As famous philosopher Homer J. Simpson once said, “Mmm… Bacon”. And I couldn’t agree more.
Pork in its various cured forms, such as pancetta, speck, prosciutto, ham, lardons, coppa/capocollo and serrano are all amazing, but for its versatility alone, bacon has to be the king of cured pork products.
Once you’ve cured and smoked your own bacon, then I’m sorry my friends, because it’s hard to go back to regular store bought bacon.
What’s why I make it in bulk. In this recipe, I’ll show you how to cure and smoke a whole 9.5lb pork belly and turn it into delicious bacon.
It freezes well, so I slice and use a vacuum sealer to store and freeze..
What is bacon made from?
This might be obvious to some of you, but not everyone even knows what cut bacon is made out of.
Bacon generally comes from either the pork belly or loin, which is then cured and sometimes smoked – which is the method we’ll be using.
Look for pork belly that is about 50:50% muscle to fat, with creamy white fat and pink meat.
Whole pork belly used to be difficult to get your hands on but is now common to find at good butchers or even Costco.
Making your own bacon does take time, and pork belly isn’t as cheap as it used to be. There are lots of pros though:
- You control exactly what goes into your bacon so if you are concerned about nitrates you can make your bacon nitrate free.
- Similarly, you choose the exact variety of pork to use so you can ensure your bacon is made from a high quality, ethically raised product.
- Control flavors you put in and the level of smoke.
- Cut as thick or thin as you want, depending on what you use the bacon for.
It’s also a fun process that everyone should try at least once.
What do you need to make bacon at home?
To make your own delicious bacon, you’ll need a smoker capable of low and slow smoking, and some smoking wood of your choice.
I’m using Australian Ironbark, but apple, maple or pecan work extremely well.
You’ll also need some large Ziploc bags to cure your bacon in, a large piece of pork belly, and a fridge to cure it in.
You’ll also need an instant read thermometer to check the temp of your pork belly throughout the cook, and a store bought cure, or the ingredients for your own cure, which I’ve listed below.
If you’ve got a vacuum sealer, then that will come in handy too.
Making the dry cure
The purpose of a cure is to remove water from the meat as a method of preserving it.
Salt is the primary curing ingredient for bacon, and we add extra ingredients to add flavor to the cured bacon.
Some cures call for pink curing powder, sometimes called Prague powder #1 to be used.
I don’t use this as I prefer my bacon to be nitrate-free, and you’ll still make delicious bacon without it.
To make the cure, mix the following in a bowl. I have made enough here for a whole 9.5lb belly, so adjust accordingly for the size of your pork belly:
- 9 Tbsp salt
- 2/3 cup of sugar
- 1/3 cup of brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp fenugreek powder
- 1 Tbsp paprika
- 1 tsp garlic power
The fenugreek adds a beautiful maple flavor to the bacon, but you can add 1 Tbsp maple syrup if you like, but do this on the second to last day of curing.
Mix all the ingredients for the dry rub well, making sure to incorporate it all together.
Prepare your pork belly.
Now, by far the easiest way of doing this is to ask your butcher to remove the skin for you, but keep it because you can make some awesome pork crackle with it in the oven, perfect for game day!
If you buy your pork belly with the skin on, take a boning knife, or a small, really sharp knife, and run it under the skin, as close to the skin as you can, keeping a thin layer of fat on top.
Apply the cure
Make sure that the pork belly you have selected fits inside the largest Ziploc bag you can find.
Now, you may be thinking ‘how the hell did you find a bag to fit a 9.5lb pork belly?’
And you’d be right to ask that because I didn’t.
I split mine in half, but still didn’t have a bag big enough, so I used a sealed Tupperware style container instead.
You can do the same, but make sure its sealed well.
Apply the rub to the pork belly, making sure both sides are well coated, and put it inside your Ziploc bag or container, making sure to seal it well, because the cure will draw out a lot of liquid from the pork belly.
If you are using a Ziploc bag, place the bag inside a container to avoid spillage.
Then patience, unfortunately.
Once you’ve applied the rub and sealed it inside your Ziploc bag or container, the next step is the hardest.
You have to wait.
Longer than you want to, because all you can think about is when you’ll get to taste this delicious bacon. Well here’s the bad news. You need to wait a week. Plus a day.
Related: Sick of waiting for your bacon to cure? Check out our guide to the best artisinal bacon you can buy online.
Put that bag or container in the fridge, and then turn it every day, making sure to gently massage the contents (which will now contain a lot of liquid).
After a week of doing this, remove it from the bag or container, and rinse it well, removing as much cure as you can.
Then place it on a rack, with a tray underneath to catch any dripping liquid, and put it back in the fridge, uncovered, overnight.
This will allow the belly to dry further and allow the pellicle to form. The pellicle is a skin of protein on the surface of the meat, which allows smoke to better adhere to the surface of the meat during the smoking process.
It may look like small white dots, and is completely normal.
Smoking your bacon
Prepare your smoker to 200°F, using whichever smoking wood you prefer (see above for some good ideas). Once your smoker is up to temp, and making sure you are seeing only thin blue smoke, add your pork belly.
Smoke at 200°F for around 3.5 – 4 hours, or until the internal temp of your bacon is 160°F.
If you used a smaller (and thinner) pork belly this will take less time.
The best way to check this is by using an instant read thermometer such as the Thermapen.
There is no need to wrap your bacon at any point in the cook.
Place your delicious smoked bacon on a wire rack and wait for it to cool, then refrigerate again to cool and firm, overnight is good (unfortunately).
If you don’t have a vac sealer, you can store in a container in the fridge for up to a week, and slice as you need.
Of course, you’ll want to keep a few slices to try immediately. The end pieces are ideal to slice thicker and chop into cubes to use in a soup, or even better, a carbonara or similar pasta dish.
If you want an easy dish that lets the bacon shine, fry it up then serve on a fresh bagel with cream cheese.
Homemade Smoked Bacon
- 9.5 lb whole pork belly
For the cure
- 9 tbsp salt
- ⅔ cup sugar
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- 1 tbsp fenugreek powder
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tsp garlic power
- Prepare curing rub by mixing all dry ingredients.
- Remove skin from pork belly with a sharp knife.
- Apply the cure to pork belly, making sure to cover entirely.
- Place pork belly into large ziploc bag or sealed container, and refrigerate for a week.
- Flip daily, making sure the cure liquid covers the flipped side.
- After a week, remove from fridge and give the it a thorough rinse to remove the cure.
- Pat dry, and return to fridge on a rack over a tray overnight to dry and for pellicle to form.
- Set up your smoker to run at 200°F, and smoke the pork belly until it hits an internal temp of 160°F, around 3.5-4hrs. Check internal temp regularly to avoid overcooking.
- Cool, then chill in fridge overnight.
- Slice to desired thickness and store.