Super Food Nerds: How to Make Your Own Bacon
A couple years ago, all the food blogs were aflame about making your own bacon. It was awesome, they said. You should try it, they said. It's insanely easy and pays off in spades, they said. Very rarely do you ever hear an endorsement that roundly and completely glowing. What'd I do in response? I ignored it entirely. Didn't make any bacon.
And frankly, now I'm feeling pretty dumb. Because I made bacon, and you know what? It's awesome. You should try it. It's insanely easy and it pays off in spades.
I started with a simple salt-sugar-pink salt cure. (Pink salt is curing salt – it gives bacon its characteristic color and flavor. You'll want to mail-order this, or get some from a local spice shop.) The pork we generally get here in the Kitchens comes in astonishingly lean, and this belly was no exception. I was a little hesitant, but cured it anyway. A week later, I had what more or less amounted to Canadian bacon. Great, but not actual bacon (unless you're Canadian).
So I went back for round two. This time, I used a couple of different purveyors, hoping for a fattier belly. Three purveyors, to be exact, and I figured I may as well do a proper experiment and play with a couple of cures as well. Three belly pieces, each cut into three, and three cures (classic salt-sugar-pink salt, a maple and black pepper, and a molasses and black pepper). Nine pieces total, each labeled with purveyor and cure, to be put in a cool, dark location for a week.
And then I lost the bacon. I put it into our giant walk-in fridge and it disappeared. A week later I found it in the Chopped fridge. I'm pretty sure I saved it from some kind of terrible fate of being cooked with gummy candy and fish heads. Anyway, all I'm saying here is that you can literally not know which fridge your bacon is in and it'll still be fine – that's the level of commitment and dedication I'm asking for. It's not much.
Once the bacon gets a week of cure, it then needs to be cooked, either low-temperature smoked or roasted, until it gets an internal temp of 150 degrees (it'll come up to 155 on its own outside the oven). As soon as it's there, it can then be cooled, wrapped and kept in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for up to 3 months (it freezes fantastically). I arranged each tray with each type of cured bacon and carefully labeled which was which. Pro tip: turns out permanent marker is bacon-fat-soluble, so you should come up with a better labeling technique than I did.
Anyway, a couple hours in a 250 degree oven later, I had bacon. Almost, anyway – taking it to 155 makes it ready to slice up and fry. Considering that the USDA says pork is safe above 145, you could probably eat it now, but that would be weird (also, don't eat it now). Sliced and fried, the maple and molasses stood out as the clear winner; the maple edged out molasses by being mellow-sweet instead of super-sweet. What was really striking about all of them, though, was their presence. All of them were very clearly entree bacon, not accessory bacon. This is your BLT, fancy brunch, Brussels sprouts with bacon bacon – it'd be fighting for attention on top of a cheeseburger.
Homemade bacon! Who knew.