In America, when one says the word “Bacon,” various images come to mind. Most will immediately think of bacon and egg breakfast. Others, bacon cheeseburgers. Or even bacon-wrapped shrimp, scallops, or filet mignon. What to do with that plain chicken breast? Stuff it with a cheese, spinach mixture, and wrap it with bacon.
Chocolate covered bacon? Why not!
Most stores carry okay, decent, or over-priced bacon
Regardless, bacon (to some, but not all) has quiet the culinary and appetite appeal. Unfortunately, the quality of bacon in the grocery store can vary from thin, tasteless, or over-salted to pretty good. Most of the time, quality is also reflected in the price.
Conducting my own survey in a local grocery store, I found the cheap stuff going for about $4/lbs, the standard thin, breakfast bacon for about $5-6/lbs, and thick-cut was going around the $7-8/lbs. And the gourmet, “Hand select (whatever that means),” or all-natural thick-cut kinds of bacon were in the $10-12/lbs price range.
I have tried all of them at one point or another in the past. The $5-6/lbs bacon is generally acceptable for most cooking and tastes okay. The $7-8/lbs bacon was definitely better. The $10-12/lbs sticker shock aside, I could not taste the difference from the $7-8/lbs bacon.
Surely homemade bacon tastes better and is less expensive?
As we did not raise hogs this year, I decided to see the price point difference to make my bacon at home from a fresh pork belly directly from a local butcher. I have cured roughly 100 lbs of bacon from my hogs, using a curing process and recipe that works best for me. I have tried other processes and recipes that did not go so well.
The curing process itself is surprisingly simple, only requiring one special ingredient, a scale in grams, fresh pork belly sourcing, and the other ingredients found in your local store.
Want to give it a try? Here’s how to make bacon at home.
Things You Will Need
- Gram Scale ( A digital scale with the Tare function is best )
- #1 Curing Salt (found on-line sausage/meat processing websites)
- Kosher Salt
- Granulated Sugar
- Brown Sugar
- 4-5 Medium Garlic Cloves
- 2-3 Bay Leaves (crushed)
- 10 grams of Black Peppercorns
- 2-gallon Zip-lock plastic bags (or a non-reactive large container and enough plastic wrap to cover 5lbs of fresh pork belly)
- Cross-section of Pork Belly
Ingredients For the Base Cure
- Curing Salt #1 (Prag Salt #1, Insta Cure #1, Pink Salt)
- 450 grams of Kosher salt
- 225 grams of sugar
- 56 grams of #1 Curing salt
Weigh the ingredients listed above, place in a sealed container and shake well to mix. Place in a cool, dry place, mark and date it, and it will be good for years.
Curing salt is table salt. (NaCl and sodium nitrite or NaNO2) Using #1 curing salt prevents Clostridium botulinum or botulism. There have been articles about the effects of nitrites in food, causing cancer. When given enough time during the curing process, sodium nitrite breaks down into harmless components. There is a case for concern IF the nitrites have not broken down completely, and you like your bacon extra, super, cajun style (BURNT).
The remaining nitrites, when burnt, form nitrosamines, which is a carcinogenic compound. That will only happen if you do not allow enough time for the nitrites to break down and burn your bacon.
Burnt bacon = BAD!
When curing your bacon, you are using very little nitrites, and the curing time of 7 to 10 days will allow those nitrites to break down into their harmless compounds.
Some bacon in the grocery store will advertise they are not cured or have no nitrites. That is not entirely accurate. Nitrites occur naturally in leafy green plants, like spinach, and in celery. Look on the back of the bacon package, and you may find celery powder as an ingredient.
NOTE: There are other salts with #2 in their names (e.g., Curing Salt #2, Insta Cure #2, etc.). #1 salts are for curing. #2 salts are for drying sausages (e.g., salami, pepperoni) or whole muscle legs for a prolonged time. Do not interchange #1 with #2.
Sweet and Savory Bacon Recipes
Sweet Breakfast Bacon
For sweet, breakfast like bacon.
- 50 grams of the Base Dry Cure (above)
- 125 grams of brown sugar
- 5lbs pork belly
Zip-Lock Bag Method
Mix the Base Dry Cure and the brown sugar in a 2-gallon zip-lock bag, add the 5lbs of pork belly and seal the bag. Massage the dry cure and sugar mix all over the belly. Press down on the thin part of the pork belly and then the thickest part and note how it feels. Put in the refrigerator and note the date.
Once a day, massage the cure around the meat through the bag. After the first day, the cure will have drawn out some water from the belly, and the brown sugar will have become a liquid. Depending on the pork belly’s thickness, it will take approximately 7 to 10 days to cure fully. The edges and thin parts of the belly will become firm when pressed down on. When the thickest part of the pork belly is also firm, then it is done.
Non-reactive Container Method
Mix the dry cure and the brown sugar in one container. Cover the bottom of the container with half of this mixture and add the pork belly. Spread the remaining mixture all over the top of the pork belly using clean or gloved hands. Press down on the pork belly, and be sure to coat the edges too. Press down on the thin part of the pork belly and then the thickest part and note how it feels. Cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator, noting the date.
Turn the pork belly over once a day and recover with the plastic wrap. As above, the cure will have drawn out some water from the belly, and the brown sugar will have become a liquid. Depending on the pork belly’s thickness, it will take approximately 7 to 10 days to cure fully. The edges and thin parts of the belly will become firm when pressed down on. When the thickest part of the pork belly is also firm, then it is done.
If you find yourself questioning if the pork belly is cured enough, add a day or two.
Once done, remove bacon from the bag or container, rinse under cold water, and pat dry.
For savory bacon, you can use to add flavoring to dishes. For example, throw in a couple of slices of bacon when making bean soup. Or, Crumble crisp bacon on top of casseroles or potato dishes.
- 50 grams of the Base Dry Cure
- 4-5 medium garlic cloves
- 2-3 Bay leaves crushed
- 10 grams of black peppercorns
Smash the garlic and then chop. Crack the peppercorns using the flat of a heavy pan or mortar and pestle. Add all ingredients together in the plastic bag or container and follow the same procedure for the sweet bacon above.
Roast, cold smoke, hot smoke, or not at all – You choose
ROAST: Roast at 250-275 degrees until internal temperature reaches 150 degrees at the bacon’s thickest part.
COLD SMOKE: If you have a smoker, you can cold smoke (main chamber never getting above 90 degrees) for a few hours to impart a great smoky flavor. Before cold smoking, the bacon placed it on a wire rack and put it back into the refrigerator for 12 hours. The bacon will develop a tacky surface called pellicle, allowing more of the smoky flavoring to adhere.
HOT SMOKE: If you would like to hot smoke, smoke, and cook the bacon simultaneously. Use a hotter fire, and slow roasting until you reach the 150 degrees temperature. As with cold smoking, place it on a wire rack and put it back into the refrigerator for 12 hours to develop the pellicle.
What it cost me to cure bacon at home
Based on the math below, it cost me about $4.11 per lbs.
- The slabs of fresh pork belly = $3.50 per lbs. = $17.50 per 5lbs.
- Brown sugar = $1.99 2lbs bag = $0.11 per 5bls of bacon
- Basic Dry Cure = $1.09 per 5lbs
- Garlic = $0.89 per bulb of garlic
- Bay leaves = No idea as I used bay leaves from my plant. Let’s call it $0.05 for three leaves per 5lbs.
- Black pepper = $11.58 1lbs. = 453 grams ($0.03 per gram) = 45.3 grams at $1.36 per 5lbs of bacon.
Conclusion: homemade easily compares to the $7-8 bacon
And, you have complete control of every step of the process. How much time does it actually take? The Sweet Bacon, 10-15 minutes at most. Then about 30 seconds a day to massage the bag or flip the belly. The Savory Bacon, about 30 minutes. And again, the time to massage the bag or flip the belly.
Roasting and hot smoking figure about two hours, most of which are passive. Cold smoking, I have done it from 4 hours to 6. Mostly it is passive. Just keep the fire going in the offset smoker.
Don’t be afraid to try different seasonings, spices, or sugars. Try making spicy bacon using cayenne pepper, black pepper, chipotle pepper, fresh jalapeno, onions, and garlic. Instead of brown sugar, try maple syrup or maple sugar, or blackstrap molasses. Here’s a great recipe for making Boston Baked Beans using some of that freshly cured bacon of yours!
Have at it! And take pleasure knowing you made it yourself.
What about you?
Do you make your own bacon? Do you have any tips to add? Any questions? Let’s talk about it in the comments.