Bacon newbie...some late advice please!

Discussion in 'Bacon' started by vikkip, Dec 24, 2014.

  1. vikkip

    vikkip Fire Starter

    Greetings.  I am new to this forum, and found it when questioning what I should expect with my first slab of bacon.

    I am not a total newbie to smoked meats or sausage, but this is my first stab at a slab.  I bought a beautiful full belly from a local butcher-packer and started curing the same day.

    I used Rytek Kutas's recipe for Honey-Cured Bacon from "Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing".  The ingredients are 1 slab of pork belly, 1 cup salt, 4 TBS Insta-cure #1, and 2 cups of honey.  After tasting the mix with one cup of honey, I substituted one packed cup of brown sugar and a tablespoon of dark molasses for the second cup of honey to temper the cloying sweetness of aged, condensed clover honey.  A taste before mixing in the cure yielded a nice salt-sugar balance.  I rubbed the cure deeply into the slab and placed it in a two gallon ziplock bag in the fridge, and have been turning it over at least daily.

    The slab has been in the cure for four days now, and the meaty areas are for the most part firm, the thickest portion still has a ways to go.  But I had to try a I took a slice off the thin edge of the slab and fried it up, knowing it would not have the smoked flavor but I still expected it to taste like something desirable...

    What I got was a salty and sweet and not crispy slice of cooked meat that left carmelized residue in the bottom of the pan.

    Can anyone comment on what I should have experienced at this stage of the process?  Is it normal, or is it hopeless?

    Now that I've found this forum, the next slab will be cured with one of the recipes found here.

    One thing I see is a lack of consensus on smoking bacon, whether a really cold smoke < 100F is preferred, or smoke-cooking to 150F?  I have a cabinet smoker in which I can hang the slab on a bacon hanger, and can cold or hot smoke with my cold-smoke adaptation.
  2. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I don't use Instacure, but it seems like you're Dry Curing with it, and I think one of your problems is using 4 TBS of Instacure with only one Pork Belly. If I'm not mistaken, 1 ounce of Instacure is enough to Dry Cure 25 pounds of meat.

    I use Morton's Tender Quick, and below is how I do it -----In a "Step by Step" way:


    Bacon (Extra Smoky)

    Also: As for the smoking temps----Many guys Cold Smoke (Below 100°) their Belly Bacon. I prefer to "Warm" smoke (between 100° and 130°) mine, but very few guys Hot smoke their Belly Bacon to 150°. That would render much of the fat from the Bacon.

  3. vikkip

    vikkip Fire Starter

    Thanks, Bear.  I found all sorts of crazy recipes on the web, including some brining for a week without cure and yet cold smoking, which to me sounds like a toxic threat.  I figured I'd be safe with a "well respected" book, but after seeing this site I agree that the 4 TBS also sounds crazy and if my math is right, that 1 1/2 cups or so of natural juices should have been supplanted with a quart of water rather than used as a dry rub.  And I prefer to measure my ingredients < 4 oz in grams, and over 4 oz in ounces. That is one thing I do not like at all about Kutas' book, it's all in cups and spoons which are hard to sanity check.

    In the bag, the liquid that naturally forms when meat cures is captured so the belly is curing in a small quantity of brine, about a cup and a half in all.  There is no sign of nitrite burn, no green discoloration in the meat or fat.   Now I am unsure whether I should discard this beautiful looking cured belly because of the potential of excess nitrite, or if at this stage adding a quart or quart and a half of water would correct the math and help release excess nitrite during the remaining curing time.

    I tried a belly once with Tender Quick.  That was long ago, but I followed the recipe on the bag and came out with a nasty, smelly, slimy hunk of meat I sealed in a bag and tossed in the trash. So I walked away from curing for a lot of years because failure is expensive, not to mention potentially hazardous.  I've been hot smoking pork butts and sausage and really want to do ham and bacon tasty AND safe.  This forum looks like a great place to learn!

    I bookmarked your bacon page and once I have finished with this bacon, I will buy another slab and do it your way.  I love smoky bacon!  While I don't have one of those cool and fancy sawdust smoke generators, I have some personally harvested shagbark hickory and some oak from a tree in our woods that smelled like a whisky barrel (different than our ordinary white, red, and pin oaks) which I think I will blend for this smoking.  I don't have any trouble keeping my smoker at 100 degrees in a Michigan January!
  4. mneeley490

    mneeley490 Master of the Pit OTBS Member


    Welcome to the forum!

    I will second using the techniques on Bear's bacon page. Although I use Pop's Wet Brine recipe to cure mine, I now use Bear's warm smoking technique exclusively. Comes out fantastic every time. Just ask my friends and relatives who are always clamoring for more!  [​IMG]
  5. jckdanls 07

    jckdanls 07 Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    welcome to your new addiction (forums)... I believe both the meat and the cure should have been weighed for the proper amount of cure... even though it's a full belly.. they all weigh different... meaning it doesn't take the same amount of cure for each and every FULL belly... I would have to question weather it's safe or not... some of the pros (I am not one) should be checking in soon...
  6. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I know how to do quite a few things, but when it comes to starting a cure with too much cure, I have no idea how to correct that safely. 

    Don't quote me but if your Belly was about an average 12 pound belly, I'm guessing you might have used about 4 times too much cure for 4 days. I have no idea what you can do about that. 

    I'm Sorry I can't come up with a safe fix that I can be sure of.

    May e somebody who uses a Cure #1 for Dry curing can be more accurate than I, and can tell you a fix, if there is one.

  7. venture

    venture Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    We don't know the weight of that belly?

    But 4 Tablespoons of cure #1 seems like way too much for a dry cure?  I'm wondering if this was not a recipe for a brine rather than a dry cure?

    As I recall, Pops brine recipe calls for 1 Tablespoon per gallon of water?

    I would seriously question the safety of 4 Tablespoons of cure #1 in a dry rub on one pork belly.

    What page in Kutas' book is this from?

    Good luck and good smoking.
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2014
  8. vikkip

    vikkip Fire Starter

    This is from page 314 of the 4th Edition of Kutas' book.

    Quoting word for word, I am not endorsing this recipe due to concerns about its safety due to the amount of cure and the fact that I haven't tasted the results.
    I prepared like this:

    1 cup salt

    4 Tbs Insta Cure #1

    1 cup honey

    1 cup light brown sugar

    1 Tbs dark molasses

    Rubbed with salt and cure, coated with sweeteners, sealed in a 2 gallon food safe ziplock, and placed in the fridge for 6 days, flipping at least daily and rubbing for the first two days while solids were still present in the bag.  Rinsed and fried and tasted a sliver after removing from brine.  WAY too salty, and I am a salt lover.  Soaked an hour with a water change midway, then taste tested again.  No longer sweet, but also not too salty.  Hung outside in the smoker overnight to equalize and dry on a bacon hook hung from a rail across the top shelf supports of my old Smoky Mountain.  Weather conditions are 38F and light rain.  Woke up this morning to a nice tacky pellicle and no sign of excess salt residue, so I lit my shagbark hickory and apple chunks in the wood chip pan with a propane torch.  The smoker's propane burner is not on.  Got a nice smoke wafting, opened the dampers for 30 minutes, and let it warm up.  Then I closed up the top damper and let it go.  Smoker temp is about 90F and other than tossing in some more wood before I go out for the evening, nothing more for me to do but savor the wafting smoke until late tonight.  These pics are soon after lighting.

    I did the math, and 4 TBS of cure = 2 oz of cure.  At 6.25% nitrite, the total nitrite amount applied was about 3500mg.  Total weight of skin-on belly was 3.3kg for a ratio of 1062mg/kg.  This is far in excess of any acceptable limit IF all the cure was absorbed by the belly as a dry rub.  But the measured 2 cups of brine drained at the end of curing was extremely salty and I am sure took some of the nitrite away, and the hour long soak definitely removed salt.  How much nitrite remains?  I don't know.  I cannot measure it.  And so I will treat it with care, and not consume a large amount on the first tasting.  Is this a prudent approach?  Perhaps not.  But Kutas' recipe has been published for who knows how many years, and has been tried by many, and so I have to assume that it isn't necessarily fatal to eat.  Obviously my goals are to do better than "not likely to kill you" when making food, so I won't rest here on my search for the ultimate bacon.

    And that brings me to another question.  Several recipes promulgated here use Morton's Tender Quick for bacon curing.  But TQ contains nitrites and nitrates, which can't break down in the very brief curing time of bacon.  
    So is TQ safe for bacon, when the food police ban nitrates from bacon?
  9. vikkip

    vikkip Fire Starter

    After 3 hours on smoke..

      Had a little flareup, a little bit of fat rendered on the very tail.  I trimmed and fried and ate some.  Tasted like grilled ham as it was rib meat.  Added some more apple and hickory.

      Looking mighty fine!

     A nice wisp of smoke

     Low and slow
  10. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    vikkip, morning..... Looks to me like they had an ill informed person on the keyboard transcribing the text for print.... some person working part time... didn't have a clue about curing meats... etc.....
    It looks like tsp. was the proper, (or close to proper) amount for the recipe... not Tbs. ... 1 tsp. per 5 #'s and 15#'s being approx. what a full belly would weigh... I get bellies that once, 3 weighed 57#'s and 4 weighed 65#'s...

    There are many errors in different editions of Kutas books, Marianski's books... etc.... It's your responsibility, as someone starting into the curing process, to become aware of different methods etc. etc. so their errors don't kill you.... I just read Marianski's prologue or preface or whatever it's called, and there are 2 references to the sausage maker taking responsibility to become knowledgeable and becoming a sausage maker....
    In Kutas' book, I have the first editon, I think, 1976, and in the introduction there are disclaimers mentioned about where the recipes came from.... ethnic groups etc. ...
    So, it appears they can't be held liable....
  11. vikkip

    vikkip Fire Starter

    Indeed, I am trying to take responsibility for my own creations.  That's why I am questioning everything, including Bear's use of TQ for bacon, and Pops' brine by the gallon regardless of meat volume (as long as it's submerged)., the publisher of Kutas' book, endorses the ratios of salt-sugar-cure online...but they use it as a brine, not a rub.  They provide the formulas they use, but again, unless meat stops absorbing nitrite at a cellular level once it reaches a threshold (or perhaps equilibrium), it won't be possible to calculate how much nitrite is in the meat or how long it needs to cure for full saturation.

    While I am sure there are at least as many recipes for bacon as there are for bread, it seems that they both share common methodologies.  With bread, the ratios are everything.  Too much or too little of any ingredient, or too much variation on time and temperature, and you have a mess rather than a loaf.  But there are a lot of ways to succeed, and to vary the flavors to your own tastes.

    I hope to craft a bacon recipe that exactly suits my family's tastes and is safe to produce on a microbial level, and safe to eat on a residual level.  And not only that, it has to be repeatable no matter how big or small the piece of meat.  So it has to be based on meat weight.  I need to learn whether rind absorbs as much cure as meat.  So many questions, half a lifetime left to learn!
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2014
  12. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    vikkip, afternoon..... Cool...... Now, here's what I do...... I weigh the meat and the water and do an equilibrium brine.... The amount of water should be as little as practical as I will explain momentarily...

    Bacon, rind off.... 120 Ppm nitrite ingoing MAXIMUM and that also is the "minimum" amount if you read all the FSIS, FDA, USDA brochures for some other meats... Soooo, stick with 120......

    Square up a belly for a 1 gal. zip bag.... weigh it... lets say 4#'s or 1800 grams.... Now I think 500 mls of water will adequately cover the slab of bacon...

    1800 grams of pig + 500 grams of water = 2300 grams.... bacon at 120 Ppm and 2% salt and 1% sugar.....
    2300 X 0.00192 (0.192%)( for 120 Ppm cure amount ONLY) = 4.42 grams if cure #1
    2300 X .02 and 0.01 = 46 grams salt and 23 grams sugar...

    Put that in the 500 mls of water and dissolve... DO NOT HEAT above 110 deg. F... nitrite will start to deteriorate somewhere above that...

    Cool the mix solution and add to the bag with the belly.... seal.... massage daily for 15- 20 days or so...while under refrigeration and up to 30 days...

    The reason for the minimal amount of water... the mix solution now, is really concentrated (552 Ppm nitrite)... molecular equilibrium moves better/faster from a more concentrated solution to a weaker one...

    That was the abbreviated version.... hope it makes sense...

    Using this method you can not over cure, over salt, over sugar the bacon.....
    vikkip likes this.
  13. vikkip

    vikkip Fire Starter

    it does mostly make sense, thanks. So 0.00192 is 120/1000000*(1/0.0625) for US commercial cure #1.

    That is the simplest and clearest explanation I have seen yet! Thank you.
  14. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    HOORAY !!!!! a math junkie....
  15. vikkip

    vikkip Fire Starter

    So...the Kutas recipe, followed to the letter other than a sugar substitution, yielded a product I am naming "Hamlet".  It's not ham.  It's not quite bacon.  It's probably similar to buckboard bacon and will be an awesome addition to omelets, ham hash, and pizza.  But I will not be following that recipe again because it breaks all the safety rules.

    The lean red meat on the belly that was near the rib area (diaphragm?) cured to a very firm, deep red, almost dry texture.  Smoked, it tastes like a Virginia dried ham.  Lots of flavor, but chewy and salty.  The streaky meat was cured, paler pink than commercial bacon, it cooked pink like a baby ham and tastes hammy.  The rendered fat is salty and sweet, maybe a bit much of both, but still very tasty.  I fried up all the trim to add to omelets in the morning and my husband keeps coming by and snacking on bits.

    I will definitely peel the skin off my next slab before curing.  I like the penetration of the cure and the texture of the smoked meat better on the naked side than that which was beneath the skin.

    Because of the amount of nitrite in this batch and not knowing how much remains, I will use it in very small quantities rather than my bacon-obsessed menu.

    Dave, is your recipe based on dextrose or table sugar?  I have about a dozen kinds of sugar.  In sausage making most of the recipes are based on dextrose, but that's because fermentation requires dextrose for predictable results.  Since dextrose is much less sweet than table sugar, I just want to be sure I am substituting honey or brown sugar or demerara sugar or molasses in the right amounts based on sweetness.
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2014
  16. venture

    venture Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    My 2008 edition of Kutas has the same recipe, I have found.

    Also through some net research, I see these same questions have come up on other sites. Some sites with some of our members whose opinion I greatly trust. Beyond the safety factor which is out there, a common comment was the saltiness of the product.

    In any case, Dave is a math guru among other very positive traits.

    One of the best things about this forum has to be the number of experts we have here.

    Good luck and good smoking.
  17. vikkip

    vikkip Fire Starter

  18. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    [quote name="vikkip" url="/t/174744/bacon-newbie-some-late-advice-please#post_1286403

    Dave, is your recipe based on dextrose or table sugar?  I have about a dozen kinds of sugar.  In sausage making most of the recipes are based on dextrose, but that's because fermentation requires dextrose for predictable results.  Since dextrose is much less sweet than table sugar, I just want to be sure I am substituting honey or brown sugar or demerara sugar or molasses in the right amounts based on sweetness.

    Table sugar.... Cane sugar... Just to knock the edge off of any salt...
  19. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Most of the flavour is going to come from the combination of salt, sugar and spices etc so when using these recipes you should first calculate the levels of nitrite that will result and adjust the level of cure accordingly to ensure that the levels are within the regional limits. In the UK I check to ensure a maximum of 180* Ppm Nitrite (for dry cure). in the EU the permitted residual amount of Nitrite is 175 Ppm. Dave's starting concentration of 120 Ppm will certainly ensure that you are within both EU and US safe limits.

    The use of table spoons and teas spoons also worry me when measuring the cure. We are generally dealing with such small amounts of the cure that this should be accurately weighed on scales, preferably to at least one decimal place.

    Always question, and if necessary adapt the cure levels in the recipes before following them blindly. Also if it is not specifically stated on the packet check with the supplier of any cures that you buy so that you are absolutely certain what they contain. I recently discovered that a commonly used cure here in the UK, when used as directed, exceeded both the EU and USA maximum permitted Nitrite levels

    The caramelized residue on the pan was mainly the result of the amount of honey in the cure. A cup of honey AND all that sugar is much more than I would usually use, however different bacon styles have different levels of sweetness.

    Personally, even though it is probably safe, I would put the the one that you have just done down to experience and not eat it - or at least not give it to family and friends. We can subject our own bodies to whatever we like but when we are producing something that we are giving to others to eat we have a duty of care to make sure that it is totally safe.

    Great photos [​IMG]  
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2014
  20. vikkip

    vikkip Fire Starter

    Thanks, Wade, that was good and informative reading. I will build my own Baconator "bacon calculator" so that I am sure to use math I understand for calculating cure amounts, residual salt from cure, sugars, and water. I'll see if I can come up with sweetness factors for various sugars, such as pure maple syrup vs white sugar vs honey vs brown sugar so that the sweetness level can remain consistent with different flavor profiles.

    My next belly buy will be split like Wade did so that I can minimize variables due to smoker, temps, humidity, hang time, and wood blend, and test multiple variations at once. The next belly will be devoted to sugars.

    Time to buy more bacon hooks!

    Between Dave's and Wade's posts, I know what it takes to be safe, so all that remains is fine tuning flavors.

    I have a small gram scale for measuring cure and spices, but my kitchen scale is in pounds and ounces so I still have math to do.

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