Bacon is everywhere these days. It’s in desserts, it’s in cocktails, and it’s even free at a bar in Baltimore. Bacon has jumped the shark. It’s been so overexposes and overused in recent years, even hardcore bacon fans can be forgiven for feeling bacon fatigue.
Buried among the bacon-worship is a dirty little secret: commodity brand bacon sucks. It doesn’t have much flavor, at least not any pork flavor. It’s basically salt, smoke, and crispiness. Granted, you can go a long way on those three factors alone, but bacon should taste like pork. It should have more flavor.
There are artisanal butchers and charcuterie shops around the country that make their own delicious bacon. If you have one in your area, you should seek them out and sample their bacon. Chances are good that it’ll be exponentially better than the stuff the major companies peddle in grocery stores.
There’s an even better way to get your hands on legit, delicious bacon. Make it yourself.
It takes almost a laughably small amount of work, and the results will be well worth the wait.
You can even make it without a smoker.
Can’t find pork belly? Don’t sweat it. Just make bacon out of Boston butt. It's a fine stand-in.
The whole process is simple. You’re going to make a spice rub. You’re going to cover a fatty piece of pork with that rub. You’re going to seal it in a zip-top bag and throw it in the fridge for 7-10 days. You’re going to give it a quick rinse and then you’re going to cook it. That’s basically it.
Skip right to the recipe, or keep reading for a more in-depth breakdown of the steps.
Pork belly is not usually in your grocery store’s meat case. Most commodity pork bellies go straight to the big bacon companies. That’s fine…those poor quality bellies are largely the reason that commodity bacon doesn’t have flavor. Do yourself a favor and find a high quality pork source. Whether that means going to your local farmer’s market or shelling out more money at a specialty grocery store. Look for pasture-raised, if possible. The fat in bellies and Boston butts should be thick, firm and white. If you can’t find good belly, then just get Boston Butt. If you do go the butt route, just cut the butt lengthwise so you have two pieces that are 2-4” thick.
The key to curing bacon is using pink salt, aka sodium nitrite. It’s what gives bacon and ham their signature texture and rosy pink color. You can buy it at several online outlets, including this one. The other two key ingredients for a bacon cure are salt and sugar. Beyond that, you can add whatever you want. You can make it spicy by adding cayenne. You can make it peppery. You can toss in some ginger and five spice, if that’s your thing. Cut your pork into pieces and try out a couple different rubs. If you nail your ratios of pink salt, salt, and sugar, then you can really do whatever you want with the accent flavors.
Make sure your curing rub is mixed well. You don’t want big rocks of brown sugar and pockets of salt in there. You’re going to rub your pork using the ‘salt-box’ method. Find a container with sides that’s big enough to hold your pork. You’re going to liberally coat your pork with your spice rub while it’s in this container. Cover all sides of the meat. How much rub should you use? The amount that sticks to your pork is the right amount…that’s the essence of the salt-box method. Make sure you don’t have any bare spots on your pork.
Next, toss your coated pork into a zip-top bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible and seal it. Over the course of its stay in the fridge, your pork will purge some liquid. If you don’t trust your brand of zip-top bag, make sure you put it in a container that will catch any leaks. If you remember to, flip your bag of pork once a day. If you forget, don’t worry about it.
Preparing to Smoke
After 7-10 days, remove your pork from the bag and rinse it. You want to get the soggy curing rub off of it. The pork should feel noticeably more firm than it did when you first rubbed it. Put your pork into a large container and cover it with cold water. Let it soak for 20-30 minutes. This is going to pull some of that excess salt and sugar off of the surface of your pork.
Smoke ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em
Smoke is a huge part of the flavor of bacon. If you have a smoker, then by all means use it. If you have a grill, smoke your bacon on that.
As far as wood goes, apple is a great choice for smoking bacon, but if you have a favorite type of wood by all means use it.
If you don’t have access to any smoking devices, you can still get smoke flavor in your oven. Just utilize a little liquid smoke. Create a glaze, like the one used in step 1 of this recipe over at ChefSteps and brush it on your pork before you put it in the oven.
Smoke or roast your pork until its internal temp is 135-140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Congratulations, you have just made bacon. Dice it or slice it, and crisp it up.
10-12 lbs pork (boneless Boston butt or belly)
250g brown sugar
20g #1 pink salt*
Optional: 40-50 grams of accent spices (i.e. combination of cayenne, allspice, juniper, etc.)
Pink salt (sodium nitrite) can be purchased online several places, like right here.
If you can’t smoke your bacon, make the following glaze and roast in the oven as directed below. Whisk Together:
240 grams molasses, 120 grams liquid smoke, and 60 grams soy sauce.
Mix all dry rub ingredients until homogenous.
Place pork in a high-sided container and cover generously with dry rub. Make sure there are no bare spots of pork. You may end up with extra rub. It will keep in at room temperature in a sealed container for a looooong time.
Place pork in a zip-top back and remove as much air as possible before sealing.
Put bag in a container (in case of leaks) and place in the fridge for 7-10 days. Flip every day or two to redistribute the liquid that the pork purges.
Remove your pork and rinse off extra rub. Soak in cold water for 20-30 minutes.
Set pork on a rack to dry for 30-60 minutes. You can also refrigerate you cured pork for 12-36 hours at this point.
Set up your smoker, or if roasting in the oven, make your glaze.
Smoke your pork at approximately 160 degrees for 2-4 hours. Check the internal temperature of the pork. When it’s 135-150 degrees F, it’s done. Keep smoking until it hits this range. Smoking times will vary for a variety of reasons.
Alternately, preheat your oven to 250 degrees. Brush your pork all over with your glaze. Roast your pork, on a rack if you have one. Reapply glaze every 20-30 minutes. Start checking the internal temperature after 1 hour. When it’s between 135 and 150 degrees F, your bacon is done.
9. Let your bacon cool and deploy any way you want.