UPDATE: Check out the refined (and successful) version of this recipe here.
When Costco has a sale on pork belly, it’s hard not to consider making your own bacon. 11.4 pounds of bacon sets us back $24.80, or roughly 2.18 per pound is an amazing deal. However, you can't just cut up some slices, cook, and eat. You need to cure the bacon first. You’d be surprised that this isn’t as hard as you think!
Above you see a lovely cured bacon. Let’s outline how easy it is to get there...
Buy the pork belly
The first step is to buy your pork belly. You don’t have to get a huge 11.4 slab like I did. If you go to your local butcher, you should be able to get a nice 2 or 3 pound slab for a good price. I took my 11 pounds and cut it up into roughly 2 pound slabs. I kept one package out and put the rest in the freezer for future use.
Take off the skin
Don’t forget to take the skin off the bottom of the pork belly. Unless you’re really lucky, or your butcher takes care of it for you, the skin will be there. There’s a delicate balance between taking off the skin without taking off too much fat (which you want to keep). From what I’ve found there’s no easy way to do it. Just get a really sharp knife and slowly cut and pull away from the slab. I didn’t get a picture of this step, but this is roughly what it looks like as you’re going along.
Wet cure the bacon
After digging around the internet a bit, I found that there are two ways to cure bacon, a wet and a dry way. The dry way uses a lot of seasonsings, and takes additional care to not make “hot spots” on your slab. The easier way is to use a “wet cure” approach, which is essentially making a brine for your pork belly to soak in. I found a couple great recipes, adjusted a little bit for some personal preferences, and came up with the following:
- 2 quarts water
- 2 cups maple syrup
- 1 3/8 c kosher salt
- 1/8 c smoked salt (use more kosher salt if you don’t have this)
- 6 peppercorns
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 onion, cut into quarters
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Put all of those ingredients in a large pot and bring it to a boil over medium heat. As soon as it starts to boil, take it off the heat and let it cool fully. Pour the brine through a strainer so that just the liquid remains. Now add the slab to the brine. I put it all in a freezer bag, though you could use a casserole dish with some saran wrap or maybe even a large tupperware with a lid. Put this in the refrigerator.
Wait and massage
Let your pork belly sit for three days. Every day, you’ll want to massage some of the brine into the pork belly, and flip it over if you’re having “floating” issues in the bag, like I was.
Rinse, cut and cook!
After three days, pull your pork belly slab out of its brine. Give it a quick rinse under cold water to get any excess salt off of the outside of the meat. You’ll see the beautiful darkened color of the brine has soaked into the meat.
Now cut, cook, and eat! From what I’ve read, the best way to cut your bacon is to do so when it is really cold, or slightly frozen, much like chicken breasts. I couldn’t wait that long, and the bacon was still pretty cold, so I cut the slab in half (it’s longer than it looks) and cut off about 10 slices.
My preferred method of cooking is to line a cooking sheet with foil and put a cooling rack on top of it. I then put the slices on top of the cooling rack and place it into a cold oven. I set the temperature for 400 degrees and set the timer for 15 minutes. Depending on the thickness of your slices, it may take longer than this. Once you’re done put your bacon on to some paper towels to dry and cool. Then eat!!!
Holy cow this was tasty! This bacon is nice and thick. It’s not too chewy (like when your bacon is all fat) but it is far from those thin pieces that crumble and have no flavor. The rosemary adds an amazing dimension to the bacon I haven’t tasted before. The smoked salt added some smokiness to the flavor without requiring me to fire up the grill for an hour.
The one thing that went wrong was that the bacon was too salty. I mentioned above curing the bacon for 3 days. I actually did 4, based on reading various recipes. I think 3 days would be perfect for this. Additionally, I didn’t do the quick rinse on the slab that was cooked, but I did on the leftover slab I have. I’ll make sure to do a followup post once I go through this again and verify the results. If you try this recipe out, let me know how it works for you!