America's Test Kitchen changes the game and teaches you how to make your own bacon at home
Guys, this changes the game entirely. Instead of buying slab bacon in the supermarket, America's Test Kitchen teaches you how to cure your own bacon (no smoker required). Of course, you do need a grill and some charcoal, but those could easily be obtained.
The steps? Get a thick portion of pork belly, remove the skin, and cure the slab with salt, pink salt, maple sugar, and other seasonings (the pink salt is key for preventing bacterial growth).
Then, smoke it in a grill with water, charcoal, and wood chunks (genius!) for two hours or less. Total bacon-making time? Well the bacon cures for seven to 10 days, flipped every other day, and then it's smoked in one day. Not bad for a slab that can last up to a month in the fridge. We expect home-cured bacon at every dinner party now. Watch below for the full recipe and measurements, and be careful not to lick the screen.
Before we get to the tutorial on how to make homemade bacon, I have to unleash to poet within. Here it goes…
Ode to Bacon
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right…
…I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life….
Okay, yes, Elizabeth Barrett Browning really wrote that poem for her husband, Robert. Not for a piece of cured pork. But really, can anyone prove that bacon wasn’t the object of her affection? Exactly.
But whatever the catalyst of her emotions, one thing is indisputable: Bacon is sublime. And by that I mean the literal definition of the word: “Of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe.”
When it comes to bacon you just can’t beat homemade. You have full control over every element: The quality of the pork, the seasonings used, the curing method, the type of wood chips/smoke, the thickness of the slices. There’s no mystery when it comes to making bacon. It is simple and easy and even those minor efforts pay off BIG time!
Before we get to how to make bacon, let’s address a couple of the most common questions: Should I dry cure or should I wet cure the bacon? What about those nitrates/nitrites?
Let’s start with the first question.
Should I dry cure or should I wet cure the bacon?
Some experts insist dry-curing results in a more pronounced flavor and that the bacon fries up more crispy than when using the wet-curing method. Other experts insist on the exact opposite. The battle rages on. The bottom line is that it comes down to personal interpretation and preference. I’ve used both methods, they both yield excellent results, but I tend to lean on the side of dry-curing. I’m including both methods for you to try. Pick one or the other or try them both and see which one you prefer.
Now for the next question.
What about those nitrates/nitrites?
Nitrates and nitrites get a bad rap and are commonly associated with processed deli meats, hot dogs and bacon. But they may be one of many examples of things that have been targeted and blown out of proportion by the media. As is typical of medical research, there are so many conflicting studies on this topic with directly opposing conclusions that it’s enough to make one’s head spin. Though the opponents to nitrates may argue, the fact is there is no definitive conclusion one way or the other.
What we do know is that not only have nitrates/nitrates been used for the last 12,000 years, nitrates/nitrites occur naturally in vegetables and in many cases in higher quantities than in cured meats. One source observes that “o ne serving of arugula, two servings of butter lettuce, and four servings of celery or beets all have more nitrite than 467 hot dogs. ”
Another source notes, “those uncured hot dogs or bacon you’ve been conscientiously paying more for? Most are processed using celery or beet juice, whose nitrates turn into nitrites when they react with the saliva in your mouth [and] in many case…contain more nitrites than traditionally cured meats.” The claim to be made “without nitrates or nitrites” is a marketing ploy, and the use of celery or beet juice is the FDA loophole that allows them to make that erroneous claim.
(On an important side note, all the sources I’ve read emphasize strongly the importance of using the right quantities of nitrates and nitrites. Nitrates/nitrites can be toxic if the recommended quantities aren’t observed, so be sure to use exact measurements and correct ratio of curing salt to pounds of meat.)
Now I would never make the claim that bacon is healthy. Nor would I say that it’s perfectly safe to eat an unlimited amount of nitrates and nitrites. But I do personally maintain that a balanced diet that includes “all things in moderation” is a sound and a safe one.
So the question becomes less one of should I use nitrates/nitrites, and instead is one of why should I use them? And the answer to that is the same one that people made 12,000 years ago when they found that meat remained safe to eat when they used it.
Bacon is smoked low and slow within a temperature zone that bacteria can grow and multiply. The use of nitrites in bacon fights harmful bacteria and it also helps preserve the meat’s color. (Imagine grayish-brown bacon or hot dogs…now you know why those manufacturers of “nitrate/nitrite-free” meats still sneak them in, just under a different name.) So nitrates and nitrates help ensure both the safety of the meat as well as it’s pleasing aesthetics.
And the flavor and aesthetics of bacon are very pleasing indeed!
But let’s stop the talking and let’s start smoking!
Ladies and gents, it’s time to make some homemade BACON!
As promised, I’m giving you both options for DIY bacon to choose from.
Better yet, try both and see which one you prefer.
Want a Better Breakfast? Cure Your Own Bacon
The preparation of bacon is a ritualistic, sensory experience. The sizzle as each slice hits the pan. That sweet, greasy scent, lingering for hours. But to cure one&rsquos own bacon from scratch is to wield total control over the weekend breakfast rite. And when duck is used in lieu of pork, what results is a smoky, salty, sweet and craving-worthy dish that&rsquos crispy and indulgent &mdash comforting in its familiarity, yet wholly unexpected.
From New York City restaurant Jack&rsquos Wife Freda, an icon of downtown cool with an indulgent, somehow still health-conscious menu, comes a recipe for house-cured duck bacon. Transforming a fatty cut into a flavor-infused mass is less daunting than it would seem, requiring little more than an overnight cure and an hourlong smoke. While duck bacon is leaner than pork (ergo, a little bit healthier), it doesn&rsquot strive to imitate it&rsquos singular in flavor, with a meatier texture and toothier bite that will make you wonder why duck isn&rsquot the norm.
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 teaspoon pink pickling salt
1/4 cup light brown sugar
4 thyme springs
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 duck breasts
2 ounces applewood chips, for smoking
1. In a small bowl, combine the salts, sugar, herbs and spices mix thoroughly.
2. Massage the salt mixture into the breasts, making sure to cover them completely. Put the breasts in a zip-top bag, seal, and refrigerate for 12 hours, turning the bag every few hours. As the breasts sit in the cure they will begin to firm slightly. After 12 hours, rinse the breasts and dry well.
3. Smoke the breasts using your smoker&rsquos specifications for one hour. Once finished, remove and chill.
4. Slice the duck breasts lengthwise into thin strips. Cook the duck bacon similarly to how you&rsquod cook the pork version, which tastes best browned on each side for a few minutes over medium to high heat in a cast-iron pan.
Buy the Book
This recipe appears in Jack&rsquos Wife Freda, by Dean and Maya Jankelowitz and Julia Jaksic, published by Blue Rider Press. Buy Now: $16
- Boneless pork loin – 2 pieces approximately 2 lbs each
- Corn meal
- 2.5 liters of water
- 210 g kosher salt
- 150 g sugar
- 25 g pink salt / prague powder #1
- 1 tbsp pickling spice
- 54 g brown sugar
- 45 ml honey
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- Trim any visible silver skin off the pork loin, and trim any excess fat on it down to about a 1/4 inch layer
- Prepare a brine by boiling the water, salt, sugar, pink salt, pickling spice, brown sugar, honey, and garlic together – then allow to cool completely Tip: to cool it faster, use 1.5 liters of water when preparing the brine, then pour in 1 liter of ice water to cool it off. If you just add ice to the regular amount of water, you’ll dilute your brine as it melts.
- Once cooled, place the loins in a large ziploc bag or non-reactive container with the brine, ensuring that they are completely covered.
- Leave in the fridge for 3.5-5 days. I did 3.5 days, and the pork loin was cured all the way to the middle.
- Rinse the pork loin, then dry, and roll in a dish of corn meal, pressing it in until a nice even layer sticks to it Note: before coating it in corn meal, you can cut a small piece off and fry it to taste the saltiness level. If it’s too salty, you can let the pork soak in some cool water for a couple of hours, then try it again. If it’s still too salty, change the water and repeat until it comes out the way you like it.
- Wrap the whole piece of peameal bacon in plastic wrap or aluminium foil, then put it in the freezer until firm, but not frozen. This makes it much easier to slice.
- Slice the peameal bacon to whatever thickness you prefer. I like thicker slices, just under 1/4 inch thick.
I like to fry these up until the edges are nice and crispy, but the inside is still a little medium rare. This keeps the peameal bacon from drying out too much, and the texture and taste are a lot better than letting it cook to well done.
Thanks for reading, and if you enjoyed this article and want more like it, please like the MeatVentures Facebook page to be kept up to date on all future content! I hope you give this recipe for homemade peameal bacon a try – it’s easy and delicious!
Making Canadian Bacon: Step by Step with Photos
Make your brine. This is as simple as bringing all the ingredients up to a simmer just to ensure all the salt is dissolved. I’ve played around with slight variations on the aromatics in the brine and all versions have turned out well. You can also scale this brine as needed. Just keep the ratio of water, salt, sugar and pink salt the same. Let the brine cool all the way and pop it in the fridge to chill before you use it.
While your brine is cooling, meet your meat!
Get yerself a full pork loin. It should weigh about 10 pounds. A bit more or less isn’t that big of deal, but if you have some massive 14 pound pork loin, you may have to cut it into thirds and scale up the brine to compensate. Alternatively, if ten pounds of Canadian bacon sounds intimidating, halve the brine quantity and use a 4 or 5 pound center-cut pork loin roast instead of the full loin.
Trim up the pork loin. After some debate with myself I left the silverskin on the loin on this batch. I wanted to keep that thin layer of fat. This was a risk – silverskin can be impossibly chewy but it turned out fine – no rubber band quality. So I say trim your pork loin and remove visible silverskin but don’t strip it of fat to do so.
If you are using the full lion, cut it in half as shown below and place each half in a heavy-duty, gallon-size zip-top plastic bag. If you are using a 4 or 5 pound roast, you’ll only need one bag. Duh.
Add the cold brine to the bags with the pork loin, dividing up the brine equally and trying to get the aromatics more-or-less evenly represented in the bags, too. Squeeze as much extra air out as you can and try to get the meat fully surrounded by the brine.
Pop the brining pork loin in the fridge and leave it there for 3 to 4 days. If your chunk of pork loin is small, err on the side of a little less time and if it’s jumbo, err on the side of a little more time. Don’t exceed 5 days though or your loin will be too salty. Once a day, or when you think of it, give the bag a little flip to keep the meat brining evenly.
When Brine Time is up, it’s time for the fun part: drying and smoking. Before you smoke meat (or fish), the outside of the meat should be so dry that it feels a bit tacky. This layer of dry meat is called the pellicle and is important for good smoke flavor and color. To form the pellicle, you’ve got two options:
Pellicle Option #1: Slow, Easy and Health Department Approved
Rinse off your brined pork loin, then pat dry with a lint free towel. Set the loin pieces on a cooling rack set over a sheetpan and place the loin pieces uncovered in the refrigerator for a day or so.
Pellicle Option #2: Faster, More Work, Freaks Out The Health Department People
Rinse off your brined pork loin, then pat dry with a lint free towel. Set the loin pieces on a cooling rack set over a sheetpan and place the loin pieces on your counter. Set a big fan in front of the loin pieces and dry them in front of the fan, turning the loin pieces periodically so they dry uniformly.
Your loin isn’t going to spoil, since it just spent 4 days absorbing salt and nitrite, but don’t be stupid. Don’t dry your pork at room temp in summer in Arizona in a house without AC. And don’t let the drying go on more than two hours or so – if you don’t have a powerful fan that can get the job done in that timeframe, go with the Slow Dry Method.
Whatever method you opt for, make sure the pork loin has full air flow all around it and isn’t touching anything.
Now it’s time to smoke! Get your smoker set up and loaded with applewood chips or your chips of choice. Different smokers require slightly different set-ups, so just follow the instructions for your particular smoker. I use dry smoke. As a reader commented on the big bacon post, dry smokes and wet steams.
Load your brined, dry pork loin into your smoker and hot smoke until the pork hits an internal temperature of 150-degrees. If you are using a smoker with a temperature control, set your smoker to somewhere around 225-degrees.
When your Canadian bacon is fully cooked but juicy with a beautiful smoked exterior, remove it from the smoker.
If you possibly contain yourself, wrap the Canadian bacon well and let it chill well before slicing into it. I did not have that level of self control. This stuff is incredible. It will last for a few weeks in the fridge, and if you wrap it well in reasonable-sized hunks you can freeze it for 6 months.
How to Smoke Bacon Without a Dedicated Smoker
So, you really want some homemade bacon, but you don’t have a smoker. No worries, where there’s a will, there’s a way! Here are a few alternatives:
- If you’ve got a charcoal grill, you can set it up for indirect heat. This is done by positioning your hot coals and wood opposite of your meat.
- You can also set up a gas grill for indirect smoking, so long as it has multiple burners.
- While using an oven is not traditional and you will miss out on that authentic smoked flavor and color, I’m sure the final product would still be delicious. You can use a small amount of liquid smoke or even smoked salt to make up for the real thing.
Whatever you do, don’t try to finish your bacon at a high temperature. You don’t want to render away the fat, nor do you want a charred or heavily cooked exterior. Low-n-slow smoking will give a nice mahogany color and maintain that delicious fat.
How to Make Pork Rinds / Chicharrones
Typically found in charcuteries or smaller or local butcher shops or international markets. Make sure to use skin within 3 days of purchase, as the high moisture content makes it subject to quick spoilage.
Step 2 - Cut Pork Skin Into Pork Squares.
Cut skin into small squares roughly 1" x 1". Each one of these squares will become a singular rind. This process is harder than it looks - pork skin is VERY tough and best cut with sanitary kitchen shears.
Step 3 - Boil Skins.
Boil water in a pot sized to accommodate your skin squares. Add skins carefully once water is boiling. Let the skins boil for about one hour.
Step 4 - Chill Skins.
After skins have been boiled, pour out water and allow them to cool down and place in refrigerator for 4 hours or longer. This will solidify the layer of fat beneath the skin
Step 5 - Eliminate Fat From Skin.
Cut off the fat from each skin piece starting with a knife and scraping with spoon like tool. Pork Rinds are made of pork skin. This step is the difference between "Pork Cracklins" and Pork Rinds. If you left the fat on at this stage, you would end up with a Cracklin.
Step 6 - Place Skins Face Down On Drip Tray.
Place all skins spaced apart as much as possible facing down on a mesh tray with a pan underneath.
Step 7 - Render And Dehydrate Skins.
Set your oven to a low temperature - setting 170˚-180˚F is ideal - and leave the door cracked. This allows air to circulate and carry away the moisture in the skins. Total drying time should be approximately 8 hours or overnight with a convection oven - add 2 hours for ovens without convection. You can also use a dehydrator for this step - just dehydrate the skin as you would any other food. Pork skins puff when fried because they have been dehydrated to the point that there is only a small amount of water remaining in the skin. When skins hit the fryer, this water turns to steam and puffs the skins.
Step 8 - Prep Oil And Tools.
Fill a fryer or stainless steel pot with your chosen frying oil. If using pot, make sure to add a thermometer to monitor oil temperature - if it smokes it is absolutely too hot! Heat oil to around 400˚F. Set out nylon or stainless steel tools for placing the skin chips into the oil - other materials can melt.
Step 9 - Fry Skins.
When oil reaches about 400˚F, gently add a few skins into your fryer or pot. The skins will begin to make popping noises after a few seconds and start to float to the top. When this happens, stir them around! You want the un-puffed areas to stay submerged in the oil until the entire skin has puffed up. Un-puffed areas will be chewy and hard rather than crispy.
Step 10 - Cool And Season Skins.
When skins are completely puffed, remove them from the oil and place on the dehydrating try or similar grate surface. This allows excess oil to drip off and the skins to cool. Immediately use your shaker to season skins - seasonings only stick when they are hot.
Step 11 - Season Rinds.
While the puffs are cooling is the ideal time to season them. Seasonings stick much better when the oil is still hot.
Turkey Bacon Recipes That'll Almost Make You Forget About The Real Thing
Most self-respecting bacon lovers wouldn't dare admit to liking turkey bacon. It doesn't cook up the same. It's not fatty enough. And, well, it's just not pork. It's true, turkey bacon isn't as good as real bacon. But sometimes, it's just what you need. Like, when you're trying to eat healthy but just can't imagine having breakfast without bacon. Or, when you know that all your hummus sandwich needs is a slice of bacon in it to make it taste complete. Those are the times that turkey bacon becomes our hero.
If you're not on board with turkey bacon, consider this: it's lower in calories AND fat. That means we can eat more of it. If that still doesn't convince you, maybe the recipes below will. They're easy and healthy and highly addictive. These dishes will make you forget about the real deal -- at least until your next meal.
Homemade Smoked Maple Bacon
Homemade smoked maple bacon is easy to prepare. Just remember that bacon is always cured with a sweet and savory mixture of sugar, salt, and pepper. You can use a smoker for the finishing touch. If you want to take your bacon from good to great, use real maple syrup instead of sugar.
Why make bacon at home? You get to decide what goes into it (meat from pastured organically-fed animals) and what does not go into it (nitrites, which are added to most commercial bacon).
Nitrites are sold to the home cook in blends called "curing salt" or "Prague powder." They preserve the bright pink color of the layers of meat in bacon and similar meats. They also help to eliminate bacteria. In very small amounts they are considered safe to consume, but they are a potential health hazard.
If you opt to use nitrates, remember that the finished bacon will not keep as long in the refrigerator as bacon made with curing salt. Freeze any that you plan to keep for longer than a week.
Here is the basic method for curing maple-flavored bacon. The instructions include tips for getting the smoked flavor just right.
- 1. In a plastic (preferably) container large enough to hold both the brine and the meat, mix together the water, maple syrup, salt, cure, and spices.
- 2. Scoop out a scant 1 cup (200 ml) brine, and use it to load the brine injector. Then, inject the loin every 3/4 to 1 inch (2 to 2.5 cm), inserting the needle about 3/4 inch (2 cm) deep. Try to distribute the brine evenly over the loin. Place the loin in the container with the remaining brine, and keep the meat submerged with the help of a plate or an object of a similar build. Cover and refrigerate for 4 full days.
- 3. Remove the loin from the brine and pat it dry. Then roll it in the meal of your choosing. Give it a day's rest, uncovered, in the fridge, so the meal and meat form as one.
- 4. You have two options on cooking it: you can slice it and griddle it for a minute on each side (for thin slices that is), or you can bake it at 375°F (190°C) for about an hour, or until it has a core temperature of 142°F (61°C), then slice it. I like it the first way, especially when it gets a bit burnt on the edges and I have added a dash of maple syrup that caramelizes a bit toward the end.
Reprinted with permission from The Art of Living According to Joe Beef by Frédéric Morin, David McMillan & Meredith Erickson, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
Frédéric Morin (right) is the co-owner/chef of Joe Beef, Liverpool House, and McKiernan Luncheonette. He attended LÉcole Hôtelière des Laurentides, worked at Jean-Talon Market selling peppers and onions, and served as garde-manger at Toqué! and chef de cuisine at Globe before opening Joe Beef. When he's not gardening, tinkering in his workshop, or at the restaurants, Fred can be found at home in Montreal with his wife (and the third partner in the restaurants), Allison, and their two sons.
David McMillan is the co-owner/chef of Joe Beef, Liverpool House, and McKiernan Luncheonette. Born and raised in Quebec City, David has been holding court in many of Montreals classic restaurants for close to twenty years. He still practices the cuisine Bourgeoise he learned from his mentor, Nicolas Jongleux, and from living in the Burgundy region of France. When David isn't at the restaurants, he can be found painting at his studio in Saint Henri or spending time at his cottage in Kamouraska, Quebec, with his wife, Julie, and their two daughters.
One of the original members of the Joe Beef Staff, Meredith Erickson has written for various magazines, newspapers, and television series. Currently collaborating on several books, Meredith slits her time between Montreal and London.