Makin Bacon

I’m starting to gather a reputation as a fairly self-sufficient guy. Of course there’s the homebrewing, the woodworking, the gardening, and yes, we’re thinking of getting some chickens. So I was not really surprised when my sisters got me a book on home meat-curing for my birthday, the simply, yet fancily-named Charcuterie. Beyond its appeal as a potential source of deliciousness, the book is stuffed full of great pencil drawings of one of my favorite subjects: meat preparation. Sausage, Prosciutto, Jamon Serrano, Saucisson Sec, and that staple of every Iowan’s diet, sweet, sweet bacon. Home-made bacon. Made … at home. By you. Holy. F-ing. Shit.

Perhaps home-made bacon’s greatest appeal to me was the possibility of slicing it to whatever thickness my heart desires. Actually, my heart desires me not to cut bacon that thick. But my stomach will really be into it. Speaking of stomachs, home-made bacon offered me another once-in-a-short-lifetime opportunity: the chance to speculate on pork bellies.

Pork Belly

(If you’re listening along at home, I am from Iowa, the land where pork belly futures are read on the 6 o’clock news, and hourly on the Farm Report. I have even been on the Farm Report, when the ad agency I worked for offended tractor afficianado’s statewide … but that is another story. On to the pork belly.

My speculation? This is going to taste delicious. It already looks like bacon. Raw, squirmy, sickly pink bacon. I ordered this “proto-bacon” from my favorite local meat market, Gartners, paying about $3 a pound for a 12-pound slab. I have also heard that is available from Asian markets, perhaps cheaper. I began by cutting it into three pieces, leaving the skin on. I also discovered for the second time that pig parts look eerily like human parts, with the possible exception being that I know few people with USDA grading tattoos. Although “USDA No. 1” might be a pretty sweet one, now that I think about it.

Proto Bacon

Next step: the rub. As in “herein lies the.” Since I was doing this for the first time, I made three different rubs for the three different slabs. The first was 1/2 cup of brown sugar, and 1/2 cup of Kosher salt. Which is ironic, if you think about it. Go ahead, think about it, you anti-Semite jerk.

The second rub was 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup kosher salt, and 1/2 cup Maine maple syrup, procured in Freeport, Maine at L.L. Bean’s headquarters. Buying maple syrup from L.L. Bean’s headquarters is a bit like eating pizza at Sbarro’s while visiting New York City.

The third and final rub added freshly-ground black pepper to Rub No. 1. There is no joke associated with this rub. That’s the rub, I guess.

Add maple syrup.

This is the step that I call the “Vegan in Hiding” step. If you suspect someone you trust might actually be a vegan, simply ask them to rub a sugar-salt-syrup mix into the still-slightly-hairy skin of a raw pork belly, while you sing “Rub It In” in your best Boris Karloff voice. This reveals all but the most repressed vegans. For those, you’ll need a Caja China.

Rub it in.

Bag the bellies, and pop them in the fridge. Every two days for the next seven, flip the bags over. The salt/sugar/syrup acts as a cure, flavoring the meat as it draws moisture out of the proto-bacon. If I’d paid more attention in biology, I could probably tell you what’s going on here. But I can’t. And Mr. Wizard is dead. So we’ll probably never know.

Ziplock it

On the seventh day, rest … er … rinse. Get all that cure off.


This next step sounds a little gross, but I assure you, it is crucial. Leave the bacon in the fridge for the next 12-24 hours, uncovered. I put mine on a cooling rack in a backing pan, so they would be elevated. According to the book, this is called “forming the pellicle,” which to me sounds like a weird art rock album by Hawkwind, but is apparently a layer of sticky goo on the outside of the cured meat that smoke will adhere to. By this, I gather the book’s authors consider “pellicle” tastier than “Elmer’s.”

Form the pellicle

12-24 hours later, pellicle formed, it is time to smoke the bacon. If you are counting along at home, this is the first time we will cook the pork. I prefer hickory smoke for my other pork-cooking activities, so I went ahead and used hickory chunks for the almost-bacon. If you need a smoker, I highly recommend the Weber bullet-shaped version.

Pick it, pack it, fire it up.

I almost fogot: place the bacon on the smoker skin-side-up. This has two purposes. One: the skin prevents smoke from reaching the tasty meat. Smoke goes up. Thus, the meatiest side goes down. It’s common sense. Secondly, under the skin is a thick layer of fat and collagen that will gradually melt as you slow-cook the pork, essentially self-basting the bacon. Self-basting bacon. Hmm. “Patent office? Yes, it’s Dave Selden again. Hello? Hello?”

25% done.

The idea here is to smoke the bacon until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees. Stick the ol’ thermometer in the fattest part. This may be hard to identify, as bacon is approximately 50% fat. Resist the urge to lick the delicious, home-made-bacon-flavored thermometer when you’re done.

50% done.

Half-sized photo of me in a t-shirt.

Once you hit 150 degrees, pull the bacon from the smoker and put it on a platter. If your guests enjoy the rougher flavors of young, once-cooked bacon covered in a layer of smoky, rubbery pork skin, serve. If you prefer twice-cooked, or “delicious bacon,” let the slabs cool down to handling temperature, about 149 degrees, which is pretty much as long as you’re going to be able to wait to slice into this delicious stuff, which now contains more free radicals than a PETA convention, thanks to that tasty pellicle.

The below picture serves no instructive purpose. It is purely to stimulate your saliva glands. Have you ever seen anything more beautiful?

Pork porn. Bacon curious?

The next step is pretty awesome, I have to say. Take a sharp knife, and remove the pig’s skin. If you are crafty, you can save it for football-making. There’s plenty of fat there, but leave as much on as you can. Why? Because the book said so. And that is good enough for me. Anything that produces results this appetizing is worth trusting.

Remove Skin. Save for football.

Congratulations! You made bacon! At this point, you have the option of eating the bacon, or of saving the bacon for later. I sliced my formerly 4-pound slabs into smaller breakfast-sized sections and Food-Saver’d all but one of them, and put them in the freezer for later. And by “later,” I mean “the next day.”

Disperse to hop-saver.

Actually, the last step is the most important. You need to fry up the bacon, which is the second time you cook it, if you are still playing along at home. I use a cast-iron skillet, personally, and recommend you do, too. Low and slow holds here, too. On my electric range (I know, I know), my burner dial goes to “11.” I cook bacon at “3.” Sure, it takes awhile, but this isn’t exactly Minute Rice we’re making here, is it?

75% done.

Is it good? It is great. Delicious. Kind of unbelievable, actually. I sliced mine about 3/16 inch thick, which is something you just can’t get at a store, and which results in a piece of bacon that is crisp on the outside, and slightly chewy on the inside. It compares with the best bacon I have ever had (and I have eaten bacon in all 22 states and at least five countries), and a lot less expensive than Nueske’s or that citified Niman Ranch.

239 thoughts on “Makin Bacon”

  1. I would like to make bacon in the style of english unsmoked bacon. I don’t know if thats any different from american unsmaoked bacon, but how would i make unsmoked and unseasoned bacon?


  2. Nice reading I have a small piggery in Philippines will try your recipes.As we have a small congregation of Englishmen some Americans & Germans who want natural cooked bacon



  3. Might have missed someone else saying this in the comments, but the Polcyn/Ruhlman to BSbrewing transmission seems to have gotten a little miscommunicated here. The “fattest” part of the meat P/R is talking about is the –thickest– part of the meat, not the –fattiest– part of the meat. Big difference between fattest and fattiest.

    And for Jeff’s Feb 6 question. It is necessary to *cure* all bacon (from four to seven days)with a high salt ratio (at least 50%). Unsmoked and uncooked (first cooked) bacon is called “green bacon.” It is raw, but unless hung to cure with nitrites will need to be cooked before consumption. Examples of “green bacon”: Pancetta in Italy, English green/unsmoked bacon, or the type of pork belly used in French cooking (lardons, petit sale, rillets, rillons). Pork belly, like raw ham, can be properly cured, hung, and (eventually) eaten raw, but you’d better get a book and some quick cure or pink salt and make a proper hanging environment unless you want to find out what botulism feels like.

  4. I have a meat stamp tattoo. I don’t know any other people who have a meat stamp tattoo. Of course, I don’t know any one else who is weird like me. Unless you count my children. They hate tattoos.

    Thanks for sharing your bacon making. That was very interesting. My kids are going to love reading this.

  5. I would like to make a suggestion. ( I have worked in a meat locker curing bacon and ham) be very careful using plain salt. It does not have the ability to stop the growth of c. botulim toxin or any other bacteria unless you do a virginia style cure. That is where the bacon is placed in a container on a bed of thick salt then covered with salt and allowed to cure for about ten weeks the salt draws moister from the bacon. It is better to used cure salt that contains sodium nitrate. And before anyone tells me nitrates are bad there are more nitrates in a can of beets than in a serving of bacon.


  6. I myself have been making my own bacon out of mostly wild pigs that live around the lake where I live in Kinloch New Zealand…it is a hobbie of mine,I smoke them over manuka which is a popular wood smoke and it imparts a neat taste…the salt balance to me is one of the most critical aspects of the whole procedure..I used to float a potatoe in my wet brine but it proved to salty,now the ole egg trick has sorted that out,it registers aprox 20%..just where I want your site …des alias (gruffalo)

  7. Hi Dave,

    I tried the recipe with salt, maple syrup, brown sugar. Soaked the belly pork for 7 days, then rinsed it, then pellicled it in the refrig for 24 hours.

    It came out a little too salty for me. Is it crucial to use exactly 4lbs of belly pork with the 1/2cup salt, 1/2cup maple syrup,1/2cup brown sugar recipe?

    Otherwise, how do I get it less salty before frying it up? Other than that, it was great. Thanks for any help.

  8. dave. I need you to help meI am blind known in denver as the blind meat cutter. I want to make bacon from Michael’s cookbook You did a great post. I have my pink salt and I don’t want to make maple bacon. Just good smoked bacon that doesn’t taste like ham can you contact me to tell me what to do? thanks

  9. Just to let you know I’ve been making really nice bacon for just about a year now, and it was THIS page that got me going! It’s nice to come back to it and find that what originally looked so exotic now just looks… well, it looks familiar! :-) Thanks!!!

  10. The instruction you give are very informative and fun to read.

    I have been making the maple, brown sugar, kosher salt version for a couple of years.

    I have only found one thing I would change about your advice.

    I have found that bacon with any type of sugar/maple syrup/honey/molasses cure, cooks better in a nonstick skillet.

    I discovered this after frying and eating about 10 lbs in a cast iron skillet. One day when I wanted to fry some, my cast iron had a 1/2″ of grease from the day before. I reluctantly grabbed My non-stick skillet, But actually the browning is much more even when using the non-stick.

    My girlfriend swears by baking it in a 350 degree oven, in stead of frying. It works really well, But it seems to take longer and the smell is better. I cannot wait that long for something sooo yummy.

  11. Hey!
    Great instructions, It gave me a lot of pointers I was looking for. Skin off skin on, spices, maple syrup? Lots of choices thankd for the ideas and Great looking bacon!

  12. BTW
    Start your oven off cold and let it come to temp with the bacon in, on a rack check every 3 mins after it reaches temp, (that’s why they call it “bake-on” lol)

  13. I have just started the fisrt process. I am making the salt/maple/brown sugar one.

    I will smoke it is hickory smoke in a weeks time.

    I will put the results on my website.

    You have made a Kiwi who misses Canada/USA very happy.

  14. Actually your supposed to drain out any liquid and re-season with your curing rub every day or so. When I do my own pork belly, I simply use salt/sugar. Cut it into squares and pan fry it then bake for about 30 minutes @400 brushing with maple syrup every so often. Much easier way for if you don’t have a smoker.

  15. MAde my first attempt at curing bacon. My only issue is it’s way to salty tasting. Any thoughts to reduce the end product saltyness?

  16. To get most of the saltiness out, you need to thoroughly wash the salt brine off the bacon before you dry it to form the pellicle. Can’t just put the pieces under the tap; you have take your hands and rub the salt/sugar mixture off as best you can.

  17. Fellow epicures,
    You all sound inspired and so you should…try this (or any combination thereof)for a more Euro bacon experience:
    3/4 cup of salt
    3/4 cup of brown sugar
    1 tblsp ground pimento/allspice
    2 tblsp ground black pepper
    2 tsp ground coriander seeds
    4 clove garlic finely crushed
    2 bay leaves finely chopped
    Just coat the belly (I usually manage two 3 pound pieces with this much cure) with the mix, stick it in a freezer bag and cure for 6 days. Rinse thoroughly, dry (in the fridge, uncovered – best get rid of that rotten lemon!)and cook on the bbq or add this flavour bomb to stews, omelettes etc…also try this rub on pork chops and cure for six to eight hours – you’ll love it. Sometimes I just cure chops in sugar, salt and crushed juniper berries for 6 hours or so as this seems to keep the meat juicy, especially if you’ve landed a particularly lean chop.

    Anyway, getting carried away. Enjoy yourselves and remember you will lose the occasional ham/bacon/batch of salami to a bacterial infection. Frustrating but can’t do nowt about it.

    All the best,

  18. I followed the brown sugar maple syrup and kosher salt suggestion had two slabs left the rind on one and took it off the other before i sliced them. both tasted the same just a little different to chew. we like the rind by itself so i’m taking it off both this time. at first we thought the bacon was too salty but didn’t notice that the next day although it was salty it didn’t seem too salty anymore. still this next batch i soaked for a couple hours after washing off the cure and was told to throw in a potato to absorb some of the salt i sliced the potato in half. the slabs are forming up now and i’ll push them skin side up into a pan of cracked black pepper tomorrow before i smoke them. we are loving this bacon.

  19. The slab is on the smoker (dome temp 170, belly temp 120 deg) so I don’t know yet. This is my second attempt… first cooked way faster than I thought it would so it’s internal temp was 180, tasted good, but was essentially ham.
    This belly’s skin had the nipples on it. It disturbed me much less than I would have thought. If nothing else I have learned I am certainly NOT a vegan in hiding.


  20. This was truly emotional for me. I am alive again. My homemade bacon goes on the smoker in the morning. Thanks for the tasty bacon.

  21. I am trying to duplicate Schwartzwald Speck (Black Forest Bacon)It’s the kind that can be eaten cold. Anyone have any recipes they would like to share?

  22. The chemistry involved: The salt draws out the water, creating a solution with the sugar (and any other soluble flavorings involved) and the then dehydrated flesh sucks up the solution to return to homeostasis. I think.

  23. I have completed the process, and it was awesome… I think I ate a whole pound this morning while I was slicing the rest of the bacon on a slicer. I have different opinions on the different flavors. Maple was too sweet for me, but I think it would be GREAT wrapped around a duck or goose fillet. The brown sugar/salt was just right for a nice normal breakfast bacon. The pepper one was AWESOME. I ate mostly the pepper one, and it had me wanting more. I look forward to experimenting with future flavors, but using this as the base. I think next time I am going to let it cure a little more than the 7 days.

    My next flavors are going to be Jalepeno and a garlic one.

    P.S. Doctor is going to be pissed again when I go in for my yearly physical and my cholestrol is through the roof!!!

  24. Stumbled across your blog while on a quest to find ideas for my inherited “Little Chief” smoker. Not only is the idea of ‘making bacon’ fascinating, but you are down right hilarious. I haven’t yet checked to see if there is more to your blog, in a hurry to speculate on pork bellies at the closest meat market asap, but i look forward to reading more of your comical input on just about anything. Thank you for the laughs and smiles, and thank you most of all for giving me another reason to fill my home with the wonderful aroma of bacon! Can’t wait to get started.

  25. As a result of the recent scientific findings of nitrite-laden meats vs. non-nitrite-laden meats, I, a bacon enthusiast extraordinaire, have chosen to make my own bacon. Your blog inspired me to do so. Thank you! I now have not only the incentive to do so, but the instructions as well!

    Carry on!

  26. The first effort was wonderful when I tried your perfect Bacon recipe. The second time I did a ‘cold smoke’ with the same method instead of direct heat. This takes about 12 hours. I used a drum to activate the smoke and then connected a pipe about 2 meters from the enclosed/covered bacon. Naturally there is still some heat that reaches the pork belly. The longer you smoke it this way the better.
    The pork in the encloseed resepticle must be slightly elevated above the drum.
    Since I live in South Africa I used some of our local indigenous wood chips for this purpose. Also used wood chips from some fruit trees. All worked well.
    Thank you for a wonderful idea.
    Next time I will be trying honey instead of maple.

  27. is it ok if i dont put it in a smoker? i don’t have, and can’t afford one. can i just after curing. cut and freeze?

  28. Droooooool. Looks delicious. I’ve wanted to make my own bacon for quite some time but can’t find a place to get a pork belly with the skin intact. I hear that I may have some luck trying an Asian market.

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