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General questions about bacon

LoveMyBGE

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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.

Thanks.
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.

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.
 

SmokinEdge

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I have to give credit to the book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn.
I would never recommend anyone use the recipes from Ruhlman. Many of these recipes have flaws or are just not correct. For straight forward knowledge and understanding of curing and smoking meats safely, I recommend “Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages “ by Stanley Marianski.

1 lb. kosher salt
8 oz. granulated sugar
8 tsp. (56 grams) pink salt
I see a few things wrong with this recipe.
1) This is a general mix not associated with any meat weight.
2) If I use this mix and apply 1/4 c. As suggested, how many parts per million nitrite will I impart to a 3-5 pound piece of meat? Is it 50, or 250 ppm? And how do you know?
3) Using kosher salt in a bulk mix like this causes the cure #1 to classify itself to the bottom of the mix. Meaning the first scoops used from the mix have way less cure 1 than the last scoops will. This could get dangerous.
4) Random amount of salt and cure 1 should never be used. These amounts should always be directly applied to a meat weight.

When dry curing any meats, always apply salt in % to meat weight that is to your liking, usually in a range from 1.5-2.0% In this way the finished product is neither over or under salted. I like 1.5% personally.

When applying cure 1 always apply 1.1 grams per pound of meat or 1tsp. Per 5# meat by weight. This should be weighed out for this specific piece of meat and when applied will yield 156ppm nitrite in going. This is safe.

Apply sugar and other ingredients to your liking as they only add flavor and contribute nothing to the curing process.
 

LoveMyBGE

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I would never recommend anyone use the recipes from Ruhlman. Many of these recipes have flaws or are just not correct. For straight forward knowledge and understanding of curing and smoking meats safely, I recommend “Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages “ by Stanley Marianski.


I see a few things wrong with this recipe.
1) This is a general mix not associated with any meat weight.
2) If I use this mix and apply 1/4 c. As suggested, how many parts per million nitrite will I impart to a 3-5 pound piece of meat? Is it 50, or 250 ppm? And how do you know?
3) Using kosher salt in a bulk mix like this causes the cure #1 to classify itself to the bottom of the mix. Meaning the first scoops used from the mix have way less cure 1 than the last scoops will. This could get dangerous.
4) Random amount of salt and cure 1 should never be used. These amounts should always be directly applied to a meat weight.

When dry curing any meats, always apply salt in % to meat weight that is to your liking, usually in a range from 1.5-2.0% In this way the finished product is neither over or under salted. I like 1.5% personally.

When applying cure 1 always apply 1.1 grams per pound of meat or 1tsp. Per 5# meat by weight. This should be weighed out for this specific piece of meat and when applied will yield 156ppm nitrite in going. This is safe.

Apply sugar and other ingredients to your liking as they only add flavor and contribute nothing to the curing process.
Thanks for your reply. And, I appreciate your experience and expertise. So, I will have to re-evaluate how I am doing things. I have cured and smoked quite a number of pork bellies the past several years using the method I described. Nobody has gotten sick and the end product has been enjoyed by many, so maybe I have gotten lucky.

Maybe you can answer this. From what I have read, a solid piece of meat like a pork belly is a lot less susceptible to developing dangerous bacteria (except on the surface) than a ground meat, as in sausage. Just as a steak can be cooked rare and be fine, but it would not be wise to cook commercially produced ground beef rare. So, I thought the curing for bacon was less for safety and more to provide the bacon texture and flavor that we all grew up enjoying. This is the reason that, at this point, bacon has been the only cured meat I have attempted. Please let me know where I am way off base.
 

thirdeye

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Thanks for your reply. And, I appreciate your experience and expertise. So, I will have to re-evaluate how I am doing things. I have cured and smoked quite a number of pork bellies the past several years using the method I described. Nobody has gotten sick and the end product has been enjoyed by many, so maybe I have gotten lucky.
Curing technique is a combination of safety as well as quality of the finished product (flavor, color, texture etc.). Small nuisances in technique will make subtle changes in the finished product. You will hear many comments about the Ruhlman book, many of them will speak about the carelessness or carefree attitude when he is using cures and to some degree salt.
 

SmokinEdge

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Maybe you can answer this. From what I have read, a solid piece of meat like a pork belly is a lot less susceptible to developing dangerous bacteria (except on the surface) than a ground meat, as in sausage. Just as a steak can be cooked rare and be fine, but it would not be wise to cook commercially produced ground beef rare. So, I thought the curing for bacon was less for safety and more to provide the bacon texture and flavor that we all grew up enjoying. This is the reason that, at this point, bacon has been the only cured meat I have attempted. Please let me know where I am way off base.
Bacteria is not my only safety concern. You are correct in your assumption that belly is safer than ground meat as far as bacterial growth. That said, my concern with your (Ruhlman) cure method is that you are not using cure #1 in a safe way. You are mixing a batch of cure with 3 different grain sized ingredients (which will classify, or separate from each other) then randomly apply this cure to meat. This is not a safe nor predictable way to cure meat.

We apply cure #1 to meat for safety reasons first, the nitrite will keep botulism under control while we smoke meat in the “danger zone” of temperature. The rule is “40* to 140* internal temperature in less than 4 hours (Without nitrites)Bellow 140* IT bacteria are in a perfect zone to multiply rapidly, nitrites when applied in proper parts per million to meat weight and salt applied in sufficient % to meat weight, are two major safety hurdles we can apply to our food making process to keep bacteria at bay.
Nitrite is very regulated for safety reasons. Our cure #1 is a proprietary blending process of nitrite and pure salt. The blend is specific at 6.25% nitrite and 93.75% pure salt. This is blended in a way that will not separate the percentage of the two ingredients In final form known as Prague powder, or cure #1. We apply this cure to meats in parts per million to meat weight. Parts per million is very precise and nothing teaspoon or cups related. Because we know the specific gravity (weight) of the compound cure #1, we can easily calculate the amount needed to cure a given weight of meat safely. 50 parts per million is the minimum amount of nitrite for any meaningful cure effect and 200 parts per million is the absolute maximum in going nitrite for consumption safety In non dried meat product. 156ppm is the target for in going nitrite.

If you want to pre-mix salt and sugar, that’s fine but weigh the cure out for each piece of meat and then include it to the pre-mix of salt and sugar.

Here is the main problem with your pre-mix,
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.
Your mix recipe is correct for 50# meat, with a salt percentage of 2.0% and nitrite of 156ppm.

But, you use 1/4 cup for a piece of meat in the 3-5 pound range. Let’s look closer here.
That 1/4 cup of mix will impart 2.0% salt to the 5 pound piece, but if the same 1/4 cup mix is applied to a 3 pound piece, the salt percentage goes up to about 3.0%. That’s a huge difference just in salt. If we assume (which I don’t) that the cure stays blended in proper ratio, you would impart 156ppm nitrite to the 5# piece, this is just right, however if that same perfectly balanced 1/4 cup of mix is applied to a 3# piece, our salt goes to 3.0%, but our in going nitrite jumps to almost 300ppm. This bad, very bad.

With this Ruhlman mix and process, you have no control of salt percentage on the meat, and have no clue how much nitrite you are imparting to a given piece of meat. This is flat out irresponsible and potentially dangerous.


Nobody has gotten sick and the end product has been enjoyed by many, so maybe I have gotten lucky.
You are indeed very lucky.
In my view, there is no reason at all to mix up a big batch of cure, then randomly apply it to any meat, period.

Mix up salt, sugar and cure #1 as a percentage to the weight of each piece of meat to be cured. My salt, sugar and cure #1 keep perfectly fine each in their own containers.

I will get off my soap box now.
 

LoveMyBGE

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Thanks so much. This is much appreciated. I'm guessing that I haven't had any issues because I have never cured a piece smaller than 5 lbs. I buy my pork bellies from Costco and they typically run 10-11+ lbs. and these I cut into two pieces to cure and then smoke. When I wrote 3-5 lbs, I was quoting directly from Ruhlman's book.

I believe his book is quite popular, which is the reason I ended up getting it when I decided to try my hand at cured meats. It even has a forward written by Thomas Keller, who I greatly respect as a chef. If Ruhlman's methods are so off base, I hope people haven't been hurt by them.
 

SmokinEdge

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Thanks so much. This is much appreciated. I'm guessing that I haven't had any issues because I have never cured a piece smaller than 5 lbs. I buy my pork bellies from Costco and they typically run 10-11+ lbs. and these I cut into two pieces to cure and then smoke. When I wrote 3-5 lbs, I was quoting directly from Ruhlman's book.

I believe his book is quite popular, which is the reason I ended up getting it when I decided to try my hand at cured meats. It even has a forward written by Thomas Keller, who I greatly respect as a chef. If Ruhlman's methods are so off base, I hope people haven't been hurt by them.
For a safe, effective and predictable cure method, refer back to daveomak daveomak post #5 in this thread, there is both wisdom and success in that post.
Otherwise buy “ Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages “ by Stanley Marianski. That, my friend is a book of truth In science of curing and smoking meats. No BS.
 

thirdeye

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Our cure #1 is a proprietary blending process of nitrite and pure salt. The blend is specific at 6.25% nitrite and 93.75% pure salt. This is blended in a way that will not separate the percentage of the two ingredients In final form known as Prague powder, or cure #1. We apply this cure to meats in parts per million to meat weight. Parts per million is very precise and nothing teaspoon or cups related. Because we know the specific gravity (weight) of the compound cure #1, we can easily calculate the amount needed to cure a given weight of meat safely. 50 parts per million is the minimum amount of nitrite for any meaningful cure effect and 200 parts per million is the absolute maximum in going nitrite for consumption safety In non dried meat product. 156ppm is the target for in going nitrite.
I agree about the proprietary methods that a manufacturer uses to keep the salt, nitrites (and sometimes sugar, and sometimes nitrates) in suspension within a particular blend. Cure #1 or Tender Quick for example. And the difficulty of keeping the particular blend well mixed into other ingredients.

But the levels of nitrite (weight of nitrite) used for certain weight(s) of meat is set by the USDA, and are the legal amounts (weight) to use. This is why we're careful on the calculation of Cure #1 in different methods. The ppm of nitrite is a consideration at this early point of the curing process..... but the ppm really comes into play as the calculation shows the nitrite amount remaining in the finished product. HERE is a good bulletin that discusses how nitrite weight and resulting ppm work together.
 

Dr.Feelgood

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For a safe, effective and predictable cure method, refer back to daveomak daveomak post #5 in this thread, there is both wisdom and success in that post.
Otherwise buy “ Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages “ by Stanley Marianski. That, my friend is a book of truth In science of curing and smoking meats. No BS.
I have read this book and can highly recommend it. I can share it as an epub version that can be read on multi-devices. Send me a PM and i'll send you the book by email.
 

bill ace 350

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I use variations of Pop's Brine and Bearcarver's Dry rub for bacon.
If you're looking to cold smoke, make a simple container to hold smoke produces by a tray or tube.

Nothing elaborate. i use a galvanized trash can with drilled holes for air intake and exhaust. metal rods to hang the bacon.

Don't listen to the people who say this is dangerous. I keep the tube or tray on a ceramic tile. no way will it reach the temps required to be dangerous.

I like to cold smoke between 32 degrees and 40 degees internal smoker temp.

Not difficult to do where i live.

Good luck
 

steves8860

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I like to cold smoke between 32 degrees and 40 degees internal smoker temp.

Not difficult to do where i live.

Good luck
[/QUOTE]

I have been thinking about doing some cold smoking. How long do you think is a good time to smoke? I imagine that depends on a couple of factors. Can you look at the meat or cut into it to get an idea of when you think you are done?
 

bill ace 350

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I like to cold smoke between 32 degrees and 40 degees internal smoker temp.

Not difficult to do where i live.

Good luck
I have been thinking about doing some cold smoking. How long do you think is a good time to smoke? I imagine that depends on a couple of factors. Can you look at the meat or cut into it to get an idea of when you think you are done?
[/QUOTE]


Smoke is for flavor and appearance. I usually smoke 12 hours, back in the fridge. repeat a couple of cycles.
 

steves8860

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As I was looking things up I notice several people who do cycles like mentioned.

Any particular reason for that?
 

thirdeye

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As I was looking things up I notice several people who do cycles like mentioned.

Any particular reason for that?
I like 2X and 3X bacon, and I just time my smoke cycle to equal the burn time of a pellet tube. Meaning about 7 or 8 hours each day, then I let cool, wrap and refrigerate overnight and repeat the next day.
 

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