There are several different ways to make bacon. You can cold smoke, cold smoke/dry cure, you can hot smoke, or you can low temperature smoke and cook it. Today we will be doing some low temp smoking and cooking for our bacon. In later posts we will cover the other methods.
The first step to making bacon is to acquire a pork belly, remove the skin, and properly cure it. I chose to “square” the pork belly up but if you want to leave it whole that’s ok too.
Curing the Bacon
There are several ways you can cure a pork belly. We will be using a method known as dry curing. This simply means we will be applying precisely measured spices directly to the pork belly and then placing it in a vacuum sealed bag (or zip lock bag) into the fridge. In the refrigerator the salts and spices will slowly make their way to the center of the meat. Once this happens the meat is totally cured, and we can begin smoking/cooking.
The amount of time the meat needs to cure is relative to the size of the meat, or in this case the thickness. Here is a link to a website that has a curing calculator. Click on the option that reads “brining time” and fill in the appropriate spaces. The site recommends adding an additional 20% to the results to ensure the meat is fully cured. Here is the site: salt brining calculator (genuineideas.com)
Are Nitrites Necessary?
I do want to take a minute and address the elephant in the room. Are nitrites required for curing bacon? Well, that’s a tricky question. Nitrites are added for protection against unwanted bacteria (botulism), for color enhancement (no one wants dull grey bacon), for flavor enhancement, and for preservation. The debate about nitrites in bacon is certainly a hot one, especially when it comes to the topic of nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are what happen when amino acids that are found in the meat get converted into amines and bond themselves to unconverted nitrites. The result is a carcinogen called Nitrosamine. Commercial producers of bacon mitigate this unfriendly conversion by reducing the number of nitrites that are originally added and by adding a cure accelerator.
There are “natural” forms of nitrites in the market like celery juice powder or beet root powder that are gaining in popularity, but let’s be honest with ourselves nitrites are nitrites. In a later post we will go deeper into the use of “natural nitrites”.
A week ago, I came across a product sold by The Sausage Maker called EcoCure #1. This product claims to be a nitrite free curing agent that protects the meat from unwanted bacteria, preserves the color, and increases the shelf life of your product. So, after doing a tremendous amount of research on the properties of this product I can confidently say that EcoCure #1 is the first nitrite free curing agent that exists for the home consumer. We will get into the nitty gritty of this product later but the long and short of it is this. EcoCure #1 uses antioxidants and polyphenol rich extracts from fruits and herbs to protect the meat. Using this product at 1% of the meats weight has been tested and shown to be as effective (and in some cases more effective) as using nitrites to cure meat.
So, are nitrites necessary to cure bacon safely? Yesterday I would have said yes, but after discovering EcoCure #1 I have to say no! This recipe uses EcoCure #1 to create a pork belly that’s protected against harmful pathogens. If you don’t have EcoCure #1 the I would advise you to use Insta Cure #1 in this recipe at a rate of .193% (1.93 grams per kilo of meat) with the addition of a cure accelerator (refer to package directions for usage amount). If you want to use a “natural” form of nitrite like celery juice powder, then I would recommend using a cure accelerator as well. Cherry Powder is a good choice.
Can you just use regular salt to cure the meat. Technically you can, but unless you know how I would stick with either EcoCure #1 or Cure #1 (with a cure accelerator). It’s safer and will produce a more consistent product.
Enjoy the video and the recipe where I take you through the entire process of making this bacon. If you have any questions let me know.
Here are a few things you might find useful when making Bacon Jerky
- EcoCure #1 8oz on amazon
- EcoCure #1 16oz on Amazon
- EcoCure #1 5-pound container on Amazon
- EcoCure #1 from The Sausage maker direct (sells out quick)
- Large Capacity Scale
- Small Scale for Spices
- Bacon Hooks
- Smoker (I use the Model 4D Digital WiFi)
- Cold Smoke Generator (optional but produces consistent and controllable smoke)
- Meat Slicer
- Heavy Duty Kitchen Vacuum Sealer (for storage)