’t get me wrong, those bites you slice off will be euphoric orgasms of smoky, salty, fatty porkiness, but then the belly is going to leak out all the juices and fat you’ve been working so hard to create. I sliced one small bite off of mine, and almost wept when I saw the fat continue to ooze out 15 minutes later. In the end it didn’t ruin anything, but I hated losing that delicious fat early on.
My bacon didn’t really taste like any bacon I’ve ever had before. Still not sure if that’s good or bad. It was however, unquestionably bacon. The salt hits you over the head and then an unexpected sweetness rounds out the flavor. I didn’t get as much smokiness as I wanted, but the post-smoked bacon dissolves on your tongue so much better than the pre-smoked slab. Like cotton candy bacon…now there’s an idea. Overall, I’m happy with the experiment. A new belly has already been ordered. Now it’s time to start all over again.
I love reading stories about people making their own bacon. A friend of mine started making his own too. Would you want to call into my Bacon LIVE podcast and talking about your experiences? Let me know and go to BaconLIVE.com for the phone number.
It should be fun.
i don’t know, some of us love our homemade fakin’ bacon. seems a lot less work too…
Indeed, bacon from scratch is great! I taught Garde Manger for apprentices in NOLA and the Charcuterie section was only a week or two, we made several sausages and such. Much fun with this topic.
Hey there, just digging into my first batch of homemade bacon, I have Ruhlman’s book as well, but I’m pretty sure he says to keep the bacon IN the juices – that becomes the cure. That’s why he recommends curing in a ziploc, so that all parts of the slab are in contact with the juices. I’m going to try it, so I’m hoping for the best. Looks delicious either way. 🙂
I’ve only made two batches as of tofay. About 15 – 16 pounds of fresh pork belly. I rubbed mine in a cure I found in Men’s Journal, put them in Zip loc bags, into the frig for one week, turning every day or two. True, they were floating in the liquids that leached out because of the rub but that was no problem. It was expected. After the week in the cure I washed them thoroughly put them back in the frig to dry and form what they call Pellicle. Supposedly it is this hard finish that holds the smoke. Into the Smoker (just got a new Bradley original) and smoked until the internal temp was around 140 degrees, about 3 1/2 hours. Took them out let them rest for a few hours then sliced them just a little thicker than store-bought bacon. Set some aside for immediate eating and froze the rest in Foodsaver vacumn bags. I’m hooked! In the process of curing some Canadian bacon and more reular bacon to satisfied the new found friends and sudden bacon lovers. I suppose this has been a real wordy way of saying I don’t think the juices are a problem and it shoulsn’t take 2 – 4 weeks to cure and you should never have to recoat them with the cures. Good eating!
There is a reason why you use pink curing salt, and it is NOT to keep the fat from going rancid…
Curing meats is not something that should be taken lightly. The cure is there to prevent botulism. Salt in the cure is there to remove moisture and acts as a preservative.
As far as Micheal Ruhlman’s being way off the mark, I’m afraid that the advice he gave was sound and on the money. In order for meat to cure, you start at the thickest point and measure outward. 1 day for every 1/4″ min. You can undercure, but you really can’t overcure.
When you say you followed everything but the liquid melted your cure away? That is nonsense. What happened was the salt was drawing the moisture OUT of the meat and what you had was a brine that the meat NEEDS to sit in.
I can assure you, your method is not safe, especially if you are smoking at lower temps.
I would advise anyone who is thinking about curing meats to read up on it. It is not hard at all, but you do need to have a basic understanding of why things are done. You can listen to what I just wrote or choose to ignore it but I have been doing this for quite sometime and do know a think or two about meat preservation.
I have made bacon several times with a salt cure, I always use a wire rack, and I drain the liquid atleast once a day if not more. I use a salt cure, but instead of sugar I use pure maple syrup.
Normally I don’t comment on recipes however this time I will make an exception, Mike is BANG on do not cure bacon on a rack and do not remove the liquid this is part of the process and it is very important that this is followed. Honestly folks he is giving you good advice I have been curing meat for 30 years and safety in important no one wants friends or family to get sick on home cured meats. If you would like try a brine recipe then you will not have to worry about the liquid the meat is giving up.
Hey, Congrats on making your own Bacon. I to have the same book you have. One thing I read on your site was that when the bacon released all the water you kept taking the pork belly out and re-salting it. That liquid, which is now all amazingly briny is important to the curing of the bacon. that liquid that comes off the pork belly will help soak into the meat and cure the meat better. I also think that there is 100 ways to make the stuff and in the end it is all good. I would try the SMOKE DADDY cold smoker, It is relativity cheap and if you look at how it is made you can make it yourself, I made it out of some old pipe and it works good, this way you can smoke your bacon for 10,15,20 hours if you want to get the really smoky taste without cooking the bacon. The SMoke Daddy system raises the smoker box 10 degrees more than the outside air temp. Anyways happy bacon making!
Late to the post but need advice. I’m curing a pork belly and it’s been in the fridge for a week now but has produced very little liquid. I’m a chef but this is my first attempt at bacon and I followed the process in “Charcuterie”. Little confused and if anyone has an opinion please reply.
A few years have gone by.. and many bellies turned into bacon or panchetta. But I’ve actually found brining solutions to be the most effective means of transferring flavor into my bacon (especially if you own a meat injector). #1 is very useful, but certainly not necessary. Instead of giving your bacon a salt/sweet flavor, with a brine you can introduce all sorts of spices & herbs into the equation.
Regarding the most recent question about lack of liquid, this does seem odd. The salt should definitely leach out a decent amount of juices. Not buckets, but it should definitely be wet. The cure applied should be generous, not a light seasoning. Also, wire racks aren’t really necessary, as mentioned in other comments, the “brine” created is a good thing. It could also be the result of the type of pig you purchased your belly from. I know that may sound silly, but different breeds/raising techniques are going to produce leaner or fattier animals.
I would continue letting your cure work it’s magic provided it’s the right volume. After another week, if no liquids are being extracted still, you may have to start from scratch. Botulism is a serious threat and not worth the risk if you’re not sure what’s working or not. I’d consider trying again with a strong brine, ideally injecting the insides to be sure the belly is fully preserved.
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I have been making bacon for a while. I had never thought of whole foods for the belies. The curing “pink salt” was difficult for me to find. Online was the best for value price. As far as the belly I found that a large well stocked Asian market is a good source. I tried a Mexican market but the slabs they gave me were much thinner than I wanted.
Luckily, I don’t have any problem getting whole pork bellies from my Whole Foods. If they don’t have any left that are still cryovaced, they will order them for me and get them in a day or so. However, they only get bellies without skin. If I want skin-on I go to my favorite Asian grocery, but can only get pieces up to about 3 pounds.
If you have the means to sous vide, you should try this slice of heaven : http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/12/the-food-lab-deep-fried-sous-vide-36-hour-all-belly-porchetta.html?ref=search#_login
It’s like tender bacon with a cracklin’ crust.
So glad that this dweeb posted his bacon crap. He obviously has no idea what he is doing.
The bacon slab swimming in its on juices is what it is supposed to do, don’t rinse and recure as he said to do, just massage the bag and turn it once a day and it will take 7 to 10 days for full cure.
I love when idiots show their mentality by trying to be “expert” at everything.