Homemade Bacon – nitrate- and hassle-free

It seems weird, but homemade bacon is one of the easiest recipes I know – and now it’s one of my favorites.

Part of it is because I have a great smoker: it’s a Masterbuilt M7P, and it grills, smokes (both with charcoal or with propane), and has a few other attachments to allow for steaming, boiling, frying, and even campfire cooking.


But I digress. Point is, you need a smoker. You can get a good one for the same price you paid for that fancy grill you have in your backyard right now, and this can grill or smoke.

Once you have the equipment, the ingredients are relatively easy. For unflavored bacon, you only need a pork belly, kosher salt and brown sugar. If you want to flavor it, it’s pretty simple to do so. I’ll explain that later.

Pork bellies may or may not be hard to find: I live in San Diego, and after messing around the first few times I made bacon with going to a commissary (you need a friend in the military to take you shopping for that to work) and going to a fancy butcher shop (waaaay to expensive), I settled on buying my pork bellies from a local Korean grocery store. They are quite cheap ($5-$7 for about a pound and a half), and the bellies are already helpfully trimmed into lovely little blocks, just waiting to be cured and smoked.

Step 1: Once you get the belly home, place it in a large (gallon size) freezer bag, and add one cup brown sugar and two cups kosher salt. [Note: if this doesn’t coat your pork belly completely, add more of both sugar and salt, just make sure there is twice the amount of salt to sugar.] Make sure the salt and sugar is both completely mixed and completely coating the meat. Refrigerate.

Depending on the size of your pork belly, this curing process will take between 2-7 days (7 is for a really huge, dense piece of meat – most pork bellies will take between 3-5 days.) You will be able to tell the belly is cured when the freezer bag has liquid in the bottom and the meat is hard to the touch.

Step 2: Remove the meat and rinse the salt and sugar off, and put it on a clean plate.

Now is where you add flavoring if you desire; I recommend either coating the belly with cracked peppercorns, (real!) maple syrup, or even sriracha for a spicy bacon.


Step 3: Place the belly, on the plate, flavored if you like, with no cover or wrap, in your refrigerator. This will cause an invisible film to develop on the meat, which will act like a magnet for the smoke when you smoke the meat. Leave it this way for at least 12 hours (preferably overnight).

Remember you will need to soak your wood chips for smoking, too, so this would be a good time to put them on to soak!

hickory chips for smoking

The next day, remove from the refrigerator and let sit for about 20 minutes (just to bring it to room temperature) before smoking.

Step 4: Smoke it! Keep your smoker’s temperature between 200-300, and depending on the size and thickness of the meat, the smoking will take between 4-7 hours. 

Make sure you use a digital meat thermometer, or otherwise keep an eye on the internal temperature of your bacon. Once it reaches an internal temperature of 160, it’s ready, but feel free to smoke it longer to increase the wood-smoke flavor.

meat thermometer

Save or pin this recipe card for easy use!

Bacon recipe card

 

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October Unprocessed Made Easy: It’s the Little Things

How’s your October Unprocessed challenge going? This is my second year going clean for the month of October, and I see why this is really a lifestyle change instead of a simple diet or weight loss challenge. The more you employ small changes into your daily routines and everyday meals, the more an Unprocessed challenge won’t feel like such a challenge.

Obviously, living unprocessed is harder than it looks. It’s a great month-long challenge simply because it’s kind of hard to stick with. But making really small changes every day can help you eat clean the other 11 months of the year.

Here are a few small things that have worked for me, year-round:

Homemade condiments

Often, condiments and sauces are some of the first things people ask me about when I tell them about the Unprocessed challenge, but those sauces are some of the easiest things to make from scratch — and to leave out all of the mono-whatdjacallit sodium-hydrox-o-OMG. Seriously, read the label of the bottles in your fridge sometime. Most of them start with simple ingredients (salt, vinegar, tomatoes, etc.), and them all of a sudden, it goes off the rails with additives and stuff you can’t pronounce.

The solution is simple: Give up the labels and make your own. It’s very simple to make fresher, tastier, healthier versions of most of the condiments in your refrigerator right now. For the cost of a bottle of BBQ sauce laden with corn syrup, or mass-produced sriracha, or preservative- and dye-packed ketchup, or fake mustard, you can make a far better, healthier, tastier, cleaner version at home.

Here are my favorite condiments to make at home:

mustard

– salad dressings (usually I use a few tablespoons of homemade mustard or homemade jam, and put it in a mason jar with a bit of vinegar, some fresh herbs and olive oil, then shake it up)

sriracha (also kraut and kimchi)

curry ketchup and roasted corn relish

– roasted habanero salsa (and also a really awesome tomatillo salsa, but it’s not my recipe)

This week, I finished up a batch of homemade sriracha by draining the liquid from my fermented peppers …

fermented red peppers for hot sauce

then as I pureed the peppers for the sriracha,

homemade sriracha

… I used the liquid to soak a bunch of mustard seeds for a spicy homemade mustard.

spicy mustard

Awesome.

And have you ever tried store-bought sauerkraut? If you have, you probably hate kraut now, just on principle. Grab a jar or a nice chemical-free crock, and try making your own probiotics for a great project and a delicious and healthy nosh.

sauerkraut

Replace pasta with vegetables.

Lots of paleo recipe sites like this one have great ideas for replacing pasta with “zoodles,” or zucchini noodles. They’re easy to make and lots of fun, particularly if you have kids and need help getting them to eat properly.

Personally, I am a huge fan of spaghetti squash. It’s very simple to prepare; you can steam it my stabbing it with a few holes and either microwaving it (for about 2-3 minutes per pound) or slow-cooking it (4-6 hours on low setting, covered halfway with water), then using a fork to pull off all of the stringy bits, then mix it with your favorite sauce or pasta topping.

spaghetti squash

You can also cut it in half when it’s raw (you’ll need a wicked sharp knife) and roast it for the same effect. No matter how you prepare it, a medium-sized squash will give up enough stringy strands for at least 3-4 servings.

Replace meat with vegetables, or with better (aka cleaner) meat

Do you Portobello?

I love to replace hamburger patties with the big, hearty mushrooms, or just grill them with a little oil-and-vinegar salad dressing and serve as a side dish or vegetarian entrée option. No one will miss the meat when you grill up these babies. Eating Rules also has a great Portobello recipe this month.

cookout 019
Homemade bacon is beyond compare.

It’s stupid easy to make, and the homemade version is far better than any store-bought, nitrate-packed, pink slime. I take a nicely trimmed pork belly (my local Korean grocer does it perfectly and doesn’t look at you curiously when you request pork bellies), put it in a freezer bag with 2:1 ratio of kosher salt and brown sugar, then let it sit refrigerated for 3-4 days. When the meat is tough to the touch, it’s ready.

Rinse the meat, leave it in the fridge overnight without a cover, and smoke it for 3-6 hours, or until the internal temp is 160. That’s it. It’s unprocessed. It’s nitrate-free, it’s super-easy to make, and it’s f***ing delicious.

homemade bacon
Make your own cleaner version of everyday foods

Speaking of things that are easy to make, and the homemade versions far surpass the store-bought … my yogurt make is one of the best purchases I’ve made this year. You only need a bit of yogurt starter and some good milk, and the machine does the rest. I just make plain yogurt, then add organic honey or homemade jam. Bonus if you add some of this chow-chow from Friend in Cheeses Jam Company … it’s amazing! It’s all delicious and organic, and still unprocessed.

homemade yogurtAnd don’t forget, the idea is to control the ingredients. Think about other every day meals you can make from scratch instead of purchasing processed.

Fresh is best 

I have a subscription to a local farm network, so I get a weekly delivery of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. (I use Farm Fresh to You and I love it, but there are literally thousands of services out there, depEnding on your location.)

Cooking seasonally and locally usually means you’re eating the best, and no matter what you get in your weekly delivery, a recipe for it is only a Google search away. And when in doubt … CURRY. This is my favorite recipe for pumpkin curry, but you can literally replace the vegetables with anything. I did the same recipe with cauliflower. Yum.
curry

Lastly, don’t forget to use all of your gadgets! If you’re concerned about added fats, oils, and greases, you can’t go wrong with the clean taste of outdoor cooking and smoking. I used my outdoor smoker to pretty quickly (less than an hour) smoke a couple of pieces of salmon, plus some yams, fingerling potatoes and sliced delicata squash. A little olive oil, a few herbs, and you have a delicious unprocessed dinner in no time.

0salmon

 

October Unprocessed: Week 1 Recap

My apologies for not updating the blog for the last several days; I’ve been a little under the weather and stuck mostly to leftovers and unprocessed snacks and fruits (dried apple slices, peaches and melon). I also figured being congested would be a great time to make some curry, which is bound to help a little.

I wanted to remake the awesome vegetarian pumpkin curry I made as my $5 Slow Food Challenge last October, but there was a lovely Red Kuri squash in this week’s CSA box, and since Red Kuri is pretty similar to pumpkin, I figured it was worth a try (plus, I was really enjoying saying “Red Kuri red curry” over and over). I used the exact technique as I used for the pumpkin curry in the above link, right down to slicing and roasting the Red Kuri squash on my outdoor grill before adding it to a big crock pot full of vegetables, red curry paste, coconut milk and stock. It was excellent.

Red Kuri red curry

I also used the fresh tomatoes from my CSA box to make some homemade ketchup (based on this recipe, but obviously I only made like two jars of it), and tried my hand at some baking … the seemingly simply four-ingredient bread recipe, but it didn’t turn out very well. Luckily, I still have plenty of all four required ingredients, so I’ll try it again later this week.

As most, if not all, storebought bacon is processed in some way, I decided to make some homemade bacon, which I have done a few times before. It’s a really simple recipe that gives you delicious, nitrate-free bacon with no special equipment (other than a smoker).

This week’s CSA also included a bounty of kale — even with the “small” box, each weekly delivery is too much for one person — so I decided to try using kale to make old-fashioned Southern-style greens. Usually greens are made with collard or mustard greens or chard of some sort (any sort, really), but I had never made it with kale before. Also it’s usually made with ham and/or a ham bone, and instead of ham, I use a few good slices of the homemade bacon I just made. The substitutions worked beautifully (even if this isn’t the most photogenic dish).

Old-fashioned greens with kale and homemade bacon

I put the chopped kale with a chopped onion, a few heads of garlic, a splash of apple cider vinegar and a quart of chicken stock into my crock pot, and I let it cook on low overnight.

Create your own bacon. At home. No, really.

Who knew that it could be so darn easy? If you have a smoker, a pork belly, and some salt and spices, the magic that is homemade bacon (i.e., home-cured in your fridge and home-smoked) can be all yours.

I embarked on this awesome adventure with my friend and fellow food blogger The Neighborhood Foodie, who for the last couple of months has been working in Amsterdam, so we haven’t gotten to nerd out on a cool project in a while. She took a stay-cation in San Diego at the beginning of January and we decided to go food-blogger crazy and make some of our own bacon.

As my house is the one with the smoker parked outside, it needed to  be a joint venture.

About a week before we got started, she purchased a few slabs of pork belly (ask your local butcher to hook you up), and used a recipe with no nitrates or preservatives. Just salt, sugar, time, and love. Trust me: once you try this, you’ll never miss that nitrate-filled, preservative-packed bacon from the store.

It’s a two-step process: curing and smoking. Both steps are needed to turn pork belly into bacon. Both can be done at home, if you have a smoker.

* I want to interject a side note here about my M7P 7-in-1 Outdoor Cooking System. I bought this online (Overstock) for about $150 with free shipping. It cost another $40 for a used propane tank. This baby grills, smokes, boils, steams, and fries, and you can do any of those tasks with either propane or charcoal heat. It’s the best $150 I ever spent. I highly recommend this model (no, I haven’t been hired by the company or anything) or a similar multi-tasking machine. Trust me. After you do a cool project like bacon — or smoked garlic, or smoked jalapenos, livers for a sweet pate, or a nice beer-can chicken, or cedar-planked salmon and brie, or a holiday crab boil (it also comes with a steamer pot and a big stainless steel pot for boiling) or just a nice grilled piece of chicken or pork with minimal effort — you will see. This thing pays for itself.

For every 5 lbs. of pork belly, mix 4 cups of kosher salt and 2 cups of brown sugar, coat the pork as well as possible, and refrigerate it in a freezer bag or loosely wrapped in plastic (I’d recommend the bag, because it gets pretty wet in there). If you are adding other spices or flavors (we did one slab with Jamaican jerk seasoning, one with maple, and one with chili and cocoa), add it at this point. If you are coating the bacon instead of flavoring it — say, in ground peppercorns, for example — you will want to save that for after it’s cured and before you put it on the smoker.

If you have done a few searches for homemade bacon recipes before you settled on this awesome blog, you’ll probably notice that there are a lot of opinions out there about how to do this right. Some cooks swear by “pink salt” – salt and nitrates, used for preserving the color of the bacon – and insist that it is part of every bacon recipe, and some cooks insist that you don’t use any such thing. Others, like us, prefer to do it au naturale, like this Cool Material post.  It’s up to you and you have to do what makes you feel right. We opted for a more natural recipe with simple salt and sugar, and without all the preservatives. The only down side to having bacon free of nitrates and preservatives is that you have to eat it faster. Darn.

Seal the baggie with the pork and seasonings and refrigerate for at least 7 days. Every day or so, move it around and massage the meat a little to encourage distribution of spices and salt. There’s a complicated scientific explanation for what happens inside that bag, but essentially, the salt forces the moisture out of the pork belly, curing it and pushing those juices out. If it’s a lot of moisture you might want to drain it out.

After at least 5 days, uncover the meat and rinse off the majority of the salt and flavorings. Let it sit on a plate or baking sheet in your fridge, uncovered, for at least another day. Again, there’s a deep science-y explanation for that happens, but the idea is that this step will create a sort of film over the surface of the meat, which will act like a sticky, gooey magnet for the delicious smoke.

After at least 7 days of curing … make sure the meat is firm, like bacon … it’s ready for smoking. Use your best judgment when it comes to the type of wood; many people use apple wood, cherry, hickory, mesquite, even alder. If you have the time, you can also mix it up and experiment with what sort of wood best brings out the flavor of the meat.

Since I like to experiment, I tried a couple of different kinds. I prepared a smoker full of soaking applewood chips for 3 of the bacon types: the chili-cocoa, the brown sugar and the Jamaican jerk spice. Since the maple bacon wasn’t quite hard-to-the-touch and needed a few more days of curing, I decided to wait and smoke the maple bacon with the lighter, fruitier flavor of alderwood. (I thought about mesquite, but in the end decided the mesquite would totally overpower the maple flavor. I’ll save my mesquite chips for smoking a nice peppery bacon.)

After the chips have soaked in water for a couple of hours, fire up your smoker and let it get to about 140 degrees. Then give each piece of pork belly a good, thorough rinse, and drop it lovingly and gently on your smoker.

Don’t let it get hotter than 200. A slab of meat that is between 2 and 2 1/2 lbs. will take about 2-3 hours to fully cook to the desired internal temperature of 150; but temperature is more important than time, so if after 2-3 hours it hasn’t reached 150, let it continue to smoke until the meat is at 150.

Now, it’s bacon.

After the bacon is fully smoked, it will still need to be sliced and fried. Since the bacon isn’t packed full of nitrates and preservatives, it won’t look like the pink stuff you buy in the store.

USE bacon recipe card