Dry Curing Bacon – the basics

salt being rubbed into make your own bacon recipe
Bacon. Dry curing is the “simple and honest” approach to making your own. Rub this magic blend all over your belly and become one with its inner goodness.

So you want to make your own bacon? As you can guess there are many different ways of approaching this so I think its best to start simple and we’ll work our way up from there.
Like many foods, “simple and honest” often yields better results. Learning to dry cure meat is a great place to launch your career into divine pork production.
The following is based on thorough research from various sources including books (see the Pork Products section), butchers and the good old internet. It is safe to use and has never yet let me down. If you follow this receipe, you will be using sodium nitrite. I choose to use sodium nitrite as it is found naturally in many of the vegetables we eat, is not used in toxic measures (or even close) and protects me, my family and friends from the risk of nasty bacteria. It also gives me a little room to make a few mistakes while operating out of a non-commercial grade environment.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that making your own bacon is far from scary.. it’s fun!
So, here we go!

Curing bacon is a two part process, basically what we are going to do is:

  1. Mix up a “dry” cure, massage it into our pork and refrigerate; then
  2. Take our pork out of the fridge and prepare it either for eating or smoking
a diagram showing the middle of the pig
Bacon consists of two parts – the loin (the round bit or ‘eye’) and the belly (streaky)

You will need:

Some pork – As we are makin’ bacon this will need to be the loin and the belly. You can obtain these parts by:

  • Speaking to your butcher and asking for a “pork middle” – loin and belly joined, bone out.
  • Asking for a loin and a belly, separated with skin and fat intact; or
  • Buying a ready to roast pork loin, cutting the string off and un-rolling it, along with a slab of pork belly.

1kg kosher salt or fine sea salt
6g Sodium Nitrite (use digital scales to get this right)
300g white sugar
A non-reactive tub (glass or plastic) that will snugly fit your pork inside. Try Bunnings for the cheap version or your local Butcher Supplies store for the heavy duty commercial type. We’ve used two 15L Storage tubs – $5 each from Bunnings.
5m of breathable fabric such as muslin or light unbleached cotton cut into large sections, one for each piece of meat.

Step One – Prepare the basic cure by mixing the salt, sodium nitrite and sugar in a large bowl. Make sure the three are very well blended, especially as 6g of Sodium nitrite is only about a dessert spoon in volume. So stir up a storm, take a break and then do it a again a couple more times. Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place because you can use this as a starting point for all your curing.

Sodium nitrite
Looks a little dubious but if you follow the instructions conservatively and blend sodium nitrite at a ratio of 6:!000, you should have no issues.

Step Two – Take your slabs of loin and belly out and slice them neatly into smaller portions. This will make it easier for the cure to penetrate the meat and also means you can keep pieces in the freezer until you are ready to unleash the next batch. I usually slice both into 10-15cm slabs.

Step Three – Working one at a time, either on a broad chopping board or in a plastic tub, spoon the dry cure mix over the meat and rub it thoroughly in all over, lovingly at first and then vigorously until every surface has been treated. Do this for at lest a whole minute. Once you’re done, pad it a couple of times against the board or slap it in the air if you are using a tub and shake off the excess salt.

“What stays on stays on,  what falls off falls off”.

Stack the meat into your storage tubs in layers skin side down, then skin side up. Cover with cling film, put the lid on and refrigerate.

cut loin dry cure stack in tub
Slice, rub, stack and refrigerate, it helps if if you say a few tender words along the way to express your love and devotion!

How long to cure?
The length of time needed to cure is where both science and art come into play, there is no hard and fast rule that applies to every cut. Too short in the cure and the salt isn’t given the opportunity to penetrate to the centre, too long and the finished product can be so salty it is bordering on inedible.

I like to keep it simple: 1 day per kilo.

This rule of thumb applies to each piece. That is, if you’re making 10kgs of bacon in total, but each piece weighs around 1kg, it will be one day in the cure, not 10. Generally bacon cut into pieces as shown will need just over a day, and you can take the tub out half way, flip and rearrange the pieces to ensure even coverage. We put ours in to cure on a Wednesday night, then removed from the cure on Friday morning.

Almost immediately you will see the meat starting to ‘sweat’ as the concentrated salt on the outside draws moisture from the meat while the salt penetrates to replace it. After a few hours the pork will literally be soaking in liquid. This will be poured off at the end.

Step Four – Once the time has arrived, each piece needs to be removed from the cure and washed individually and thoroughly under cold running water. Spend at least 20 seconds on each piece washing as much salt off as possible. Now pat the meat dry with a tea towel and wrap with muslin ensuring each side is covered at least once. It doesn’t need to be mummified, just enough to prevent the meat from touching anything in the fridge. Place the wrapped pieces back in the fridge for at least another day, 2-3 days is better as it gives the salt and the meat a chance t relax and mellow.

To prepare the bacon for smoking,  you will need to use a butcher’s needle and string to pass a loop through one end of each piece ready to hang from a hook in the smoker. You can see our first smoked bacon and pork neck in the oak barrel smoker here.

Basically, that’s it! If you aren’t intending to smoke your bacon, you can slice and grill/fry it as is. Any pieces you would like to freeze for future use should be wrapped tightly in cling film and sealed in an airtight bag, such as a press seal sandwich bag, before freezing.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a basic cure. Feel free to experiment, you can add all manner of herbs and spices or sweeteners like additional sugar, honey or maple syrup. If you come up with anything new that we should try, let us know!

 

 

 

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