Photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman (click pic to go to see her posts)

I demoed home-cured bacon at the Blogher 2010 after party Saturday night, with the help of the excellent students of the California Culinary Academy (thanks for the perfect set-up, chef-students!).  I couldn’t do it start to finish, of course.  You need to give the belly a dry rub for a week.  Then you need to cook it for an hour or so.  People drinking bacon martinis on a Saturday night don’t want to stand around watching pork belly cure.

I showed the steps though, cooked some up (the folks at CCA had cured it perfectly). I thought everyone was good to go.

But the next day, as I waited for the airport shuttle, a woman told me she wanted to cure bacon, even had a smoker (nice but not essential).  She said, “But I’m afraid.”

“Well, didn’t you see my demo, didn’t you see how easy it was, didn’t it put you at ease?”

“I had to go to the bathroom,” she explained.  “There was a line.”

So for you, whose name I didn’t get, and for all those others at the excellent BlogHer event who would like specifics, and for anyone for whom bacon seems intriguing but just out of reach, here is a concise primer, recipe, and step-by-step for curing your own bacon:

Home-Cured Bacon (adapted from Charcuterie)

Order five pounds of fresh pork belly from your grocery store, the pork guy at your farmers market, or from a local butcher shop.

—Buy a box of 2-gallon zip-top bags if you don’t have a container big enough to hold the belly.


—Mix the following together in a small bowl:

2 ounces (1/4 cup Morton or Diamond Crystal coarse kosher) salt

2 teaspoons pink curing salt #1 (I use this DQ Cure from Butcher-Packer, $2)

4 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper

4 bay leaves, crumbled

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 cup brown sugar or honey or maple syrup

5 cloves of garlic, smashed with the flat side of a chef’s knife

2 tablespoons juniper berries, lightly crushed (optional)

5 to 10 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)


—Put your belly in the zip-top bag or on a sheet tray or in a plastic container.  Rub the salt and spice mixture all over the belly.  Close the bag or cover it with plastic wrap, and stick it in the refrigerator for seven days (get your hands in there and give the spices another good rubbing around midway through).

—After seven days, take it out of the fridge, rinse off all the seasonings under cold water and pat it dry.

—Put it on a sheet tray and put it in the oven (put it on a rack on a sheet tray if you have one) and turn the oven on to 200 degrees F. (if you want to preheat the oven, that’s fine, too). Leave it in the oven for 90 minutes (or, if you want to measure the internal temperature, until it reaches 150 degrees F.).

—Let it cool and refrigerate it until you’re ready to cook it.  But I know.  You won’t be able to wait.  So cut off a piece and cook it.  Taste it, savor it.  Congratulations!  It’s bacon!

Notes:  If you don’t have five pounds of belly, either guesstimate salt based on the above or, if you have a scale, multiply the weight of the belly in ounces or grams by .025 and that’s how many ounces or grams of salt you should use.

If for any reason you find your bacon to be too salty to eat (it happens, especially if you measure your salt by sight, which I sometimes do), simply blanch the bacon and dump the water before sautéing it.

Pink curing salt means “sodium nitrite,” not Himalayan pink salt.  It’s what’s responsible for the bright color and piquant bacony flavor.  You don’t have to use it, but your bacon will turn brown/gray when cooked (you’re cooking it well done, after all), and will taste like pleasantly seasoned spare ribs, porky rather than bacony.

If you have a smoker or a grill, you can smoke the bacon (strictly speaking, it needs to have the pink salt in the cure if you’re going to smoke because, in rare instances, botulism bacteria from spores on the garlic could grow; pink salt eliminates this possibility; but I never worry about this, you’re going to cook it again in any case).

You can also, instead of roasting it or smoking, hang it to dry, in the manner of pancetta.

There are plenty of reasons not to cure bacon: fear should not be among them.

Bacon is life itself: embrace it!

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112 Wonderful responses to “Home-Cured Bacon”

  • Chad Ward

    I have about 8 pounds of bacon curing in my fridge right now. My wife gets panicky when we get down to the last pound or two of our apple wood smoked bacon. It’s a great counterbalance to the absolute boatload of eggplant and crookneck squash we’ve received in our last two CSA boxes, like a much needed bacon cleanse :-P.

  • Jason Sandeman

    I wish that I had the space at home! Work is another deal. I love to put Asian inspired spices in mine – so star anise and wolf berries make for a new different dimension to the whole bit. Makes for an interesting side that becomes the star of the show at breakfast.

    I also experimented before with smoking the bacon with Rosemary. That lifted it to another dimension altogether. Perhaps I need to revisit those days!

  • Foop

    That Pancetta link gives me a Page Not Found message.

    Good writeup, so easy, so delicious!

  • melissa

    the pictures are not loading for me – I see the first picture on the front page just fine but if I just look at this one post, no pics.

    I’m inspired to be makin’ some bacon, though…

  • Tags

    I had no fear about curing bacon until you said there are plenty of reasons not to do it :-’)

  • Elise

    Dearest Michael, I love you.

    My dad thoroughly enjoyed the demonstration and he’s already got his eye on picking up pork belly at Corti Brothers. Hank offered us some pink salt so we are well on our way to no longer being bacon virgins.

    • ruhlman

      feeling’s mutual. look forward to hearing about your bacon experience!

  • ruhlman

    thanks andrew and all for noting glitches. all should be fixed now. some wordpress funkiness today.

  • ruhlman

    and can anyone tell me why sometimes my photo appears with my comments and sometimes they don’t? must be how i sign into wordpress? but i only do it one way.

    • Stephanie

      Could be one of several problems, depending on how your developer setup your WordPress installation… also helps if you have a WordPress.com account since they sync up the profile photos between standalone app with the prefab service they offer over there.

    • Barbara | VinoLuciStyle

      Do you have a gravatar that you use for your photo; it would allow your pic to display not just for your posts but if you ever post a comment elsewhere too. That might eliminate your problem.

      http://en.gravatar.com/

      Responses to posts can display differently depending on where you comment. If you are logged in yet comment on the page itself, it can display differently than if you respond while in WP admin.

  • Paula Balish

    Do we absolutely need the pink salt and can you buy it in a store? I’m in the Cleveland area.

  • Matt

    One thing I like to do while my bacon cures is flip it every day or two so that both sides get equal time in the brine that develops as the moisture is pulled out.

  • Mike K

    Mr. Ruhlman,

    What are your thoughts on Belly with or without skin? I have a Bradley and always wonder how much smoke you like to throw (how many bisquits) at it and what woods you like other than the standard Apple and Hickory.

    • ruhlman

      skin is so valuable i always try to buy skin on. it can be added to soups and stews for body, or confited and fried.

  • jenjenk

    Oh, THANK YOU for posting this!! I was so sad I missed your session but duty called…

    I’m now determined to prepare this for all kinds of porky goodness!!!!

  • Emily Dzek

    Thank you! I bought a pasture raised pig and didn’t want the butcher to smoke the bacon (or anything) using nitrates so I had them just give it to me fresh. This will make a nice project. =) You’re the best!

  • bunkycooks

    I was not at BlogHer Food, but Chef Kevin Rathbun did a demonstration on preparing bacon and made pork belly tacos at the kick-off event at Food Blog Forum in Atlanta.

    Between the two of you, this seems more approachable. Thank you for the recipe. I can’t wait to make piggy goodies at home!

  • Ellendra

    Can bacon be made using other cuts of meat? Is that what canadian bacon is?
    (Not fond of pork, but I LOVE bacon!)

    Also, I asked this on another post but it kind of got buried, but, can meats be confitted in butter? How about ghee?

    Thank you

    • Irvin

      I was a the BlogHer Food demo and I believe Ruhlman said that canadian bacon is salted and cured the same way that regular bacon is, but it’s a different cut of the pic. It’s taken from the pork loin, which is the center of the pig’s back. It’s sometimes referred to as “back bacon”.

      By the way, thank you Ruhlman for posting this. I didn’t take notes at the demo but you made it sound so easy to do, both there, and on this post. I can’t wait to make it.

      Good meeting you at BlogHer Food!

    • ruhlman

      irvin is correct. it’s the pink salt that gives ham and canadian bacon the ham flavor. all parts of the pig can be treated this way

      • Ellendra

        Any ideas about my second question, confitting with butter? Or should I just try it and see?

  • Mitchal M.

    Excellent!
    What a perfect project to jumpstart my day off tomorrow.
    I recently came to acquire a new smoker and am excited to have a new application for it.
    So I take it I should just bring the internal temp of the belly to 150 in the smoker as opposed to the oven?

  • jeff

    is the smoking instead of or addition to the roasting at 200F?

    what kind of smoking? cold or hot smoking? for how long?

  • Casey Angelova

    I just got your book Charcuterie and even before you wrote this post, I was planning on preparing my bacon tomorrow. You extra advice gives me comfort! I wrote you a comment a while back about Himalayan Pink Salt vs Pink Curing Salt… for some reason, I think that tip was meant for me!

  • Bill

    Thank you for this post. I will be making bacon.

    Can you talk about storage options and methods, and shelf life?
    This of course assumes that it is not devoured by me and the family first.

  • Kris

    How long will the bacon keep in the fridge after the initial cooking in the oven?

  • Richard

    Can you do this cure if the raw bacon is already sliced or would I have to make changes?
    Thanks,
    Richard

  • Fran

    I’m so glad you posted this. You helped me understand what to do with that jar of curing salt I picked up at work a few weeks ago – thanks! And here’s the dumb question of the day … is curing salt used when making lox? I’d like to try making some. All we get around here is the packaged stuff which is not worth eating. A worthwhile bagel is hard to come by as well, but if I can have some stellar lox that’s 1/2 the battle.

    It looks like now that my shop girl days are coming to a close I should take advantage of my employee discount and pick up a copy of Charcuterie as well. :)

    • ruhlman

      i don’t use pink salt when curing salmon, though if youre smoking the salmon, it is advised as an anti-microbial agent.

  • Drew @ How To Cook Like Your Grandmother

    Speaking of WordPress funkiness, when I first read this I saw a comment from Lynda that isn’t here any longer, and no other comments.

    In any case, she said you also did prosciutto at BlogHer. Any chance of showing that one … again for those of use who weren’t at BlogHer?

    • ruhlman

      prosciutto trickier because of its size, but it’s basically just packed in salt for a day per kilo i think it is, then hung to dry. dry curing facilities are important.

  • Dana N.

    When rinsing off the seasonings, don’t mistake the nipples for garlic and try to rinse them off. They are very stubborn.
    Minor freakout moment.

  • Luanne

    I was looking for a culinary school when I stumbled across your blog. You are now my unofficial professor. My family thanks you and their bellies are happy!
    Bacon….yum!

  • Jay Cohen

    I need to stop by your site more often, and of course, buy your book.

    I’m picking up a pig’s head and some ears next week, will have my butcher toss in a pork belly.

    I have a Cookshack smoker, your recipe rocks.

    Thanks for posting.

    Jay
    Western PA
    Eating anything with a Face.

  • Erik @ Food Night

    Recently executed the pancetta version of this. Then braised several hours wrapped in foil, then crisped up the meltingly tender slabs, and served with Ruhlman-inspired herbed mayo, tomato jam and Ad-Hoc’s slow roasted garlic croutons for a sort of deconstructed BLT. Quite fabulous. Thanks for making life taste good, Ruhlman.

  • Mantonat

    How much is everyone here paying for pork belly? It seems like it’s mostly available at the higher end butcher shops for more than what costs to buy the same amount of actual bacon. I don’t mind buying a pound or so at this price for braising, but a 5lb slab might end up being a little too pricey. Last time, I paid close to $6/lb, but the butcher was kind and gave me some extra for free because he thought the shop was charging too much.

    I’ve also found it in a couple of Asian markets for a much lower price, but it’s usually cut into strips rather than a whole slab.

      • Hema

        Here in Cleveland I pay $4/lb at the farmers’ market – New Creations Farm. I think you can order from them online but I don’t know if it will be much cheaper once you factor in S&H. The quality of their products is excellent!

  • Laurel Miltner

    Michael,

    In the comments of your pancetta post, you mention that it will keep in the refrigerator for up to three weeks or in the freezer, well wrapped, for 6 months. Does the same apply to the bacon?

    Thanks!

    @laurelmackenzie

  • Dana N.

    I got my bellies at a meat wholesaler. I did have to but a case which was 3 slabs about 10 lbs piece. Cost me a little over 50 bucks.

  • Hema

    I love pepper-crusted bacon. Can a home-curer effectively get a pepper crust on a whole belly and if so, how? Also, if I want to experiment with unusual flavor combinations, would I always add the herbs/spices to the cure, or are there certain instances when it would be advisable to season during/after roasting in the oven?

  • John Giannuzzi

    Does the homecook save good money by buying and curing their own pork belly, or would you say after time/money spent you come out about even (versus buying store bought high-quality bacon)? Also can you store bacon fat like duck fat & use it for home fries etc., or will it spoil quickly? Thanks!

    • Drew @ How To Cook Like Your Grandmother

      I can answer for the bacon fat. I filter mine through a plain paper towel after cooking bacon. I’ve got a container I keep in the fridge that I keep topping up. The bottom layer has probably been there for over a year, and no sign of spoilage yet.

      This wasn’t just an experiment, by the way. I’ve found old sausage recipes that say to pack the finished sausages in lard to preserve. The fat itself is a preservative.

    • ruhlman

      there’s cheaper bacon out there if youre looking for cheap.

      bacon fat same as duck, keep all fat out of the light.

  • Mary-Alice

    I love making the bacon! I have to drive 80 miles to pick up belly and try to have one curing before I use the last of the last batch. I do find that cooking our home cured bacon in the oven is better than the stove top. The sugar content is fairly high and the oven is more consistent. But it has been a great BST season (bacon sorrel and tomato…too hot for lettuce in the garden but sorrel grows like the weed it once was). Hugs!

  • former butcher

    Your “pink salt” is a “carrier” for the sodium nitrite, diluting its strength. There’s a good reason why the USDA calls this stuff a “restricted ingredient”, and carefully prescribes how much of it can be used in the curing process. Personally, I think it’s not something that amateurs should be messing with. I can buy beautiful artisinal bacon either locally or on the web, and not have to worry about a bad reaction. But I am “Old School”, and have memories of the USDA looking over my shoulder all the time. I would certainly “experiment” with bacon before I would even think of “dry Curing”. That is very specialized business!

    • Mantonat

      Sodium nitrate is definitely toxic at high levels, but then again, so is regular table salt if you ate enough of it straight. Any reason why the amateur at home should worry, when recipes with precise measurements are given by people who know what they are talking about? And any reason the amateur should have to worry about adverse affects of continuous sodium nitrate ingestion this is probably something they will only do a couple of times a year? Just curious as to your reasons why someone shouldn’t “mess with it.”

      • former butcher

        I am just an old butcher, not a food scientist; but the analogy of table salt to “curing agents” such as sodium nitrate is not applicable. And the specific agent we’re talking about here is sodium NITRITE, not Nitrate, a much more potent chemical.
        The chief concern with sodium nitrite, as I understand it, is the production of carcinogenic substances called nitrosomines (sp?) as the cured product is cooked prior to eating. While I have heard all sorts of arguments about the relative safety of modern curing methods, I would rather play it safe. We were required to have our curing formulations approved by the USDA, specifying precise amounts of curing agents and percentage of pump and/or absorption. We were required to send samples of finished product to certified labs for analysis as well. There is also the issue of sodium nitrite itself being, as you say, potentially toxic. I can recall some stories, whose veracity I cannot vouch for, of some people going into shock after consuming meats that were cured with too much sodium nitrite.
        Again, if you followed precise instructions, meticulously measuring and weighing ingredients, ensuring that all parts of the meat received the proper amount of cure, you’d probably be safe. Maybe I feel I’ve done my share of “makin bacon”. That’s my two cents.

        • Mantonat

          Sorry – I totally meant to type “nitrite” instead of “nitrate.” I even re-read Ruhlman’s blog to make sure I had it right and then did a little online research to make sure I had my terms right.

  • the urban baker

    thank you so much for posting this. i am the incessant note taker, however, that night I left my note pad at home! great demo – you made the task look effortless! and p.s. your closing words at BHF was one to be remembered!

  • Michael Miles

    The bacon I cure has been the way I’ve been maintaining some porcine presence in our home. It’s unquestionably better than anything I can find locally. I started with the basics from Charcuterie and have variously experimented and tweaked the recipe to suit our taste. I’ve been fortunate to share some of my knowledge and product with friends and colleagues. The look on someone’s face when they first taste a piece of home cured bacon makes it well worth the time and effort.

  • Jenna A-H

    Egads! I love the simplistic beauty of curing meat. A very strong memory from my childhood is walking into the speciality shop Teitel Bros. on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and seeing all the sausages and various kinds of meat on glorious display. I’ll never forget the smell. Such a nice treat to have in one’s home.

    Thanks so much for posting this. I was directed to your site via Serious Eats.

  • Victoria

    My copy of Charcuterie is upstate so I can’t check this out before I write this. Obviously, you know that in England and Ireland, this is called streaky bacon. What we always ate with a full English breakfast was called by my granddad Irish bacon, but I assume it would be properly known as back bacon. It was delicious, so I am imagining this recipe could be adapted for that, and I assume the loin of pork is what would be used for that. But what I ate – and what is pictured in the Ballymaloe Cookbook – does not look round and completely lean like Canadian bacon; it looks like a comma and has some fat on it. Does that mean it’s one particular end of the loin? I am drooling to have it with tomatoes and mushrooms and a fried egg. My granddad was a pork butcher so he did “bacon” his own pig.

    • Michael Miles

      I’ve used the same recipe that I use for belly to cure pork loins to make back bacon for some Irish & British friends. It turned out wonderfully and the comments were very positive. You shouldn’t have any trouble. Enjoy!

  • Deliciously Organic

    I was at the demo and you used sodium nitrates in your recipe. I’m so glad to see you posted the recipe without nitrates as I get horribly sick if I consume them. Now I can try curing at home. Thanks!

  • Jeff

    Thanks to you and your book on the subject I’ve been making bacon as a matter of routine for a year now. I don’t even get to eat much of it because friends are always asking for samples. Also, the value of bacon as a gift shouldn’t be underestimated. I haven’t bought commercially produced bacon since.

  • bob del Grosso

    I think people who have never made bacon or have never had dry-cured bacon will be impressed by how differently it cooks from the wet cured stuff that is standard fare in supermarkets. The wet cured stuff (it’s injected with brine) spits water all over the damn place during the first few messy minutes of cooking. Also plasma proteins come out and coagulate into puss-like blobs. Suffice it to say, that I prefer the cooking aesthetics of dry rubbed bacon a lot!

    Finally, for those who are nervous about using pink salt but still want their bacon to have the color and flavor that only nitrite (and nitrate-which should NOT be used for bacon) can impart. You can buy premixed cure from Butcher and Packer (I think it’s called Maple Sugar Cure). Just make sure to follow the directions carefully.

  • Jason Seibert

    I curred pork belly like pancetta then confit in bacon fat. Ill use it tomarow in a galette wth Chanterells, onion marmalade, fig butter potato confit and maybe Black Truffle if I get them donated. Thanks for the influence!

  • David in San Antonio

    I had some organic pig belly in the freezer that was on its way to becoming bacon soon after I read this post yesterday morning. It’s curing in a Ziploc vacuum bag, which is helping to keep the rub on the meat. Now the hard part: waiting ’til next week to smoke it over pecan wood.

  • Thisbe

    You said this –
    “strictly speaking, it needs to have the pink salt in the cure if you’re going to smoke because, in rare instances, botulism bacteria from spores on the garlic could grow; pink salt eliminates this possibility; but I never worry about this, you’re going to cook it again in any case”
    I hate to be a downer – but if you’ve had botulism growing from spores on your food, it doesn’t matter if you cook the food again. In the case of botulism, it’s not the bacteria itself that is toxic, but a toxin produced by the bacterium. And that toxin is heat-stable; cooking is not going to make it go away, and it will kill you.
    So, you SHOULD worry about it. The bacterium is found very commonly in soil, and the whole problem is easily prevented as long as you take the proper precautions.

    • Tyler

      I agree in full, you must also worry about Botulism toxin inhalation. That’s right, just breathing the stuff can paralyse and kill you. This is the same reason you never open a bloated canned food item. Just thrown it out.

    • ruhlman

      It was my understanding that the botulism toxin is neutralized by heat. it’s the spores that cause it that are highly heat resistant. can anyone clear this up definitively?

  • Chris

    I’d like to second the question stated above regarding pepper crusting the bacon. If I do this, should I just put pepper in the initial brining mixture, or put the pepper on it before I throw it in the oven/smoker?

    • ruhlman

      why would you want to use turkey?<blockquote
      I’d like to second the question stated above regarding pepper crusting the bacon. If I do this, should I just put pepper in the initial brining mixture, or put the pepper on it before I throw it in the oven/smoker?

      put extra pepper on after

  • John

    I’ve been using Michael’s recipe from his book for a few years, and it is *divine*. New friends are always impressed…once they understand that I mean “smoking my bacon” literally.

    @Chris I put the pepper in the dry rub, pressing it into the belly. There was plenty stuck to it when it when into the smoker.

    Trying different cures is sooo much fun. Cocoa powder didn’t work out….I’m planning on trying a liquid coffee concentrate in the next cure.

    -John

  • Greg

    Thanks for the informative post. This isn’t something that I’d thought of doing but am interested. Could you tell me if it would work with Turkey as well if I wanted to do turkey bacon?

    Thanks,
    Greg

  • Brian Shaw

    I know this is nearly heresy… but I use liquid smoke when oven finishing bacon. After washing a dry, full-strength liquid smoke can be brushed over the meat.

  • Hal in Seattle

    I’m a little confused about 2 oz or 1/4 cup of Morton or Diamond kosher salt, since they have quite a difference in density.

    • ruhlman

      actually, i use mortons because it actually has a near-equal volume to weight ratio, so that 1/4 cup weighs about 2 ounces.

  • TXCHLInstructor

    Just how essential is the use of sugar in this recipe? I realize that only a small amount of sugar will actually make it into the bacon, but I would prefer not to have any sugar at all.

    I may try it with a small amount of artificial sweetener, or no sweetening at all to see how that turns out. Another variation I’m likely to try is using potassium chloride instead of salt, or maybe 50-50 potassium and sodium chloride.

  • Richard

    “Diamond Crystal coarse kosher salt”

    That’s right – it’s the *salt* that Jewish people object to! Use kosher salt and all your Jewish friends will be perfectly happy to eat your home-cured bacon. :o)

  • Timothy S. Carlson

    I am so doing this. Our neighbor butchers two pigs every Saturday night, so we can get pork belly that is super fresh. We may throw in a filipino twist – so I’ll let you know how it comes out.

  • Becky

    I just took my pork belly out of the oven and am cooking my second batch of bacon! First off, thanks, what a wonderful addition to my cooking skills.

    Couple questions: how do you slice it? I have tried my electric knife and a couple other knives I have but I’m having trouble getting it thin enough. I don’t like thick sliced bacon. Are my knives just bad?

    Second, will this bacon, if sliced thin enough produce bacon crumbles, like the store bought stuff does? Mine seems to be a bit chewy rather than crispy, but it may be the thickness of the slices.

    Lastly,there is a very large slab of fat on the top of mine, but no skin, should I take some of that fat off and just use it for bacon grease or something?

    The flavor is WONDERFUL. Thanks again.

  • richn

    Michael,
    Thanks for the recipe. I split a 5lb pork belly and finished half in the oven and the other half got smoked in my Green Egg. Both were far superior to the brined bacon that I made a few months back. No comparison. I liked the oven version better while my wife preferred the smoked (go figure) A 5lb brisket is now in the works so we shall see in a couple of weeks how that works out.

  • JP

    Does skin on change how you cure the bacon? Where you rub the cure spice mix?

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