bacon or pancetta drying

This week's bacon, waiting to be smoked, photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

I’ve been slammed this week, and now have to travel, if I can get out in this blizzard. But last week I put a whole pork belly on the cure. I’d given it a sweet cure, brown sugar, maple syrup and black pepper, because I wanted to smoke it rather than make pancetta. It was done yesterday but I had no time to smoke it.  Our lives get busy, we don’t have time to finish something, sometimes we’re too tired or the kids have a snow day. What’s so great about charcuterie, as with this bacon, is its preserved.  There’s no hurry. I’ll smoke it next week, and until then, it’s going to sit out, somewhere out of the way. The salt cure has taken care of the bacteria. Its drying will prevent new spoilage bacteria from forming. It’s a friend. It will wait for me.

Curing it was easy because I had plenty of basic dry cure on hand, recipe below. I used 5% of the weight of the belly, put it in a big 2 gallon zip-top bag, threw in a couple handfuls of brown sugar and maple syrup, and tons of black pepper roughly cracked in a mortar, and refrigerated it for a week, flipping it regularly. My friend Marlene likes to put garlic and Dijon in her cure. You can use garlic, thyme, pepper and juniper berries for pancetta.

I took it out of the bag, gave it a good rinse. For a farewell lunch for Donna, I cut off two slabs for lardons even though it wasn’t smoked or dried, used them and thier rendered fat on frissee with some red wine vinegar, put a poached egg on top, and it was beautiful.  Next week I’ll smoke it. When I have time.

Basic Dry Cure, from Charcuterie

  • 1 pound/450 grams kosher salt
  • 8 ounces/225 grams sugar
  • 2 ounces/50 grams pink salt
  1. Combine, mix and store in an air tight container indefinitely.

If you liked this post on basic dry cure, check out these other posts:

Join the meat fun with monthly charcuterie challenges at Charcutepalooza

Candied Bacon Ice Cream recipe from David Lebovitz

Bourbon Bacon Jam from Evil Shenanigans.  Sounds odd, but it’s good.

Read my post on Home Made Bacon

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

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61 Wonderful responses to “The Forgiveness of Cured Meat: Bacon”

  • John

    wow…the meaty part of the bacon in the photo looks so red. I can’t get mine past a lackluster pinkish color. What’s the difference between yours and mine?

  • Scott Johnston

    Anyway we can see a photo after you have dreg the belly in the cure mixture? I am having a challenge figuring out how much cure to use. Also, I can understand using the whole belly, but is there any reason not to use smaller pieces (maybe two inches wide)?

    • ruhlman

      use whatever size you wish, measure 5% by weight of cure, and make sure it’s well distributed during the curing time

  • Lt. Sanders

    I smoke a lot of meats, but I’ve never cured any meat. If you’ll pardon what is probably a stupid question on my part. When you reference ‘pink salt’ are you referring to Sodium nitrite salt, or just a pink salt you’re using to infuse color?

    • Zalbar

      He’s referring to sodium nitrate salt. Which is salt with 3% sodium nitrate. It’s colored pink so you don’t confuse it with regular salt, as high enough concentrations of sodium nitrate can and will kill you. The reason you use this stuff is to give it the ham or bacon flavor.

      You can cure with just salt, but then it ends up tasting like a salty porkchop.

    • ruhlman

      sodium nitrite. it’s sold under various names, but the label should read 6.25% nitrite. Himalayan pink salt is not the same thing

  • Kim Graves

    Chef, can you give us your thinking on nitrate use. I’ve successfully cured a couple of prosciutto and am in the process of drying two guanciale without using it. Is it just for color or is it important for other reasons.

  • Ellen

    Yum! Just finished curing/smoking my first pork belly last week and is it good! I can’t wait to do another. Thanks Michael. It was your blog, last fall, on curing bacon that encouraged me to, first buy your book, then try making my own.

  • john v phipps

    @Lt Sanders… check out Michael’s post from Oct 12, 2010… http://ruhlman.com/2010/10/home-cured-bacon-2.html. It goes in depth on the process. And I recommend buying “Charcuterie”… it pays for itself quickly.

    In that post he says – “Pink curing salt means “sodium nitrite,” not Himalayan pink salt. It’s what’s responsible for the bright color and piquant bacony flavor. “

  • Lt. Sanders

    @john v phipps. . . Thanks for the info. I had a hunch, but I didn’t want to assume. I always lose a 50/50 guess!

  • philip Geneman

    This sound so good I love bacon and I love to make cured meat. this is a great recipe thanks! There are so many things that you can use bacon for and I love it all! – keep cooking

  • Frances

    My husband started us in charcuterie, but now I depend on the bacon and pancetta so much I often do the curing! You can’t buy stuff this good.

  • Kimmy

    Ha! I love you referring to the bacon as “your friend”. I’ve been referring to my pancetta in the basement for a week like that (drawing stares from my husband). Thank you also for clearly stating the 5% weight of the pork belly for the cure. For some reason, I couldn’t get that number through my head the first time around. :-)

  • Autumn

    Can someone here tell me where they are getting their pork bellies? Will a place like Whole Foods have them lying around or should I visit a more classical butcher? asian grocery?
    Thanks in advance.

    • Mark

      In Northern California (Sacramento) I’ve not had luck at Whole Foods, but found some good bellies at a local butcher (Taylor’s Market) as well as a great one from a local hog farmer, John Bledsoe.

      • Nick

        I have purchased mine at any one of the great Vietnamese Grocery stores in South Sacramento.

    • ruhlman

      ive ordered from my local grocery store, and yes, Asian markets often sell. just ask. people always looking to sell.

    • Chris

      Hi Autimn, In southern California I buy my pork belly at the whole foods near us. You have to ask the butcher because it usually isnt out front. If they havent used all of it for their in house bacon, they will sell you some. Its usually about $3 lb.

  • Mark

    So the total amount of cure should be 5% of the weight of the belly? Just tried the maple cure from Charcuterie and it is fantastic, especially smoked over apple wood, but like Scott J. I’m still trying to get the hang of how much cure to use. Also when you say you let the cured rinsed belly “sit out” until you were ready to smoke it, do you mean in a cool, dry place or uncovered in the fridge? Thanks so much for giving us the tools for home cured bacon, it has been an incredible experience making my own.

    • ruhlman

      yes, 5% i’ve found is a great standard cure weight. and, just as we hang pancetta to cure at room temp, you can let your bacon sit out. americans are unnecessarily afraid of room temperature

  • Patrick Ciccone

    Curious, in your book, you recommend keeping the skin on until smoking/roasting, but here it is sans skin, pre-smoke/roast… I opted this time to have my butcher trim the slab before cure. Seemed easier–though I kept the skin and bones for other uses.

    • ruhlman

      skin is almost pure gelatin when cooked, awesome stuff. always save. but i don’t roll for pancetta because hard to cook that way

  • Jeff

    Great post Ruhlman. Salt is the best. Charcuterie, truly a nod to the Past. Thanks for your efforts.

  • richn

    Michael,
    I switched from using Morton’s kosher salt on my last batch of bacon to Diamond Crystal and the latter didn’t seem to pull the moisture out of the meat like the Morton’s did. Am I crazy or do you think that there might be a difference in how the different salt affect the cure? By the way I weighed the salt both times.

    • jason

      There are significant differences between the mortons and the diamond salt – as I discovered when several batches of pickles I laid up turned out to be inedible…

  • Charlotte

    Hey Michael — I picked up a bag of Morton Tender Quick at my local supermarket a while back — looking at the ingredients it looks like it’s about the same as your Basic Dry Cure (except, horrors, it has propylene glycol in it?!? Antifreeze? guess I throw it out now?).
    Anyhow — pros? cons? it was available locally and pink salt wasn’t –

  • Ryan S

    I’m still unclear on the role of sodium nitrite…pinkness? No doubt. I made corned beef sans sodium nitrite (nor curing salt) and it was a very unappealing gray. Flavor? I’ve read both that it does and does not affect flavor. Does anyone have non-anecdotal evidence that SN can chemically affect the meat in such a way as to affect flavor? Lastly, I see more and more nitrite (and other meats) free bacon at the store…how do they do it in safe manner?

  • Anna

    I know this may be a terribly annoying question that you don’t have an answer to, but is there any alternative to using sodium nitrate? It’s illegal in Australia, and any attempts to purchase it get you pegged as a terrorist (and no, I’m not joking).

    • Zalbar

      I know several organic places use celery juice powder in place of sodium nitrite. As to the specific ratios to use for that, I have no idea.

      • Ellendra

        I’m curious about the celery thing too. Does it have to be concentrated or would straight-from-the-stalk work? Would juice from other greens work? (I could picture some interesting flavors resulting from using the juices of green herbs as the nitrite source)

    • Tim F

      Anna, sodium nitrite is not illegal in Australia. I have bought it from several businesses in Adelaide. It’s available online from Australian retailers.
      You’re thinking of potassium nitrate – which also isn’t illegal.

    • Moulard

      Anna, You can definitely get both cure #1 and cure #2 in Australia. I am base in Melbourne and have purchased it from at least two different vendors. It may not be sold as #1 or #2 but sold it is.

      Another option is to walk into any smallgoods store / deli. One local to me sells little 50g sachets of Sól peklowa — a Polish pickling salt — basically a undyed cure #1 — if you are not sure just check the ingredients list.

      Moulard

  • Carolyn Binder

    Michael, I just finished my first homecured pancetta with fresh ravioli and baby shitakes in a light cream sauce. I loved the pancetta! It cooks up very differently from commercial pancetta….crispy on the outside and still a little chewy…perfect to me! I’m really enjoying your book and participating in #charcutepalooza! Thanks, Carolyn

    PS: I make a loaf of your rye bread with carraway and homemade butter with sea salt every week. It only lasts a few minutes before it is devoured, warm from the oven! So much fun to make!

  • Abra

    What synchronicity! I started a belly curing right before we decided to go back to France. Now it needs to be smoked and frozen before we go, but the weather is arctic and it’s hard to keep the smoker up to temp. If it’s not possible to smoke it tomorrow, I’ll have to try the oven method, for the very first time.

  • Bob Hedgpeth

    I have done a lot of bellies, and that works really well. Put it in the fridge uncovered for however long you are away, it will dry down a little bit but in the end it will take smoke really well. I was using a Bradley smoker, after I was done I hung them up over the smoker ( I made a smoke box over the vent.)and let them dry out and get a lot of smoke from other things. I let them hang as long as the weather is cool. I use some as I go along then vac-pac and freeze the rest.

  • Beachfinn

    I usually get my belly from Publix here in FL, though i have lately been sourcing from Caw Caw Creek (pastured happy pork online). I have air cured bacon in the style of panchetta, after cure, i washed it, seasoned and air cured in curing cabinet unrolled till its dry as Prosciutto.
    Has anyone tried traditional bacon, vacuum sealed for cure (should work as long theres full coverage),rinsed, slightly smoked and finished sous vide, 131f for couple days?

    Don’t stop writing, i personally have read just about every book you’ve written :)

  • Terrie

    What a great post. My husband, kids, and I just finished butchering our own pasture based pig (it’s taken us about 10 days total) and have been using Charcuterie as our bible. The bacon goes in the smoker tomorrow, followed closely by the hams.
    Thanks for the infallable recipes!

  • Joan

    I noticed that you have either roasted or hot smoked the cured bacon. Can you instead only cold smoke it? Is it necessary to roast or hot smoke it?

  • Wm Kirby

    Shortly after my plunge into the world of The Big Green Egg, I purchased Charcuterie and love it! I’ve since done 2 full pork belly / bacon cures(dry) and smoke.. both amazing (thanks to your guidance!) Question – have you every done a wet cure with pork belly for bacon? Pros / cons to the dry cure?

  • Jon

    I’ve been looking around the internet for awhile now, with no luck, for information about ventreche. Most recipes that call for it say to substitute pancetta, which is fine, but I am left wondering what am I missing? What makes it different from pancetta? D’Artagnan says its cured with salt, pepper and garlic but no other hints.

    any comments?

  • Carrie

    Do you keep the skin on when you use the trimmings to make salt pork? I did but wasn’t sure if it was the proper thing to do.

    • ruhlman

      I only keep skin on when I’m confiting and will cook it in a way that will crisp the skin. skin loaded with gelatin so it’s great for stocks and stews.

  • Larry

    Is there a way to age the pork belly a little longer for a proscuitto/palatable result when sliced thin and eaten as is?

  • Ryan@Prolefood

    Michael, I have recently stumbled on your blog and really enjoy it. This post in particular is quite good, as a reminder for everyone! I also find your offhanded manner, eschewing fancy ‘persnickety’ methodology in favor of just getting folks to cook. I started my own blog in response to friends constantly asking me to show them how to do this and that, but I guess I could have simply sent them here!

    I was curious as to whether you have ever tried something along the lines of a beef bacon? I don’t even know whether one could call it such.

  • Larry

    Ryan@Prolefood
    Michael, I have recently stumbled on your blog and really enjoy it. This post in particular is quite good, as a reminder for everyone! I also find your offhanded manner, eschewing fancy ‘persnickety’ methodology in favor of just getting folks to cook. I started my own blog in response to friends constantly asking me to show them how to do this and that, but I guess I could have simply sent them here!
    I was curious as to whether you have ever tried something along the lines of a beef bacon? I don’t even know whether one could call it such.

    A chef at a local restaurant here in Charleston, SC does an awesome lamb bacon. Chef Craig Deihl of Cypress ” A low country grill”

  • Sam Hiersteiner

    All – Thanks in part to Ruhlman’s inspiration, I did an interview series with the chefs who are competing in this year’s Cochon 555, the heritage breed pig cookoff, in Washington, DC (www.hypervocal.com/samsgoodmeats). I’ll also be live tweeting @samsgoodmeats starting today (3/13) at 330pm. Follow me if you’re interested!

  • Rob Pattison

    Michael:

    Do I need to use pink salt if I intend to keep my bacon in the fridge and use it within a limited period of time? If so, how long can I safely keep it?

    Thanks in advance.

    RBP

  • George McNulty

    Love the Chacuterie book, my stomach is glad I am working my way through it, just ready to try the dry cured sausages.

    Questions, do you stil reccommend the Bradley smoker? I have a charchoal cabinet model but have trouble mainitnaning the temp. Two little ones running around the house got me thinking about a Bradley as a huge time saver and safety improvement, but I see a lot of complaints about poor temp control. Masterbuilt makes a similar type have you used this one?

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