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Making Bacon

I have a long history in making bacon, my dad ran a meat market and did all his own and we sold hundreds of thousands of pounds of bacon every year.  


He used a commercially-prepared curing brine; however, I have reproduced it with common ingredients and one specialized ingredient.


First, an explanation of "bacon":


Traditional bacon starts as a hog's belly:


Between the fore and hind legs is labeled "Spare Ribs" and "Side".  This is the belly section; the spareribs are removed from the belly, leaving a whole strip:



This is Fresh Pork Belly.  It can be sliced and cooked (fried, bbq, etc.) and it is then called "Sidepork"


Next, you can cure the bacon, then it makes "Salt Pork" - cured belly:


and is usually sold in chunks that you can slice or chunk up for soups, beans, etc.


Finally, once cured, you can smoke the belly and then it becomes bacon!


Those are the 3 stages that the fresh belly goes through.  


Now, how can YOU do it yourself?


Possibly the hardest part is to find a retailer that sells whole fresh belly.  You would have to investigate different sources and acquire some.  Could be quite easy or quite hard.  Check with ethnic markets too - Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, etc.  Once acquired, look at your smoke box and cut it to dimensions that will fit in it if necessary.


I was born and brought up using a "wet brine" method.  You mix up a curing brine and soak the belly in it.  I have a couple recipes for my Pops Brine:


First, let me make an important distinction:  the one "special" ingredient you use is a curing salt.  This is 93.75% plain salt, and 6.25% sodium nitrite. You are allowed a maximum of 3.84 oz. of curing salt per gallon of brine by USDA Standards..  I use 1 oz. per gallon, well under maximum strength.  When I say "full strength" brine i mean to my standard of 1 oz./gallon, not maximum strength.  My dad tested and tested his brine to find out what would work to get the job done but not to over-cure the meat.  He found a 1 oz/gal. mix was more than sufficient with a longer curing time to cure the meat.  This provides more flexibility in curing, you can leave any product up to 45 days in the brine safely, and don't risk over-curing anything which can be harmful to deadly.  



Also, a distinction between a soaking brine and a curing brine:


A soaking brine imparts different flavors to a piece of meat, but does not change the chemical makeup of the meat.

A curing brine may also impart different flavors to a piece of meat, but by the nature of the curing salt, it chemically changes the meat into a cured meat which cannot be reversed.


Also, this brine uses only Sodium Nitrite.  There is a second curing agent that can be used, Sodium Nitrate.  This is used for curing meats longer than 30-45 days; up to a year or more as it breaks down into Sodium Nitrite but over a longer period of time.  For further information on this subject, see the Article:  Suffice it to say that this curing brine is a short term curing brine using sodium nitrite only.  (the amount of sodium nitrite used is less than what is naturally found in celery).


Full Strength Curing Brine


1 Gallon clean, cold, potable water

1 cup plain (non-iodized) regular table salt

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 oz. (heaping tablespoon) of cure #1 curing salt


mix everything together until dissolved; will remain dissolved, no heating needed.


Lo-Salt Curing Brine


1 Gallon clean, cold, potable water

½ cup plain (non-iodized) regular table salt

½ cup sugar

½ cup brown sugar

1 oz. (heaping tablespoon) of cure #1 curing salt


mix everything together until dissolved; will remain dissolved, no heating needed.


Use multiples of these as necessary to cover product in brine.


Now, what about bigger cuts of meat?  The brining method is great for bacon or anything else that is no more than 2 inches thick.  Over 2 inches, there is a chance that the brine cannot permeate the meat quick enough to get to the center of the meat before it starts to spoil.  Thus, this is where injection comes in.  You inject the very same brine into the meat so it can cure from the inside-out as well as cure from the outside-in.


I use a brine injector made specifically for this purpose, it is by Morton:


it has two needles:


a broadcast perforated needle:


with little holes up and down it, spraying in all 4 directions perpendicular to the needle, and:


an artery pump needle:


that only shoots straight out, but into the artery of the ham, taking the brine into every area.


I just use the broadcast needle myself.


Examples of meat not cured to the center:





(Blue plate Qview by ShoneyBoy)


regular cooked pork in the center and cured pork on the outside.


So, now you are armed with some knowledge in the process and a brine recipe.  You will need to find a suitable container to brine your meat in.

Regardless of dimensions, you need to look for this sign on the unit if plastic:



This indicates it is a food safe plastic container.   Many people get containers from bakery departments (ingredient buckets) or meat or fish departments.


I use a couple 5 gallon buckets from Home Depot; they are indicated food safe and wash out great!  Anyways, start with a clean bucket.  If it has gallon markings on it, even better, or use a 1 gallon jug with water and mark on it (gal. milk jug, juice jug, etc.).  I add my ingredients, then pour water into it and mix in the container.  Place your belly or pieces of belly in the curing brine and cover.  Then, fill up a gallon ziploc bag half-full of water and put on top to weigh the meat down as it will float to keep it in the brine.  


Then, I put the bucket into refrigeration @ 38° - 40°.  Once there, you do not need to flip, stir, or do anything else to it.  Just let it sit and cure!


How long?  Well, it can vary with the size of the meat being cured.  You are better off over curing than under curing.  I usually figure on (and I've changed my recommendations from my dad's, finding he over-cured his meats much more) these:


Small:  3-7 days:



pork hocks

pigs feet

short ribs


chunks of belly or shoulder for salt pork



Medium: 10-14 days:

Pork bellies

Pork half-butts

Pork whole butts, injected

Pork Arm Shoulders, injected

Lamb shoulders or legs

Pork loins for Canadian Bacon (injected if large, over 2")

Bone in loins for smoked pork chops

Brisket flats, points or whole



Large: 15-28 days:

Whole or Half Hams injected

Full Shoulder Pork section injected

Large Briskets injected

Rumps, Crossrib, Rolled beef Roasts, Prime rib roasts, injected



Ok, now you have properly cured your meat, taken it out of the brine, and hung or put into your smoker box.  Some people prefer to cold smoke their bacon, others hot smoke their bacon. I personally hot smoke everything except cheese and vegetables, bringing the product to 146° - fully cooked stage.  Then, should I share any, I know others will not get sick eating it cold.   135° is partially cooked stage, which means it is cooked enough to eliminate most pathogens but still requires additional cooking (to 146° or higher) to be declared safe to eat.  Anything under 135° is uncooked and pathogens may multiply.


You can further explore various smoking options throughout the forum; this instructional is just to give you the basics and knowledge of preparing you to successfully be making bacon!



Comments (26)

Holy cow Pops - am I ever so glad to ask for help!! I had no idea about any of that stuff!! Thank you so much for taking the time to write all that down!!
Thanks for the top notch article Pops! Very well written and a jewel of a brine.
Thank you Sir ! I have read your brine "followers" posts and obviously you know what you are talking about. Bacon is on my to do list, and you can bet I will prepare it exactly as you have instructed. Thanks again Pops.
Awesome stuff, and very well written and explained!
Have a couple Boston butts and a loin started brining tonight...getting excited already.

I didn't do a heaping tablespoon so maybe I'll keep them swimming 11 days instead of ten.
Thank you so much for taking your time to read this!  I am honored to bring you this information and humbled by your compliments!  This is a basic brine; you can add more ingredients for flavorings, etc;, jazz it up and pass along any improvements!  I know maple syrup doesn't add much maple flavoring but maple extract adds more.  Thank you again and please forward it!  
It has been the great information like you've supplied that helps a beginner like me to even attempt different things! If we can see it, then we can try it with a little more confidence that we aren't throwing good food and money up the smoke stack.

It's funny you mention maple, I added a few Tbs artificial maple extract to one butt, with syrup costs as they are.
The other has a little less sugar and I added a few Tbs of dried onions and some Tony Chachers Creole seasoning mix.
I'm not a butcher, but after removing the bones in the butts, one could say I butchered them.
Need to find some string to tie the smaller pieces together a little before they smoke.

Maybe I'll look around the site to see how to do that. :)
Thanks Pops6927, what a great read and very informative. Really would like to try this someday soon. WHB
Pops...since I was told , no such thing as a dumb the photo of the pork belly : once cured and smoked are you slicing it from the top of the photo to the bottom or left to right?
Knuckle - you slice it the short way, Left to right.
"plain (non-iodized) regular table salt"   What is that?  Kosher salt would have been a better way to say that, with Kosher replacing the 'regular table' in your ingredient list.
Thanks Pops, this is awesome info!! Thanks for taking the time to write all this up!! 
Has anybody used injected pork to make buckboard bacon? I was considering using some pork eye fillets that are injected       ( enhanced) up to 16 % solution.
Thank you for this fantastic information!
Thanks Pops  I have been using your brine since I got on here.
Just what I was looking for! I have Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design and it's full of great information, but this is a concise instruction on exactly what I want to do. Thanks so much!
I backed off on the salt and added molasses.  A little apple smoke and my family loves it.  Thanks!
I really can't wait to try this out.
Thank you Sir. I'd give you a beer and a high five if you were near by.
Fantastic article Pops - I really like the idea of using a lower concentration of curing salt in the brine.  I see lots of people talk about soaking meat after a brine because its too salty.  They seem to be using higher amounts of salt.  The added flexibility of being able to go "longer" in the brine should life get in the way is a great thing too!  Can't wait to try it - if the loyal brine following you've developed here is any testament to the recipe, then I'm sure of my success!
Concur with everyone on the context of this article. Very well written and apparently a wealth of knowledge. I'd be interested in knowing if other flavors could be introduced to this method of curing. For example, pepper. › Instructionals › Making Bacon