GIB TEST KITCHEN: Home-Cured Bacon

Updated: Feb 28

Ready to make the bacon? We've got you covered with this GIB Test Kitchen. —INGRAIN, Winter 2018



Play around with the spice mixes, but keep in mind that a little flavor goes a long way after a week-long cure. You can freeze the whole slabs or individual bacon slices after the curing and cooking process. Remember, if the bacon is too salty, blanch it or save it for cooking.

Makes 6 pounds

5 tablespoons kosher salt

1½ teaspoons curing salt #1

1½ tablespoons crushed black peppercorns

Old World Spice Mix (recipe below)

Bourbon-Brown Sugar (recipe below)

2 slabs fresh pork belly (2½ - 3 pounds each)


TOOLS

2-gallon zip-top bags or butcher's plastic bag (or plastic wrap)

Rimmed sheet pan (or other container that will catch drippings)

Old World Spice Mix


3 bay leaves (crumbled) + 1 teaspoon juniper berries (crushed) + 1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Bourbon-Brown Sugar


3 tablespoons brown sugar + 1½ tablespoons bourbon


STEPS

1. PREPARE SPICE AND CURE. Mix 3 bay leaves (crumbled) + 1 teaspoon juniper berries (crushed) + 1 teaspoon fennel seeds for the Old World Spice Mix. Then in a separate mixing bowl, mix 3 tablespoons brown sugar + 1½ tablespoons bourbon for the Bourbon-Brown Sugar Cure.


2. MIX SEASONINGS. Combine 5 tablespoons kosher salt + 1½ teaspoons curing salt #1 + 1½ tablespoons crushed black peppercorns in a small bowl. Divide the mixture into 2 portions (approximately 3½ tablespoons each). Add the Old World Spice Mix into one portion and the Bourbon-Brown Sugar Cure into the other portion. (If you want to make only one type of bacon, double the cure quantities.)

3. PREPARE PORK. Rub cure mix all over the pork belly; be sure to cover all sides of the pork. Put each piece of pork belly in a separate 2-gallon zip-top bag or a butcher’s plastic bag, remove the air, and seal securely (or, wrap the pork snugly in several layers of plastic wrap). Place the pork on a rimmed sheet pan (or container with sides) to catch any drippings.

4. REFRIGERATE PORK BELLY. Keep in fridge for 7 days, flipping the bag each day. After 7 days, rinse the pork belly well (be sure to get all of the seasonings off the pork) and pat dry with paper towels.


5. ADD HEAT. Prepare a smoker or preheat the oven to 200°F. Smoke or cook the belly for 1½ hours, or until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 150°F.

6. SLICE PORK BELLY. Turn the slab on its side and slice downward (the easiest method). Store the bacon in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or freeze.


Pairing A hoppy IPA; Goose Island IPA fits the bill, or if you're in Chicago, pick up a growler of Next Coast IPA from the taproom.



PRO TIPS


SALT 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, curing salt 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. Curing salt, World Spice Merchants, starting at $2


ZIP-TOP BAGS

(Surely we don’t need to tell you what these are?) These bags 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.


Grocery List: Home-Cured Bacon


Check out what else is happening in the GIB Test Kitchen.