There are not many ingredients that are as highly coveted as bacon.
Truth be told, the only thing better than a slice of crispy bacon is a slice of crispy homemade bacon.
In the same way, every BBQ lover needs to smoke a brisket at least once; every bacon-lover needs to make their own bacon at least once.
Yes, making bacon from scratch takes considerably longer than running to your local market and buying premade bacon.
However, when you taste a slice of cured bacon, all of the trouble will seem worth it.
Why Should You Cure Your Own Bacon?
Not only will you feel accomplished and yield a tasty meal, but curing your own bacon comes with many benefits.
You get to determine what is used to make your bacon.
From the quality of pork, the flavoring agents, as well as how much smoke the pork absorbs, you get to control all of it.
In addition to this, you get to control how thin or thick your slices of bacon are.
Do You Need Nitrite to Cure Bacon?
In short, the answer to whether you need nitrate to cure bacon is it depends.
If you plan to store your cured bacon below 40°F and cook it to a temperature above 200°F, you do not need to use nitrate to cure bacon.
Essentially if you are baking, pan-frying, smoking, or grilling bacon at 225°F, you do not need nitrate.
On the other hand, if you intend to hold cured bacon at a temperature ranging between 40°F-140°F for more than 3 hours, you need to use nitrate.
Case in point, if you intend to cold smoke bacon below 80°F or smoke bacon at a temperature ranging between 130°F-140°F, you must use nitrate.
Nitrites and Food Safety
Whether you are curing bacon or pepperoni, there is one primary safety concern: botulism.
Botulism is typically associated with inadequate canning methods.
However, foodborne botulism can arise if meats are not cured correctly.
For this reason, commercially preserved meats contain nitrate, also known as pink salt.
Nitrate serves as a preservative and a color enhancer, as it is responsible for store-bought bacon’s signature bright red color.
Nitrate has sparked interest in the court of public opinion because large amounts of sodium nitrate are toxic and associated with migraines in some individuals.
Because of this, organic uncured bacon companies used celery juice as a replacement for nitrate.
However, celery juice may contain more naturally occurring sodium nitrate than pink salt.
In addition to this, when sodium nitrate in pink salt and celery juice is exposed to high heat with protein, protein bonds within the meat bind to the nitrate and generate nitrosamines.
Nitrosamines are toxic carcinogens which is the basis for the nitrates are harmful argument.
Nevertheless, because you are making your own bacon at home, whether you use pink salt is up to you.
If you are a pork lover, you know how important it is to source your pork from farms that were not subject to abuse on industrial feedlots, fed a diet of genetically modified soy and corn, or injected with antibiotics.
Purchase your pork from organic sources, such as small farms that raise their pigs in pastures.
Furthermore, purchase a fresh, not frozen, or sliced, organic pork belly that is 1-2-inches in thickness and 6-8-inches in width.
Moreover, select a pork belly that has equal portions of muscle and fat.
While you can purchase a pork belly with the skin or rind attached to it, you can ask your butcher to remove it and save it to make pork rinds.
More importantly, once you have purchased your pork belly, cure it right away as raw pork has a shelf life of 4-5 days.
Bacon Curing Methods
There are 3 different ways you can cure bacon: immersion curing, pumping, or dry curing.
Commercial bacon manufacturers almost always use pumping to cure bacon as it is the most affordable and quickest method.
As you will see, immersion curing is a similar process to pumping. The only exception is the bacon is allowed to marinate in the liquid for 2-3 days and hung until it is dry.
Because the immersion method takes longer than pumping, it is seldom used today.
Essentially, pumping refers to injecting bacon with the curing solution and allowing it to sit for 6-24 hours before it is cooked or smoked.
Although the curing liquid makes the bacon heavier, it also affects the flavor and texture of the bacon.
Lastly, dry curing refers to applying salt and spices to the pork belly, and the bacon is left to cure. Dry curing takes the longest time, but it produces the most flavor.
Therefore, dry curing is the way to go when making bacon at home.
What Do I Need to Cure Bacon?
Before you start the curing process, you will need a few ingredients and tools.
You will need curing salt, which can easily be sourced from your local grocery store or online.
dditionally, you will need a smoker since this is where most of the bacon’s flavor will come from.
You will also need wood chips. Fruitwoods such as apple or cherry tend to work best with pork. However, if you want a robust flavor, you can choose a wood such as hickory.
Lastly, you will need a smother thermometer.
Yes, most conventional smokers feature a built-in smoker located on the dome, but these smokers are known to be inaccurate.
If you do not own a smother thermometer, check out our review of the 5 best smoker thermometers.
How to Cure Bacon
Although curing baking is a tedious process, it is definitely worth it once you cure your own bacon; it’s almost impossible to go back to store-bought bacon.
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons pepper
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon pink curing salt
- 3lb boneless, skinless pork belly
To make the curing seasoning, whisk the kosher salt, pepper, brown sugar, paprika, and pink salt in a bowl.
Arrange your pork belly onto a cookie sheet lined with foil and dry it with paper towels.
Sprinkle half of the curing seasoning onto the pork belly, massage it into the meat, then turn it over, add the remaining curing season to the meat and massage it into the pork.
Place the pork belly into a large resealable zip lock bag and store it in the refrigerator for 1 week.
Make sure you place the pork belly into a leakproof container and set it onto a shelf by itself away from ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross-contamination.
Massage the pork belly every day and turn it onto the adjacent side.
After 1 week, take the pork belly out of the zip lock bag and rinse it under cold running water.
Dry the cured pork belly with paper towels, place it on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet and chill it in the fridge uncovered for 24 hours.
The cookie sheet will catch any drippings and prevent them from spilling onto other foods in your fridge.
Maintaining gentle heat is the key to smoking pork belly. If your smoker is too hot, all of the delicious fat will melt.
On the other hand, if there are inadequate levels of heat, the bacon will not cook thoroughly.
Place unlit coals into your smoker’s heating unit and add the lit charcoal on top of it.
This will allow your smoker to achieve a temperature between 200°F-225°F, without needing to add more coals halfway through the smoking process.
In addition to this, you can also create indirect and direct heating zones by arranging unlit coals on one side of the charcoal grill (indirect) and the lit coals (direct) on the other side of the grill.
Place the wood chips on top of the charcoal and let it go for about 5 minutes until smoke is produced.
Allow the first wave of smoke to pass before adding the bacon to the smoker to prevent it from developing a bitter flavor.
Arrange the pork belly fat side up onto your smoker and cook it for 1 1/2 hours until it has a temperature of 150°F.
If you are using a charcoal grill, place the pork belly into the indirect zone, directly over a pan filled with water.
Once your bacon has been smoked, you can store it in an airtight container or resealable zip lock bag in the refrigerator for one week.
Yes, it takes a long time to make your own bacon. However, contrary to popular belief making your own bacon is relatively cheap and as easy to make as searing a steak.
Furthermore, you get to select a quality cut of pork and control what ingredients are used to cure it.
If you have the time as well as room in your refrigerator to make and store your own bacon, do it! Trust me; making your own bacon at home is an experience you will not regret.
I have been smoking and grilling meat from an early age and enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise through the hundreds of articles I have written about BBQ. I hope to make everyone’s BBQ journey that little bit easier.