Bacon made at home is often the best bacon one will ever consume (and I would put forth, some of the best meat one will ever consume). Store bought bacon is often bland, lacks seasoning, not really smoked and may contain preservatives that are undesirable. Large bacon producing companies treat bacon the same way large coffee companies treat coffee...as a commodity. And we, the American public, have bought their less-than-great product for too long (drumroll, patriotic music and brave faces please!) So, if you've joined the revolution and are ready to make your own bacon, read on!
What is bacon?
Bacon is made from pork belly, which when purchasing should have a 1:1 or 1:2 blend of alternating meat and fat layers. I purchase mine from my local Costco, but any butcher shop and many grocery stores should sell or be able to order pork belly for you. If I remember correctly, I paid about $3-$3.50 per pound for the 10# slabs.
The process of making bacon is surprisingly easy and the results are vastly better than the stuff from large commercial producers. Once you have a basic recipe down, it is a simple two-step process: (1) curing, and (2) smoking. From there it is fun, easy and tasty to try other recipes and create different types of bacon.
Curing the pork belly
The curing process is one process with 2 goals: cure the meat and season the meat. Curing the meat involves using Prague Powder #1 and seasoning the meat involves anything and everything else. Salt, sugar, spices, herbs, syrups and more. My recipes are dry cure, but wet cure may also used to make bacon. To read more about the processes, click here.
The recipes I use and share here, are the ones I currently use and they create 2 distinctly different flavors of bacon. Once you've learned how to properly brine and cure pork belly you can make a variety of bacon flavors. Scour the internet reading about what others do, learn from them and then create your own great recipes.
Prague Powder #1 pink curing salt
*NOTE: pork is a perishable meat product and if not handled correctly can be dangerous or deadly. Make sure you take appropriate precautions to make sure your meat is cured, smoked and served properly. If you have concerns or questions about curing meat, click here.
Prague Powder #1 is a combination of 6.25% sodium nitrite, 93.75% salt (sodium chloride) and pink dye. The dye is added to make it obvious that the salt has nitrites in it and may also help the resulting product retain a pink hue (it is also not the same thing as pink Himalayan salt, which does not contain nitrite). Prague Powder #1 is used on meats that are cured over a short time period.
Dosage: Prague powder #1 is very effective and only small amounts are needed to cure a piece of meat. Recommended levels are around 1-2 teaspoons of curing salt per 5 lbs. of meat.
While you may enjoy a great cigar when smoking pork belly, what I am talking about here is the other, and I would say main flavoring of great bacon - wood smoke. The type of smoking equipment and type of wood you use will make a difference in the end result.
There are various types of smokers and smoking processes:
- Stick burning - only wood is used to create both heat and smoke. My favorite way, but definitely more time consuming and hands on.
- Charcoal with wood chunks or chips added - charcoal is the heat source with pieces of wood added to make smoke. Don't soak your wood as it is a misnomer in the smoking process. To read why, click here.
- Electric - electric smokers usually use wood chips for smoke flavor and a water pan for humidity. Follow the manufacturer's directions for smoking meats.
- Pellet grill - pellet grills feed wood pellets, made from compressed sawdust, into a heat chamber producing both heat and smoke. Some people would say that pellet smokers do not add a full smoke flavor, but they are highly regarded as a modern, convenient and popular method of smoking.
- To read more about wood as a fuel, click here.
Different types of wood add different flavor to smoked meats and hickory, apple or cherry is often the preferred wood for smoking bacon. I find, at least with my stick burner, if I use any good hardwood I usually end up with a good end result. I have also been fortunate to have a supply of hickory and cherry given to me by a friend who owns a tree cutting company making for a great last year (my son and I are going to take down a neighbor's hard maple soon and I will post about that in the future).
Now, on to making bacon!
1. After opening the package, cut the pork belly in half. This is not required, but I do it so the pieces fit in the Ziplock bags I use.
2. Mix your seasoning recipe. I did 2 recipes this time and cured 5# of pork belly with each recipe.
Following are my recipes:
Home Smoked Bacon recipe for 5# pork belly (adapted from Michael Symon)
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup kosher salt (if using table salt, use 1/8 cup)
- 2 TBSP red pepper flakes
- 2 TBSP paprika
- 2 tsp powdered cumin
- 2 tsp Prague Powder #1 pink curing salt
Jack's Blend SPG Bacon recipe for 5# pork belly
- 2/3 cup Jack's Blend SPG
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tsp Prague Powder #1 pink curing salt
3. Mix the ingredients well.
4. Put the pork belly in a 1 gallon Ziplock freezer bag and then spread the rub all over the meat top and bottom (doing it in the bag is cleaner and you won't waste the brine mix). Press the air out of the bag, seal and label your recipe and the date with a sharpie.
5. Place the packages in a refrigerator. I recommend flipping the bags over every day or two to keep the brine and the liquid it creates equally distributed over the pork.
6. Recommended refrigeration time is based on the thickness of the meat. 7 to 10 days for a thin belly (1"-1/2" thick) and 10-12 days for a thicker belly (2"-3" thick). Once cured, the pork belly will feel firm.
7. Once the cure time is complete you will be ready to smoke the meat. If the pork belly is ready the same day you are going to smoke it, simply follow this process. If you have a day or two in between you can put the pork belly on a rack and refrigerate uncovered for a couple of days. This will form a pellicle, a tacky membrane on the outside of the pork belly, which may enhance smoke adhesion and coloring. (I have not done this, so cannot speak to the efficacy of it. I will make it a point to do so next time I smoke bacon and update this post).
8. Get your smoker fired up and shoot for a temperature of around 200-225 degrees. Because I use Black Betty, I like to start the fire about an hour prior to smoking the meat. That gives time for her to get totally warmed and up to temp.
9. Take the meat from the Ziplock bag and discard the bag and excess brine. NOW, you have a choice. You can leave the brine and seasoning on the meat or rinse it off. Rinsing will reduce the flavor and spiciness of the bacon and change the look of the final product. Leaving it on will add to the flavor, possibly making it too spicy for some people. If you choose to rinse the belly, pat it dry when done.
Here is a picture of each recipe; un-rinsed Jack's Blend SPG Bacon on the left, rinsed Home Smoked Bacon on the right. We also did un-rinsed Home Smoked Bacon, which is my favorite!!
As you can see in the pic below, we (me and 2 friends) smoked both rinsed and un-rinsed pork belly.
10. Smoke the pork belly till the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees (I use a Maverick ET733 with 2 temperature probes and insert them into the thickest part of the meat). Pull from the smoker and place it on a cutting board.
11. It is easier to handle the bacon if you wrap it in saran wrap, refrigerate it for a few hours and then slice it. You can slice it thick or slice it thin based on your preference. Or do some of both and then pan fry each testing for your favorite result.
BE PREPARED! If you start slicing and tasting the bacon right after pulling it from the smoker, you and your friends, family and neighbors may devour the entire 5 lbs. right then and there. It is truly the most amazing, tasty and delicious meat I think I have ever eaten. And although some might think it looks like you are eating "raw" bacon, you are in fact eating a cured, smoked pork belly...otherwise called bacon!
When you do slice and cook it, I love to do so in a cast iron pan. Then...toast up some yummy bread, get tomatoes, spring mix and mayo and have the beast dang BLT ever!!
BONUS: One of the funniest comedians alive and his obsession with bacon.