Makin bacon is surprisingly easy. We get some pork belly, rub it with a mix of sugar and salt, and leave it alone for a while. Perhaps we massage it every few days, to really get the juices flowing, but sometimes we forget and bacon doesn't seem to mind a bit of neglect. Bacon is cool that way. After about a week, we bake the bacon... either by hot smoking it, or by cooking it slowly in the oven.
Homemade bacon, thickly sliced.
There are lots of ways to make bacon. You can add different spices, or maybe honey instead of sugar, or maple syrup, or something else. Here is a delicious recipe for making bacon at home and an inspiring video that includes a bit about curing meat and bacon (bacon starts about the two minute mark)
When I'm making bacon, I often use the basic curing salt recipe from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, by Ruhlman and Polcyn. It's basically a mix of sea salt, sugar and curing salt #1. I make a big batch of this, and keep it in the pantry for when I want to make bacon. Come bacon making time, weigh the meat, measure the salt as per the recipe. I grind up some pepper and other herbs and spices, add it to the curing mix, then rub the lot on the pork belly. It cures in the fridge for about a week before it's ready to be smoked.
This is my smoker/BBQ. I start a small charcoal fire in the little box to the side, and when it's good and hot, I add pear or apple branches that I saved from pruning and cut up into about 4 inch lengths. I shut down most of the air so that it makes lots of smoke, and try to keep the temp between 160 and 220 F. I smoke for about four hours, which is a good deal longer than most people. I'll get to why in a bit.
The Little Chief box smoker pushed off to one side doesn't work. The electrics are burnt out and I need to find some sort of burner for it.
When I've finished smoking the bacon, I put in the oven at 200F for an hour, to make certain the internal temperature is at or above 140F.
I normally keep my bacon in the fridge, but if I go camping or the electricity fails or some other reason, I may want to keep my bacon at room temperature for several days/weeks. Most modern recipes for bacon don't take this into account, they assume everyone refrigerates their food. For this reason, they don't add as much salt to the cure as our ancestors did. When I cure my bacon, I usually add a few extra tablespoons of salt to the mix, just regular, non-iodized salt. I also cure my bellies for longer than most modern recipes, sometimes up to two weeks depending on how thick the meat is. I decide when it's done by texture of the meat - cured meat has a definite firmness to it. This is also why I smoke my meat for so much longer than is normal these days. When storing the bacon, I wrap it in butchers paper and avoid plastic. Plastic doesn't let the food breath, and bacon being a traditional food when made this way, keeps longer if it can breath.
The only problem with my method, is that it tastes very salty. The excess salty taste is a common failing with homemade bacon... but I've found a solution. Once the bacon is completely cool, I often leave it overnight to cool and dry a bit more, I wrap it in butcher paper and put it in the freezer for a few weeks. Somehow, being in the freezer for a week or two, makes the bacon taste far less salty. I don't know how it works, but it does.
Like I said earlier, there are lots of different ways to make bacon. Do you have any methods you enjoy?
Curing salt #1 (which contains sodium nitrite) is not necessary. People have been curing bacon both with and without nitrites for centuries. Curing salt #2 (which contains sodium nitrate) is not recommended for bacon.
What the curing salt does is to reduce the chance of spoilage and to keep the rosey colour to the meat. Meat will turn brown as it ages, and most people these days aren't use to that.
I usually use curing salt because I want a bacon that can be kept at room temperature for several days/weeks if need be. I do other things, like I mentioned above, to make certain it will stay good, the curing salt alone isn't necessarily sufficient. But it dose help provide that extra level of safety that I want.
Some people don't like or can't eat curing salt, so they make bacon without. Thats the great thing about home cured bacon, you have control of what ingredients you use.
Some people use nettles, celery or other plants that are good at absorbing nitrogen and converting it to nitrites. This can be a problem if the plant is grown with or near chemical fertilizer, but it can be an advantage if one wants to cure bacon. I don't know how it is done, but I've seen commercial products with it.