Makin' My Own Bacon

by formerchef on September 7, 2009

 cooked bacon

A while back I came across Michael Ruhlman’s blog post on making your own pancetta . I mentioned this to my mom and we decided to try and make our own bacon. We started with Ruhlman’s basic recipe and instructions and added our own choice of spices for the finish.  Mom chose the addition of juniper berries and star anise because these are spices she often uses with roast pork. The recipe is on the link, but Ruhlman has also written an entire book about curing meat called Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing  which I think I’m going to have to get soon because we may try and make sausage next! 

I’d never made bacon before so I read up a little on it. Basically, from what I can tell, the difference between pancetta (Italian bacon) and what we’re used to as “American” bacon, is that pancetta is dry cured and American bacon is usually smoked. Commercial bacon like you find in the grocery store usually has water listed as one of the first ingredients. Yes, water is harmless, but does not make for great bacon. The water is used to inject smoke “flavor” into the bacon and when the bacon cooks, the water boils away, leaving you with a shriveled, shrunken piece of pork product.

Finding the “pink salt” (aka sodium nitrite) was the hardest part. After a fruitless trip to a South Pasadena “gourmet” store, we ended up buying a 5 lb bag of the stuff, brand name “Prague Powder”, at Canton Food Company, a Chinese restaurant supply store in downtown Los Angeles. The next question I’m sure someone will ask is “Why are you using nitrites in your bacon? Aren’t they bad for you?” The answer is ”yes and no.” There are many things out there which can be bad for you in large quantities, but I don’t eat enough nitrites, or bacon for that matter, for it to have much of an impact. Nitrites are what cures the bacon and give it the good color and taste we all expect. Without them, you would need to use much more salt to cure the bacon. Oh yeah, and sodium nitrite keeps the botulism bacteria from growing (which is a really good thing if you ask me).

I’d love to try Ruhlman’s BLT Challenge (build your own, make everything from scratch) but I don’t think I’ll be able to do it. Even though the date has been extended to September 20th, my garden tomatoes are almost all gone and I don’t have any lettuce growing. But maybe you’d like to try?

bacon

How to Make Homemade Pancetta

3.5 lbs pork belly, about 2″ thick with skin left on

2 cups kosher salt
8 oz sugar
2 oz pink salt (sodium nitrite)

1 tsp dried garlic
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried thyme
15 ea juniper berries
3 ea star anise pods
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup brown sugar

Mix together the kosher salt, the sugar and the pink salt. You won’t use all of it, but mix it together in a large bowl. Whatever you don’t use should be stored for later in an airtight container.

Toast all the dried herbs and spices in a saute pan until fragrant and then grind them in a spice grinder (we use an old coffee bean grinder). Mix the toasted and ground spices in a small bowl with the brown sugar. Note

praguepowder baconsalt
baconherbs2 baconherbs

Sprinkle the salt/sugar/pink salt over the pork belly, coating it liberally. I think we probably used about 1/4 cup of the mix. Then rub the pork on all sides with the spice and brown sugar mix (we used all of this). Put the coated pork belly in a large zip lock bag and seal.
Place in the refrigerator for 7 days, turning every day or so to make sure the cure is evenly coating the pork.

baconwithsalt baconwithspice

After a week, remove it from the bag, rinse of all the cure and pat it dry. At this point, you can cook it up, or do as we did (and as Ruhlman suggests), hang it in a cool dry place for another week to “age” and continue the dry cure process. My mother is blessed with a rare commodity in Southern California, a basement. It’s very small, but it stays at a consistent cool and dry temperature. We created a bag for the bacon out of cheesecloth because I was concerned about insects (specifically ants which are currently plaguing us) but fortunately, the pork never got attacked.

bacon1week hangingbacon

After 7 days we unwrapped the bacon and discovered a little mold had started to grow. Don’t panic! Like cheese, we just cut it off. My guess is that the cheesecloth bag, while practical, had encouraged a bit of moisture which caused the mold. The first thing we noticed, besides the heavenly, bacony, smell, was how firm the pork belly had become during the cure process. It was no longer a wobbly, flabby, piece of belly. It had become a firm, lean piece of bacon!

(The photo at the top of the post shows the center cut of the bacon at the end of the 14 day process)

I probably don’t need to tell you all this, but even though this bacon is cured, it still needs to be thoroughly cooked. We immediately sliced off 3 pieces and fried them up. There was almost no fat rendered off in the pan, and of course no water. The pan was almost dry throughout the cooking process. The bacon was chewy, salty, and a little sweet. While it was good, my first impression was that the flavor was a bit gamy for my personal taste (more on this below). Next time, I don’t think we will hang it for so long, if at all. We may try hot smoking it instead.

Later that day, we followed another of Ruhlman’s suggestions and cut off a chunk of the bacon, wrapped it in foil and slow roasted it in the oven. This cooks it and makes it moist and tender. Then, we cut the piece into lardons and fried them up, serving them with toothpicks for canapes at Sunday Family Dinner. Needless to say, the lardons were a hit and disappeared off the plate in a flash.

By the way, there was a bit more fat in the center section than there was on the end piece we sliced and fried earlier in the day. Because of this, and the added moisture in the center (the end piece was pretty dry), I think it tasted a little less gamy than our first impression. Next time we may try hot smoking the bacon instead of hanging it after the first 7 days just to see how it’s different. Mom fried up some eggs in the leftover fat from cooking the lardons and said it was amazing.

So, what do you think? Want to try and make your own bacon? I think it’s worth it.

Here are some great video tips on cooking bacon; http://bacn.com/howto/current/

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Memoria September 8, 2009 at 12:21 pm

Wow, your bacon looks delicious! Great job and lovely photos.

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2 Mike September 8, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Sounds delicious! Where did you find the pork belly with the skin on?

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3 formerchef September 8, 2009 at 1:44 pm

It came from an Asian food market near my house.
It’s not something likely to be found in a “regular” supermarket. I recommend people check with a specialty butcher.
Also, and likely to be less expensive, check at ethnic markets with a butcher counter which caters to Asian or Latino customers.

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4 Jennifer S September 8, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Your bacon is beautiful.

I did the Homemade BLT challenge
(http://www.jennifersanborn.com/2009/08/the-homemade-blt-challenge/)
and it was a lot of fun. I did mine with pancetta and basil, since I didn’t grow lettuce, but I did grow basil.

I got to your blog thanks to my DH who is a regular reader of Volokh Conspiracy.

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5 formerchef September 8, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Good for you for doing the challenge. I was thinking of doing it with Arugula if I can get it grown in time.
Thanks for letting me know how you found me too. Eugene has been a friend of mine for almost 25 years and he nicely (and without my asking I might add) mentions things he likes from blog from time to time. I can’t say I’m able to do the same as I’d like to keep my blog non-political and we don’t exactly see eye to eye most of the time. :-)

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6 tastehongkong September 9, 2009 at 8:43 pm

Yes, there is often a concern of using the sodium nitrite (pink salt) for preparing foods. To make foods look reddish, many Chinese use red yeast rice as a replacement, which is sold in grain or sometimes powder form.

As you said, when making the pancetta, I might try to hang it for shorter period of time and have it smoked then. Thanks for the idea.

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7 ottawabites September 11, 2009 at 6:45 am

I have a similar article on my website.
We cold smoker ours for approx 8hrs.
The final result was amazing
Nice work.

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8 Joni September 11, 2009 at 9:06 am

Wow, that looks delish! I have to definitely try that!

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9 lo September 11, 2009 at 9:54 am

How can that NOT be worth it??
What a great project — that pork belly looks just gorgeous. And thinking about the lardons is making me drool.

Does Ruhlman give any instructions for naturally curing bacon (w/o the nitrates)? I’d totally be all about that!

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10 Kevin September 13, 2009 at 5:12 am

Making your own bacon sounds like fun!

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11 Eralda September 13, 2009 at 9:11 pm

Wow! What a fun experiment. I love cured meats and this looks delicious. Thanks for the book info, too. Sounds really interesting and informative.

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12 nightowl September 14, 2009 at 6:43 pm

I dont know if you are interested but here is another method for makeing bacon that works great.

http://www.imafoodblog.com/index.php/2009/02/25/how-to-cure-and-smoke-bacon

thank you for posting your work, it always nice to see someone else that enjoys making off the wall items. Or at least not that common of items. I got started with making my own cheese and then migrated into bacon. Seemed natural to me. Thanks again.

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13 MeatHub Inc. October 26, 2010 at 8:00 am

Gotta love homemade bacon! This looks great :D

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14 Seafood@MeatHub Inc. December 21, 2010 at 8:46 am

This bacon sounds amazingly good! :D

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15 LCorinth February 4, 2011 at 1:47 pm

This is wonderful – I’ve procured the salt, and in a week or so will start my own bacon.

Question: When you wrapped a chunk in foil and slow-cooked it in the oven, approximately how large was the chunk, at what temperature did you bake it, and for how long (I guess that’s three questions)? I really want to try that.

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16 formerchef February 4, 2011 at 8:33 pm

L-The piece we roasted was probably a little less than 2lbs. It was cooked at 200 degrees for about an hour and a half to two hours, wrapped in foil, until it reached an internal temp of 150 degrees. Most of this information can be found in the book Charcuterie, but the part about wrapping in foil came from another website my mom read.

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17 Rhonda Fowler April 14, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Love your website and recipes! I am having 10 “ladies” in for lunch next month and want to make your wild mushrooms with polenta recipe but need 4 other recipes to create as well. We are a group that has meet for 20 years!!!!! We each take a turn coming up with a menu for five of us to cook and then bring to the monthly luncheon, we swap out so that none of us gets burned out, but it encourages us to try to things.

Could you make any other suggestions for the lunch?

Many thanks
Rhonda

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18 formerchef April 14, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Thank you! I think for a lunch some of my salads, like the quinoa with shrimp, or side dishes like grilled asparagus would do well. They can be made up in advance and will hold for an hour or so well at room temperature. Then maybe the strawberry and chocolate ganache tart for dessert?

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19 Tyler July 17, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Hmmm.. ” a lean piece of bacon” Is that an oxymoron ;)

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20 Buddy November 20, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Try using honey rather than sugar in your marinate or rub. The pork will not go off as quick.
Living here in Thailand we often come across this problem with pork.
I am going to try this with Chinese 5 Spice.

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