Tuesday, April 20, 2010

DIY Bacon Part I: The Cure

It's that time of year again - the sun is shining, the birds are singing, the farmers' market has the very first things that actually grew this year (hooray ramps!), and those of us with access to one are itching to use our outdoor grills. The rental Gods have bestowed upon me and my apartment a "backyard" (actually more like an alley with two spindly trees in it) in which I can grill things to my heart's content. As a kickoff to this grilling season, I decided to do a DIY food project I have tried once before (with much success): curing and smoking my own bacon.

It may seem a like a lot of work, but actually making your own bacon is very manageable (and, I think, fun and rather satisfying). I have found the most difficult part of the whole process has been to find the primary ingredient: raw, uncured pork belly. I was recently delighted to find this at my local Fairway Market, but it can also be found at Asian or Latin markets or ordered from your friendly local butcher.

The next steps to make American-style bacon are to 1) cure the meat and 2) smoke it. The first part, the cure, is the subject of today's post. Curing meat is a process that preserves meat by treating it with salt, sugar, and a preservative like sodium nitrate. Salt is of primary importance when curing meat, since high levels of salt are the primary method of preservation here. Salt inhibits the growth of microorganisms by absorbing all available water by osmosis, preventing spoilage. Sugar and other ingredients in the cure add flavor to the meat.

The use of sodium nitrate (or nitrite) serves several purposes, including inhibiting bacterial growth (including the growth of toxic botulinum bacteria, the cause of botulism) and giving cured meat its characteristic flavor and pink color.  Sodium nitrate or nitrite causes this color by breaking down into nitric oxide (NO) within the meat and binding to the heme group within myoglobin, an oxygen-binding protein present in muscle tissue. This prevents oxidation of the iron-containing heme and causes it to appear a red color. We will add sodium nitrate to our cure in the form of pink salt or curing salt, which is 93.75% table salt combined with 6.25% sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite and dyed pink for identification. It's available for purchase here.
(pink salt)
Materials and Methods for curing the pork belly, as well as pics, after the fold:

DIY Cured Pork Belly, aka Bacon (Part I)


- ~5 lbs. raw pork belly (with skin, bones removed) (I had two 3 lb. pieces, but you could scale up. I don't recommend scaling down, since making bacon is a significant amount of work and you want a decent yield. Once it's smoked, bacon can be frozen to extend the shelf life.)

Here I used two different cures - each cure I used on one piece of pork belly because I wanted to try them both out. You could use either of the cures or both of them if you want.

For Maple Brown Sugar Cure:
- 2 oz. kosher salt (about 1/2c) (I used kosher salt for this, but other non-iodized salt is okay)
- 2 tsp. pink salt (aka curing salt - see above)
- 1/4c brown sugar
- 1/4c maple syrup
(this cure recipe is from Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie via The Paupered Chef)

For Pepper Cure:
- 1c kosher salt (I used kosher salt for this, but other non-iodized salt is okay)
- 1/2c sugar
- 2 tsp. pink salt (aka curing salt - see above)
- 1/8c black peppercorns


1. Mix ingredients for desired cure recipe(s) above. Each cure recipe should be enough for about 5lbs of pork belly.
 (pepper cure)
 2. Prepare a large sheet of plastic wrap. Spread some of the cure (about 1/3) on the plastic wrap, and place your pork belly on top of the cure. Spread the remaining cure on all sides of the pork belly, making sure ever surface is mostly covered with cure.
 (pork belly with cure)
3. Wrap pork belly and cure in plastic wrap, using more layers of plastic if necessary. The cure will draw quite a bit of moisture from the meat during the curing process, so place the wrapped piece(s) of pork belly in another container to avoid leakage.
4. Allow meat to cure in the refrigerator for 7-10 days, turning the pork belly over every couple of days to allow even exposure to the cure.

Next time, I'll show you how to smoke the cured pork belly, creating real home made American-style bacon!

1 comment:

  1. This looks so easy, why have I never tried it before? As a fellow scientist I particularly like a recipe being referred to as 'Materials and Methods'.