Making homemade bacon sounds like the sort of project you tackle. You know the end result will be great, but like painting the bedroom, the process will likely be a pain in the rear.
Actually, the most difficult part of curing pork belly is waiting for the salt to slowly do its magic. Now you really can paint the bedroom. (You’re welcome.)
We are of the mind-set that oversalting just about any food is far better than undersalting, for flavor reasons alone, but finding the right salt balance with homemade bacon can be tricky. Too little salt, and the fear of unsafely cured meat (true or not) inevitably will be nagging you awake every night. Go overboard, and the pork belly will taste like bacon-flavored salt.
Several factors will affect the “saltiness” of the finished bacon. Among them: the thickness of the meat (pork belly can be pretty thin or up to 3 inches thick, depending on your butcher’s supplier); how precisely the salt quantity was measured (rounding up or down when you have, say, 2¾ pounds or 3¼ pounds of pork belly); the brand of kosher salt used (a cup is not always an equal cup with the different-size crystals); and, let’s be honest, how many beers you popped during the curing process. Fear not, there is a solution.
If your bacon ends up tasting too salty, simply blanch the slices in boiling water for about a minute before you fry them up. This draws out much of the salt, yet preserves the bacon-y flavor.
Pork Belly can be ordered whole (typically anywhere from 12 to 18 pounds) from your butcher if you have the fridge space. For first-timers with curing anxiety, we recommend starting with smaller pieces (2½ to 3 pounds).
Pork Skin/Rind can be sliced off by your butcher or left intact during the curing process, but the skin will have to come off at some point. Have the butcher slice off the skin if you don’t have very sharp knives at home.
Kosher Salt, the main curing ingredient, has thicker crystals that work far better than iodized table salt.
Curing Salt, also known as Prague powder #1 or pink salt #1, is a mixture of sodium nitrate and salt (it is not the same as Himalayan pink salt). A very small amount lends that telltale “bacon-y” flavor to the pork belly and helps inhibit bacterial growth—both pluses in our curing book. You can forgo the curing salt, but the finished product will taste more like roasted pork and take on a grayish-brown color. Still not convinced? Curing salt is cheap, so you can buy a big bag and share it with your cubby crew. Throw in a six-pack of beer and BAM! Holiday office gifts done. World Spice merchants, $3 for 4 ounces, worldspice.com
Zip-Top Bags (surely we don’t need to tell you what these are?) work well for curing smaller slabs of pork, around 2½ to 3 pounds. If you can’t find giant 2 gallon-size bags, wrap the seasoned pork belly snugly in several layers of plastic wrap.