dude food :: episode 2 :: bacon

Today, we’re exposing the fraud that has been posing as bacon all of your life. If you think that watery mess you’ve been buying at the grocery store is bacon, you’re in for a pleasant surprise when you make your own bacon at home. Real bacon is simple, easy to prepare, and delicious. And unlike a lot of things we won’t talk about here, there’s very little shrinkage in the pan.

That commercially-made bacon not only uses inferior pork, it’s quick cured with a watery solution that injects water into the pork belly. Ever wonder why that bacon you’ve been frying up on the weekends shrivels to half its original size? That’s water leaving your bacon. So the bacon you’ve been spending $4 a pound on is actually costing closer to $8. And the bigger crime is that the flavor isn’t even close to what real bacon should taste like.

Here’s all you need to cure your own bacon:
3-5 pound slab of pork belly
1/4 cup of basic dry cure (see recipe below)

Place the pork belly in a shallow dish and cover the entire belly with the dry cure. Place the belly in a Ziploc® bag, and place in the refrigerator for 7-10 days. Turn the belly over once a day. This is called overhauling and ensures that the liquid that is exuding from the meat and mixing with the cure will completely cover all areas of the pork belly. When the belly feels rigid, it’s completely cured. 7 days on the short side, 10 days just to be sure.

Remove the belly from the Ziploc® bag, rinse off the cure and pat dry with a clean towel. The belly can now be sliced and cooked and will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. You can also freeze it if you need to keep it longer. If you wish to intensify the flavor of your bacon, you can smoke it over applewood or bake it in the oven. If you decide to do this, make sure the belly reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees. You can then slice it and cook it or taste it as is.

Basic Dry Cure (courtesy of Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman)
1 pound kosher salt
8 ounces granulated sugar
2 ounces pink salt (sodium nitrate – see resources below)

This will make a lot of cure, and you can use it to make more bacon, or some ham that we’ll be making later in the series. So put it in a ziploc bag and keep it around.

Q. What if I want to make a sweeter bacon?
A. No problem. Add 1/4 cup of brown sugar along with the 1/4 cup of dry cure. Or better yet, a 1/4 cup of maple syrup or honey.

Q. What if I want to make a savory bacon?
A. Why are you so un-American? Fine. Make the savory bacon. Along with the dry cure, crack some black pepper on that slab, along with minced fresh rosemary, sage, thyme, savory, whatever herb you’d like.

Q. What’s with the pink salt?

A. It’s pink for a reason. While nitrates are not harmful to you in the right amounts, overdosing on it can get you sick. And suppose you like to cook drunk and you forget whether or not you added the sodium nitrite, so you add it again. If it weren’t pink, you’d have no way of knowing. But because pink anything stands out like a sore thumb, you’ll know it’s in there.

Q. Can I make it without using pink salt? I’m worried about ingesting nitrates.
A. Don’t be a pussy. Use the pink salt. It’s not going to kill you. You don’t have a problem doing 5 shots of tequila, but you’re all up in arms about nitrates? Just like tequila, it comes from nature. It’s taken from leafy greens. Just don’t use too much. Everything in moderation.

Q. Why does my bacon have to reach an internal temperature of 150 degrees if I decide to smoke it?
A. Because Michael Ruhlman said so, and that’s all you need to know. Buy his book. You’re welcome.

Resources:

Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman
It’ll become your new bible, trust me. If there was ever a follow-up to the New Testament, this is it. It reads like the “Book of Delicious” from page 1 to 320.

Sodium Nitrite
One bag of this will last you a very long time. It’s not expensive, and you need this. If you try to make bacon without it, you’ll still create some tasty bacon, but it won’t taste like real bacon. Sodium Nitrite helps prevent botulism and keeps all of that fat in the pork belly from turning rancid on you. It’s pink, so keep it away from children and all of those Hello Kitty dolls you’ve been collecting.

See Heath Putnam’s article for more information about how controlling fat composition in pigs is very important. It turns out that if pigs are raised to have large amounts of polyunsaturated fat, it can go rancid over time. But if the pigs are fed a proper diet, this would not be the case. It’s another reason why spending your money on properly-raised heritage breed pork products is the best thing for you.

Oh, and sausagemaker.com may soon become your new favorite web site to spend your money. It’s like Disneyland for carnivores.

Looking for some very good pork belly and other quality pork products? Check out Wooly Pigs.
If you can’t find some good quality, farm-raised pork belly in your area, you owe it to yourself to try Heath’s products. It’s also a good idea talk to your local butcher and see if he can hook you up. Make it a priority to make friends with a butcher this week. They’re good men, doing God’s work, and they like the attention. They want to help you, trust me. Then next week, bring him a few slices of your bacon. Grease the wheel, my friends. Go local or go home.

If you have any further questions, need help with smoking, or anything in general, email me. I want to help you, and I want to see you making your own bacon. You will never pay money on that commercial crap again. phil [at] mylifeasafoodie.com

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19 Comments

  1. Man, I love the Charcuterie book. I did the duck prosciutto last Christmas, and then made a confit with it, and also did feta/duck/fig jam pressed sandwiches on the George Foreman. Totally awesome. Super easy.

    • My friend, you might just be my new favorite person. Feta + duck prosciutto + fig jam Panini? Get out of here.

      No seriously. But leave the sandwich. 🙂

  2. The real question: where is the best place to get pork belly?

    • Bob, the “best” place to get pork belly is at any Asian market. They demand quality in most cases – pork, beef, seafood, etc. You can’t go wrong by hitting up a Japanese market. But if you’re in question, ask around. Go to a meat market. Tell the butcher that you’re looking for Berkshire, Duroc, or any heritage breed pork. Tell him you want something farm raised. If he doesn’t carry it, chances are he can hook you up with someone who does.

  3. You wrote, “Sodium Nitrite helps prevent botulism and keeps all of that fat in the pork belly from turning rancid on you.”

    Why do you think that?

    Here’s something for you on why some cured products go rancid:

    http://woolypigs.com/_austrianmeattheory.html#cfc

    • Thanks Heath. Perhaps they weren’t the best choice of words, but in most cases of using commercially raised pigs would this not be true? Farm raised heritage breeds are more than likely being fed properly, but can the same be said of large commercial growers? Honest question.

      Thanks for the link. And I should note that we can purchase Wooly Pigs’ Mangalitsa pork products online and in many places in the US: http://woolypigs.com/_purchasing.html

      In fact, I’ll add that above.

  4. You’ve told me online how easy this is to make but after seeing you do it i truly believe it. Once we get everything unpacked I’m giving this a shot

  5. Awesome and easy. I can’t wait to add this to my repertoire. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Radd. If you do this, please let me know how it goes.

  6. Phil, your homemade bacon RULES!! I purchased 4 breadsticks at EMB 😉

    • 😀 You are the best, Cathy. And thanks again for allowing me to be a part of EMB. That was so much fun.

  7. Love, LOVE it, Phil! In all my years of cooking I’ve never really thought about how bacon becomes bacon until recently, until knowing you! I have the Ruhlman book, now I’ve seen you do it – just need to find the time. I learned a new word today: overhauling. Great episode. Loved the shots of the slices cooking, and the song choice. Can’t wait for the next DUDE FOOD!

    • I owe you bacon, Charles. And it’s waiting for you. Let me know when you’re available. I have full slabs and sliced slabs for your project. Thanks again for your support!

  8. Phil, i love that we can leave it up to you to make REAL bacon. I bet it is superb! I am gonna shoot you an e-mail soon for a foodie workshop I am organizing in September. Would love to see you again & catch up.

    • Thanks Marla! I appreciate you taking the time to watch. And please keep me posted on the workshop. I would love to be a part of it. Would be great to meet for coffee again sometime.

  9. Phil – looks awesome. A buddy and I were talking about making bacon this weekend at a campout – we’re both jazzed about the idea… and I have a local asian market… a couple of road blocks out of the way. I was going to cold smoke the pork though. Thoughts?

    • Thanks for taking the time to watch this, Rick! You can cold smoke the bacon, no problem. Because the temperature of the smoker tends to run lower when you cold smoke (80 to 100 F or so) you’ll be smoking for quite a few hours, and the meat may not hit the internal temperature of 150 degrees, but you’ll still be OK. Just take it off the rack when the slab has a nice, deep bronze color. Keep it in the fridge, or freeze it if you’re not going to be able to eat it within 14 days or so.

      Good luck!

  10. Damn, that looked good. I’m ordering the sodium nitrite now. When you smoke it are you using a water pan?

    Keep up the good work!


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