Thursday, March 10, 2011

Curing Bacon

Mmm... bacon!  What could be better?  How about home-cured, nitrite-free bacon from a pastured, heritage breed of hog?

 The extra-large Guinea hog we just butchered provided us with a whopping 54 lbs. of bacon.  Our butcher doesn't include curing the bacon or hams as part of his service, so I turned to the internet to teach me how to cure it myself.

After studying lots of pages like these:
Home Cured Bacon
How to Make, Cure, and Smoke Homemade Bacon
Home Cured Bacon Recipe
Curing Your Own Bacon
Making Your Own Bacon:  It's Easy and Satisfying

I finally felt ready to try it on my own.  I didn't use any of the recipes I found online exactly, but adapted them to suit my preferences and my available ingredients.  In particular, I decided to skip the nitrates and nitrites by avoiding the pink curing salts called for in most recipes.  Because of that, my bacon won't be pink like store bought bacon, but since those additives have questionable food safety, I think it's worth it to avoid adding them if I don't have to.

I started with 2 BIG slabs of fresh bacon meat, each weighing about 27 lbs.

I had purchased a supply of large, flat Rubbermaid containers to contain the bacon while it was curing, so the first thing I had to do was cut the big slabs of meat into smaller slabs that would fit in my containers.  You can also use large Ziploc bags, but since I had so much bacon to cure at once I figured I'd use containers that stack easily without sliding off.

Here are my smaller slabs, cut up and ready to be cured.

Next, I prepared the curing mixes.  I used two different recipes---one more complex and one more simple---just in case I ended up not liking one of them.  I didn't want to end up with 54 lbs. of badly flavored bacon!

Bacon Recipe #1

27 lbs. fresh Guinea hog bacon meat
2.5 cups coarse kosher salt
1 cup smoked sea salt flakes
1.25 cups brown sugar
1.25 cups maple syrup
1.25 cups apple cider
1 cup juniper berries
1/2 cup coarse black pepper
40 bay leaves, crumbled
0.25 cups minced garlic
3 TB thyme
3 TB nutmeg

Bacon Recipe #2

27 lbs. fresh Guinea hog bacon meat
4 cups coarse kosher salt
2 cups brown sugar
1.5 cups maple syrup
0.25 cup whole black peppercorns
1 TB thyme

Here's a photo of Recipe #1, all ready to use:

I rubbed this mixture liberally all over the slabs of meat and placed them in their containers.

I put the covers on the containers and stacked them in the refrigerator, where they stayed for 8 days.  About halfway through the curing process, I took the meat out of each container, turned it over, and rubbed a little extra salt on, just to be on the safe side.  At that point, the meat was already releasing its liquids and starting to get firm and fragrant with the spices.

On day 8, I took the meat out of the refrigerator, rinsed each piece thoroughly with water, and patted it dry with paper towels.  It had quite a firm texture by then.

Here's how the meat looked when it came out of the fridge:

Here's what the top (fatty) side of the meat looked like after it was rinsed:

And here's what the bottom side looked like after it was rinsed:

I preheated the oven to 200 degrees F, put a cookie sheet on the lowest oven rack to catch any drippings, and arranged the slabs of cured bacon on the upper two racks.  I roasted them like that for about 2.5 hours, or until the internal temperature of the meat reached 150 degrees.

Because I had such a large quantity of bacon, I could only fit a portion of it in the oven at a time, so the roasting stage had to be repeated several times to give each slab of meat a turn.

After the roasting, the slabs of bacon rested in a pan on the counter top until they returned to room temperature.

Then with a sharp knife, I cut them into slices as thin as I could.  This would be easier with a meat slicer, but a knife will do, if you don't mind having your bacon thick cut.

The hog this bacon is from was extremely obese.  The fat ratio in this bacon is very, very high, but it's still tasty.

Here's what the sliced bacon looked like before frying:

And here is the end result:

The taste test results?

Recipe #1 tastes amazing, but VERY strongly flavored and very salty.  I had originally planned for that amount of cure to be spread over twice as much meat, but it just wouldn't spread that far (plus I was nervous about having too little salt and the meat rotting instead of curing.  Next time I'll trust the process better, and use less cure for the amount of meat).  I tried soaking one slab of this bacon in several changes of water for an hour to see if that would decrease the saltiness, but it didn't help all that much.  This batch of bacon will be best served in small doses where its big flavor can have the greatest impact without being overwhelming.  I'm looking forward to it in pasta, on salads, in soups.

Recipe #2 is milder and has a flavor more like breakfast type bacon.  You can taste the maple syrup, but not too strongly.

Both batches of bacon taste fantastic, and the Guinea hog meat has a richness of flavor and texture that bursts in your mouth like no store bought bacon ever has.  Because of that exceptional richness and the exceptionally high percentage of fat in the meat from this particular pig, I find that I am fully satiated by smaller portion sizes than usual.

After the taste tests, I sliced all the bacon into slices, arranged the slices in Ziploc bags, and stored them in the freezer.  That's a lot of bacon!


V.R. Leavitt said...

So...hungry... :-)

Adrian L said...

Yummm ... bacon!

Pandula Arts Creations said...

I learn so much every time I read your blog. I didn't know bacon was cured or baked...Thanks so much for such detailed information.

Jennifer B said...

Sounds amazing!

I was just telling my husband the tale of Hagrid and his only comment was that he will need to build us a smokehouse. I guess we will be getting a hog or two someday!

Robin said...

I had no idea it was relatively easy to make bacon. My husband would like to process our pigs by ourselves next time but things like making bacon made me a little nervous about trying it.

Anonymous said...

I read the article on sixwise and believe it to be fearmongering Of the worst and most ill-informed sort. Nitrites in the levels used in home curing would be poisonous only if you ate about 60 lbs. a day. And they dont convert to nitrosamines unless cooked over very high heat. On the other hand they do prevent botulism which is a huge concern when home canning or curing.