I’m pretty ambivalent about the let’s-put-bacon-in-EVERYTHING trend that’s been happening in the last few years. And by ambivalent, I really mean I generally dislike it but don’t really have the guts to voice a strong opinion. But I really, really like bacon by itself. Just call me a purist.
Making bacon is pretty easy, actually. It just takes time, one special ingredient, and one special piece of equipment. But if you have a week, pink salt (sodium nitrite), and a smoker—then BACON. BACON ALL DAY AND NIGHT!
Before I made my own bacon, I thought I knew what really great bacon was all about. Sure, it was pricey, but it was worth it, I thought. The bacon of my dreams was a thick-cut, sugary, crisp strip of salty pork meat. What more can you ask for?
Control. Making your own bacon puts a vast amount of control in your hands. You get to pick the cut, you get to pick the smoke, you get to pick the cooking time, the curing time, you get to pick the seasonings, the flavoring. You get to make a meaty 2-inch slab instead of a puny 1-inch fatty slab.
I’m not going to be annoying and say you need to go out and buy/rig up a smoker to make bacon. If you don’t have a smoker, then just don’t smoke it. Just bake it in an oven set at the 200 degrees F or lower until it reaches an internal temp of 180 F. If you really, really want that smoky flavor, I’ve used a teaspoon or two of liquid smoke, mashed into the salt/sugar dredge/cure, and it does the job.
I bought my pink salt at Butcher and Packer.
- 5-pound pork belly slab, skin on (or two 2.5-pound slabs if you can’t find a big enough piece), the thicker and meatier the better, in my opinion
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons pink curing salt #1
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- Mix everything (except for the pork belly, haha) together in a thick gallon-sized (or bigger) ziplock freezer bag. With the maple syrup, it should resemble brown a sticky paste.
- Add the pork belly (or pork bellies) in the bag and, using your hands, rub the curing mixture all over the surface. You don’t have to worry too much about getting it in every nook and cranny because over time, liquid will seep out of the pork and into the curing mixture, making it into a watery brine that will have better contact with the meat.
- Zip up the bag, wash your hands, let the bacon cure in a fridge for a week (7 days). Check on the bag at least once a day, flipping it over to redistribute the curing brine.
- On the 7th day, pull the pork out of the bag. Discard the bag and the liquid inside. Wash your bacon and pat it dry.
- Smoke in a smoker (we like cherry wood or apple wood chips. We found hickory to be a bit harsh, but personal preference!) or bake in an oven at 200 degrees F until it reaches an internal temp of 180 degrees. That takes about an hour or two, depending on the thickness of the belly, but it’s totally okay to leave it in the smoker for a little longer. I’ve forgotten about it before.
- Take the belly out of the oven and when it’s cool enough to handle, take a long fillet knife and slice off the pork skin (save for another purpose).
- You can either slice up the bacon and fry it up and eat. Or you can wrap it as-is in plastic wrap, put it in a freezer bag, and store it in the freezer for . . . a while. I’ve stored bacon for as long as three months without any discernible difference in taste.
There’s a small learning curve when it comes to cooking legit bacon. I used to blast the heat and just pan-fry the crap out of store-bought bacon. With the home-cured stuff, it renders out less fat/liquid, because it’s dry-cured. (I suspect a lot of store-bacons are liquid brined to plump up the meat and increase its weight.) It also lays flat for the most part, so you don’t have to fight with the curling.
BUT there’s also a LOT of sugar in this recipe, so the sugar will caramelize and start to burn long before the meat can crisp up. So it’s best to cook this bacon over medium heat for longer length of time.
When I cook up a lot of bacon, I just line strips on a jelly roll pan and put it in a 350-degree oven for half an hour or so, turning every ten minutes.