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The Path to Culinary Bliss: Home Cured Bacon

50 Comments

Pastured Pork

Watching pigs like these at Coon Rock Farm, eating a diet of roots, acorns, grass, and garden refuse makes me really happy.  Instead of being packed into a cramped, concrete floored barn, these animals appear to be acting as nature intended, and in the process they are creating some of the most flavorful meat you can imagine.

Of all of the kitchen experiments I have undertaken, none has been more rewarding than making my own home cured bacon from pastured pork.  The process is incredibly easy and the end result is better than anything I can purchase.    The beauty of home cured bacon is that you are in complete control of the ingredients.  You may like it more or less salty, more or less savory, more or less sweet.  No nitrite, no problem.  You get to decide.

If you join me in creating your own bacon, you will likely never purchase a pack from the supermarket again.

Pork Belly Procurement

Pork Belly and BaconTo begin you will need a pork belly, a perfect blend of striated fat and lean meat from the underside of a pig.  Typically a whole pork belly will weigh anywhere from 8 to 12 lbs.  In my experience the larger pork bellies (over 10 lbs) tend to be a bit thick which makes slicing it into bacon more difficult.  I look for a smaller one with uniform thickness.

Most farms that sell pastured pork have pork bellies, although you may need to ask for them ahead of time if you are trying to find one at the farmers’ market.  You can also purchase pork bellies directly from the butcher shop or from markets like Whole Foods.  The good news is that pork bellies are a cheaper cut of pork and can usually be found for about $5 per pound.  If possible, purchase your pork belly with the skin still on.

Curing and Cooking

The recipe that I use for curing the pork is modeled on this one from Saveur, but based on my tastes I have made several modifications.  For an 8 lb pork belly, I use the following:

  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seed
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 8 tablespoons or ½ cup of sea salt (not coarse)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

Grind the first 6 ingredients using either a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder.  Mix the resulting powder with the salt and garlic.  This is your cure.  You can experiment with different ingredients based on your taste preferences.

Curing Bacon at HomeIf you have a pork belly larger than 5 lbs, I would suggest cutting it into two pieces.  Place each piece into a 2 or 2.5 gallon freezer bag and coat each piece (both sides) with the cure mixture.  These bags then go into the refrigerator for 7 days, and you will flip them once per day during this period.  You may notice a bit of liquid in the bag after a few days as a result of the salt pulling water out of the pork (this is completely normal).

After 7 days, remove the pork from the bags, wash off the cure mixture in cold water and pat the pork bellies dry using a few paper towels.  Put each pork belly into a baking dish (skin side up) and place into a 200 degree oven (Fahrenheit).  For 8 lbs of pork belly, I leave it in the oven for 2 hours.  The goal is to get the internal temperature of the meat to 150 degrees.

Note:  Instead of using the oven, some people may prefer to use a smoker.  My experience in using a smoker was that the flavor of the smoke was too overpowering.

Slicing

After you remove the pork from the oven, let it cool down for about 30 minutes or an hour (until it is comfortable for you to work with).  Place one of the pork bellies on a large cutting board with the skin side facing up.  You can trim off a thin layer of the skin (if you choose – I always do), but try not to waste much of the bacon.  Next comes the hardest part of the entire process.  Using a very sharp knife, slice the bacon into the desired thickness.  If you like really thin bacon, this will take some patience and some practice.  Slicing two sections of an 8 lb pork belly takes me approximately 20 minutes (and I have done it quite a few times).

For storage, I find that quart freezer bags are excellent.  They hold about 1 lb each which is the perfect size for our family.  Store what you will use in the next week in your refrigerator and the remainder in the freezer where it will keep well for several months.

If you would like to take a more in-depth look at bacon and other cured meats, I recommend Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

Please post your comments and/or questions below and I will be happy to try to help. Thanks for reading!

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  1. Josh
    May 20, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Anyone else notice the 3 legged pig in the picture?

    Perfect timing on this article. I have some pork belly in my freezer that I have been wondering what to do with. I love bacon, but not nitrates!

    • ScottMGS
      May 20, 2011 at 10:33 pm

      Good eye! It looks like someone started taking ham from that pig a little prematurely.

    • Adam Kayce
      May 21, 2011 at 6:39 am

      I hadn’t noticed the three-legged pig, thanks for pointing that out. Goes perfectly with my three-legged pig joke (which I’ll share, if anyone wants… it’s clean, no worries).

    • Tim Huntley
      May 21, 2011 at 1:32 pm

      Josh,

      Funny… I will have to ask my friends to see if it really had 3 legs or was just a photo oddity.

      …Tim

      • Tracy
        May 25, 2011 at 11:26 pm

        The pig is lifting his right hind leg to scratch his side.

    • RokShox
      October 8, 2012 at 3:11 pm

      A fine pig like that you wouldn’t want to eat all at once.

  2. Miles
    May 20, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    I like oven-frying bacon in big batches (put bacon slices on large jelly-roll pan or other shallow baking pan in 400 degree oven for 10-16 min (depending on thickness) rotating the pan once. I then freeze the cooked slices in a ziploc bag. 20-30 sec in the microwave on high later, I have a yummy hot slice. One other neat trick — If you have sliced raw bacon that you need to freeze, roll each up — you’ll be able to take out one at a time, which is useful in many recipes instead of defrosting/refreezing a whole pound.

    • Tim Huntley
      May 21, 2011 at 1:34 pm

      Miles,

      Great tip on the oven (I meant to include that in the article). I cook mine at 350 for a bit longer, but I am sure either will work fine.

      …Tim

  3. Ian M.
    May 20, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    I love coon rock! Best pork chops I’ve ever had!

  4. Julie C.
    May 20, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    I called my butcher right after reading this and asked them for a pork belly – ready tomorrow morning. This will be so fun! Thanks for the great post.

  5. Shantel
    May 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    That polka dot pig is so freaking cute!!! Man I wish I didn’t love bacon so much!
    I also bake my bacon. Once I started baking it I never went back to pan frying. It’s just easier and less mess.
    Never thought of curing it myself. Interesting….. perhaps I’ll give it a go.

  6. Robb Russell, D.C.
    May 20, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    The recipe sounds great and I am going to hunt down some pastured pork belly this week. (OK, really, I will just order some; no actual hunting will be involved). It sounds so much better than what the stores carry.

    However I suggest using glass containers for curing rather than plastic bags for two reasons:

    First, the fats in the pork will interact with the plastic because plastic is lipohillic (fat loving). There is solid scientific data confirming the migration of plastic monomers into the foods they contact. I know there is food grade plastic there is some bidirectional migration when fat is present no matter what the quality of the plastic. This happens in plastic milk containers and all plastic packaging. Given the potential hormone disruption of plastics, glass or other non-reactive containers should work well. You can cover the glass container with plastic wrap if necessary.

    The second reason is simply one of avoiding disposable items when more durable, multi-use items will do the same job (i.e., glass). I am an ocean advocate (Surfrider member) and the gigantic ocean collection sites, know as gyres, are full of plastic particles, much of it from the degradation of household items, including bags. Birds and fish are eating plastic and incorporating it into their systems, which may be adverse not only to their survival but also may have consequences for human hormonal health when we eat these very same fish.

    It is almost impossible to avoid plastic when buying commercial meat, fish and poultry products but you can lessen the contact in this case.

  7. Michelle
    May 21, 2011 at 8:56 am

    I just finished putting my dry brine bellies in the fridge and sat down to catch up on your blog! I can’t wait for next weekend. I’m going to smoke mine using apple wood chips which are more mild than other smokes. I had been looking for a recipe that didn’t use sugar, but coudn’t find one. I believe the sugar is meant to balance out the saltiness, but I did find one reference to the sugar be necessary for the bacon remaining moist/supple. Do you have any feedback about making bacon with or without the sugar. I’m contemplating some stevia extract for the next round of makin’ bacon.

    • Tim Huntley
      May 21, 2011 at 1:47 pm

      Hey Michelle,

      The apple wood sounds good to me (I used pecan when I tried smoking and it was definitely a bit harsh).

      re: Sweetner – The orignial recipe I referenced in the post called for a bit of sugar but I have never added it as I tend to like the saltiness. You could try a different cure mix on each half of a pork belly which would give you a great way to do a side-by-side comparison.

      …Tim

  8. WhoIsJGalt
    May 23, 2011 at 10:07 am

    Instead of heat curing (using smoke or the oven) you can go the pancetta route too. After the week long soak (seasoning/rinsing as described in the article), dry the belly very well with paper towels. Then roll it into a tight roll like a newspaper (just make sure it is a tight roll with no air-pockets)-tie it up tightly with poultry string. Then hang it in a cool, dark place for two-to-three weeks (no touching for at least two weeks). You will know its ready when its hard after hanging . Store in the fridge in an airtight container. sliced thin, it makes a great pan seasoning for greens!

  9. My Paleo Life
    May 24, 2011 at 7:57 am

    I use my trusty meat slicer to slice up my home cured bacon.This way i get every slice the same thickness for uniform cooking.

  10. Clarissa
    August 6, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Hello,
    I’m not sure if you are still monitoring questions/comments on this posting, but I hope so. I have followed your recipe and am roasting the cured bacon this weeekend. I started out with a 12 lb belly which I divided into 3 portions of about 4 lbs each. I roasted one of the portions yesterday afternoon (skin side up), but after 2 hours at a verified oven temperature of 200 deg F, the internal temperature was still down around 110 deg F. I ended up roasting the belly for maybe 3 1/2 hours before I got the internal temp up to 150 deg. Some fat ended up rendering off, and some of the meat was pulling away from the fat so that it didn’t slice very well. I did double check the oven temperature with an oven thermometer. My question is, should it be the internal temp of the FAT or the MEAT portion of the bacon that needs to reach 150? I am currently roasting the 2nd belly portion of the 3 (will do the last one tomorrow), and I am thinking I might just pull this one out at 2 hours and not worry about checking the internal temperature, as every recipe I’ve looked at says that a 3-5 lb belly should only need 2 hours at 200 deg. Thanks for any advice!!! Clarissa

  11. Karin
    November 20, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    Your recipe for pork belly curing looks good, especially b/c of the lack of sugar, which I cannot eat. Would this work (at a smaller scale) for curing raw bacon that we have in our freezer? Any info. would be greatly appreciated. As well, if this recipe would work, would I soak the bacon for 7 days?

    Thank you.
    Karin

  12. Amahl
    January 20, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Great recipe, nice to know there is an alternative to using a sodium nitrite cure. I have an 8lb belly on cure now, using the Ruhlman maple syrup and brown sugar cure. It does contain nitrites (pink salt) for three reasons: bright pink color on the bacon; an authentic “bacony” flavor – non-nitrite bacon tastes more like smoked pork, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s just not quite the same; and most importantly, nitrites are very good at discouraging botulism. No matter how clean you are at preparing your pork, that is always a risk. And I will be smoking the bacon in a big green egg at 200F over peach wood. Pick up Ruhlman’s book “Charcuterie” for a very good reference on this stuff!

    Oh, and stevia? Ya kidding? : )

  13. Dodie
    September 20, 2012 at 6:03 am

    Hi,
    Do you think this would would with “green” bacon? We recently had 2 pigs slaughtered and asked for non-smoked bacon, which we were told was “green” bacon. We thought that the bacon would be cured – but not smoked, which was what we wanted having had some bacon that was just too smokey. Turns out the green bacon was just sliced and not cured at all, so basically it’s just side pork. Still yummy, but not really what we were wanting.

  14. Dodie
    September 20, 2012 at 6:09 am

    Hi again, I forgot to mention that this “green” bacon is now froze and we would have to thaw it and then cure it…got me thinking now, I’m sure it can still be done. :)

  15. Cathy
    February 20, 2013 at 8:46 am

    I have pork belly that came with 1/2 pig I bought, but it is already sliced. How would you suggest adjusting this to account for the meat already being sliced?

  16. Jason
    March 3, 2013 at 11:46 am

    I think I overlooked it bc it was pretty tough, also very salty. Trying 2nd batch. I reduced the amt of salt as well, is that ok?

  17. Jenn
    September 9, 2013 at 6:55 am

    I used this cure last week and fried up the bacon this weekend. OMG the saltiness burns my tongue!! Can I get away with using less salt next time? I love the flavor combination created by the other spices, but OY! That saltiness!

    Thanks!

  18. Joseph
    October 12, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    I made this last week and I agree it is way too salty, I may use 4-5 tbsp next time. The flavor of the other spice were very tasty though.

  19. IrishPaleoGirl
    October 14, 2013 at 7:20 am

    Hi,
    If I wanted to cure the bacon but not smoke it could I leave out the last stage altogether (the baking stage?)
    Bacon in Ireland is not always smoked, just cured and I want to recreate that taste!

  20. Derek
    December 28, 2013 at 11:58 pm

    Very interested in this as you do not use sugar.
    I have several questions: If you choose to smoke the pork belly then how long should that take? Our family likes the smokey flavor.
    Also, can you just slice it after curing the pork belly and then cooking it as you eat it? I just do not want to cook it once and then refrigerate it only to have to heat it up once more to eat.
    Thank you.

  21. Ken Wisniewskis
    February 12, 2014 at 6:58 am

    Robb, can you use this curing method for Canadian Bacon? What about doing a wet cure? On the too saltines issue, let the bacon sit in cold water in the refrigerator to leach out some of the salt
    Regards,
    Ken Wisniewski kjw1@bex.net

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