Bacon made at home is often the best bacon one will ever consume (and I would put forth, some of the best meat one will ever consume). Store bought bacon is often bland, lacks seasoning, not really smoked and may contain preservatives that are undesirable. Large bacon producing companies treat bacon the same way large coffee companies treat coffee...as a commodity. And we, the American public, have bought their less-than-great product for too long (drumroll, patriotic music and brave faces please!) So, if you've joined the revolution and are ready to make your own amazing bacon, read on!
What is bacon?
Bacon is made from pork belly, which when purchasing should have a 1:1 or 1:2 blend of alternating meat and fat layers. I purchase mine from my local Costco, but any butcher shop and many grocery stores should sell or be able to order pork belly for you. If I remember correctly, I paid about $3-$3.50 per pound for the 10# slabs.
The process of making bacon is surprisingly easy and the results are vastly better than the stuff from large commercial producers. Once you have a basic recipe down, it is a simple two-step process: (1) curing, and (2) smoking. From there it is fun, easy and tasty to try other recipes and create different types of bacon.
Curing the pork belly
The curing process is one process with 2 goals: cure the meat and season the meat. Curing the meat involves using Prague Powder #1 and seasoning the meat involves anything and everything else. Salt, sugar, spices, herbs, syrups and more. My recipes are dry cure, but wet cure may also used to make bacon. To read more about the processes, click here.
The recipes I use and share here, are the ones I currently use and they create 2 distinctly different flavors of bacon. Once you've learned how to properly brine and cure pork belly you can make a variety of bacon flavors. Scour the internet reading about what others do, learn from them and then create your own great recipes.
Prague Powder #1 pink curing salt
*NOTE: pork is a perishable meat product and if not handled correctly can be dangerous or deadly. Make sure you take appropriate precautions to make sure your meat is cured, smoked and served properly. If you have concerns or questions about curing meat, click here.
Prague Powder #1 is a combination of 6.25% sodium nitrite, 93.75% salt (sodium chloride) and pink dye. The dye is added to make it obvious that the salt has nitrites in it and may also help the resulting product retain a pink hue (it is also not the same thing as pink Himalayan salt, which does not contain nitrite). Prague Powder #1 is used on meats that are cured over a short time period.
Dosage: Prague powder #1 is very effective and only small amounts are needed to cure a piece of meat. *Recommended level is 1 teaspoon of curing salt per 5 lbs. of meat. (updated 10/22)
While you may enjoy a great cigar when smoking pork belly, what I am talking about here is the other, and I would say main flavoring of great bacon - wood smoke. The type of smoking equipment and type of wood you use will make a difference in the end result.
There are various types of smokers and smoking processes:
- Stick burning - only wood is used to create both heat and smoke. My favorite way, but definitely more time consuming and hands on.
- Charcoal with wood chunks or chips added - charcoal is the heat source with pieces of wood added to make smoke. Don't soak your wood as it is a misnomer in the smoking process. To read why, click here.
- Electric - electric smokers usually use wood chips for smoke flavor and a water pan for humidity. Follow the manufacturer's directions for smoking meats.
- Pellet grill - pellet grills feed wood pellets, made from compressed sawdust, into a heat chamber producing both heat and smoke. Some people would say that pellet smokers do not add a full smoke flavor, but they are highly regarded as a modern, convenient and popular method of smoking.
- To read more about wood as a fuel, click here.
Different types of wood add different flavor to smoked meats and hickory, apple or cherry is often the preferred wood for smoking bacon. I find, at least with my stick burner, if I use any good hardwood I usually end up with a good end result. I have also been fortunate to have a supply of hickory and cherry given to me by a friend who owns a tree cutting company making for a great last year (my son and I are going to take down a neighbor's hard maple soon and I will post about that in the future).
Now, on to making bacon!
1. After opening the package, cut the pork belly in half. This is not required, but I do it so the pieces fit in the Ziplock bags I use.
2. Mix your seasoning recipe. I did 2 recipes this time and cured 5# of pork belly with each recipe.
Following are my recipes:
Home Smoked Bacon recipe for 5# pork belly (adapted from Michael Symon)
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup kosher salt (if using table salt, use 1/8 cup)
- 2 TBSP red pepper flakes
- 2 TBSP paprika
- 2 tsp powdered cumin
- 2 tsp Prague Powder #1 pink curing salt
Jack's Blend SPG Bacon recipe for 5# pork belly
- 2/3 cup Jack's Blend SPG
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tsp Prague Powder #1 pink curing salt
3. Mix the ingredients well.
4. Put the pork belly in a 1 gallon Ziplock freezer bag and then spread the rub all over the meat top and bottom (doing it in the bag is cleaner and you won't waste the brine mix). Press the air out of the bag, seal and label your recipe and the date with a sharpie.
5. Place the packages in a refrigerator. I recommend flipping the bags over every day or two to keep the brine and the liquid it creates equally distributed over the pork.
6. Recommended refrigeration time is based on the thickness of the meat. 7 to 10 days for a thin belly (1"-1/2" thick) and 10-12 days for a thicker belly (2"-3" thick). Once cured, the pork belly will feel firm.
7. Once the cure time is complete you will be ready to smoke the meat. If the pork belly is ready the same day you are going to smoke it, simply follow this process. If you have a day or two in between you can put the pork belly on a rack and refrigerate uncovered for a couple of days. This will form a pellicle, a tacky membrane on the outside of the pork belly, which may enhance smoke adhesion and coloring. (I have not done this, so cannot speak to the efficacy of it. I will make it a point to do so next time I smoke bacon and update this post).
8. Get your smoker fired up and shoot for a temperature of around 200-225 degrees. Because I use Black Betty, I like to start the fire about an hour prior to smoking the meat. That gives time for her to get totally warmed and up to temp.
9. Take the meat from the Ziplock bag and discard the bag and excess brine. NOW, you have a choice. You can leave the brine and seasoning on the meat or rinse it off. Rinsing will reduce the flavor and spiciness of the bacon and change the look of the final product. Leaving it on will add to the flavor, possibly making it too spicy for some people. If you choose to rinse the belly, pat it dry when done.
Here is a picture of each recipe; un-rinsed Jack's Blend SPG Bacon on the left, rinsed Home Smoked Bacon on the right. We also did un-rinsed Home Smoked Bacon, which is my favorite!!
As you can see in the pic below, we (me and 2 friends) smoked both rinsed and un-rinsed pork belly.
10. Smoke the pork belly till the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees (I use a Maverick ET733 with 2 temperature probes and insert them into the thickest part of the meat). Pull from the smoker and place it on a cutting board.
11. It is easier to handle the bacon if you wrap it in saran wrap, refrigerate it for a few hours and then slice it. You can slice it thick or slice it thin based on your preference. Or do some of both and then pan fry each testing for your favorite result.
BE PREPARED! If you start slicing and tasting the bacon right after pulling it from the smoker, you and your friends, family and neighbors may devour the entire 5 lbs. right then and there. It is truly the most amazing, tasty and delicious meat I think I have ever eaten. And although some might think it looks like you are eating "raw" bacon, you are in fact eating a cured, smoked pork belly...otherwise called bacon!
When you do slice and cook it, I love to do so in a cast iron pan. Then...toast up some yummy bread, get tomatoes, spring mix and mayo and have the beast dang BLT ever!!
BONUS: One of the funniest comedians alive and his obsession with bacon.
21 thoughts on “Pork Belly Recipe for Brining and Smoking Amazing Bacon!”
This review came from one of my friends that I smoked the bacon with. He shared it with his business partner and wife and this is the text he received not long after:
“I am not exaggerating when I tell you that we both agreed that was THE BEST bacon we have ever had! And mind you, Jeff has had an exorbitant amount of bacon to compare it against. Thank you so much and please let us know where we can buy some??????❤”.
So, what are you waiting for?? Go make bacon!!
Incredible recipe! I used the classic recipe you listed with red pepper flakes. Fantastic explanation and directions Jack! Thank you for sharing! I truly enjoy your spice creations as well!
Anyone that has tried this bacon… asks for more! This is an easy fun way to make fantastic, rich flavorful bacon! Another beautiful thing is that you can cut it in any thickness you may desire! Give it a try! Enjoy!
Hey James, thanks for the shout out!
I have some frozen side pork that is cut into three eights strips I have almost 3 pounds can I use this recipe with that meat
I would think it would work just fine. I might suggest cutting the recipe in half, unless you have more you’re going to do in the near future. A full recipe might be more than you will need for the 3 lbs. I just did another batch this past weekend with a friend and was reminded again how much I love this recipe!
Let us know how it turns out!!
Made 10 lbs and this recipe is amazing! We ate so much right off the smoker. I did leave mine in the fridge uncovered for a few days and the smoke adhesion was incredible. I highly recommend going this path.
Right off the smoker is amazing. Seriously, one of the best things I have ever eaten.
Glad you enjoyed and thanks for the feedback!!
I was just wondering about the amount of Prague #1 that you use in this recipe for 5# of pork belly,what I have read they only recommend 1 teaspoon for 5# and yet you are using 2 . Is this the actual amount that you use or is it a misprint?
That is the actual amount I use. I “stole” the recipe from Michael Symon and 2 teaspoons is what his recipe says for 5 lbs. Where did you read 1 teaspoon for 5 lbs.? One of the sources I’ve read and learned from (and have a high degree of confidence in the information) is this article from AmazingRibs.com. It only has a wet brine calculator, but there is a lot of great information.
A USDA says between 120 and 200 ppm for bacon your double that and so is Michael.
Also MOST BAGS of cure #1 say so right on it. Consuming a bunch of this bacon can start to make you sick.
Thanks for the link, Fred.
Nitrite is in more than just bacon and the USDA has recommendations about total nitrites consumed and guidelines on bacon are intended to assist in the overall picture. If I can use less and feel that is correct, I will do so and update my recipe here to reflect.
Here is a “cut & paste” from the Amazingribs.com article I read, and a couple links to their research:
I updated my Prague Powder #1 ratio to 1 tsp. to 5 lbs. meat. Thanks again for your comment!
How do you think deer belly would do with this recipe?
At first pass, I would say not good. Deer are so lean and have so little fat, I don’t think they really have a belly.
I did a little research and there are some people who make “deer bacon” by using a mix of venison, other meat and spices and make kind of a pate’ or meat loaf of spiced and blended venison/other meat mix. Then they smoke it, kind of like smoking a whole meatloaf, slice it afterwards and fry it (venison bacon video).
I leave for deer hunting this Saturday…maybe if I get a deer I can try it.
Found this by mistake, looking for Polish Bacon recipe…anyhow followed it to the letter, and converted two vegetarians friends who came over for a family day BBQ & smoke-out (used beach, pine and oak in the smoker), honestly the best bacon ever; many thanks.
Glad you liked it!! I just smoked another 20 lbs. last weekend.
Interesting you used pine…I have never used it and have read that it is not only too soft, but the sap burns and potentially adds a bad smoke flavor. How much did you use? Do you use it often? any negative effects?
I have made around 80lb of cured bacon in the last few years. A bunch for myself, and some for about five or six friends. I will say that the only reason I use Prague Powder is due to the fact that I cold smoke the pork belly (under 100*, preferably 80* at most). The only reason for the Prague Powder cure is to keep the meat from going rancid and growing bacteria while cold smoking. If I wasn’t going to cold smoke, I would honestly just salt cure and spice the belly prior to fully cooking it on my smoker. Have you tried cold smoking? I use my small offset stick burner, but just make a charcoal snake and add my wood chips on top of the snake. Normally temp outside is less than 60* when I do so, preferably under 50* to keep my smoke chamber under 100*.
Good article, smoke on!
I’ve not cold smoked before…I do know there is more risk not using Prague Powder. I just got my barn/shed licensed commercially and am as I type working on paperwork for MDARD (MI Dept. of Ag) to be licensed to sell smoked meats. I am approved for everything, but the last item is bacon as it is a cured and smoked item. There is a ton of paperwork, processes, forms, tracking, etc., but it is all for a good and correct purpose – keeping people safe who purchase smoked meats. I also just purchased a chamber vacuum sealer and scale with printer to be able to cryovac, seal and sell. I’m busy, but very excited!
Thanks for your comment and encouragement!!
UPDATE – I posted this in response to a comment in another post (https://bit.ly/JBdrybrine), but the information is very relevant here.
So a couple interesting things have happened in the last few weeks that have helped to inform my knowledge base:
∙ First, getting commercially licensed with a bacon variance (I can now sell retail) taught me the following, “The USDA is responsible for monitoring the proper use of nitrite by meat processors. While sodium nitrite cannot exceed 200 ppm going into dry-cured bacon, sodium nitrite cannot exceed 120 ppm for both pumped and immersion-cured bacon.” (https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/meat/bacon-and-food-safety). So, my limit is 200 PPM (although I currently choose to be at 120 PPM), which means weighed green weight (raw) pork belly and weighed nitrite (not “a teaspoon” or the like).
∙ I asked my MDARD (Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development) inspector the following: “Question for you, my bacon brining recipe, like everyone else’s, is based on 2 things; proper curing and taste. Being that bacon derives a good part of its satisfaction from saltiness, the length of time a pork belly cures may increase/decrease saltiness. The question I have is on the cure. My recipe is for a 10-day dry cure (proper curing and desired saltiness). If I wanted to adjust the saltiness by adjusting the time of curing what are the recommended short to long cure times? Kind of a “no less than ___ days and no more than ___ days” kind of thing. My understanding of cure is that it typically penetrates meat at about 1/4” per day, so typically bacon would be no less than 4 or 5 days. On how long, I have no idea.” To which I got this response from MDARD, “There isn’t really a standard. This is all I could find.” and then the link above.
∙ I did some research on Amazingribs.com and found a calculator that shows cure time based on meat thickness. Here is what I found, “1.5” thick, 2.8 days of cure time; 2″ thick, 5.0 days of cure time; 2.5″ thick, 7.8 days of cure time; 3″ thick, 11.3 days of cure time.” Now, this is not from my MDARD inspector, but from Meathead (the founder of Amazingribs.com) and I believe is pretty accurate…especially when I compare it to what I have learned, the info from MDARD, and the lack of clear guidance from MDARD.
∙ My recipe is now (legally) guided by a “cure calculator” spreadsheet (from MDARD), which I use each time I smoke bacon. I enter the green weight of the pork belly and the amount of my dry rub with nitrite (by weight) and it gives me an exact PPM. I then know that I need to use all of the dry rub I made to cure all of the pork belly I have.
∙ I will be on vacation for the next couple weeks, but when I return I am going to experiment. I am going to brine about 60-80 lbs. of pork belly. While the majority of it I will age my usual 10 days, I am going to pull some at different days to smoke and test (depending on the thickness of the meat and the above brine times). I want to test the saltiness and flavor at differing lengths of cure time with my recipe. I am also going to brine some at 120 PPM and some at 200 PPM and document the differences in curing time and end result.
∙ I am also going to experiment with the process after the meat is cured and before it is smoked. I typically leave the pork belly wet from brining, leave any of the brine/seasoning on the bacon and then smoke. On at least one piece I am going to rinse the pork belly and then coat it with my recipe, just with no nitrite. I may try another rub or two also.
∙ SORRY for this long response…especially with stuff that is not necessarily relevant to your comment. I’ve been wanting to update this thread and hope this is helpful.
∙ NOW, on to jerky. I am not licensed, nor am I going to be, for jerky. It is another meat variance I would need to obtain, and because of the humidity that remains in the meat there are more restrictions (and testing) on the process. BUT, my wife began making jerky a couple of years ago and does it for our own consumption and for friends and family. She played around with recipes for about a year and has hit on the recipe she now uses all the time. Can I say, she knocked it out of the park!! I have a group of guys I get together with every week and they all love jerky. A couple of guys said her jerky was the best they ever had…and they’ve had a LOT. Then, she tried it with some of my venison (Thanks Nick D.) and it was excellent. I am going to do a blog post or Youtube video on her doing jerky sometime next year, but if you would like her recipe now, shoot me an email (for anyone).
Thanks everyone for your comments and feedback!!
I’m curious. I purchase my pork bellies at a local International market, rind still on. The ones you purchase at Costco – are they already processed so the rind is not attached? I have to manually skin the belly, I am NOT a professional butcher, and I end up with some valuable, smokeable meat attached to what I will later make chicharrones out of. I know it would cost more but I have a feeling I would get more yield per gross pound if I were to buy the already-skinned whole belly. Thoughts? Thank you.
Correct, the ones I purchase are rinds off. One thing I have to take into consideration is that my cured and smoked Bacon Variance from the Department of Agriculture (MDARD) requires me to use bacon with rind off. I could switch and do it with rind on, but I would need to change and update my processes with MDARD. I don’t have any experience with removing the rind, so I can’t really answer to that, but a Professional Rind Removal (PRR…HA, just created a new acronym!) would probably do a better job, or at least I would think.