Cured-bacon-3

Homemade bacon is easier to make then you think. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

 

It’s bacon time again! I don’t know why but I’ve been getting a lot of bacon questions in my email recently, so thought I’d address a few issues I haven’t before. Of course, I’ve long commented on the fact that curing your own bacon is no more difficult than marinating a steak. Mix all the ingredients together and put them in a plastic bag with the meat. Use the recipe below. The aromatics, the bay leaves and everything else below can be considered optional.

But there are other strategies. You could make a brine if you feel more comfortable with that. For those of you concerned about reaching the right salt and pink salt levels, you could use a technique called equilibrium brining, which I first read about in Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine. To do this, combine the weight of the meat and the weight of the water, then add 2% of that weight in salt, and 0.25% pink salt, in addition to aromatics. This can cure from seven days up to twenty-one days (and maybe longer). This way you will never have bacon that’s too salty, since 2% is what you’re striving for. It also gives you great flexibility on how long you cure (say you’re traveling or something comes up the day you intended to cook it).

The most common question I get is, “My bacon is too salty, what can i do?”

Answer: Slice as usual, cover the slices or lardons in water and bring to a simmer. Drain the water and continue cooking.

If, before you smoke or roast it, you fear that it might be too salty. Cut a piece from the center of the bacon, cook it and taste it. If it’s too salty, submerge the belly in water for 8 to 24 hours. Then proceed with the smoking or roasting.

The recipe below is a concise primer and step-by-step for curing your own bacon. Follow it and you should have perfect, delicious home-cured bacon every time.

 

Home-Cured Bacon

(adapted from Charcuterie)

  • Five pounds of fresh pork belly (skin on), 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)
  1. 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).
  2. After seven days, take it out of the fridge, rinse off all the seasonings under cold water and pat it dry.
  3. 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./ 93 degrees C. (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./66 degrees C.).
  4. 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 use the equilibrium technique I mentioned.

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.

 

If you liked this post on bacon, check out these other links:

© 2016 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2016 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

 

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11 Wonderful responses to “Bacon Time”

  • Dana Noffsinger

    This bacon is just pheniminal. We do not use grocery store bacon at all anymore
    The taste and texture are far superior to anything we can get.

  • Rachel Balota

    yes! thanks to your bacon posts I basically never buy bacon anymore. I always have a running stash in my freezer of the home cured stuff.

    Finally levelled up this year though: I’ve got cured pork belly rolled and hanging in a second hand wine fridge I picked up for cheap. Can’t wait to get stuck into my pancetta!

    • Cliff

      Yes, Yes, Yes!! Over three years since i have bought icky grocery bacon!! The gift of home made bacon is one more of the reasons that Mr. Ruhlman is the most dangerous person in the food business.

  • JNorth

    It might depend on where you live (so ambient temperature / humidity) but I just hang my pancetta off my book case. I’ve also hung bacon to dry in the same manner, it seems to intensify the flavors and prevent shrinkage when cooking.

  • Jerry

    This sounds amazing! And we happen to have juniper berries in the pantry which I’ve been waiting to use on something. So bacon it is! Even though we will likely use the foodsaver and freeze 3 to 4 pounds of this– how long after its cured will it last in the fridge? Thanks for the recipe!!

  • Jeff

    I love this method and have used it often since I bought ‘Charcuterie.’ Can you post a few ideas on how to use the skin after curing and smoking the belly? Thanks!

  • Michael Trippe

    Talk about timely… The weather here in Rochester NY is finally going to warm up – thinking I would make/smoke some bacon then ‘poof’ your post appeared. Great minds maybe?

    As always, thanks for the post.

  • Jill

    I found your recipe for home-cured bacon a few years ago when I started making my own at home. It came out so delicious that I completely kicked the habit of purchasing store-bought bacon. I’ve tried other recipes but your is just so perfectly scrumptious that I always come back. Thank you for inspiring me 🙂

  • Dan Nash

    I did this for the first time back in January. Came out ok for a first effort. (Think I needed more sugar maybe?) I did have a question though – I used the oven method because I live in a small apartment. I do miss the “smoke” flavor in the bacon, though, and was wondering about using liquid smoke. But would that be something to add during the curing? If so, any thoughts as to how much to add? Or just rub a bit of it on before the oven roasting? (I’ve never actually used liquid smoke before, and don’t like the thought of ruining pounds of bacon by using it wrong somehow!)

  • Karen

    I’ve always wondered. Is the stuff at the grocery store cooked to 150? Or is it raw? I usually smoke mine to 150, but I had it once cooked up on the stove top (without baking or smoking first) and it made me wonder, why the injunction to pre-cook? Anyone have thoughts on that?

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