Bacon might be the most delicious food in existence. I was a vegetarian for a number of years when I was younger, part of which was spent as a vegan. I missed most meat surprisingly little during that time, but the smell of bacon never lost its allure. Homemade bacon, even more so.
Did you know you can make bacon at home? It’s not even all that difficult. You need a kitchen scale and a smoker, but you probably have all the other equipment and most of the ingredients for it in your kitchen right now. Bacon is effectively just pork belly cured in a mix of salt, sugar, and spices, then smoked at low temperatures. Pork belly is also typically much cheaper than finished bacon, and when making your own you can control all the details. It can be saltier, sweeter, thick cut, or on the thin side. That is definitely the biggest perk of homemade bacon. You can make it exactly how you like it.
This particular recipe is for a very basic, middle of the road bacon. It’s a little savory, and a little sweet, with just a hint of black pepper. If you follow the basic formula here, you can change up the spice mix with any variety of spices to find what you like. I used espresso to flavor the last batch here, and it was fabulous. I almost always use turbinado sugar in my cure, but this is another thing you can adjust to taste. Turbinado leaves the finished bacon a little sweet, but more on the meaty side. If you like yours sweeter (or meatier, for that matter), a good rule of thumb is the browner the sugar, the more meat flavor. The lighter it is, the sweeter and less meaty.
Another note on specific ingredients; don’t use standard table salt for your cure. It will give you the unique combination of an incomplete cure and painfully salty bacon. Kosher salt or sea salt are much better bets. I use a combination of the two when I have kosher salt around, but most of the time I just use coarse ground sea salt.
Speaking of ingredients, let’s talk pork belly. Your average big box grocery store is unlikely to have big slabs of pork belly waiting for you, but all hope is not lost! Google is your friend. Search for a butcher shop in your area. There’s a carneceria down the street from my house that very reliably has it, and before I lived in this location there was a butcher and meat processor a couple of exits down the interstate that would hook me up. Small to medium sized farms that raise pigs may also be willing to hook you up, even if it’s not a cut they normally sell. Don’t be afraid to ask! Check farmer’s markets in your area, or do a search on LocalHarvest.org. If none of this works for you, Costco seems to carry it pretty reliably.
Basic Home Cured Bacon
- 1 whole pork belly (10-15 pounds)
- 2.5% total weight of pork belly coarse sea salt (can mix half and half with kosher salt)
- 1% total weight of pork belly turbinado sugar
- 3-4 whole bay leaves (crushed)
- 2 tbsp cracked black peppercorns (fresh ground if possible)
If pork belly still has skin attached, remove with a thin, flexible knife, taking as little of the pork belly off with it as possible. Cut belly into 2-3 more manageable sized sections.
Weigh each section of belly on a kitchen scale. Break out your calculator. You will want to measure the salt and sugar for your cure out by weight. Weigh out 2.5% of the weight of a single section of pork belly in salt, then 1% in sugar. See recipe notes for help on calculating these amounts.
Mix peppercorns and bay leaves together, then split the mixture into 2-3 parts (depending on how many sections you've cut your pork belly into). Mix one part of the spice mix with the salt and sugar you've weighed out for this section of belly.
Rub mixture over pork belly section, aiming to cover it completely. When well covered, place belly into a gallon size ziploc bag (you might need two gallon bags if your sections of belly are large). Press as much air out as you can and seal.
Repeat this process for each section of pork belly. They can vary notably in weight and look like they are the same size, so for best results weigh and measure each section separately.
Place sealed ziploc bags in the refrigerator for at least 7 days. A good general rule is one week for each inch that your pork belly is thick. Each day, take bags out of the fridge, massage cure into belly (through the bag, you don't need to open them and remove the meat), flip over, and return them to the fridge.
After your pork belly has cured (7+ days later), it's time to prepare it for smoking. Remove each section from its bag and thoroughly rinse off any cure still stuck to the outside of the belly. This will help prevent your bacon from being excessively salty.
Pat each section dry, then place in a baking dish or other open top container where it can lay flat. Place back in the fridge for 12-24 hours uncovered. This will cause the bacon to form a semi-sticky outer skin that the smoke will cling to better.
When ready to smoke bacon, prepare smoker by getting the temperature up to and stable at 200F. When the heat is steady, add a handful of wood chunks of your choice. I personally like hickory for bacon. Next, place pork belly into smoker.
Smoke pork belly until internal temperature is 155-165F. This should take 2-3 hours, but smoke to temperature, not time. You aren't aiming to cook the bacon, just further preserve and flavor it.
When internal temperature of each section of belly is 155-165F, remove it from the smoker. Allow it to rest for at least an hour in the fridge before slicing. Then, viola! Bacon!
- To calculate how much salt and sugar to use, weigh your pork belly piece. Convert pounds and ounce to just ounces (16 ounces in each pound). Then, use a calculator. Number of ounces x 0.025= how many ounces of salt you Need. Weight of belly in ounces x 0.01= how many ounces of sugar.
- If you're unsure if your bacon has finished curing, cut it in half. Is the meat pink with with streaks, or pink and grey with white streaks? If there's still grey visible, let it cure another couple of days.