Friday, February 20, 2009

Take a Stab at Slab........Smoked Homemade Bacon

This post comes with an unusual disclaimer: Do not attempt to make this unless you're willing to forgo store-bought bacon the rest of your natural life. I have a motto: Once you've made belly, the rest seems smelly. I did not heed the warnings when I was told that once I made my own bacon, I would never want store bought bacon again. I'm so glad that this was one time I didn't listen to the warnings. The bacon you can make at home is so much better than what you buy from the grocery store. And, when you do it, you'll look like a hero.

Much like buckboard bacon, there really isn't a lot to it. The hardest part is enduring the waiting period for the cure to do it's job. If you can get past that (and the wait is definitely worth it), you'll be on your way to the best bacon you've ever had.

The first thing you'll need is the centerpiece of the show. Some folks call it belly, some folks call it fresh side. Now, this piece of pork is not readily available at any grocery store that I've been to, so you'll likely have to either get it from a butcher or become friends with the butcher at a grocery store and he or she can probably order it in for you. If you're fortunate enough to live close to a hog farm, you may be able to procure some fresh side there. Either way, get some fresh side. You can get it with skin on (which is how I get it) or skin off. I usually pick it up in 2 pound increments and do about 8-10 pounds at one time.

For those who've never seen fresh side, it's a pretty cut of pork with a lot of fat and meat interwoven. Here are a couple of pieces getting ready to be rubbed down with a dry cure:

The skin is on the underside of this slab and will be left on throughout the curing and smoking process. You can use any spices you want to create any flavor you may be looking for but as with buckboard bacon, you must use 1 tablespoon of Morton's Tender Quick or a basic dry cure per pound of fresh side. For this batch, I'm simply going with 1 tablespoon Morton's Tender Quick and 2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar. I really like the dark color achieved when curing with DBS and it's really a sweet bacon flavor. After a couple of days in the cure, I'll also add some grade A dark amber maple syrup to the fresh side to sweeten it up just a bit more. Just like buckboard bacon, you'll want to rub the dry cure in well. Make sure to get the dry rub in contact with every part of the meat. I do not use the dry cure on the skin as I don't believe the dry cure will penetrate the skin. Just use it over every other meaty area and the cure will penetrate all through the bacon.

When it comes to curing the bacon, I like to go a minimum of 10 days with the fresh side tightly wrapped or vac sealed in a refrigerator at 36-40F. With this slab, I went 14 days and could go up to 21 days if I desired. However, two weeks is plenty of time to wait for bacon, so I pulled it from the cure at 14 days. As the slab is curing, you want to flip the bacon every day or every other day to redistribute the juices that will occur during the curing process. Additionally, you'll notice that the bacon will start firming up the longer it's in the cure. That's what you want to happen.

Once the slab is pulled out of the cure, you'll want to rinse off the bacon and pat it dry. I then let it rest, uncovered, in the refrigerator overnight where a sheen will appear on the bacon.

After the rest period, it's time to prepare the smoker for putting some smoke on the bacon. There are many woods that work well for bacon and this is more of a personal preference than anything. The three woods that I use the most for bacon are apple, maple and hickory. So, let's get this slab ready for smoking. When the rest period is over, get it set up on your smoking tray.

You'll want to put the bacon in the smoker for 45 minutes at 150F with no smoke rolling. After 45 minutes, bump the heat up to 200F and let the smoke roll until you reach your desired internal temperature. I take mine to 150F. When the bacon gets to the desired internal temp, I take it out of the smoker and bring it back into the house. The bacon comes out with some incredible coloring to it as seen below.

At this point, when the bacon is cool enough to handle, I remove the skin from the bacon. You can either throw it away or keep it for some pork crackling. I choose the latter. It's a delicious treat. I then vacuum seal the bacon back up for one or two days to let the smoke settle. After that, it's time to slice it up. You can certainly freeze the bacon and it will last a good time if you wrap it up good or vacuum seal it. I cut it up with a meat slicer, but you can cut this up anyway you'd like. I cut some up in long pieces for use as a side dish and then some small pieces for use in BLT's or to use as part of cooking another dish. I like to use the smoked bacon quite a bit in bean dishes as the bacon and smoke add a wonderful component to beans. But, the bacon should look something like this when you've gotten it sliced up:

If you like bacon (and who in their right mind, wouldn't?) and you like doing things yourself, you definitely need to give this a try. It is much better than any store bought bacon I've brought home from the grocery store and works well as giving me another piece of ammunition as to why my wife should keep me around a little bit longer. The biggest difference besides taste is that when cooking up a slice of bacon that you've made, you'll want to do it at a lower temperature than store bought, especially if you use a lot of sugar with your bacon. If you don't, it will burn much easier due to the higher sugar content. However, I'll take a piece of burnt homemade bacon over a piece of properly prepared store bought bacon any day of the week....and twice on Saturdays and Sundays.


  1. What is the difference between making the cure and leaving it in a bag in its own juices and the other recipes I have seen online which encourage you to drain the liquid out every 24hours?

    Is this why y have to cure yours for so long?

    I am looking forward to making my own soon, just ordered the smoker.

    Cheers for the blog mate.

  2. Leaving it in its own juices won't cure the meat. The secret of the cure is the salt....the rest of the ingredients are for flavor. Now, you may be thinking of aging (dry and wet) which I recommend for cuts of beef to add flavor to but you're not going for that here. In order to cure it so it keeps the nasties out, the salt is the key. Without the salt, you run a lot of risks.

  3. ah no, I meant your method involves leaving this in a sealed plastic bag with the salt. But when the salt removes the liquid from the meat it has nowhere to go bu remain in the bag.

    I have noticed other methods add the salt and every 24hours drain the liquid that has come from the meat,add a pinch more salt, and repeat for 5 days. I am wondering which would be best. Maybe I will do two pork bellies and try both methods?

    PS: Added to StumbleUpon :-)

  4. OK, I see what you mean now. I just make sure that the liquid stays in contact with the meat. Vacuum sealing helps with this. I simply flip the belly over every day or every other day. The most important reason I choose to do it this way versus draining and adding a little salt is so that I can control the specific amount of salt that I want to use. If you do the drain and add salt method every day, it is quite possible to make your bacon too salty. While making bacon is not necessarily rocket science, I really like to control the salt content so that I know the precise amounts used. I'm not sure there is a best way. However, I think the juice adds flavor to the bacon. The salt is always going to force the liquid out of the meat but over time, the meat will reabsorb the juice. The one advantage the method I use (as far as I can tell) is that I'm always sure the bacon will not be too salty. When working with curing meat, I'd rather rely on exact numbers versus adding a pinch here and there. I'd rather not take the chance with making me and everybody else sick and quite frankly, as long as you massage the meat (redistribute the liquid) and flip your package, you will be fine.

  5. Thanks a lot for your response. I am going to try both methods and then see how each turns out. I will let you know the results.

  6. I'd be interested in seeing how both turn out for you.

  7. Hi! I was wondering what brand slicer that you use as I am considering buying one and want to make sure it will cut bacon well. Any suggestions welcome.

  8. Hi Linda,

    I have a small Rival slicer (rather inexpensive as well) that works just fine. I believe I purchased it at Target. I've found slicers are pretty much like any other cooking utensil. While it lacks the precision to cut extremely fine, it works just fine for bacon. If I were making prosciutto (which I hope to one day), I'd want something better than what I have now. However, an inexpensive slicer works well for me.

  9. Nicely done. The only thing I do different is a little less brown sugar (one to one with the tenderquick)1 TBL each per pound. After the curing process (7-10 days for me) rinse and soak in cold (ice) water for 30 minutes or so. Then back in the fridge unwrapped to get the pellicle overnight. Biggest difference is I cold smoke it for 10 hours using the A-MAZE-N-SMOKER. I'm trying to smoke it, not cook it at this point. Oh, sometimes I add a little seasoning before smoking - cracked black pepper, garlic powder, whatever. Either way (cold/warm smoking) your disclaimer is spot on -> don't do this if you think you'll ever be buying store bought bacon again because you will never be happy with it after this!! Nice job!

  10. Forgot to mention - has a good deal on a very nice slicer - 89$ plus their usual $2.95 or less shipping charges depending on current deals running. It's the Kalorik - all metal, 7½" blade and 200 watt motor... I couldn't be more pleased with mine.

  11. Just letting you know I tried this recipe pulled the belly out of the vac bag yest after 14 days with DBS, tenderquik, and a couple tbs maple syrup (the real stuff 100% from trees) I smoked a small chunk yest eve so we could have for breakfast. The best bacon we've ever had the 20 pounds i'm smoking today won't last long.It's a good feeling to bite into a piece of home cured home raised meat. Told my wife it's not cheap when you figure supplies, time, etc... but it's hard to put a price on quality. Thanks for the wonderful recipe!