Friends at the CHK Facebook page asked for my bacon curing method. I’m happy to share how I do it. Lots of people cure their own bacon. There are two methods of curing pork; wet cure and dry cure. The dry cure entails rubbing the meat with a mixture of salt and spices and then leaving it to dry and cure. The wet method uses a brine. I prefer the wet method but the dry is good too.
Almost ALL old recipes for curing bacon call for salt peter. Salt Peter is just an old name for Sodium Nitrate or what we recognize as nitrates and nitrites in our food.
I have a horrendous sensitivity to nitrates and nitrites. I avoid them if at all possible. Except for today when I stuck a piece of store bought bacon in my mouth while I was cooking because we’re out of home made bacon. Bad move.
So when I started curing our bacon, and ALL the “Old” recipes called for salt peter, I was stumped.
What could I use?
Maybe bacon was off the menu?
Say it ain’t so!
I decided to just use canning salt the first time. It worked like a charm. With a few caveats.
Then I used Sea Salt. Also worked. Read this……..
Here’s the thing; Regular un-iodized salt, whether sea salt or canning salt, is what you want to use if you want to skip the salt peter and nitrates. But, using salt in place of the salt peter will not give you a piece of meat you can store in the smoke house for years like salt peter will. You’ll have to cut up the meat and store it at cooler temperatures like a frig, freezer or cellar.
Before you start you need to be aware that meat should be cured in glass or stoneware containers. Don’t use metal because it reacts with the salt and meat and stuff and can cause off-flavors.
I use glass baking dishes, stoneware crocks and pyrex baking dishes to cure meat in. Anything that is glass or stoneware and that you can lay the meat down in flat will work.
Wash and then scald your containers with boiling water before using them. You want them as clean as possible.
If your bacon has a thick layer of fat on it, don’t cut it off but score it across the surface of the fat and don’t cut into the meat.
Choosing The Meat
Bacon is made from pork sides. You’ll want to get the smaller sides rather than the really huge sides because the smaller ones are usually more uniform and slice up better. 8 pounds is usually the biggest that I use but if you buy a half of a pig or a whole pig, you’ll get what you get and just make do.
Prepare The Meat
use a really sharp knife and cut off the layer of skin, leaving the layer of fat next to the skin. If you want a leaner bacon, go ahead and trim off that layer of fat too.
For every 100 pounds of meat I use:
10 pounds coarse un-iodized salt
4 pounds un-sulphured molasses (OR substitute 2 1/1 pounds brown sugar OR 4 pounds maple syrup)
Maple syrup is my choice.
So, if you are curing 25 pounds of meat just divide that by 4 and get
2 1/2 pounds salt
1/2 pound molasses
Or if using maple syrup, use 1 pound which is about 1 quart.
This is just the basic recipe. You can improve on the flavor by adding all kinds of spices and herbs to your brine. Here are some ideas:
- black peppercorns
- fennel seed
- caraway seed
- dried rosemary
- dried thyme
- bay leaves, crushed
- garlic, finely minced
- onion, cut into slivers
You can add these in any amounts and combinations you like. Use your nose to tell you how much of each to add, but in general add less thyme and rosemary than you would other herbs and spices. Here is what I use most of the time:
I will assume from this point on in my instructions that you are curing a small amount of bacon….
Make your brine in a large pot, stir it up well and bring it to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. This will take about an hour. Don’t attempt to use the brine if it is still warm.
Strain the brine and pour it into your vessels.
Place trimmed bacon, trimmed side up, in your vessel.
Pour the brine over the meat and then to make sure the meat is completely covered by the liquid, weight it down with a stone or other heavy object. I use iron pans. I have laid a plastic cutting board down over the meat and then weighed it down with a heavy pan.
Make sure your vessels are kept as cool as possible. A cellar or refrigerator is best. Keep the meat under the brine and for 4 days. If you are brining large quantities of meat, you’ll need to replace the brine every now and then. If you are doing that, and making really big quantities of bacon, shoot me an email for more info on how to do that.
If you should happen to get scum forming on top of the brine, you’ll need to empty the vessels, scrub them well, wash the pork thoroughly, repack the pork and add new brine. You can also use the original brine so as not to waste it if you boil it and cool it before using it again.
At this point you can smoke your bacon if you like. I do because I want to store it long-term not in a refrigerator. Some people don’t like smoked and just use the cured bacon as it is, that’s good too but you’ll have to use it quickly unless its refrigerated.
Smoking deserves a post all its own. So I’ll write that up for you later. Basically, this bacon has to be stored either in a cellar or refrigerated unless its smoked. So I smoke it for several days, wrap it in cloth and store it in a cool place. Not necessarily a refrigerator after its smoked.
After its stint in the brine, the meat is ready to cut up and store if you’re not smoking it. I slice it by hand and then pack it as for freezing. I store some in the freezer, some in the frig and I have canned some just for kicks.