April 21, 2009
Homemade Bacon

Perhaps one of the most beloved foods in our house is bacon. We've tried all kinds and like most of them. After reading up a bit, I learned that making bacon isn't really that complicated.

This is a pork belly.

Bacon is made from pork belly. To be clear, American bacon is cured and smoked pork belly, British back bacon is cured pork loin. I am American, so I make bacon from pork belly.

The first step is curing the pork belly with a dry cure of salt, sugar, and pink salt (sodium nitrite). The main purpose of the cure is to prevent any bacterial growth on the meat and draw out some water.

Let's remember that refrigeration is a relatively new invention. In the past, a big life problem was finding ways to preserve meat for use long after it was killed. Curing by salting, smoking, and drying are methods to prevent meat from spoiling. Making bacon was a way to save the pork belly for later use. Pork belly was also the main ingredient of salt pork, a mainstay of the military diet for centuries.

I triple bagged the meat and put it in the refrigerator to cure for a week.

After a week, I pulled the now cured pork belly out and washed it well. I patted it dry and prepared it for a smoke.

Traditionally, bacon is cold smoked. The goal is to apply smoke to the meat without cooking it. That means keeping the temperature well under 150 F. That's not easy to do in a traditional smoker. So, I built a cold smoker unit from my regular smoker and a trash can. I'll post more about that project.

Here is the cured pork belly being smoked. The goal is to get a good amount of flavor into the meat without cooking it.

I smoked it for about 3 hours. I measured the temperature and it didn't get above 120 F. I pulled it out and let it rest a bit and then put it in the fridge to cool.

After cooling down, I started slicing. Sure enough, it had the look, feel, and smell of bacon.

The real test was cooking it. I fried up a few slices and eagerly took a bite. Sure enough it was bacon.

I am very happy with the result. It's a lot of work to make bacon, from the curing time to the smoking, but I enjoyed the process. When I make it again, I'm going to try a maple syrup cure process to get a bit of a sweet flavor.

Give it a try, you'll have fun.

Posted by michael at April 21, 2009 09:19 PM



Comments

This is easily the least vegan post I've read all week. But it's only Tuesday...

Posted by: sean bonner [http://www.seanbonner.com] on April 22, 2009 12:03 AM

That's one thing you probably won't find here. A vegan recipe post. Thank goodness. ;)

~lk

Posted by: Little Kenny [http://www.littlekenny.com] on April 22, 2009 8:55 AM

Wow, your results speak for them self!

Your smoker looks great too. How did the design work for you? Any suggestions or things you'd improve on?

Curious about your decision to cold smoke the bacon - I've tried it both ways and usually hot smoke to internal temp of 160. The few times I cold smoked it, the results just wern't smokey enough for me... but I think that has more to do with when I did it (dead of winter).

YUM BACON!

-N

Posted by: Nick Dawson [http://www.nickdawson.net] on April 22, 2009 9:37 AM

"I am American, so I make bacon from pork belly."

I think this needs to be on a shirt.

Looks delicious!

Posted by: Rachael [http://www.blogtalkradio.com/glassofwin/] on April 22, 2009 10:36 AM

That's fantastic. And I knew I should have eaten breakfast this morning.

Posted by: Doug [http://www.twitter.com/dhammond] on April 22, 2009 10:56 AM

That's very cool! Hey, where do you find a big slab o' pork belly these days?

Posted by: borgie [] on April 22, 2009 11:24 AM

"Let's remember that refrigeration is a relatively new invention. In the past, a big life problem was finding ways to preserve meat for use long after it was killed. Curing by salting, smoking, and drying are methods to prevent meat from spoiling. Making bacon was a way to save the pork belly for later use."

Almost the next sentence:

"I triple bagged the meat and put it in the refrigerator to cure for a week."

Eh?

Otherwise, nice post.

Posted by: Eric the Red [] on April 22, 2009 12:02 PM

@Eric the Red:

The two statements are not really incompatible although I agree they seem like it at first glance - bacon was probably much saltier and dryer before refrigeration - I suspect the dry cure would have involved embedding the pork belly in a barrel of the stuff, rather than just applying a coat of it, and smoking might have been for a period of days rather than just a few hours.

Posted by: Jo3sh [] on April 22, 2009 12:21 PM

Leave out the pink stuff. It's poison.

Posted by: Bill [] on April 22, 2009 12:23 PM

I saw this done on Good Eats a while ago. Looked interesting. Alton Brown says the results are way better than store bought bacon. Would you concur with that? How does the homemade stuff rate?

Posted by: Bribo [http://www.flickr.com/photos/bribo] on April 22, 2009 12:27 PM

Awesome project. Would you mind posting about how much it cost for the pork bellies and the consumabled (salts, bags, wood chips, fire fuel) vs. the cost to buy bacon? If you were to do this on a regular basis, the costs associated with the smoker assembly would eventually become negligable, so those numbers need not be in the comparison. Would there be a point where you'd be making enough bacon to save some bacon?

Posted by: HikingStick [] on April 22, 2009 12:38 PM

BTW--your smoker illustration looks like it was made in MS Paint. Am I right? I love simple tools.

Posted by: HikingStick [] on April 22, 2009 12:39 PM

I've been making bacon since my wife gave me a smoker for Christmas - just a cheap one from Costco. It's not so good at keeping the temperatures low, but that's ok because the book I've been using for my recipe (Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn) actually suggests to bring the bacon up to 150 degrees in the process. So, I just smoke it until it reaches that temperature and let it rest. It's fully cooked, but still needs to be fried off to be fully bacony. I would concur with Alton Brown that the homemade bacon is far better than anything I've ever bought in the store. The back bacon I made from a pork loin was one of the best things I've ever made too!

Posted by: Matt Miles [] on April 22, 2009 12:41 PM

Wow, lots of comments. Thanks!

A few answers:

Cold smoking: The bacon definitely has a smoky flavor. The aroma is strong. My smoker makes a heavy smoke since I put the heat up high, so perhaps that is the difference.

Pork belly: I found the pork belly at Whole Foods Market of all places. I had never shopped there before and was impressed with their butcher counter. The butcher cut me a slab from the entire pork belly he had there.

Fridge: I used the fridge since I really don't have a cool place to use. Our ancestors would have used a cellar or other cold place to store the food while curing.

Pink stuff: Using pink salt (sodium nitrite) or saltpeter (potassium nitrate) is essential when curing meat to prevent botulism and other bacterial growth. Excessive nitrite consumption can be harmful, but not in the amounts I'm using to protect those that eat this bacon.

Compared to store bacon: My bacon tastes good. It's not 'amazing', it's just good bacon. Better than most in the store that's on sale, but I've had better at good restaurants.

Costs: Ain't gunna do it. There is no way someone at home can make food like this cheaper than a factory. I made this bacon for the challenge and the desire to learn, not to get cheaper bacon.

Paint: Yes, I used Microsoft Paint to make the diagram. I'm an engineer, not an artist.

Posted by: Michael [http://cruftbox.com] on April 22, 2009 2:05 PM

I love bacon

Posted by: Eric Nelson [http://www.iceofboston.net/pictures/ziggy.jpg] on April 22, 2009 2:07 PM

Bacon lifts my spirits!

Posted by: edsel [] on April 22, 2009 2:12 PM

Hey man I just wanted to let you know, the pink stuff is not necessary for curing. Many meats are cured with out it, prosciutto etc... Plus if you keep your meat in the fridge it's highly unlikely any bacteria can penetrate through all of your regular salt and seasonings. You should try a spicy salt sugar cure. It is pretty money on pork belly.

Posted by: bDot [] on April 22, 2009 2:24 PM

The pink stuff (curing salt) is certainly important if you're going to be smoking food at a low temperature for a long time. Otherwise, you're providing an ideal environment for bacteria to grow.

Posted by: Matt Miles [] on April 22, 2009 2:49 PM

Your bacon should taste different from store bought bacon because you produced a 'dry cure' (though probably not dry enough so that the bacon would be preserved un-refrigerated for months).

Supermarket bacon is all of the 'wet cure' variety.

See this old time bacon discussison at Metafilter.

Posted by: monkeyboy [] on April 22, 2009 3:22 PM

If you live anywhere with a Chinese/Asian community, go to their butcher. Pork belly galore!

Posted by: Patch [] on April 22, 2009 3:36 PM

That looks great. I might have to try it. Incidentally, we do have bacon made from belly pork in the UK - it's called "streaky bacon".

Posted by: Alan [] on April 23, 2009 1:50 AM

amazing! thanks for the info, what were the amounts you used for the salt/sugar/pink salt curing process?

Posted by: nick [] on April 23, 2009 1:03 PM

Great post! I'm coming over for a fresh BLT one of these days after a ride.

Posted by: Steve [http://www.SoCalRunning.com] on April 23, 2009 4:23 PM

Well done sir, this looks excellent!

Posted by: zeep [] on April 25, 2009 7:31 AM

Nicely done. I love a good cooking experiment, especially one that includes bacon. Do you have a detailed pork belly weight, salt, sugar, and pink salt recipe?

Posted by: Thomas [http://ttrumble.com] on April 25, 2009 9:13 AM

Quite interesting and worth a try - in Eastern Europe, we make a kind of bacon from salted and smoked fat on pig's back - it looks very different to this and generally is eaten "raw" (without further processing) although it is used for cooking as well.

Posted by: Dan [] on April 27, 2009 11:13 AM

This might be on of my next projects. I was already planning to try my hand at homemade corned beef and homemade lox, so why not bacon too?

Posted by: Chad Chandler [http://www.chadchandler.com] on April 28, 2009 10:33 AM

Just be careful. That appeared to be a galvanized trash can you were using and galvanized metal in a smoker or grill is a huge no-no and poses serious health risks.

I've cured hams, sausages and even made bacon out of Boston Butt roasts. Haven't had any pork belly to cure, but I will check the Asian market.

Posted by: Jason [http://www.bigorson.com] on April 28, 2009 2:25 PM

Hooray bacon, i recently purchased a home and this type of stuff was impossible in an apt. so bacon and home brewed beer here I come, thanks for the info.

Posted by: citizenprick [http://www.twitter.com/@citizenprick] on April 30, 2009 11:05 AM

If you want, you can lengthen the curing time and eliminate the smoking to get pancetta.

Posted by: BobG [http://fromthesaltycity.blogspot.com/] on April 30, 2009 2:24 PM

Regarding "pink salt" - check out Harold McGee's on food and cooking
http://www.amazon.com/Food-Cooking-Science-Lore-Kitchen/dp/0684800012

I wouldn't want to eat the stuff in bulk, but there is no reason to shy away from it in cured meats. If you eat pepperoni pizza then you probably get more nitrates than anything you are going to cure at home anyway.

That said, I've done some "quick cured" (IE bacon, duck prosciutto, guancale, etc) without pink salt with no problems ... but I'd want to do any dry curing without nitrates

Good stuff!

Posted by: Nick Dawson [http://www.nickdawson.net] on May 5, 2009 8:38 AM

I have a similar smoker that you are using. To cold smoke, I built a shelter for the smoker and fitted a air pressure adjustable valve between the regulator and the smoker so that I could lower the flame and the shelter protected the flame from being blown out in the wind and also allows me to smoke when its raining. It saves doing what you have gone and done using the galvanised rubbish bin. I can now control the smoker down to as little as 100'F

Posted by: Glenn [] on May 9, 2009 4:20 PM
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