Bacon is easy and fun to make at home. It's just pork belly that's been cured and smoked; both are things you can do with a minimum of ingredients and equipment.
The process takes about a week: 7 days of curing and 2 hours of smoking. The effort is minimal. 20 minutes to apply the cure and package up the bacon-to-be, a few minutes each day to flip the bags in the fridge, and then about half an hour of work to smoke it.
The pork belly is obtained at any Asian grocery, or ask your local butcher if they have it. The recipe scales pretty well. The main limitation is how much bacon you can fit in your BBQ, smoker, or oven.
You're going to need:
- Kosher salt
- Dextrose or sugar
- Pink salt (optional, see step 2)
- Pork belly (see step 1)
- BBQ or Smoker with smoking wood (I usually use applewood), or you can use an oven
- Plastic bags to fit the pork belly in
- Fridge space for the pork belly while it cures
Step 1: Get the Pork Belly
My biggest obstacle to making bacon was getting the pork belly. My butcher said they could order it in but I didn't know what it would look like or if I was asking for the right thing.
I knew I could get it Asian grocery stores which are plentiful where I work, but I was hesitant to go into them because I had no idea what to expect. Fortunately I have a co-worker who knows this stuff, so he took me there. In the end, it was very simple.
Go to the grocery store, find the meat counter, and ask for some pork belly. If you've never seen it before, check out the picture in this step of the meat counter. I usually get 3 and it costs between $30 and $40 Canadian based on the weight. They'll ask you if you want any ones in particular. You can either point out the ones you like or just tell them to grab the 3 closest to them. Even the worst pork belly makes very good bacon, and eventually you'll start to figure out what you like.
Usually you pay at the counter in cash. The place I go also throws in a bag of pork bones if you spend over $35, so I'll have to make an Instructable for soup later!
The 3 pork bellies in the second picture are the ones I'll be using for the rest of this tutorial.
Step 2: Cure
Bacon is cured before it is smoked. This means that it is covered in a salt and sugar mix in order to preserve the meat. Liquid comes out of the meat and the salt, sugar, and any flavourings go in. At the same time we use some nitrites in order to prevent any bacteria from growing on it while we are processing it.
Make the cure
I use a basic dry cure that I learned from the book "Charcuterie". The recipe is either:
- 450g kosher salt
- 225 grams sugar
- 50 grams pink salt
- 450g kosher salt
- 425g dextrose
- 75g pink salt
I use the dextrose method as it's supposed to be less sweet than using regular sugar. I get my dextrose at a bulk food store. The pink salt came from Butcher-Packer. One pound will last you a long time and it's cheap. Pink salt is regular salt with 6.25% sodium nitrite. Don't confuse it with sodium nitrate, which is a different preserving agent. The stuff you want also goes by the name Prague Powder #1.
Mix your dry cure in a resealable bag. One recipe does around 10 pork bellies, so feel free to scale up or down as needed. It stores fine, just make sure to get all the air you can out of the bag before you seal it up so it doesn't clump.
Apply the cure
After you have the cure, place the pork belly on a tray and put 1/4c of cure on it. Gently ruby the belly to cover it entirely. You may need to add some more cure. Place the belly along with any cure that fell off into a plastic bag and set aside. Repeat with the remaining bellies.
At this point you can add some flavouring if you want. It's fine without, but you can try:
- Maple syrup (30ml)
- Add lots of black pepper
- Brown sugar
Add your flavouring if you want, get all the air you can out of the bag so that it makes good contact, and seal. Put it in the refrigerator for 7 days.
Step 3: Turn It Every Day
Step 3 is pretty easy. It doesn't need any pictures.
Every day, take the bags out of your fridge, rub it around to redistribute any cure and liquid, and put it back in the fridge.
In 7 days the bellies should be noticeably firmer and there should be liquid in the bag.
Step 4: Smoke
I have a kamodo style grill which runs on charcoal and can double as a smoker. You may have a dedicated smoker, or a propane BBQ. What you want is to cook at 200F/93C for about 2 hours on indirect heat.
For propane BBQs you want the fire on one side with the smoking chips in a foil bag (poke some holes in the bag). The pork bellies will go on the other side.
For a charcoal grill, same idea. Fire goes on one side, chips can go right on top, food goes on the other side.
Alternatively, just do it in the oven.
Clean off the pork belly
Take the pork belly out of the fridge, rinse off the brine, and set aside. I leave the skin on.
Prep the BBQ
Do whatever you need to in order to get your BBQ ready. For me that means using a chimney starter to get the charcoal going and making a nice bed of charcoal and smoking wood while that goes. I normally use lump charcoal but I ran out so used briquettes this time.
After the briquettes in the chimney are red hot I dump them on one side of my grill to get the rest of them going. Close the lid and wait for the smoke.
Add the pork belly
Simply put the pork belly on your grill or in your oven. Try to space it so that it doesn't sit right on top of the fire. You want an even 200F/93C heat on it.
You're cooking it for about 2 hours until it hits 150F/66C.
Step 5: Take Off the Heat and Final Work.O
When the bacon hits 150F you want to take it off the BBQ and bring it inside.
Use a sharp knife to separate a corner of the skin from the layer of fat. Grab hold of the skin and pull. You'll be left with a delicious slab of bacon an a greasy hand. Repeat for the remaining slabs.
I cut my bellies into two which gives me roughly 500g pieces. I wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and freeze
In the fridge this will last you a couple of weeks.