Curing your own bacon is not that difficult, and it’s a good way to control the amount of salt, sugar and smoke you’re eating. The two main ingredients you need are pork belly and sodium nitrite, generally referred to as pink curing salt or Prague powder. Do not use pink Himalayan salt, it’s not the same thing. Prepare to be overwhelmed by the accolades. You may never eat store-bought bacon again. After you have cured your bacon, you have to cook it. This is normally done by smoking at a low heat and cooking it at the same time. You need to smoke with hardwood. My preferences are cherry, apple, oak and maple wood.
450 g fine sea salt (almost 2 cups)
225 g brown sugar (about 1 cup)
60 g pink curing salt* (4T)
Mix all ingredients and store in airtight container. Use as needed and store remaining cure for another use. There is enough cure here for about 30 pounds of bacon using the salt box method below.
For this recipe, I am suggesting you start with a 4 - 5 pound piece of pork belly, skin removed. The weight really doesn’t matter. Trim the belly to square up the edges. You will use the basic cure above to rub all over your pork belly. Then fit it into a ziplock bag in a single layer and store it in your refrigerator for about 6 - 7 days. Depending on how much pork belly you are curing, you may need to cut your pork belly in half and use two bags.
Your pork belly will be cured using what’s called the salt box method. Using a flat-bottom glass dish or non-reactive dish, add about ½ cup of the basic cure to your dish. Rub each piece of pork belly on all sides to absorb as much cure as will stick to it, shaking off any excess. Push the pork belly into the cure. Continue adding as much dry cure to the dish as you need to ensure all sides of your pork belly get an even coating.
Put your pork belly in a ziplock bag and refrigerate for about 6 - 7 days. If your bacon is a thinner slab, 5 days should be fine. The key to when it is cured is when the pork is no longer soft and squishy. It should be firm to the touch, much firmer than when you started.
Every day you should turn your bacon over to help distribute the cure evenly. You will notice a little liquid accumulate in the bag. This is normal. The cure is taking a little water from the pork belly.
After about 7 days, your cure has now done its job. Remove from bag and rinse under cold water and pat dry. Place pork belly on a rack and let it dry for 4 - 6 hours refrigerated or overnight to form a pellicle, or thin skin. It should feel dry or tacky to the touch.
Now it’s time to smoke your bacon.
Smoke on your smoker or you can use your BBQ. Smoke for about 2 - 3 hours depending on thickness. Preheat BBQ to about 200 degrees F.
If you don’t have a smoking unit, no worries. Take a chunk of hardwood, wrap in foil, remove the grill and put directly on the burner of your BBQ. Poke a bunch of holes in the top of the foil to let the smoke escape. Turn burner to high. Turn most of your remaining burners off. Try to maintain around 200 degrees F in your smoker or BBQ.
When smoke appears, reduce the heat under your chunk of wood to about medium. Place your bacon on a rack away from the heated side of your BBQ and smoke using indirect heat. Let it smoke for between 2 and 3 hours, checking occasionally and turning your bacon from time to time.
Check internal temperature at the 2 hour mark. You are looking for an internal temperature of 150 degrees F.
When you have reached the 150 degrees F internal temperature, remove from BBQ or smoker. Slice thinly and cook as you would any bacon.
Note: Your bacon will keep for a couple of weeks refrigerated. Any longer and you should slice, vacuum seal and freeze. After you have cured your first batch of bacon, you can adjust the amount of salt and sugar to your liking. You can even add maple syrup if you wish but do not adjust the amount of curing salt. If you like your bacon on the savoury side, you could add other ingredients to your cure such as fresh ground black pepper, bay leaves or garlic.
*Curing salt is important in the curing of meat. Most importantly, it prevents bacteria from growing, most notably botulism. It is a mixture of salt (93.75%) and sodium nitrite (6.25%). It’s what gives ham or bacon its pinkish red colour and distinctive taste. Do not try to cure meat without it.