Here in North Carolina, second only to Iowa in pork production, we take pork seriously. And that means BACON. Making bacon. From scratch. Pork bellies, curing salt, the whole deal. If that sounds daunting, you’ll be shocked to learn just how easy it is to make fresh, pink, bacon-y deliciousness at home without much effort and using no special equipment.
Bacon is made by curing pork belly, a fatty boneless cut of meat from the underside of the pig. Although this inexpensive cut of meat is widely used in pork products, it is usually not found in grocery stores. Butcher shops often carry the cut and it is readily found in many Asian markets that carry meat products (pork belly is used extensively in Asian cuisine). I picked mine up for about $3 a pound at a nearby Asian supermarket.
The other piece of the puzzle likely missing from your pantry is pink curing salt. A blend of regular salt and nitrite, the bright pink ingredient is inexpensive and can be ordered online for a few dollars, but it also is becoming more readily available in groceries. The pink salt can be left out and you’ll still get something nice, but this ingredient gives bacon its familiar color and distinctive taste. Without the pink curing salt, the result is a meat that is brown rather than pink and tastes more like spare ribs than everyone’s favorite breakfast meat (not bad, but not bacon).
Once you have the ingredients, curing bacon at home is a snap. It takes about ten minutes to prepare the meat, a week to cure, a little cook time, and fresh homemade bacon is ready to devour. Easy peasy. This stuff is so good I forgot to put the L and T on my BLT.
How to Cure Your Own Bacon
4 pounds pork belly
3-4 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons pink curing salt #1
¼ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons black pepper
Step 1. Select a 4-5 pound pork belly (the thicker the better) and gather ingredients. Pork belly is not usually found in grocery stores, but butcher shops and Asian markets can usually provide this fatty, boneless cut of pork.
The other “exotic” ingredient used to make bacon is pink curing salt. Also called Prague powder, the blend of table salt and nitrite is used to cure meats and gives bacon its distinctive color and flavor. Pink curing salt is inexpensive and easily found online.
Step 2. Mix 3-4 tablespoons kosher salt, 2 teaspoons pink curing salt #1, ¼ cup brown sugar and 3 tablespoons black pepper to create a “rub.” Honey or maple syrup may be substituted for brown sugar, although the rub mix will clump. Bacon can also be tweaked by adding other spices such as thyme, juniper berries, garlic or bay leaves.
Step 3. Rub mix vigorously into 4-5 pound pork belly on all sides.
Step 4. Place the pork belly and any remaining rub in a large Ziploc bag and seal, squeezing air from bag. Once in the bag, massage the pork belly to further work in the rub and then transfer to the refrigerator. Keep refrigerated for 7 days, massaging once again after 3-4 days.
Step 5. After 7 days, remove from refrigerator and rinse thoroughly under cold water.
Step 6. Pat dry and place on a wire rack resting on a baking sheet. Place in a 200-degree F oven for 90-120 minutes, until an internal temperature of 150 degrees is reached. If you have a smoker, even better. Just make sure to hit that 150-degree mark.
Step 7. Once removed from oven, allow the bacon to cool and then slice into thin cuts against the grain. Bacon can be fried immediately or stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or in the freezer for several months.