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Making Bacon

By pops6927, Jan 1, 2014 | |
  1. 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: http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/a/nitrites-vs-nitrates.  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:

    chickens

    turkeys

    pork hocks

    pigs feet

    short ribs

    spareribs

    chunks of belly or shoulder for salt pork

    etc.

    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

    etc. 

    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

    etc.

    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!

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Comments

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  1. hoity toit
    @Kelly Buckholtz I would not reuse the brine because the cure has been depleted and may not be of a high enough ratio for a second go round. Besides, it doesn't take much to make a fresh batch.
  2. kelly buckholtz
    Can This Brine be reused after curing the Belly, if one was to bring the used brine to the temp that would destroy all the bad stuff.
  3. pops6927
    I only use non-iodized plain table salt and no other kind, I do not know any other calculations on salinity except for my own.  1 gallon of water, plus 1 oz. (heaping tablespoon) of curing salt plus 8 oz. of non-iodized table salt yields a salinity rating of 25° - 30° if I remember correctly, low enough to do poultry, fish, and other meats.
  4. olypenaaron
    @starwars1138 - I don't know if you got an answer to this elsewhere in the forum, but salinity changes with the salt you use. 8 oz  of Kosher salt has less saline than table salt. So in order to keep the same degrees in the brine, you'd need to increase the amount (by weight) of your choice of salt accordingly.You may want to pick up a salinometer (salometer) to help determine the dissolved salt content of your solution. 
  5. starwars1138
    Correct me if I'm wrong Pops - but when using different salt types (coarse kosher, sea salt, pickling salt. etc...) so long as we base it off of weight using a cup of table salt as the baseline, we're good?  So if a cup of table salt weighs 8 ounces, then so long as we are using 8 ounces of whatever other salt we want, the brine's salinity stays the same (so long as we are not using some sort of oddball low salinity salt)... I know this seems pretty darn elementary but better safe than sorry.
  6. pops6927
    Definitely!  This is just a basic curing brine, you are more than free to experiment and add whatever you like!  I know many add corning ingredients for corned beef, Italian flavors for Cured Italian Beef, and so on.  Just please post your modifications to SMF under Curing section, thank you so much!
  7. nate556
    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.
  8. starwars1138
    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!
  9. thoseguys26
    Thank you Sir. I'd give you a beer and a high five if you were near by.
  10. jgwellwood
    I really can't wait to try this out.