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homemade bacon on the grill

Makin' Bacon From Scratch - It Is Soooooo Much Better Than Storebought

"Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon." Doug Larson

Curing meats such as bacon, ham, or pastrami is fun and the results are often better than storebought. But curing is very different from any other recipe. You must read and thoroughly understand my article on the Science Of Curing Meats before attempting to cure meat. If you do it wrong you can kill someone you love. But getting it right is not hard.

In case you have been hibernating, I'm here to tell you that bacon has permeated everything from chocolate to mayonnaise. Unworthy is the upscale bar that doesn't have a cocktail with a bacon swizzle stick. There's a National Bacon Day and even Burger King has a baconized a dessert. But until you've tasted real honest to goodness old fashioned, sweet, smoky, umami laden, real American-style bacon, made in your home, you've never really tasted bacon.

In parallel to bacon's rise, pork belly, from which bacon is made, has moved from Asian menus to mainstream menus across the nation. The major difference between the two is that bacon is cured with a lot of salt, slightly sweet, and smoked, while belly is often just rubbed or marinated, and roasted without the smoke. But when it comes to both, there's room for a lot of creativity, and the lines are blurring.

Although there are more and more artisinal bacon producers making killer (expensive) bacon out there, almost all the stuff in the grocery stores is made by huge manufacturers taking shortcuts designed to get the stuff onto the market as fast and cheaply as possible. That's because, sadly, most shoppers see bacon as a commodity. As consumers, we reinforce this behavior when we shop by price alone. Even the labels with boutiquey names (like Farmer John) are usually made by the big mass producers (Hormel).

The product is delicious, but there is no substitute for the flavors of slowly smoked bacon made the old fashioned way.

Makin' bacon at home is surprisingly easy and the results are quantum leaps better than the stuff from large commercial producers. Once you have the basic recipe down, you can vary the ingredients to make a flavor profile to suit your taste. It is a simple two-step process: (1) Curing, and (2) smoking.

Commodity American bacon is usually from the belly and chest where the ratio of meat to fat can be 1:3. My favorite bacon is made from the layers of fat and meat that lie on top of the spare ribs, called "side bacon" or "streaky bacon". It can be about 1:1 or 1:2, with more meat, depending on the breed of hog, age of the hog, feed, and other variables. When shopping, ask your butcher to order some fresh, unfrozen, raw side bacon. It should look like the picture here.

raw bacon

Make sure you explain that you want raw bacon, not cured. Ask your butcher to remove the skin, but save it for you so you can make cracklins. You can freeze the skin until you are ready to make the cracklins.

Get the really fresh belly, and as soon as you get it home, start the cure because raw pork fat does not age gracefully. It gets rancid and smells funky in only 5 to 6 days. That's a flavor beloved in many European and Asian countries, but not so much in the US. Once it is cured and smoked, it will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, and it freezes well for up to two months.

About my smoking method

According to Chef Stephen Gerike of the National Pork Board, commodity bacon uses Prague Powder #2 which has a blend of salt, sodium nitrite, and sodium nitrate for better, longer, preserving properties. It is often injected with the cure and sprayed with liquid smoke. "The cured belly goes into the smoker at 100°F for 30 minutes, then the temperature is reduced, after drying, to between 80 and 90°F. That low, or cold, temperature is maintained for about six hours." The result is a raw cured meat that must be cooked before eating, and cooking it long enough can produce really crispy, bacon.

But my old fashioned recipe calls for Prague Powder #1 and smoking at 225°F. That cooks and pasteurizes the meat and makes it safe to eat right off the smoker. I do not recommend cold smoking at home.

Yes, I know your Ukranian neighbor cold smokes his bacon the way his Papa taught him, but he is playing Russian roulette, especially with today's meat supply. Click here for more on cold smoking.

After smoking you can store my bacon in the fridge for about two weeks or freeze it for months. Then cook it the normal way. But take note: It will not get as hard and crispy as commercial cold smoked bacon. Of course, if you are like me, you don't want your bacon crumbly, so this is not a problem.

I like it better cooked on a charcoal smoker than others. A gas smoker or pellet smoker is a close second to charcoal. You can do this on a gas grill or charcoal grill if you set them up properly for smoking (follow the links). Use plenty of wood.

Variations on the theme

Here are three bacon recipes. As always I recommend you follow my recipe the first time and the second time you can riff on them. The thing to remember is that the salt, Prague powder #1, and liquid are the crucial ingredients and you need to keep their quantites in proportion to get a good cure. After that, the rest of the ingredients are merely flavorings, and you can change them to your taste.

Takes. 2 hours prep, seven days of curing, 2 hours of smoking.

Makes. About 25 thick slices

1) Simple bacon


1 pound of pork belly

1 1/2 teaspoons Morton's kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon Prague powder #1

1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1/4 cup distilled water

2) Maple Bacon


1 pound of pork belly

1 1/2 teaspoons Morton's kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon Prague powder #1

1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

3 tablespoons Grade B maple syrup

1/4 cup distilled water

3) Asian Bacon


1 pound of pork belly

1 1/2 teaspoons Morton's kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon Prague powder #1

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon powdered ginger

1 teaspoon powdered garlic

1 teaspoon Sriracha or other hot sauce

1/4 teaspoon 5 spice powder

2 tablespoons water

About the maple syrup. The syrup is the water that carries the dissolved salts, as well as its own sugars. I use real maple syrup in this recipe, but it is expensive. If you wish you can use Steens Cane Sugar, imitation maple syrup, sorghum, honey, Lyle's Golden Syrup, or molasses.

Optional. For your next batch you can adjust the quantities of black pepper, and if you wish you can add fresh garlic or dried garlic, citrus zest, herbs such as thyme, bay leaf powder, celery seed, chile pepper, fennel, or coriander.


1) If the skin is still on, remove it and use it to make cracklins. It is sometimes hard to tell if it is still there. You should be able to make a cut in fat with your thumbnail. Your thumbnail will only make a dent in skin. Leaving it on causes problems for salt penetration, and when you fry it, the skin gets very hard and you probably won't like the texture. Removing the skin can be tricky. Sometimes you can grip a corner and with a knife and peel it back by running the knife between the skin and fat. Sometimes you just have to shave it off with a sharp knife.

2) Pour everything except the meat into a zipper bag large enough to hold the belly. A 1 gallon bag is fine for a 3 pound slab. Zip the bag and squish everything around until well mixed. Now add the belly, squeeze out the air as much as possible and squish some more, aggressively rubbing the cure into the belly and vigorously coating all sides. Put the bag in a pan to catch leaks and place in the fridge at 34 to 38°F for at least 7 days. If the belly is thicker than 1 1/2" add another couple of days. More time won't hurt it. The belly will release liquid so every day or two you want to gently massage the bag so the liquid and spices are well distributed, and flip the bag over.

3) Remove the belly from the bag, and throw the liquid away. GIve it a quick rinse to wash off any thick deposits of salt on the surface. Most recipes tell you to let the slab dry for 24 hours so the smoke will stick better, but, as the AmazingRibs.com science advisor Dr. Greg Blonder has proven, smoke sticks better to wet surfaces, this extra step isn't necessary.

4) If you are using a grill, set up for 2-zone cooking or fire up your smoker. Smoke over indirect heat at 225°F until the internal temp is 150°F, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. You can use any wood you like. Hickory is the tried and true. I'm partial to cherry and applewood. You should slice off the ends, which may be very dark and more heavily seasoned, and taste them right away. They will be more salty than the innards and the fat will be a bit stringy, but you'll love it all the same. Just wait til you cook up a center slice!

5) Now let it cool on a plate in the fridge. Cold bacon is easier to slice. Use on a slicer if you have one, or use a long thin knife to slice it. Try some thin and some thick slices. You can also cut bacon in cubes to make lardons (see the sidebar), and use them like bacon bits in salads, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, baked beans, in sauces or to garnish chops, or roasts.

6) Wrap it tightly with several layers of plastic wrap, and then a layer of foil, and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 3 months. Do not wrap in foil alone because it can react with the salt. When you are hungry, cook it just like you do storebought bacon.

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