Thirdeye Q

This site contains a collection of techniques for barbecuing, smoking and cooking over fire. The techniques shown here are not the only way or the best way to prepare a certain item. This site is just a starting point and these techniques are a guide to creating your own recipes. Recipes included here come not only from personal experiences, but from many knowledgeable folks kind enough to share their secrets. ~thirdeye~


thirdeye's Dry Cured Bacon

My Buckboard Bacon page and Lynne's Breakfast Bacon page are two of the most popular pages on my site.  Now I want to share a third bacon method that features a curing technique for belly bacon that uses Cure #1 (aka pink salt, Instacure #1, Prague #1) instead of Morton Tender Quick.   Cure #1 is a blend of 93.75% salt and 6.25% sodium nitrite.  It's used by commercial meat producers and butcher shops as well as people that are a little more experienced with curing meats at home.  It's use involves some basic calculations, accurate measurements and attention to detail but the end result is a product that you  can dial-in exactly to your liking.  

Morton Tender Quick is a ready-to-use curing 'blend' which contains salt, sugar, sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate. The percentages of salt, sugar and curing agents has been calculated by Morton engineers in order to determine the amount of cure needed as well as the curing time needed for various curing projects. This makes it easy to use for home curing, but you can't reduce the percentage of salt or sugar.

When you use Cure #1 you will be making your own curing formulation by mixing salt, sugar and Cure #1 together.  You can also use some aromatics to give your bacon a signature flavor all your own. This dry curing technique is known as 'equilibrium curing' because you select the exact amount of salt and sugar to be used, and it's almost impossible to over-cure your pork belly.

Mixing The Cure - The percentages listed below are based on the weight of a trimmed pork belly.

  • Salt - The recommended range of salt is between 1% and 3%. I use canning salt, but sea salt or kosher salt works fine.  Do not use iodized table salt. 
  • Sugar - The recommended range of sugar is between 0% and 3%.  You don't actually need sugar in your cure, but it mellows the salt and adds flavor as well as color.  A higher percentage of sugar will increase chances of your bacon burning when frying.
  • Cure #1 - The amount of Cure #1 is set by the USDA at 0.25%.  Do not increase or decrease this amount, and always measure Cure #1 carefully and accurately. 
How To Decide On Your First Curing Blend - First off, consider salt.... how salty do you like your bacon?  The typical bacon you buy at the store is 2% to 2.5% salt and uses about the same percentage of sugar.  A recipe might be 2% salt, 1.5% sugar or for a sweeter bacon you might use 2% salt, 2.5% sugar.  White sugar has a lighter flavor and color, brown sugar is a deeper flavor and will make the bacon a little darker, and maple sugar is a bit sweeter and more distinct. 

What Formulation Do I Use? - I favor a lower salt bacon, and use a lower percentage of white sugar. My current favorite formulation is 1.5% salt, 1% sugar and I sprinkle the pork belly with cracked pepper, garlic powder and put a tablespoon of crushed bay leaves into the curing bag

Curing Mathematics - I strongly suggest buying a gram scale and weighing the Cure #1 in grams, and it's just as easy to weigh the salt and sugar because grams and kilograms work hand in hand with percentages.  For example let's say you have a 5.29 pound (2.4 kilogram) pork belly and decide on a formulation that is 2% salt, 1.5% sugar and 0.25% Cure #1.  For every kilogram (1000 grams) of meat you will need:
  • 20 grams of salt
  • 15 grams of sugar
  • 2.5 grams of Cure #1 
Here is a sample calculation if you have a 2.4 kilogram pork belly. You multiply the grams needed per kilo times the weight in kilos of your pork belly:
20g X 2.4kg = 48g of salt
15g X 2.4kg = 36g of sugar
2.5g X 2.4kg = 6g of Cure #1 

Curing Procedure - 
  • Mix the 3-part cure very well and divide it into 2 halves by weight.  
  • Apply one half to the fat side plus all 4 edges of the belly.
  • Apply the other half to the meat face of the belly.
  • Add any aromatics like black pepper or garlic powder if you are using them.
  • Move the pork belly into a zipper bag, add 1 tablespoon of water and lay flat. Remove as much air as possible. Using a vacuum bag is okay, just don't pull a full vacuum before sealing.  You want the meat relaxed and any liquid that forms to be able to move around easily. 
  • Move into the refrigerator, the ideal curing temperature is 35°F to 38°F.  Too cold will slow down the curing process, and over 41°F may cause spoilage.  Turn the belly every day
  • Expect to see some liquid in the zipper bag, this is normal. The tablespoon of added water sort of starts the osmosis process. The bag liquid may be re-absorbed by the meat.  
  • An average pork belly takes 5 to 7 days to fully cure but since we're using an equilibrium cure I prefer a 12 to 14 day cure for better flavor and texture. 
  • At the end of the curing process, rinse the pork belly and gently scrub to remove all residual curing ingredients.  If used, black pepper may remain especially on the fat cap.
  • Soak the pork belly in cold water for 1 to 2 hours, changing the water at least twice. This step is to reduce the saltiness. If you use a low-salt formulation 1 hour of soaking might be fine. You can always fry a test slice and test for saltiness. 
  • Dry the pork belly and return to the refrigerator, uncovered on a rack for 12 to 36 hours.  You can add some black pepper at this time.

These pork bellies have been cured and rested for 24 hours, they are ready to smoke.

Smoking Procedure - Your bacon can be hot smoked or cold smoked. In the winter months, my cold smoked bacon will only reach an internal temperature of 70°F, but it's protected by the Cure #1.  Smoked bacon you buy from the butcher or deli case is probably smoked to 120°F to 130°F, so it must be cooked. And if your final internal temperature is above 145°F you actually have a safe and ready-to-eat product but most people prefer to fry or bake to improve the texture of the meat and especially the fat. For smokier flavor, you can utilize one or more smoke sessions.  I wrap in clear plastic and refrigerate overnight between each smoke session. 

For hot smoking I sometimes use a rib rack.

For cold smoking in my Big Chief it's easier to hang the bellies.  
I have a similar hanging set-up in my BDS drum smoker.

Blooming & Mellowing - After smoking or after each session... your bacon interacts with air and the color darkens slightly, this is called blooming. Different woods will result in slightly different colors. If you hold your bacon uncovered, or tented with foil on a rack in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours, the flavor will improve, this is called mellowing.  Some prefer to wrap their refrigerated bacon in clear wrap when mellowing.

My preferred smoking method for fall and winter is cold smoking using an A-Maze-N sawdust or pellet smoke generator in my drum smoker with the vents wide open, or in my Big Chief electric smoker.  Sometimes I'll block the lids open to get the maximum airflow. When the outside temperatures are in the 40°s I'll smoke the bacon for 6 or 7 hours, then wrap and return to the refrigerator.  The next day I'll repeat the smoke time for another 6 or 7 hours, again wrapping and holding in the refrigerator I call this 2X bacon.  For 3X bacon I'll smoke again on day 3.  I let my bacon mellow for at least 24 hours.