Once you make a batch of your own bacon you will never go back to the mass-produced stuff. Slow salt and sugar cure results in a firm slab unlike the mushy chemical-injected commercial product. And you can add spices, as in this recipe, to make the bacon much tastier. You can smoke it or not according to your taste. Traditionally bacon is cold-smoked for a couple of days. However, most people do not have a cold-smoker and must make do with a water smoker or even a tray of woodchips in the oven. These will not get your bacon quite as smoky but have the advantage of allowing you to omit the sodium nitrite from the cure if you wish. Probably the hardest part of making bacon is finding pork belly or side. If your supermarket butcher can not get it for you try your local Asian market. A full side runs about 11 pounds but it is often packed in smaller pieces. I suggest making at least five pounds in a batch. Whatever you can not use right away will freeze well.
This recipe is adapted from “Charcuterie“ by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn as published in the New York Times on November 9, 2005.
A note on sodium nitrite: meat that will be cold smoked must be protected from botulism by a preservative, most commonly sodium nitrite. While not essential for fresh or hot-smoked bacon, it does help the meat cure so I recommend using it. Look for Instacure #1, a mixture of sodium nitrite in salt, sometimes called pink salt because of the pink dye used to distinguish it from regular salt. (Do NOT use Instacure #2!) It is readily available online for example from The Sausage Maker in Buffalo, NY.
1 5-pound slab pork belly
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. Instacure #1, optional
3Tbsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp. coarsely ground black pepper
4 bay leaves, crumbled
1 tsp. dried thyme
Cut the pork into convenient-sized slabs, squaring them a bit if necessary. Using a sharp knife carefully remove the rind from the pork, or have your butcher do it for you. (Save the skin for making pork rinds!)
Combine the garlic, Instacure #1, salt, sugar, pepper, and bay leaves in bowl and mix well.
Place the pork slabs onto a sheet pan and proceed to coat thoroughly and evenly with the salt and spice mixture. Put each slab into a resealable freezer bag just large enough to hold it. Distribute any remaining cure among the bags, seal, and refrigerate fro 7 to 14 days, turning every day or two.
Remove belly from cure, rinse well, and pat dry with paper towels; discard cure.
Set up smoker according to manufacturer’s directions using wood chips of your choice; I like apple wood. Smoke the bacon until it reaches an internal temperature of 150°F, about 2 or 3 hours. Keep the smoker temperature as low as you can to extend the smoking period.
Cool to room temperature, wrap well, and refrigerate until chilled. Can be kept refrigerated for up to 2 weeks or cut into slices or chunks, wrapped well, and frozen for up to 3 months.