Thursday, November 13, 2014

Makin' bacon... how to cure and smoke bacon without nitrates

I put this popular tutorial in my free e-book, together with two additional tutorials on homesteading.  You can get my free e-book if you subscribe to our newsletter, where you learn free homesteading skills and get great tips and recipes to live a healthier, happier, more sustainable life.

You don't need to raise and slaughter your own pigs to make your own nitrate-free bacon. You could just buy naturally raised, organic pork belly and make bacon yourself, at a fraction of the cost of buying the stuff in the store.
I'm not here to preach to you about eating bacon without nitrates, but if you want to learn why it's important to eat meat without cancer-causing nitrates, you can read about it here. Steve and I take pride in raising our own organic meat, and since we had our four pigs slaughtered last week and needed to make room in the freezer, we decided to make nitrate-free bacon with last year's pig belly, patiently waiting in the freezer.
Our friend gave us a smoker he had fashioned out of an old stainless steel refrigerator. It worked like a charm!
Let me show you how we cured and smoked our own bacon, and – spoiler alert – it tastes damn good!

Start with about five pounds of pork belly, skin or rind taken off.
Mix ½ cup of sea salt,
½ cup maple syrup (you can use sugar if you want),
any spices you might want in there (we used organic salt-free spice mix from Costco).

Rub the bacon vigorously with this spice mix. Make sure you get every surface of the pig belly coated.

Put it on a rack (like a rack you cool cookies on) on top of a big enough cookie sheet or casserole dish to catch all the liquid that will be released.
Leave it in the fridge for 24 to 36 hours.  Opinions on the length of time vary widely.  Once, we left ours in the brine for three days, and it turned out way too salty.
Remember to check it every day, to make sure it's happy and comfortable in there all alone, and to empty the liquid that will be released into the dish underneath the rack.

When it comes out of the fridge, it should have firmed up, leaked a bunch of liquid and look like this:

Now wash off all the spice mixture with water, and do a good job of it.  Pat it dry with paper towels and let it sit in the fridge to dry off for another whole day.
When that's over with, you could use the bacon just like that, sliced and "green", as they say, but do freeze it.  You don't want to get botulism by now hanging it from a rafter or something.

Or you can smoke it to add flavor, help preserve it, and make it perfect, which is what we did.  

They say apple and hickory wood is great for this, but we didn't have any, so Steve made alder chips from dry firewood he had sitting around.  He also ran some through his planer to make smaller saw-dust type chips.  Of course you an buy wood chips online or in a local grocery store.  The terrible, rusty looking thing is the fridge we used to smoke the bacon.

If you don't have an ugly, unused fridge sitting around, you can buy a smoker like this, which will do a beautiful job of smoking your meat.

Steve put the alder chips in a cast iron skillet on a hot plate into the lower compartment of the smoker.  Soon, it built up smoke, and we put our bacon in the smoker.  It has a thermometer that shows us the temperature inside the smoker, which is very nice so you don't have to keep opening it.

The recipe wants you to smoke the meat at very low temperature until the inside of the meat reaches 150 degrees.  We spent hours on the internet looking through recipes and reading through meat curing forums, and there are lots of different opinions.  We ended up keeping the inside temperature of the smoker around 170 degrees (or lower) for five hours.  When the meat reached an inside temperature of 150 degrees, we took it out.

The whole backyard smelled like bacon, and both humans and dogs stopped by attracted by the smells coming forth from the ugly, rusty, smoke-spewing thing.
Once it came out, we fried up some bacon on the spot.  It tasted great, although a little salty on the outside.  I think ours turned out salty because our bacon had been cut into small strips instead of a whole belly, so it absorbed more salt, and we left in the brine too long.

Hopefully, this has inspired you to make your own bacon!  Let me know about your smoking adventures!

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  1. Everybody like smoked food and everybody think that smoked food making process is very difficult. Buy if you buy a best electric smoker smoked food making process become easy.

  2. Did you know that alder is often used as "applewood" in the commercial curing process? I wondered who was cutting down the apple trees it would take to smoke all that bacon. Turns out it often isn't apple at all!

    1. Robin,
      We tend to use alder ourselves! Considering that it's like a weed around here, that works out great!

  3. Really cool article. I just stumbled upon your blog and i thought i'd say that I have really liked reading your blog writes..Anyways I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.

  4. Hello,

    Indeed a beautiful post, I know Electric smoker is very important, I myself love it & that's why I have recently purchased one of the top electric smokers around, because once I put my money on it, I need it to work for years.

    By the way, Keep up the good work.

  5. I always cut off 2 slices when done brining and cook the inner slice and test for saltiness. If too salty you can soak in clean ice cold water for a few hours at a time to pull the salt out. Ive had to de-salt my bacon more then a few times. Once I had to desalt for 18hrs.

  6. Thanks for sharing, nice post! Post really provice useful information!

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