Bacon got really expensive between 2013-2014. I mean, REALLY expensive. I enjoy BBQ so I branched out into Charcuterie in late 2013 and started to take a few classes to learn how to cure, smoke and preserve meat. A year later I am making sausages from scratch, bacon from scratch, and Pâté.
This Instructables will show you, in the simplest possible terms, how to make your own amazing bacon at home for about $3.50 a pound. The quality level will taste like bacon that costs $15.00+/lb. gourmet bacon.
Let's get started.
Step 1: Mise En Place
Mise en place, French for "putting in place" is a great way to pre-measure and lay out all of your ingredients before starting. For items like the pink curing salt (aka cure #1, or prague powder #1) get a really accurate postage scale or jewelry scale. Most scales for your kitchen will not measure low gram weights accurately, and getting the quantities correct for curing salt is pretty essential for good quality bacon.
4.5lbs of Pork Belly with Skin On
Kosher Salt - 1/4 cup
Maple syrup - 4 ounces
brown sugar - 1/4 cup
spiced rum (or bourbon) - 2 ounces
pink salt (cure #1, prague powder #1) - 1/2 tsp per pound of belly (2.25 tsp.)
black pepper - 2 Tbsp
garlic powder - 1 Tbsp
crushed bay leaves - 2 crushed
garlic cloves - 7 to 8 fresh cloves, crushed
Pink salt or Cure is something to be careful with when using. If you are unsure how much to add to your recipe, there is a great curing calculator here where you enter your meat weight and what you want the final product (salt/sweet) to be. It's a good estimator for curing salt.
Also on the Spiced Rum, you can use any 80 proof and up liquor you like (within reason), just try to pick a liquor that compliments the flavors of pork, fat, smoke and salt. Bacon marries well to the molasses in the spiced/dark rums, but also cozies up very comfortably with the wood tannins and vanilla in a good American Bourbon. Pick something that tastes good to you, and just remember if you use something strongly flavored like a schnapps or a Cordial, your bacon might wind up looking unappealing and taste like crap. I would state any whiskey and most rums would work well in this recipe and some of the higher proof nut, honey and flower flavored cordials would also work well in this bacon if carefully chosen. (Bärenjäger Bacon? Yes! Jaegermeister Bacon? No!)
Step 2: Toasting Spices Over Medium Heat
In a skillet add your garlic powder, black pepper and crushed bay leaves heated over medium heat to open up the oils. I was sadly out of fresh peppercorns, so I used a new canister of ground pepper. I also added some fresh crushed peppercorns later during the cure. Pepper helps with the preserving and adds flavor. All these spices will be washed off before smoking. Make sure you don't scorch your spices, you are just trying to open up the aromatic oils a little and make them smell and taste nice.
Step 3: Mixing the Dry
Cure, salt, sugar, and spices. Mix with fork. You don't need to mix the dry and then add the wet, but I like to do it this way because it allows me to get the dry ingredients mixed up really well before adding the maple syrup and rum.
Step 4: Adding the Wet
Added the maple syrup and rum. This will form a nice paste to rub on the pork bellies.
Step 5: 2 Pork Bellies, 4.5lb Total
I picked these up at the local Asian market. Just under 2.5 lbs each @ $3.49/lb. They were frozen when I got them, but they are really nice and square cuts of belly. The Asian market had the best prices I could find locally, my regular local organic meat guy won't sell me his bellies, since he makes them into bacon himself, but he does sell me pork liver and pork fat for Pâté cooking I do. These bellies have the skin on them, which we are NOT removing for the curing and smoking process. The skin will be saved after smoking for use in soup beans and flavoring in other delightful dishes.
Step 6: Rubbed With Cure
Rubbed the cure in on both sides on a cookie sheet. Just get your hands in there and rub it on both sides and coat every square inch of the belly with your cure and spice paste.
Step 7: Into the Ziplock Bags
Put each belly in a ziplock bag any leftover wet cure from the bowl. I own a garlic press but I rarely use it, it was used to crush up the garlic and toss into each bag in equal amounts (about 3-4 cloves in each bag, skin and all). Squeeze as much air out the bags as possible and seal. Wipe the exterior of the bag down to remove any germs and excess cure. Put the bags onto a cookie sheet into your fridge for at least 7 days to cure, flipping it every day. When you flip the bag, rub the cure into the meat by massaging the exterior of the bag to really work the cure into the belly.
Step 8: After 10 Days
3 days in to the curing I added 2 tbsp of crushed peppercorns with juniper berries, bay leaf and mustard seed. Toasted them in a pan, then crushed in a mortar and pestle and tossed in the bag. I was worried about the black pepper and wanted to make sure I got enough pepper oils into the meat.
Massaged the bacon daily and flipped the bag each night.
Step 9: Rinsing, Soaking, Drying
You need to now rinse all the cure off these bellies to prep them for smoking. Wash them in your sink massaging them under cool running water. Once the spices are off the belly, pay the bellies dry with paper towels and place them onto a cookie sheet with a raised rack (I used a cookie cooling sheet) and leave them uncovered in the fridge for 24 hours to firm up the belly for smoking. This also forms a pellicle, a slightly sticky outer coating on the meat which allows smoke to adhere better.
If you don't like your bacon as salty as we do, you can also prepare a large dish of cool water and submerge the the bacon for 4-6 hours in the refrigerator to remove some salt, weight the bacon down with a soup can to keep it submerged. You can change the water out once at 3 hours to remove even more salt. Then pat dry with paper towels and dry in your refrigerator for 24 hours to dry as listed above.
Step 10: Cold Smoker in a Hot Electric Smoker
Decided to use my A-maze-N cold smoker in the electric smoker at 200 degrees until I reached an internal temperature of 150-155. My electric smoker make very little smoke below 250, so this makes a good amount of smoke at a much lower temperature.
This sawdust blend is Hickory, Maple, Apple and Cherry which is very nice on pork. The electric smoker can provide smoke as well, but at a lower smoking temperature I prefer to use the cold smoking tray and just use the electric element in my Masterbuilt smoker to control the heat levels.
Step 11: Smoking
I have several smokers, but today for the bacon I am using a Masterbuilt 30" smoker, that was gifted to me by my wise in-laws this summer. I use it mainly for curing meats and cold smoking cheese and fish. It's damn good for bacon too. The digital controls on top make it very easy to set up and run, even for a beginner. Be careful as these are now pretty inexpensive to pick up now (about $160), but they have a known shorting out issue which requires a new burner element to be replaced (by you) at about $65.
For monitoring the temperature of the meat I am using a Maverick ET-733 Long Range Digital Wireless Meat Thermometer Set. It has two temperature probes and a wireless receiver to monitor the temperatures from inside the house. I love using it for all my BBQ and cured meats I am smoking now.
Step 12: After 4 Hours, Pulled at 154 Degrees
Nice Marbling on the Bellies. I can eat it now, but it will be chilled, then sliced and fried for breakfasts and BLTs.
Step 13: Ready to Slice After 11 Days!
After 11 days, it's finally time! All you need to do is run a sharp boning knife along the skin side to allow the bacon to separate from it, and then slice 1/4" slices for your cast iron griddle or frying pan. Save the smoked skin for soup, stew or ham & beans. It smells heavenly and adds great flavor to any bean dish. This bacon will be a completely different experience from any bacon you've had before! It's crisp and chewy, succulent and strongly flavored bacon. It will turn a BLT into the best BLT you've ever had, it will transform Bacon and Eggs to an etherial height, and it will make your house guests cry with tears of joy.
I ate the first 3 slices of Bacon with some Huckleberry Jam, Peppidew mini peppers, salted dried olives, several slices of a French Boule, and a bottle of Stone 'Enjoy By 07-04-14' IPA.
I hope this inspires you to make your own bacon!
Step 14: Time to Enjoy Your Homemade Bacon!
B A C O N !!!