OK...I have been avidly making bacon for several years now and I can say that once you have done it...it is very hard to go back to store-bought bacon again. I have read a lot of the notes on this forum and I have to say that my experience, and how I cure and smoke my bacon differs a lot from so many, I thought I would chime in with what I do.There's so much info about bacon that I want to double check. Cold, warm and hot smoking... just came across the warm idea.
I plan to do hot at this point until I get a good cold smoking technique down.
I plan on putting the zip locked meat in the fridge for a week or so. As I understand it the whole point is to draw out the water and to give flavor. If I don't get all the water out no harm done except the texture may suffer.
So while in the fridge no curing salt is needed?
Then if I hot smoke it, keeping the temp above 160, no curing salt is needed.
If done is >145 degrees then don't need to cook it in a pan or whatever to eat it.
If done is less than 145, then cooking it in a pan is needed.
Now about storing it in the fridge afterwards. Is curing salt going to help keep it longer? Seems like I get mixed messages on this.
Please correct any errant thinking I may have.
I have to give credit to the book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn. This is the resource I went to when I wanted to start trying my hand at all sorts of charcuterie. And bacon is a great place to start because it is the most forgiving both for food safety and the end product that you will enjoy.
I follow the book's recipe for the Basic Dry Cure, which is very simple, and I make a big batch that can be kept indefinitely, without refrigeration, in a zip lock bag:
1 lb. kosher salt
8 oz. granulated sugar
8 tsp. (56 grams) pink salt
This is enough to make a lot of bacon because you will only use 1/4 cup for each 3-5 lb slab of pork belly. The pork bellies I get at Costco run between 10-11.5 lbs. and I usually trim the edges to make neat pieces, which also gives me some pork belly to use for other purposes. I cut this slab in half and end up with two pieces that are in this 3-5 lb range.
From here, you can let your imagination go wild. I take two medium glass mixing bowls and put 1/4 cup of the basic cure in each of them. To this, I add what has become my typical bacon seasoning:
1/2 cup maple sugar
2 TBS crushed black pepper
2 Tsp garlic powder (you can used crushed and minced fresh garlic...I just find the powder to be easier)
1/2 Tsp ground bay leaf
2 TBS New Mexico Chili Powder (like Hatch)
This blend creates a bacon that is both sweet and savory, with just a hint of heat, which I like. Feel free to go in whatever direction suits your palate, or mood in the moment. These additives are entirely up to the chef. If you only use the basic cure, you will end up with a good basic bacon. I just like playing with it. Some people like to do a straight sweet bacon. Some like it more savory. I favor going in both directions.
Get large 2 gallon ziplock bags. Put one of the half slabs in each bag. Then sprinkle about half of your cure mixture over one side of the slab and spread this around with your hand so it is evenly distributed on the slab, including the edges. Flip over the bag and do the same to the other side, again assuring that you rub it around the edges. Do the same for the second bag and seal them both, trying to squeeze out as much air as possible. Place the bags on a sheet pan and put in the refrigerator.
I have seen some posts that say they cure for 11 or even 14 days. I will have to try this sometime to see if it makes a difference. I have always followed what was suggested in the book, which was 7 days. The key is to check it at 7 days and if the belly is firm at its thickest point, it is cured. If it still feels a little squishy, then continue curing in the refrigerator for a day or two more. Basically, the thicker the belly, the longer it will take to cure and factory-raised hogs will have a thinner belly than farm-raised.
During the cure, you will flip the bags and redistribute the cure everyday. You will notice after the first day that your dry cure has turned into somewhat of a wet cure, as the salt has drawn some water out of the meat. This is exactly what you want.
Once the cure is complete, it is time to smoke. Take your belly slabs out of the bags and rinse them completely. Then dry them well with paper towels. I let mine sit on a rack for an hour or so to dry a bit more. Personally, I like to add a thin layer of fresh ground pepper on both sides of my bacon at this point, before smoking. I set up my smoker at about 200 degrees F (I use a Big Green Egg, so I find lower temperatures more difficult to manage...if you have a pellet grill or electric smoker, you might even be able to get a lower temperature that will allow you to put more smoke on the bacon, if that is your preference). I put my slabs on with temperature probes in each of them. I shoot for 145-150 degree internal temperature. I have seen some people say that they will smoke for 6-7 hours. In my experience, on my Egg, that would be way too long. My cook is usually 2 hours, or less if my Egg temp gets a bit too high. My bacon still ends up with all the smoke that I want.
Speaking of smoke, I typically use a fruit wood (cherry, peach, apple) or hickory...or a combination. I do like the flavor of hickory, so if I have some, I will mix it with a fruit wood.
One more tip. I don't have an electric meat slicer. And, I don't like to pre-slice all of my bacon because I think it keeps better in chunks. So, I will cut my 5 lb slabs into four pieces. This yields shorter slices when you do slice it, but this works fine for me. Plus, they are then already the perfect size for BLT + Avo sandwiches. So, out of a full pork belly, I will end up with 8 chunks of bacon that I vacuum pack and freeze until needed.
Experiment with this. If your first batch is a bit too salty for your taste...then the next time you do bacon, simply soak the bellies pieces in water for a few hours after they have come out of the cure and this should fix it. The first batch I made I just used the basic cure only and I did find it to be too salty. Since then, now that I add a lot of additional sweetness and savory notes to my cure, I have not found it to be too salty.
I hope this is helpful. Have fun.