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photography by Matthew Shelley

How to Cure and Smoke Your Own Bacon

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love bacon. (But I also don’t know that many people in general, and if someone I encounter doesn’t like bacon, I usually erase them from my memory with alcohol and psychedelic sessions inside a sweat lodge.) I don’t usually go for the turkey bacon, the tofu bacon, or the ostrich bacon I’ve seen springing up in alleyway street vendor stands around Kansas. Bacon is beautiful, erotic, communal, unassuming, nourishing, and full of life-giving neurons and juices. The smell alone could lift a lifeless body from its slumber (under the right moon cycle, of course).

My bacon world has been completely uplifted and turned on its head ever since I discovered making my own. Holy bejeezus! It’s easy to do, and it tastes better than anything you can buy in the store. Well, you still need to buy the pork belly in the store, but from there, you are your own master of the bacon. Here’s one way it’s done.

Rubbed and ready to cure
Rubbed and ready to cure (photography by Matthew Shelley)

The ingredients

2 ½ to 3 lbs. of pork belly

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup honey

¼ cup maple syrup

2 ½ Tbs. salt, preferably Himalayan pink

1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

2 cups wood chips. I used hickory, but I would prefer to use apple or pecan, which will happen soon.

Rudolph's pork belly
Rudolph’s pork belly

The curing

Pork belly is fairly cheap. Rudolph’s Meat Market sells it at $4.65 per pound. It’s the most beautifully cut and delivers a uniform belly for curing and smoking. Whole Foods sells it at $4.99 per pound. Theirs is the thickest. After much tasting, it turned out to be my favorite for flavor, density, and freshness. Central Market’s is the cheapest at $3.29 per pound, and the cut meets the price. It’s not the most attractive cut, which makes it difficult to properly apply the rub and smoke evenly unless you remove the excess yourself. Still, it’s a good price and even decent bacon is awesome bacon.

To begin, take your cut and rinse it clean. Pat it dry and set it aside. Don’t eat it yet, as tempting as it may be. In a rectangular dish or mixing bowl, mix your sugar, honey, and maple syrup. Once that’s blended up nicely, mix in your salt and pepper. Next, bring on the meat, and start rubbing in your mixture on the top, bottom, and sides of the belly. Once you’ve adequately rubbed, put the belly into a plastic bag, seal it up, and stick it in the fridge. The belly will need to cure for at least seven days, and each day you should take it out, rub it around, and flip it to keep the meat on its toes for proper ingredient blending.

The smoking begins
The smoking begins

The smoking

After the seven days is up, it’s time to inspect your bacon. The skin should be firm. If it’s still too spongy, add a little more salt and return it to fridge for a day or two. Patience, my friend. Once it’s fully cured, rinse the meat well and pat it completely dry. For this particular method, I got a nice wood fire going on one side of the grill, threw on my hardwood charcoal and let the fire settle itself for about 20 minutes. Some methods for smoking insist you should soak your wood chips for 30 minutes, but I found this to be unnecessary. I do set a small container of water next to my fire for added moisture, though. Once the fire is ready, throw your wood chips in, set the bacon on the side opposite your fire, and close the lid. You should see a hefty bit of a smoke billowing very soon. Your mouth’s probably starting to water at this point, but maintain yourself and let it stay in there without interruption for 90 minutes. (Keep your grubby hands from opening that lid.)

My grill maintained a steady 200 degrees, which works great for the smoke time. Your meat should be at 150 degrees in the center when properly done. Once that’s complete, throw your bacon on the cutting board and slice away those magical strips of happiness. Cook them as you wish after that, or throw it in the fridge for later. (Cold bacon is easier to slice.) It should be good for about seven days in the fridge or much longer in the freezer. For several hours, your hands should smell incredible, and you should take advantage of this by going into public places and convincing people to give you stuff. They won’t know why, but your smell will leave them powerless to resist.

Smoked and ready to slice or eat whole
Smoked and ready to slice or eat whole

The eating

Time to chow down. I think you know this part.

9 comments on “How to Cure and Smoke Your Own Bacon

  1. Did you make up the part about the Himalayan salt? What you want is pink curing salt. You can buy it online at Butcher and Packer.

  2. Yeah, I was concerned about not actually using “curing salt,” so I took a chance on the pink Himalayan salt and was not disappointed. If what I did was wrong, I don’t think I want to be right. I’ll have to order some and see what the results are though. Thanks.

  3. Hey Matthew – I don’t think what you did was wrong, by any means – it looks delicious, in fact! It’s just that the ‘pink salt’ Chef Q refers to specially tinted because it contains nitrites, which preserve the color and prevent little nasties in the event that you would be cold smoking the meat over an extended period, leaving the meat raw before cooking in the skillet – the more traditional approach. However, your way makes it far more accessible to readers and looks like it doesn’t sacrifice much in the way of flavor. It looks delicious, in fact.

    But I would go back ’round to the idea of using pink Himalayan salt in the cure – considering the amount of flavors going into the cure, the nuances of any specialty or finishing salt are going to be lost in the fold. Considering there is no particular chemical attribute in Himalayan pink salt that affects the process (as opposed to Cure #1, or Pink Salt) I might suggest using Kosher salt next time and seeing if your results turn out the same, just at a lesser cost … I don’t see a great point in using Cure #1 if you’re going to be fully cooking right after curing, anyway – except, perhaps, to preserve the pink color of more traditional bacon.

  4. Rico, you’re awesome. Thanks for the input. I definitely need to try some alternative methods and have a bacon tasting day. That won’t be a bummer. Much appreciated.

  5. ” when someone I encounter doesn’t like bacon, I usually erase them from my memory with alcohol and psychedelic sessions inside a sweat lodge”

    Me, too!!

  6. Pingback: BBQ News: 01/03 – 01/09 : TMBBQ

  7. Pink salt #1 doesn’t just keep the color pink. It also contributes the cured meat flavor. If you want more of the “bacony/hammy” flavor instead of the “roasted pork” flavor I highly suggest the pink salt #1. If the health issues of using nitrates bother you consider this. Most if not all bacon you find that boasts no added nitrates/nitrites uses a concentrated celery extract that contains plenty of nitrates. It’s very much like saying your food contains no MSG but you use a concentrated kelp extract that contains plenty of natural MSG. I highly recommend Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie for more information.