To many, bacon seems like the sort of culinary wizardry that should be left to the professionals. It involves special equipment and special ingredients…maybe? And some magic spells? After all, no average home chef could successfully create that salty slightly sweet smoky goodness…right?
Wrong. It’s really not hard at all, and you don’t need special ingredients or equipment. And when you make your bacon yourself, you can control what goes in it.
When you order your pork from your favorite farmer, it will likely be sent to a butcher, arranged by your farmer ahead of time. In addition to cutting your chops and hams, this butcher will (at your request) season your breakfast sausage and cure and smoke your bacon and hams as well, according to their house recipe. But you, the customer, will be at the mercy of that recipe. And if it’s too salty, or contains MSG (many butchers still use it!), then the gourmet pork you’ve just purchased and had custom cut could be a disappointment. Or if, like me, you have serious physical reactions to MSG, it could even be inedible.
There’s another option. You can ask for your hams and bacon fresh–which means unsmoked, uncured, unseasoned–and do it yourself in your own humble kitchen.
For my own bacon, I followed the recipe at Paleo Leap, except that I reduced the salt and tripled the honey (and also subbed it for molasses) as follows:
- 2 lb. pork belly, skin on or off
- 1 3/4 tbsp. sea salt
- 1 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. dried rosemary
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- 1 tsp. fennel seed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 tbsp. molasses
You’ll note that this recipe does not include curing salt, aka pink salt, aka saltpeter. Curing salt contains sodium nitrite, which was an important evolution in food safety, but has received some very negative press coverage due to links to cancer. Its necessity is debatable for some shorter-term cures, like bacon. While I don’t have strong feelings about eating vs. avoiding nitrites, you can make up your own mind. This recipes happens to not use curing salt, and if you cook the bacon up to temp and then freeze in small quantities for future use, it’s low risk.
Rub the dry rub all over all sides of the belly slab and seal in an extra-large ziploc bag, removing as much air as possible. (Did you know that you can remove most of the air from a ziploc by submerging the bag and contents in a sink of water, with just the corner of the open zip out of the water? The pressure from the surrounding water will force the air out of the small opening, allowing you to zip it close with a near-vacuum seal.)
Refrigerate with this dry rub for 7 days, flipping the sealed bag daily to ensure good coverage. After 7 days, remove the belly from the liquid (although your rub started out dry, that belly will have released a lot of water due to the salt in the rub). Rinse the meat thoroughly, then set on a cookie sheet to dry uncovered in the fridge for 12-24 hours.
Next, your marinated pork belly has to be cooked to 155 degrees. This piece of news was surprising to me, as I had always assumed that store-bought bacon was raw. It’s not. It’s been fully cooked and you could eat it out of the plastic wrapping if you wanted to. (Actually don’t, because maybe there are exceptions to this bacon-is-always-fully-cooked thing and I just don’t know them.)
You have two options here: if you have a grill, then use it. If not, use your oven. Of course if you use an oven, you won’t get the smokey flavor that many people love in bacon, but you can cheat by using liquid smoke in your rub back in Step 1. (“Cheating” isn’t even the right word because that sounds negative; it’s just working with what you have.)
Either way, bring your oven or grill to 200 degrees and then cook or smoke your pork belly until a thermometer reads 155 degrees. For a 3 lb slab on my ceramic kamado-style grill, this took about an hour.
Let the bacon cool in the fridge overnight, then move to the freezer for 15 minutes prior to slicing. You want it to be COLD before slicing.
Use a very sharp and long knife to slice your bacon (this takes patience and practice, and might not be pretty), then freeze in quantities small enough that you’ll consume it within a couple of days of opening (because this recipe has no nitrites, so it won’t keep as long once thawed).
In my opinion, American Guinea Hog bacon made with this recipe is the best bacon I’ve ever tasted. Truly. It’s $18/lb bacon. It’s Gordon Ramsay bacon. It’s oh-my-goodness, I’ll-suspend-my-vegetarian-diet-for-this bacon.
Give it a try. You’ll impress your family. You’ll impress yourself.