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By Mike Stines, Ph.B.
Over the years I’ve done a lot of barbecue… briskets, pork butts, poultry, corned beef, sausages and pastrami among others but I had never done bacon... that is until a short time ago. Making home-made bacon is not difficult but it does take some time to cure the pork before smoking. Once you’ve made your own bacon you’ll never buy expensive store-bought bacon again!
There are two ways to cure bacon: wet cured in a brining solution or dry cured with a rub. Bacon may also be cold smoked or hot smoked. Cold smoking is done between 52 and 90 degrees F. and takes a long time (up to a few days). Hot smoking is done at temperatures between 126 and 225 degrees F. for a shorter time, usually a few hours. For my first attempt at home-made bacon, I did a dry cure and hot smoke using pork bellies.
There are two common curing agents available. One is Morton’s Tenderquick and the second is simply called pink salt, Cure # 1 or Prague powder. Tenderquick is a combination of salt, sugar, sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite. One tablespoon will cure one pound of meat or for a wet brine combine one cup of Tenderquick with one quart of water. Cure # 1 is simply salt and sodium nitrite. A quarter teaspoon is good for one pound of meat. Tenderquick and pink salt are not interchangeable. It is important not to exceed the recommended ratios of either product as too much sodium nitrite can be harmful.
Here’s what to do for slab bacon (called streaky bacon outside of the U.S.)…
Find a butcher with pork bellies (a Chinese butcher probably has them on-hand; if not ask your butcher to order one for you). The ones I purchased from my purveyor had the rind (skin) removed and weighed about 11 pounds. I trimmed off some of the excess fat and cut the belly into four pieces about 2 3/4 pounds (or so) each. The trimmed pork fat makes great cracklings!
Then it was time to make up a basic maple cure (salt should be done by weight and not volume due to the difference in crystal sizes):
3 1/4 tablespoons (2 ounces or 56 grams) coarse kosher salt
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 level teaspoons pink salt
5 sprigs fresh thyme (about 1 teaspoon thyme leaves)
4 Turkish bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 cup pure Grade B maple syrup (don’t use imitation)