Bacon · Pork · Smoked

Making Bacon – Step One – Curing

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I cooked jonnycakes and bacon for breakfast for Bill yesterday (Father’s Day) and I think that triggered the need to write about our experiences in making bacon.  We made bacon twice last year, and we’ll definitely be making more this summer. 

Why?  Because it’s cool.

I don’t even remember how this all came about.  I do know, however, that it included (and may even have been initiated by) our good friend, John. 

The first step – or the pre-first-step step – was to purchase the book Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polycen.  We’d seen references online in other blogs where people had written about making bacon, and since we wanted to do it right, this – purchasing the book – seemed the right path.

(Now there’s a whole website group of people curing and smoking and sausaging their way through Charcuterie at Charcutepalooza.  Check them out!)

Anyway, so we bought the book.

And then we learned how to pronounce charcuterie.  Very important step, people.  (Roll your mouse over the word – sound on – to hear the pronunciation.  We especially like the French pronunciation, and will say it to each other with deep, earthy, Inspector Clouseau accents.  Try it.  It’s fun.)

Once we’d bought the book and learned to pronounce the word, it was time to make bacon.  (Really, that’s how simple it is.  Almost.)

Next, we each (us and John) purchased what seemed like half a pig each.  In reality, it was a bit less than that – we each bought a nice slab of pork belly, which included ribs.  It’s a rectangularish section of meat and fat and skin, and it’s the birthplace of pancetta and bacon and other goodies.

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See the ribs?  We need to remove them.

Bill did the knife work and I took the pictures.  It works best that way, though I am equally capable of wielding a knife. 

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We set the ribs aside (we’d make good use of those!) and continued on with the trimming.

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Bill neatened up the edges…

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Look at the layers!  Cool, huh? 

Moving on…

He cut the remaining piece of pork belly into two pieces.

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Then he repeated the whole routine with the other belly.         

Here’s another picture of the layers.  Mmmm…bacon-to-be….

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Time to make the cure.

The basic cure consists of kosher salt, sugar, and pink salt.

Pink salt???  Are we making Barbie Bacon???

No.  Pink salt is a curing salt that includes nitrite.  It’s pink so as not to be confused with regular salt.  Nitrites, though you might think you don’t want them in your diet, keep OTHER things away, like botulism.  So, you know, you take your pick.  Good nitrites vs. bad bacteria.

Lucky for us, we already had pink salt on hand from when we made corned beef a year or two earlier.  We bought ours here, at The Sausage Maker, Inc.  It lasts for years as long as you keep it dry.

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We used brown sugar in our cure.

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So for the first pork belly (first two pieces out of four), we just rubbed this mixture on all sides of the meat.

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And for the other belly, the other two portions, we added some maple syrup to the cure.

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Mmmmm…maple syrup…

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(That blurry red thing in the upper right is a rubber spatula applying the wetter rub to the meat.)

Next, the first two pieces of plain bacon-to-be went into one plastic bag, and the two maple-bacon-to-be portions went into another plastic bag. 

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The bags were tied tightly and close to the meat, then placed on rimmed sheet pans and placed in the chest freezer (set to a refrigerator temperature for this) to cure for a week.

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Each day it was my job to flip the bag over each day and massage the cure into the meat.  The cure pulls a lot of liquid out of the pork, and it’s important to keep the liquid cure in contact with the meat on all sides during this process.

You can also use 2 gallon Ziplog bags – one per portion of meat – but we didn’t have them and figured that plain trash bags would work just as well.

So I will leave you here to imagine the passage of 7 days of pork belly massages and bag flipping.

Tomorrow?  Cold smoking and hot smoking….

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