canadian bacon

Brining pork loin for Canadian Bacon/Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

Herewith a Canadian bacon recipe (which is American) and a peameal bacon recipe (which is Canadian), inspired by this month’s #Charcutepalooza challenge: Brining.

Brining in one of the most powerful forms of seasoning, flavoringand curing meat.  Disperse salt and aromatics in water, then submerge a whole muscle into that salted flavored water.  Water surrounds the meat delivering by osmosis salt and flavor into the meat.  Some may argue that flavor molecules are too big to enter the meat, but my tasting experience says flavors of herbs definitively get into the meat.

Brining basics are few: It’s best to weigh your salt so you know exactly how much you have. Make sure your brine is cool if not cold before you put the meat in.  Always refrigerate your meat as it brines. Make sure your meat is completely submerged; some cuts want to float, in which case you’ll need to weigh the meat down.  When it’s finished brining, rinse the meat and pat it dry.  Discard the brine (never reuse brine).

Finer points of brining.  My ideal brine is 5% salt concentration, or 50 grams per liter of water (yay metrics!) or 1.6 ounces per quart (boo imperial measures)—if you don’t have a scale, use three tablespoons Morton’s kosher salt per quart. I’ve found you can brine meat indefinitely in a 3% brine, but 5% give me just the right strength for speed without the worry of making the meat too salty.

I like to rest meat for several hours (and up to a couple of days) to allow the salt concentration to equalize throughout the meat.

I cook my brine to infuse it with flavor. But to speed up the cooling time, I use half the water to cook the ingredients and dissolve the salt, then add the remaining water as ice.

Brining seriously inhibits spoilage bacteria, so you if you want to preserve meat, brining it is a great strategy.

And that’s it.

Here’s a recipe for Canadain Bacon and Peameal Bacon, sometimes called back bacon, because it uses the pork loin, which runs along the back of the hog on either side of the spine.  Canadian bacon is hot smoked—that is smoked and cooked; peameal bacon is rolled in corn meal (it used to be rolled in dried ground peas according to wikipedia).  Some commenters note below that it’s rarely pre-cooked (as Canadian bacon is).  It can be pre-cooked to the temperatures Canadian bacon is smoked to, but I think they’re completely justified in recommending slicing and frying, or the best cooking method, grilling over coals.  If you’ve go a lot to brine, this is easily doubled. This brine will be sufficent for 1 pork loin between 1 to 2 kilos, 2 to 4 pounds.

Canadian Bacon or Peameal Bacon

For the brine:

  • 2 liters water or 2 quarts of water
  • 90 grams (6 tablespoons Morton’s) kosher salt
  • 20 grams  (1 tablespoons) sodium nitrite (I use DQ Cure #1)
  • 125 grams sugar or 4 ounces (1/2 cup)
  • 5 cloves garlic smashed with the flat side of a knife
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large bunch of sage (optional)
  • 7 or 8 thyme sprigs (optional)
  • 1 lemon halved (optional)
  1. Combine the brine ingredients in a pot and bring it to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Remove it from the heat, allow it to cool, then chill it in the refrigerator.
  2. Submerge the pork loin in the brine (or put it all in a large zip top bag) and refrigerate for 72 hours (give or take a few hours depending on your schedule).
  3. Remove the loin from the brine, rinse it, pat it dry, and refrigerate it uncovered for 4 hours or up to a day.
  4. For Canadian Bacon: hot smoke the loin to an internal temperature of 145 to 150 degrees F. or 60 to 65 degrees C.
  5. For peameal bacon, roll the loin in cornmeal to coat.  Cut into slices and saute or grill.
  6. In both cases, refrigerate the bacon until ready to cut and serve, either cold or reheated.

If you liked this Canadian Bacon recipe, check out these other charcutepalooza and brining posts:

© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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56 Wonderful responses to “Canadian Bacon: Brining Basics”

  • Laura S.

    LOVE LOVE LOVE Peameal bacon. We have a cabin up north and eat so much of it but can’t find anything like it around here. Thanks!

  • A Canadian

    The peameal bacon recipe is not an authentic Canadian Peameal bacon recipe. Sad.

    • ruhlman

      I wish you’d have said what you consider to be authentic. Is it the yellow peas? The brine? Certianly a traditional brine wouldn’t have had all those aromats.

      • A Canadian

        I am a firm believer that when trying a new product that you work from the roots up. So a first attempt at peameal would be the basic brine, no aromatics as they were never available to the original settlers of Ontario and the early explorers who used the ability to cure the meat as a way to transport it safely across country (although it was mainly a dry salt cure they used, with saltpeter).

        I love the raw meaty flavour of original peameal, I also love the flavours we currently use in our own which include cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves.

  • David

    Thanks for the post. I have a question and a couple suggestions. You call for 30g sodium nitrite by which you mean 30g pink salt (6.25% sodium nitrite, 93.75% sodium chloride), right? I ask because here in Canada the most widely available curing salt is only 1% sodium nitrite so the distinction is critical for conversions.

    You’re right that everywhere in Canada cornmeal has taken the place of meal made from yellow peas for peameal bacon. Because dried yellow split peas are fairly easy to find and cheap I think if you’re going to the trouble of curing your own peameal you might as well blitz about a cup of the peas in a food processor until there the same texture as coarse cornmeal and use that to coat your bacon. The taste is remarkably different and I think more complementary to cured pork.

    Finally, I’ve never seen pre-cooked peameal bacon (except in restaurants that serve a lot of it on burgers). Is there an advantage to doing it this way?

    • ruhlman

      1) Yes, sodium nitrite here is as you say and using a curing salt that had 1% nitrite concentration would change things.
      2) I love the idea of rolling in yellow peas will have to try!
      3) The pre-cooking was my knee jerk reiteration of Canadian bacon. Recipe step revised.

      • A Canadian

        awesome to see the posting revised about the cooking of the peameal bacon, it makes a wonderful world of difference in the flavour. Baking is still an option, it just removes those wonderful flavours found when grilling or sauteing the end product

      • David

        2. A warning on the yellow peas: Dried peas are hard (they go on after the pork comes out of the brine so the only rehydration they get is from the cooking juices and fat) so while the target for grinding is medium-coarse cornmeal this should definitely be considered a limit. Anything larger will act as dental-mines.
        3. Slicing and grilling is definitely the most popular/traditional way of cooking peameal but I’d also suggest roasting in a 325F oven to an internal temperature of 150F (including carryover) as a whole piece and then slicing. Not as crispy this way but flavourful and much more juicy.

        Also, I’ve had good luck preparing fattier and more flavourful cuts of pork (like shoulder) in the peameal style. I think loin is the only cut used for peameal these days because the method was developed during WWII and only the lean, premium loin survived the filter of post-war 50s affluence.

  • A Canadian

    @David

    Absolutely no advantage to cooking it, I am surprised he doesn’t have the two most common ways of cooking peameal on the blog, Since Peameal is truly a southern Ontario product (no, it’s not widely available across Canada as many people assume) you should try to stick to it’s roots as best possible – you will get a product you will make over and over again!

    1) in a pan on the oven and sliced off the roast before cooking (most common and awesome)

    2) Over a BBQ or Grill (as you like)…

    Which cure are you using, we use a cure compound that is 6.25% and is regulated by the gov. of Canada..most of them are.

    • ruhlman

      Thanks and recipe revised per your suggestion. And do let us know the name of your curing salt. I know some Canadians have been having a hard time finding any.

  • Natalie Sztern

    It is you and this blog that got me hooked onto brining turkeys; now I can’t do a turkey w/o…come to think of it a lot of my ‘first time’ trys have been here.

  • A Canadian Foodie

    Just made three of your sausages from Charcuterie on Saturday and am still reeling from the incredible experience. Would you be so kind as to consider uploading FEEDBURNER to your site so people like me could get your new posts in our mail box? I no longer use readers or feeds as I don’t get to them in a timely fashion.
    Thanks,
    Valerie

  • Bob & Doug MacKenzie

    Beauty eh ! Sounds like a good recipe to us. You need to fry a big ole batch of this up in an old cast iron fry pan and serve with a box of Molson Export Ale. Good Day and take off eh ! What a beauty way to go.

  • David

    @A Canadian

    The 1% curing salt I use is Canada Compound’s Readycure that is available in Toronto from Highland Farms stores. I’ve also used the 6.25% LEM Cure from Bass Pro Shops. Generally, I don’t find I use enough curing salt to justify the shipping expense of ordering online so I’d rather find retail sources.

  • Vivian

    I would love to do the peameal bacon. Will do it instead with the dried yellow peas. Thank you for posting this.

  • Jim

    Thanks for the recipe. The brine calls for sage but it looks like thyme in the photo. Which one?

  • Chad

    Did a “Canadian bacon” over the holidays with some homemade english muffins and “hollandaise” (used our verjus instead of lemon) – really remarkable – thanks so much for being a great guide to meat curing/smoking etc..

  • DocChuck

    When I owned and operated a 200-acre farm in upstate New York (Carthage area) not far from the Canadian border, I was fortunate enough to have on my property, a sugar shack, a hen house, and a smoke house, in addition to my 50 dairy cows, a few beefers, 6 goats, and a dozen filthy hogs.

    My hardy native neighbors were quick to introduce me to the secrets (THEIR secrets) of making peameal bacon, usually under threats of severe bodily harm if I should EVER reveal their method(s).

    When I decided that I was getting old and could no longer handle the winters with the 12-foot snowdrifts and common -20 degree weather, I sold the farm (for a handsome profit, thankfully) and moved back to civilization, armed with my knowledge of how to make my beloved peameal bacon (and MANY other culinary delights).

    Your article has resurrected some fine memories of my five+ years in the far north, and with some of the wonderful friends and foods that I met there.

    One question, Ruhlman — why do you refuse to use the “Spell-Check” feature on your word processor program? I guess, as a retired educator, I just HAD to ask that question.

  • Chappy

    Since it seems like the peameal bacon is only brined and not cooked (immediately), how long will it last? Just trying to factor how much I should make. I don’t think my wife and I could eat 4 pounds of bacon in less than a few months.

    • Darryl Koster

      peameal bacon will last some time, your best bet is to cut it up into manageable size pieces, vacuum package and freeze them….OR…. figure out what your cure amounts should be and make a much small piece. I would go with half…always easier.

  • Paul C

    yay metric! First time I’ve heard of peameal bacon … will have to try making it, if nothing else but to support the use of metrics.

    also my last batch of duck prosciutto came out a little bit too salty… is that indicative of sitting too long in cure? I think I may have left it a day longer than the recipe calls for before hanging it.

  • John B. Webster

    Let me ask, Michael, why is it “Yeah or Metric and Boo for Imperial.” I am truly lost and trust that it is not Europena eliteism–particularily since we are both from Cleveland. Please explain as multiplication and division are the same–regardless of the denominator.

    • Mantonat

      Reasons for preferring one over the other? Mostly it’s what you are familiar with, but metric measurements have a little more logic to them. For example, if a recipe calls for ounces, does it mean 1/16 of a pound by weight or 1/8 of a cup by volume? How many teaspoons in a quart? If you are measuring flour in cups, does it mean loose or packed flour?
      If everything is in metric, you know automatically by the name whether it’s weight or volume. And with flours (such as in the recent gluten-free bread recipe), it’s easier to be accurate when dealing with multiple flour types that have different density, moisture absorption, etc. But here in the US., people seem to feel that there’s just something elitist or un-American about metric measurements. We resisted as kids when they tried to teach it to us in school while Canadian kids my age learned it enthusiastically. I still have a difficult time visualizing metric amounts, which makes it difficult to eyeball ingredients. But when I do have the opportunity to use an all-metric recipe, things just seem to go a little more smoothly.

  • Tim

    Hi Michael – I have some brining questions.

    1. How much brine? Do you need just enough to cover the meat, or do you need say X number of litres per kg of meat? I know salt concentration and time in the brine are the most important factors, but does the quantity of brine matter?

    2. Can you store brine? Say I make up 4 litres but only need to use 2 litres. I’ve added herbs (garlic and sage lets say), sugar, etc. and I’ve boiled it. Can I store this in the fridge for any amount of time and use it in the future?

    That’s it for the questions. I’ve made this 2 or 3 times now using the recipe in your book which has considerably more salt – think it’s 450g per 4 litres. And it’s only a 48 hour cure. I don’t think the resulting bacon is quite salty enough – think I will try a longer brining time next time.

    For what it’s worth, I’m a Canadian from southern Ontario living in London, UK. I miss peameal bacon from back home and that’s why I’m trying to make it here. I know your recipe isn’t a real Canadian recipe (because you said so), but it tastes close enough. I can’t seem to find a ‘real’ Canadian peameal bacon curing method on the web. If anyone has one, please share!

    Another tip for those without a meat slicer – if you cook the bacon after curing like Michael suggests in his book, then it’s a heck of a lot easier to slice. Then you can just microwave (or fry) the slices when want to eat them. I bring them in to make my morning bacon sandwich at work.

    • ruhlman

      1. You need enough brine so that it is in contact with the brine. Don’t really need X liters per Y kilos. Theoretically you could have too little, a film of brine uniformly around the meat wouldn’t work.
      2. Yes, you can make brine in advance, my guess would be up to two weeks refrigerated and a few months frozen.

      • Pete

        Yeah, I was going to ask about that. I brined a whole 8-pound loin (cut into 3 pieces) last week and the brine recipe for 4 pounds covered all 3 pieces easily, I wasn’t sure whether it would be adequately cured but after smoking and slicing it’s nice; maybe a bit less salty than other batches but after a few breakfasts I’m not so sure that it’s not just about perfect.

  • Andrew Sigal

    Thanks! Great stuff. I love the time saver of cooking the bring with 1/2 water and topping with ice. I’ve always gone with putting the pot in a ice water bath, but that is waaaaay easier.

    BTW, you mention Morton’s Kosher salt. For what its worth, Morton’s Kosher includes an anti-caking agent. Diamond Crystal Kosher is pure NaCl. Theoretically the Calcium silicate in Morton’s is oderless, flavorless, and doesnt react with foods, but, if you’re being a purist, and all you really want is NaCl, might as well go Diamond Crystal.

  • Ed

    No!
    Don’t just bow to the fascistic narrow constraints of the Ontario Peameal Purists! They’re almost as bad as New Englanders who get all bitchy about the whole one-true-chowder-only dogma!

    (Speaking as Someone from Elsewhere In Canada who likes *back bacon*, but can pretty much leave meal crusts and the debris they leave all over the frying pan. Go ahead and call that cured loin thing Canadian Bacon as much as you want; the Ontario Bacon Police need the winding up.)

  • Rita

    I was referred to this website and it is my first time here. I am very excited to see what else I can find. Your conversation on Canadian Bacon is extremely interesting & can’t wait to try this recipe. I also (as someone else mentioned in an earlier post) brine my turkey and have become unable to eat turkey without brining. Just does not taste good to me. Well just wanted to say a quick hello and am going to read on now. :)

  • CharcuterieGuy

    I used the basic brine and technique for Filet de Porc Fume infused with Bouquet Garni.

    Excellent!!!

  • Adriana Lopez

    I always have trouble finding cure #1. Is it ok to use cure #2? I’m asking because most of your recipes call for #1. I live in Brazil and the sources for supplies don’t ship down this way…

  • ruhlman

    i was told no, but I think you can if you let it rest for a couple weeks. nitrate converts to nitrite, which converts to nitric oxide over time.

  • Bob B

    In the process of trying this right now, the pork has brined for a couple days and I’ll be smoking it Sun or Mon.

    First timer here and a pair of questions. First noticed there was a tiny bit of the meat poking above the brine today. I cut the affected area off and added a little more water. Should be fine, right?

    Second, the brine is a golden brown color and cloudy. I couldn’t smell anything since it was cold and I don’t know if my aromatics are to blame as I left them in (lemon cut in half and squeezed, garlic, bay leaves and rosemary). My guess is its the lemon bits, anything to be concerned about?

    Finally for those looking to get curing salt and don’t want to pay for shipping (or can’t wait) Williams Sonoma does carry it. Closest thing to a ‘chain’ I could find that should be nearby for most people. It does cost more per ounce then online alternatives.
    http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/curing-salt/

    • Toni

      My local Walmart carries pink salt (cure) in the same section as canning supplies, jars and whatnot. I’d be willing to bet lots of Walmart locations have it– and at a far better price than Williams-Sonoma!

  • marc

    VERY CONFUSED! In this post you speak of a 5% brine.
    Per liter: 35g salt & 15g cure. Where as the recipe in Charcuterie is almost 10% ! Per liter: 87.5g salt & 10.5g cure…. and “essentially” the same cure time. Big difference. Why? Could understand if one was a substantially shorter cure but….???

  • ruhlman

    The book is five years old and I’ve been reevaluating salt concentrations. You can use a heavy brine if you want but it’s too easy to make too salty. I find 5% brine is a great all purpose brine for everything. with 5% you really aren’t likely to overdo it. But: you can under do it. I’d rather underdo and add salt as needed rather than overdo it on the salt. I just tasted the loin pictured above and it’s right on the money, seasoning wise.

  • Marc

    Thanks for reply. I’m about to do a couple of pork loins for CD bacon and I would like them to cure for 7-10 days so I’ll go with the 3 to 5 percent cure rather then then he one in the book. Again though: Why such a big change in your recommendations?

  • ruhlman

    Because I’m always trying to get better. One of the great things about cooking is you never stop learning.

    • Marc

      Agreed. But we are still talking about a significant change in procedure. Which is fine. I understand. But I would like some science, “so to speak” to qualify this change.

    • SilverStarDiner

      Kudos to that and I have to say that you nailed it. I’m in the process of opening up my first place and will be doing our own peameal bacon for breakfasts and sandwiches and have to say this recipe was spot on. Additionally, I found the aromatics to be a great addition as they definitely added some complexity.

  • Reg

    The change in salt concentration is a matter of personal preference, for me it is 3%, years ago it was much higher. For the cure itself 200PPM is the standard amount for immersion cured meats. Remember that includes the weight of the protein and the weight of the liquid

  • klo

    I am from Southern Ontario and have been living in Europe for the past four years. I really miss peameal bacon because eggs benedict is just not the same without it.
    My question is about the nitrates. I have no idea where to get them. Is it possible to make a brine without them?

  • SeanS

    I just finished this recipe and it is pretty good. I have a question about casing the ham. I smoked mine for about 4 hours and the outside is a little crunchy and the shape is far from round. Would casing this with something help the shape and texture of the outside but still allow for smoking?

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