You may already be a fan of bacon as it can be good in almost any dish from breakfast to dessert. But if you have never tasted homemade bacon, you will be in for a pleasant surprise as we were our first time. Personally, the best part of making bacon is the complete control you´ll have over the end result. You´ll be able to choose the meat quality, the flavors to cure it with, and most importantly, the thickness of slices.
All you´ll need is:
- Some room in your fridge
- Ideally, a smoker or charcoal grill, although you could even use your oven
- A good knife
- A meat thermometer
If you are ready, follow these 7 simple steps and you´ll be able to smoke better bacon than anything you can find in stores.
The 7 Step Method for Making Bacon at Home
If you are planning to take the time of making bacon, then select a pork belly that is worth your efforts. What does this mean? Well, if possible, choose a pork belly from organic hogs. This will guarantee your meat is free of hormones or antibiotics. There are also some special breeds like Berkshire, Duroc, or Kurobuta that will make amazing bacon.
When you are buying:
- Aim for raw pork belly with a 50/50 distribution of muscle and fat.
- The ideal size would be 1” to 1 1/2″ in thickness and 6” to 8″ wide across.
- Preferably, buy fresh, unfrozen, and unsliced. Make sure it is not cured.
A full pork belly weighs around 10 to 12 pounds. Unless you are making bacon for an event, this might be too much. No worries, you don’t need to buy it whole, but try to buy at least 3 pounds.
Ask your butcher to remove the skin to simplify the process. You might not be sure whether you bought it with skin or not. If this is the case, try to make an indent with your fingernail on the fat side of your pork belly. If it makes an indent, then it has no skin. If not, remove the skin with a sharp knife. Some people like to trim away some of the excess fat to make leaner bacon. This is up to your preference.
The next step is to cure the meat. This has the important goal to reduce water and make the environment less hospitable for bacteria or similar organisms that spoil the meat. The process of curing meat dates back hundreds of years before we had the convenience of refrigerators, so meat had to be preserved some other way.
At this point, it is worth mentioning that there are different criteria on whether to use curing salts or not. Curing salts are known in many ways such as pink curing salts, Prague Powder #1, or sodium nitrite. As this is a choice you will have to make, it is important for you to understand the options before deciding to start making bacon.
The main point for the use of these salts is botulism, a sickness caused by bacteria that could live in meats. Back in the old days, when meat was left hanging in a shed, botulism was a serious issue. To prevent this, people started to use sodium nitrite as a preservative. This killed the bacteria and made cured meats safe to eat. As an extra, sodium nitrate also changes some proteins in the meat and gives bacon the nice red-pink color we know it by. Most commercial brands of bacon you will find in the store will contain some type of sodium nitrate.
So what is the issue then? Recent studies have raised an important concern. It turns out that when sodium nitrate is heated near proteins, it can produce carcinogens. Some claim this is not true or that you can balance it with vegetables. At any point, this doesn’t sound too attractive. 
What are your options then? It does not mean you have to choose between botulism or carcinogens. In large industrial settings, there are many people, ingredients, machines, and processes. All this can contaminate the meat at some point. So sodium nitrites would seem reasonable here. In your kitchen, with a fresh pork belly from your trusted organic brand or butcher, it is simpler. You can make sure the process is clean to avoid adding the curing salts.
So know that you can make an informed decision, it is up to you. You can use the curing salts, but you can also go without them if you´re not comfortable with them. Just know that the meat won´t be quite as red as you are used to. Rest assured, the taste will be better than anything a store sells. If you decide to use it, use only 2 ounces of pink curing salt every 5 pounds of meat.
With that settled, we can proceed to making bacon. For traditional bacon, we recommend the following recipe:
- 3 tablespoons sea salt
- 1/3 cup brown sugar or honey
- 2 tablespoons black pepper
- 1 teaspoon pink curing salt (optional)
These amounts are for a 3lb pork belly. If yours is larger, adjust accordingly.
There are 2 ways of curing the meat: dry or wet. The end result doesn’t really change, so once again, the choice is yours.
- For the dry method, mix all your ingredients in a bowl and then apply the dry rub evenly throughout the pork belly. Place the pork belly in a large ziplock bag and close it tightly.
- For the wet method, simply mix your ingredients in a cup of water. Put the pork belly in a large ziplock and then pour the mix in. As you close it, try to get the air out as much as possible.
Next, you´ll have to leave the pork belly in the refrigerator for a couple of days. This will vary depending on your pork belly size. You should leave it at least 1 day per pound of meat, but we recommend a minimum of 4 days even if you only have a 3-pound cut. As a useful tip, write in the ziplock bag the date you put it in the fridge to keep track of aging.
During the time the meat is in the fridge, you will have to turn it over each day. As you do this, give it a quick gentle massage to make sure the spices are well mixed in. After a couple of days, you´ll notice some liquid will start to appear in the bag. This is good, it is supposed to happen as the meat dehydrates. Don´t remove it.
For a 3-pound pork belly, after the 4th day, you can check to see if the meat is ready. You´ll know this by feeling it, as your pork belly should be firm by now. If it is not, leave it another day or two.
Once your pork belly is cured, take it out of the bag and rinse it with cold water. You might think this will “waste” all the effort of curing it, but trust us. Rinsing it will remove all the excess salt and spices. The meat will have absorbed plenty by now.
There is some debate whether to smoke the meat right away or leave it to dry in the fridge so that a “pellicle” forms. Most experts seem to incline for smoking right away, so this is our recommendation too.
Finally, we get to smoke our bacon! Ideally, this should be done on a smoker or a charcoal grill set to smoke. The reason is that you want all the smoke flavor in your bacon, preferably using fruity hardwoods.
Set the temperature between 175-200 F. Some like to go all the way to 225 F, but we don’t recommend this. Smoke until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 150 F. For a 3-pound pork belly, this will take somewhere between 2-3 hours. Be sure to take the temperature in the thickest part of the meat, not the fat.
As the internal temperature reaches 150 F, take the meat out and cool it for at least 1 hour. Our preference is to let it cool overnight so that all the flavors set it. This will also give a better texture to the meat. If you are leaving it overnight, wrap the meat tightly in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. But wait until it has cooled for 1 hour at room temperature.
Another reason for letting your bacon cool is that cold meat is easier to slice. Once you are ready for slicing, all you need is a sharp knife. Grab your bacon with your weak hand, your knife with your strong hand, and slice against the meat´s gain.
Try several different thicknesses in your bacon and find out which is your favorite. This can be one of the best things about making bacon at home. Don´t limit yourself to the thin slices you usually find at stores.
If after making bacon you have too much bacon (which is rarely the case), you can refrigerate it for up to 2 weeks. If you want to store it for longer, you can freeze it for up to 3 months. To store it, either way, wrap it first in plastic wrap and then in foil. If you are going to freeze it, we recommend doing it in small servings for easy access.
The Bottom Line
If you follow this method, you´ll be able to enjoy making bacon at home bacon. Once you´ve tried it the first time, go ahead and start to play with the curing process. Find variations to enhance it according to your tastes.
Here are a couple of ingredients you can throw in to try next time:
- Raw apple cider vinegar
- Apple sauce
- Pure maple syrup
Find your favorite recipe and let us know about it! If you are looking for some options for your next Sunday Grill, check out our Santa Maria-style Tri-Tip guide.