Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bacon - August 21st, 2011

The raw belly

This post has been almost six months in the making. I've been working out a bacon recipe trying no fewer than seven variations and approaches. Constantly refining. I've finally produced an end result that I'm happy enough with to share.

Some notes and lessons:
  • Buy a good quality pork belly from a reputable source. A full belly is just that - one side of pork from front to back - it's too big. one end tends to encroach on rib territory a bit much - you want the other side square and skin off. I've found that leaving the skin on can result in an uneven cure. If you try to remove it yourself you will likely remove too much of the fat layer. Let someone with a skilled, deft hand do this for you. I prefer a final cut that weighs between two and three pounds.
  • Curing pork belly for bacon will require using "Pink Salt" which is a salt comprising 6.25% sodium nitrite. It's available from most butcher suppliers. Ruhlman uses this supplier and I've had a good experience with them. If you google nitrites there is a bit of a controversy (where on the internet isn't there?) regarding their safety. I've read intelligent arguments on both ends and figure something else will definitely kill me before pink salt does. Keep it away from the kids though.
  • As the belly cures it's going to need to sit in your refrigerator, uncovered. Make sure you have space.
  • A note on maple syrup. Use the real deal - don't even think for a second that the fake crap will work here.
  • Proportions rule here. The recipe below shows ratios for a 2lb 5 ounce belly (~1000 grams). Vary your ratios accordingly. This is important enough to me that this recipe will be based on weights. Buy a kitchen scale.
  • The cure
  • From start to finish this will take more than a week - make sure you have the time to invest.

Pork belly (skin off) about 1KG
25 grams kosher salt
25 grams maple sugar (here)
10 grams pink salt (e.g., Prague powder #1, Insta-Cure)
10 grams freshly cracked (coarsely ground) black pepper
3 grams crushed red pepper (like you put on pizza)
3 grams cracked, toasted coriander seeds
About 1/4 cup real maple syrup (preferably from New Hampshire)
After the cure and dry
In the smoker with some lamb shanks

  1. Combine all dry ingredients and spread over the bottom of a non reactive pan that will fit the belly snug. (I use a half hotel pan)
  2. Drizzle the syrup over and coat the belly top and bottom.
  3. Place the belly in the refrigerator for six or seven days. Turn the belly every day or two. You'll know when it's done when the texture changes to a firm - almost solid consistency and the pinkness of the belly is now a deep red. My 1000G belly lost a little over 10% in mass after the cure and smoke.
  4. Remove the belly from the curing mixture and rinse it well. Dry it for at least eight hours. 
  5. Get a smoker going at around 220 degrees (F) with a mixture of hickory and apple wood.
  6. Smoke the belly until it hits around 160 degrees and let it sit and cool down for a good hour - resist the urge to cut into it.
  7. Slice it thin, slice it thick, cube it - it's bacon now. Fry it gently. You've made something very, very special.
The finished product


  1. Fab - u - lous. Made your bacon last weekend (of course, started a week earlier than that) and it was beautiful. Did two quarter bellies and a jowl. Did some using a savory recipe that was good, but a bit too salty. A couple questions.

    - have you ever soaked your bacon right after rinsing it? I have read that you can moderate the salt that way (soak for anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple hours)?

    - How do you air dry your bacon after rinsing? I left mine on racks in the fridge over night, ready to smoke the next day.

    - Have you tried smoking your bacon for longer but at a lower temperature? I have read some recommendations to smoke at 180 until internal temp hits (insert favorite temp - ranging from 140 to 160),

    Am upping the ante this weekend - starting a full belly and a couple jowls. Am going to make Guanciale with one of the jowls - basically a savory cure, no smoke, you hang it in a cool place for 1 to 3 weeks. Finally an alternative use for my wine cellar!

    Dave Baker

    1. Excellent! Welcome to charcuterie (when they asked me what I would do with my sabbatical in August I simply replied "charcuterie".)

      I haven't had the too salty problem. I assume that the rinsing step is there to ensure that any residual concentrated sodium nitrite is washed away. Soaking would cut down the salt (think Virginia ham) but I would probably just lower the salt ratio in your rub. Remember that pink salt is still like 95% salt. I use a lot of cracked pepper now and want some residual peppercorn fragments on the belly when I smoke it - so soaking is not an option for me.

      I use the same drying method. I could probably use my garage now based on the temperature in Chicago.

      For my sabbatical project, I will be taking two old refrigerators and constructing a curing chamber where I can dial in the humidity, temp and circulation as well as a cold smoking rig. The latter should give me a pretty good idea of the difference for a longer smoking time.

      I can't stress using maple sugar in place of turbino/brown sugar - it's an eye opener.


  2. Coolio - we have a local spice shop that carries both pink salt as well as maple sugar. Not to mention all the usual other suspects such as coriander seeds, etc. One stop shopping for making cures.

    Jealous of a cold smoking rig. As I understand it - 180 degrees is still hot smoked. Bottom line - hot smoking works as long as you do not let the fat render. Cold smoking means getting the smoke down to room temperature and letting your bacon smoke for a day or longer. Supposed to be fantastic. My kamado style smoker won't let me get the fire far enough away from the meat to get "cold smoke".

    I bought the Modernist Cuisine books - by Nathan Myhrvold (Microsoft CTO - maybe former CTO) and they have an excellent section on the science of smoking - what chemicals are released at what fire temperature, which ones survive the cooling process and why cold smoking imparts different flavors than hot smoke. I have a feeling you would love the set of books - but it is almost $700 bucks!