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Feb 21, 2014 06:00 AM

Making Bacon

I am planning on making my own Bacon once the snow and ice melt. Any thoughts on the following:

1) Should I cure and/or smoke with the skin on?
2) Dry cure of wet cure
3) Suggestions for a cure
4) Length of time smoking (I have a propane smoker) and what wood?


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    • + 4 CHOW users
    Answer Selected

    2) Dry Cure vs. Wet Cure

    Remember you will be curing the meat in your fridge for 7-21 days.

    Personally I like to dry cure, in vacuum sealed bags. It makes it so much easier, cleaner, and drastically less fridge space during the cure.

    Dry Cure:
    A. Accuracy of weighing the meat and using the correct amount of cure is important.
    B. You use less cure, sugar, salt, curing/pink salt, spices, etc.
    C. Less room in fridge is needed.
    D. Can produce saltier bacon. Definitely a 30 minute to three hour soak in changes of fresh, cool water is needed post-cure. (I like to do a 3+ hour soak to remove as much salt as possible.)
    E. Firmer bacon with better texture. Especially if after the post-cure fresh water soak you let the meat sit uncovered in fridge to dry for 12-24+ hours. You need at least 8-12 hours of drying to form the sticky pellicle on the surface for good smoke absorption. (I like to let sit at least 24 hours. This lets the cure even out in the meat once again, post-soak.)

    Wet Cure:
    A. Easy to measure and mix up brine. Then you just need enough brine to fully immerse the meat.
    B. Brine uses much more cure. Salt, sugar, spices, curing/pink salt, etc.
    C. More room in fridge is needed for the container to hold the curing meat.
    D. It is easier to control the amount of salt in a brine. You can take the salt levels down to the absolute minimum safe amounts of salt. Also you can then soak in plain, cool water post-cure. (I recommend at least 30 minutes.)
    E. Texture is softer and more like inexpensive store bacon. Sometimes even mushy. But after the post-cure fresh water soak if you let the meat sit uncovered in fridge to dry for 24+ hours, it will firm up a bit, just not as much as with a dry cure. (You need at least 8-12 hours of drying to form the pellicle on the surface for good smoke absorption.)

    • + 4 CHOW users

    From my own experiences and learned preferences:

    1) Skin on

    2) Dry

    3) Salt and sugar (turbinado) in a 2 to 1 ratio. Black pepper to taste (whole corns, roughly crushed, finely ground, etc, all make it hard to measure) and a bay leaf or four. I like to throw some very roughly chopped, dried chiles in too. I let the belly sit in doubled-up ziplocks for a week or so.

    4) Smoking time is really tied to temperature and temperature constancy. Three or four hours seems about right for me* as I try to keep the fire at more of a smolder between say 150 and 200.

    I use mostly fruit woods - cherry, apple, peach - as well as walnut and maple, but that's due primarily to the fact that they are mild and I get 'em free. I'll admit, however, I use an offset and have never even seen a propane smoker up close as my religion prevents it.

    Also, this link is to an old Saveur recipe that it may help to peruse:

    *I try to measure time cooking outside by empty cans stacked up behind the cooler.

    • + 3 CHOW users

    3) Dry Cure recipe

    I use Michael Ruhlman’s recipe from "Charcuterie"

    Basic Dry Cure with granulated sugar
    1 pound/450 grams pickling salt/Kosher salt
    8 ounces/225 grams granulated sugar
    8 tsp./2 ounces/56 grams pink salt (InstaCure #1; or DQ Powder; or Prague Powder #1; or Cure #1; or TCM)
    Makes about 3-1/2 cups

    Basic Dry Cure with dextrose (less sweet than granulated sugar)
    1 pound/450 grams pickling salt/Kosher salt
    13 ounces/425 grams dextrose
    8 tsp./2 ounces/56 grams pink salt (InstaCure #1; or DQ Powder; or Prague Powder #1; or Cure #1; or TCM)
    Makes about 3-1/2 cups


    Use apx. 2 oz./56 gm. per five lbs./2268 gm. meat. (You can add additional sugar and spices after measuring out the correct amount of cure. I like cracked black pepper and a little bit, just a large pinch, or whatever herbs I fancy.)

    Wash meat well. Dry well. Then roll/coat in dry cure in a large bowl thoroughly. Or place in a large freezer zip lock, add 1/4 cup = 2 oz. = 56 gm. of cure and shake to coat thoroughly. Pour out, or leave in excess. (I measure by weight using above amounts and leave any excess in.)

    You can remove and well wrap tightly in several layers of plastic wrap. But this can lead to leaks.

    Or, my preference, vacuum seal.

    Or put in/leave in large freezer zip lock, all air squeezed out.

    Cure in fridge for at last seven days, and up to 21 for a more pronounced flavor. (Most people like 7-10 days.)

    Turn over on a regular basis, at least 4-5 times, preferably every day.

    • + 3 CHOW users

    4) Smoking

    I like both hot smoking and cold smoking. They produce a different product. Hot smoking means that the bacon is fully cooked and can be eaten cold, or cooked to crisp it up.

    If you want to, you can coat the bacon, after the pellicle has formed from drying, and just before smoking, with maple syrup, dark sugar, cracked pepper, herbs and spices, etc.

    A. Hot smoking: as MGZ says, between 150-200F external/smoker/cabinet temp. and 3-4 hours of smoke, or more. Smoke until IT is 150F. (I recommend hot smoking unless you are very familiar with cold smoking.)

    B. Cold smoking: This has to be done in winter or at least cooler temps., and you need an offset smoker. The smoker temp. needs to be below 90F and above 35F. This keeps any fat from rendering and produces a great product. But not every smoker can cold smoke.

    Four to six hours of smoke minimum, but easily up to eight, or even more.

    Just remember that cold smoked bacon is cured, but not cooked, so it needs to be fully cooked like store bacon before eating.

    C. Cold & Hot Smoking:
    You can cold smoke for several hours 2-6 hours of smoke, then hot smoke 3-4 hours of smoke, for a heavy smoke flavor.

    After Smoking:

    Wrap well in plastic and chill for 2-3 days before using for the smoke to distribute throughout the bacon. This leads to a much better product.

    Keep in fridge for up to two weeks, or freeze well wrapped in plastic, or vacuum sealed for up to a year.

    • + 3 CHOW users

    1) Skin: There are pro's and con's to curing and smoking with/without skin.

    Skin on slightly slows down the cure, and the smoke. But not a huge amount. Although many folks swear that it cures and smokes easier. I feel this way after the first few times I smoked with skin on vs. skin off. I also think the bacon looks better smoked skin off.

    Removing the skin can be a bit of a hassle if your knife skills need some work.

    I don't recommend leaving the skin on after the smoke and slicing/cooking it with the skin on. The skin isn't really edible like that, and has many better uses in cooking.

    When to remove skin-

    You can remove the skin before the cure, or after the cure or after the smoke.

    It is easiest to remove the skin after the smoke, while the bacon is still warm, but not hot. (Also you have the benefit of using the smoked skin as a flavoring agent when cooking beans and other long cooking items.)

    I personally like to remove the skin before the cure. I do it right after I have mixed up the cure. I wash the belly, dry it well, then let the belly come up to room temp. first, so the fat is a bit softer compared to the firmer skin. I skin it slowly with a sharp, long, thin knife. Doing a nice, neat job, taking off only the skin, with as little fat as possible. (I then cure the skin separately and smoke it to use in cooking.)

    I have mixed feelings about removing the skin post cure, pre-smoking. It can be a very slippery piece of meat unless it is very well soaked in plain water, and dried well, and allowed to sit for awhile. It's been so long since the 1-2 times I removed the skin at this point, I can't really remember how difficult/easy it was. For some reason I think it was more difficult, but it's been a long time.


    5) Cut of meat to use

    Don't limit yourself to only pork belly. Pork cheek bacon, skin off, maple dry cured, Chaga smoke 200 F until 150 F in center. This is my favorite. Always cook bacon.


    What brand smoker? How much curing and smoking experience do you have?