Introduction: Homemade Bacon

About: Ever since I was 3 years old I've been in the garden and the kitchen stomping worms, stirring pots, and peeling potatoes with my family on our little hobby farm. They started the food and DIY spark in me at a …

This instructable is to teach you how to make homemade bacon - completely from scratch. It's a really simple process that just requires patience and a bit of space in the fridge.

Bacon is made from pork belly, salt, sugar and seasonings. The salt, sugar and seasonings make up the bacon cure. The salt draws out the water in the meat and performs the actual curing and the sugar cuts the salty flavour so that the finished bacon is edible. The seasonings can be anything, in this recipe I use chili and garlic. I use a 1:1 ratio of salt to sugar but a 2:1 ratio can be used for saltier bacon.

Salt is important with bacon. Soduim nitrate (NaNO3), is usually used in a small percentage with a main salt, like sea, kosher or table salt, to cure meats. No-nitrate bacon can be made with just sea salt but there is a risk of bacterial infection. The nitrates kill the bacteria in the bacon helping it stay preserved for longer. Table salt can be used too, the main salt in the cure is really a matter of taste.

Image: Bacon and curing mix ready to cure in a baggie.

Step 1: Making a Cure

To make the cure just mix your seasonings with the salt. Use a main salt with a small amount of Sodium nitrate or use an already blended curing salt. For my cure I mixed my seasonings with Morton's Tender Quick curing salt. I used about 40 ml or 6.5 tbsp cure for a little over a pound (618 g) pork belly. You only need enough cure to cover your bacon.

If you don't want chili garlic bacon, you can use almost anything. The possibilities are endless!

Chili and Garlic Bacon
618 g pork belly
18 ml (3 heaping tsp) Morton's Tender Quick curing salt
18 ml (3 heaping tsp) brown sugar
3 ml (1/2 tsp) mystery black chili powder
pinch black pepper
2 crushed cloves of garlic, including the skins

Note: I left the skins in because the cure gets rinsed off anyway and the skins contain LOTS of flavour. Yum!

Maple Bacon Cure
18 ml (3 heaping tsp) Morton's Tender Quick curing salt
18 ml (3 heaping tsp) maple syrup

Herby Cure
18 ml (3 heaping tsp) Morton's Tender Quick curing salt
18 ml (3 heaping tsp) brown sugar
15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped fresh rosemary
15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped fresh thyme
2 crushed cloves of garlic, including the skins

Images: The ingredients for the cure, The mixed and ready cure.

Step 2: Curing the Bacon

To cure the bacon you need an airtight container that's just big enough to hold the bacon. There should be as little air in the container as possible. I like to use a large Ziploc bag because you can move the cure around when you flip the bacon and squeeze all the air out.

First, rinse off the pork and pat it dry with a towel. Then, cover the pork belly in your prepared cure, patting it into the meat, and place it all in your airtight container. Squeeze out as much air as you can and date it. Put it in the fridge and wait patiently for a week. The bacon will need to be flipped every day to evenly distribute the cure. After the first day you'll notice some liquid being drained from the pork. This is what we want!

At the end of the week take the bacon out, rinse off the cure, and pat the bacon dry. It can now be baked or smoked to an internal temperature of 71°C (160°F). As soon as the bacon is out of the oven or smoker remove the pork skin and save it. It is soooo good in soup. Let the bacon cool then cut it up and use as you would any other bacon!

Images: A nitrate-free and baked batch of finished bacon waiting to fry, Pork belly and curing mix ready to cure, Pork belly curing in the fridge on day 1

Step 3: Smoking at Home

Smoking without a smoker is easy and doable at home! All you need for equipment is a heat source, a meat thermometer, a pot with a lid and a cake rack that fits in the pot. If you want your pot to stay clean, layer a few layers of aluminum foil on the bottom of the pan. If you want to use a rice cooker make sure it doesn't have an auto shutoff.

To smoke, you'll also need some wood chips and a piece of bacon to smoke. You'll need to boil some water and pour it over your wood chips. Let the wood chips soak for at least an hour before you set up and get smoking so that the chips smolder instead of burn away. It'll save you money in wood chips. I like to buy chips specifically for smoking but untreated sawdust works too. You can try soaking the wood chips in juice, wine or whiskey for added flavour.

Before you smoke the meat it needs to form a 'pellicle' so that the smoke can stick to it. What's a pellicle? It's what happens to the outside of the meat when you leave it to dry for a day. A little more moisture leaves the outside of the meat and the surface becomes a little bit tacky and translucent - all the better to help smoke stick to it. To form a pellicle, Put the meat on a rack and leave it uncovered in the fridge overnight before you smoke the meat. I like to very loosely cover mine in plastic wrap just in case something leaks.

To set up your smokin' rig:
  1. Boil a few cups of water (or juice, or wine!) and soak 1/2 C wood chips for at least an hour.
  2. Line the bottom of a heavy, lidded pot or wok with a few layers of aluminum foil.
  3. Drain the wood chips and put a layer of them over the aluminum foil then put the rack on the wood chips.
  4. Add the lid and put the smoking rig on the heat source. Turn it up on high and wait 5-10 minutes for the chips to ignite.
  5. Once the chips are smoldering and there's some smoke in the rig, lift the lid and place the meat on the rack. Add the thermometer, replace the lid, and wait. Make sure the meat has airflow all around it and isn't touching anything but the rack.
  6. Take a deep breath, enjoy the smell!
  7. When the thermometer reads a safe temp for pork, remove the bacon and cut off the skin to use in soup. Let the bacon cool and then slice it and use as you would anything else.
Mmmmm, bacon.

Images: The dried bacon with it's newly formed pellicle, A finished smoked bacon, A smoking rig set up in a wok with a portable heating element, A smoking rig set up in a rice cooker, The bacon for the rice-cooker-smoker set up on the steaming rack that came with the rice-cooker.