Making your own bacon is very easy and affordable, especially because fresh pork belly is a relatively cheap cut of meat. And when you make it yourself, you get total control over the quality of the meat and the ingredients it is cured with!
So, if you have time and some space in the fridge, you can enjoy the wholesome, chemical-free goodness of homemade bacon right from your own kitchen!
If you eat bacon, then you should know how important it is to get pork from pigs that haven’t been tortured in industrial feedlots, shot up with pharmaceuticals and antibiotics, and then processed with toxic chemical additives and nitrites.
This means you need to buy pork from organic sources—or better yet, from a farm that raises their pigs naturally on pasture and forage. But have you priced organic, pasture-raised bacon lately? It’s $8.99 a package in my area! So, here’s how to cure bacon at home, (and have it taste even better than store-bought!)
Food Preservation Safety
There is one main concern when curing and preserving meat, and that is botulism. While botulism is usually related to improper canning procedures, food-borne botulism also occurs in meats that have been improperly cured.
To prevent this, commercially preserved meats contain sodium nitrite (sometimes called “pink salt”), which acts both as a preservative and a color fixer. This is what gives store-bought bacon that bright red color.
Sodium nitrite is toxic in high quantities, and has been linked to migraines in some people. Some organic “un-cured” bacon brands use celery juice in lieu of pink salt, but celery juice can often contain even more naturally-occurring sodium nitrite than the curing salt! This won’t help migraine sufferers much.
But the main concern with sodium nitrite (or even high levels of naturally-occurring nitrites from celery juice) is that when it is exposed to high heat in the presence of protein (like a piece of fried, nitrite-cured bacon), proteins in the meat bond with the sodium nitrite to produce toxic nitrosamines—and certain nitrosamines have been proven to be deadly carcinogens.
Basically, frying and eating nitrite-cured bacon presents the perfect scenario for nitrosamines to enter your system.
That sounds pretty bad, right?
Unfortunately, the sodium nitrite (or naturally-occurring nitrites from celery) is necessary in a large industrial setting, where many different people, machines and industrial processes are involved in getting the meat from the feedlot to the store, free of botulism and other harmful bacteria.
But the home cook can much better control the variables and handling procedures, and can get those assurances without the addition of nitrites. And your bacon will taste much, much better than anything you’ve purchased in a package. I guarantee it.
How to Cure Your Own Bacon
First, you will need to get an organic or pasture-raised pork belly from your butcher or local farm. You might need to order it. Do not use conventional pork for this. Here’s why.
You can get your pork belly with skin (sometimes called the “rind”) or without. If you get it with skin, you will need to cut it off to make your bacon, but then you can make fried pork rinds or “cracklins,” if you like.
The process of “curing” anything simply means using salt to draw the moisture out, so that the food lasts longer. And that is what you are going to do with your pork belly to make it into bacon.
To get that smoky bacon flavor most people are used to, you will need to smoke your pork belly in a smoker, but it is still quite tasty oven roasted.
Bacon Recipes You’ll Love
For a sweet cure, consider adding one or more of the following:
- Cut your pork belly into a nice square, bacon-like block. Rinse it and pat it dry.
- Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl until they are uniformly combined.
- Mix the wet ingredients (if using) in a separate bowl until they are uniformly combined.
- In a glass dish, use your very clean hands to slather the meat all over with the wet ingredients (if using) until thoroughly coated everywhere.
- Place one half of the dry cure mixture in the bottom of the glass dish.
- Place the wet pork belly into the dish and press it into the salt/sugar mix.
- Carefully pour the rest of the dry mixture across the top of the meat and press it in uniformly all around, using your hands to thoroughly apply the cure mix into every nook and cranny of your pork belly.
- Place the dish in the refrigerator for 3-10 days, until the meat feels firm throughout. (5 days is a good average for a thin belly about 1-1/2 inches thick, but check to be sure. The longer you cure it, the saltier it will be.)
- Turn the bacon over every day in the liquid that will accumulate in the dish.
- After 3-10 days curing, wash the salt/sugar mixture off of the pork belly very carefully.
- Pat the bacon dry with a clean towel and set it on a rack over a baking sheet. Allow the bacon to air-dry uncovered in the refrigerator for 48 hours.
- At this point, you can slice it for “green bacon” or you can smoke or roast the whole belly. Only smoking will give the pork belly that smokey flavor most are used to.
- If roasting, preheat the oven to 175-200 degrees. Roast the pork belly in the oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees F, or about 90 minutes. The meat should be cooked a bit on the outside, but not all the way through.
- If smoking, smoke over hickory or applewood at 175-200 degrees until meat reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees F, or about 3 hours. The meat should be cooked a bit on the outside, but not all the way through.
- Let the bacon cool to room temperature on a wire rack over a baking sheet, tightly wrap in parchment paper, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. (This sets the flavor and texture.)
- With a long, very sharp knife, slice it thin or thick, as desired. Use hard-to-slice pieces in pots of beans or soup.
- Homemade bacon will keep for a week in the refrigerator and several months in the freezer.