Learn the easy steps to cure and smoke bacon at home. Find three different cures and make your own with just a little bit of prep work.
I made the mistake of looking at the meat department in Costco when Ginny let me wander around unsupervised. Like a kid in a candy store, I returned sheepishly to the cart with a ten pound slab of pork belly and the idea that I would cure and smoke bacon.
She acquiesced, thanks to my puppy-dog eyes, and me and the pork belly were about to make some fantastic home-cured bacon.
I always look for pork belly with the skin already sliced off. It is a nuisance to have to gently slice the pork skin off the meat. If the pork belly that you purchase has the skin still on it, ask the butcher to slice it off or spend a few minutes at home to remove it. You can do some fun things with the skin that we’ll experiment with later.
I cut the pork belly into thirds in order to try three different cures.
🧑🍳 Curing Process
Curing bacon is a simple process where a salt mixture will draw out the moisture from the pork belly. It takes about a week to properly cure the pork belly.
You will know when it is ready as the pork belly will be significantly more firm than when you started. In addition, you will notice that the Ziploc bag will have accumulated a lot of liquid, as it is pulled out of the pork belly.
The firm texture of the cured pork belly is what we need to a good smoking.
There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for curing your own pork belly. I use pink curing salt #2 as the curing agent. It contains nitrites and nitrates. The biggest benefits to using the curing salt is that it helps to prevent bacteria growth and it helps the meat retain its color.
It is possible to cure the pork belly without this, but I have not tried it.
I used three recipes (found below) to cure and flavor the pork belly.
Step One: Add the ingredients into gallon-sized ziplock bags, and then add the raw pork belly.
Step Two: Shake the ingredients around the pork to make sure it is evenly coated, and then squeeze the air from the bags. Once a section didn’t get covered completely and at the end of the week, it was still soft showing the chemical reaction was lost on that part of the belly.
Definitely spend the extra time to make sure that the pork belly is thoroughly coasted
Step Three: Learning my lesson from the last time I tried this, I placed each bag in a tupperware container before I put it in the refrigerator. Last time I found out that the bag wasn’t completely sealed. It left quite the mess that I had to clean up.
Step Four: Flip the bag over EVERY MORNING to allow any accumulated liquids to flow to the other side of the pork belly. This will help spread the curing agent and your flavorings will thoroughly coat the belly.
As I noted earlier, this process takes about one week, before the cured pork belly is ready for smoking.
Thoroughly Rinse Off the Cure
After the week is over, you’ll notice the pork belly is much more firm, and it is time to take it out.
Did I mention to rinse it off well? Once I didn’t and I had bacon that was so salty that we had to toss it out. Rinse it and rinse again. The weeklong cure forced the flavoring deep into the meat, so you don’t need to worry that the thorough rinsing will wash away the flavor.
Allow a Pellicle to Form
This is the least difficult part of the process. Seriously!
A pellicle is the sticky film that will form when the pork belly is exposed to air. The sticky nature of it allows the apple wood smoke to stick better to the cured pork belly and it will help to collect the flavoring from the smoke.
To form the pellicle, place the thoroughly rinsed cured pork belly on a dish and place it back in the refrigerator. DO NOT COVER IT! The air in the fridge will help the pork belly to dry a bit and that will form the pellicle.
It’s as easy as that!
I let the pellicle develop over about four hours before I begin the smoke.
🔥 Smoking Instructions
I smoke bacon on the Big Green Egg, but you can use a dedicated smoker if you have one.
Step One: Set up the grill for indirect heat with the plate setter in place. Wait for all the white smoke to dissipate. That is just the from the charcoal, and isn’t the smoke you are looking for!
Step Two: Once the temperature of the grill has stabilized, set the temperature to 250 degrees and carefully add in the wood chips under the plate setter. I soaked blocks of apple wood that I bought at our local Big Green Egg Dealer, Dizzy Pig.
Step Three: Unfortunately, the chunks of wood were too big to easily slip under the plate setter, so I lifted it slightly with the ash tool to make room. I only used 4 or 5 chunks of apple wood. Pre soaking them for an hour definitely helped.
Step Four: Put the grate on top of the plate setter, and lay the cured pork belly on top. I fit three 2.5 – 3 lb slabs on my large BGE, but could have fit more if I had the stackable shelf.
⏲️ Smoking Time
It took me three and a half hours of smoking the bacon until the internal temperature reached 150 degrees. Do not let it get much hotter than that. You want to smoke it, not cook it.
If it gets hotter, the fat will liquify and drip out of the meat. There are lots of tips and tricks to make sure you know when your bacon is fully cooked.
After the bacon is off the smoke, let it cool down, and put it in the fridge. It is much easier to slice the bacon if it is cold.
If you smoke brisket or bacon, it is worth the investment to buy a deli meat slicer. These do not have to be expensive. I have had mine for years and didn’t spend a ton on it.
I used to just cut them with a sharp knife, but I could not get the cuts thin or consistent enough.
📌 Items to Note
For the moment of truth.
BBQ Rub Bacon – This was a 7/10. It had a very mild BBQ flavor, but it just didn’t “sing” with taste, like I had hoped. We’ll still eat it, but I wish it had a more distinctive taste. Oh well, I will try a different rub next time. This is part of the fun of trying out new ideas.
Savory Herb Bacon – This was a really nice 9/10. I can’t get enough of the rich, almost tangy taste. I used bay leaves this time, and I think it made a real difference in the end product. I can’t wait for the summer to roll around, so I can use more fresh herbs from my garden.
Bourbon Coffee Bacon – This was a solid 10/10. I like a sweet bacon, and have used maple syrup and brown sugar in the past. This time, I used the Bare Knuckle bourbon from KO Distillery in Manassas, VA. For the coffee, I just used a donut shop blend. This bacon had a unique, sweet taste that was much more subtle than other sweet bacons I have smoked. This is going in our hall-of-fame recipes for future curing.
Bacon Wrapped Chicken Bites – These small chicken bites are wrapped in bacon and brushed with a honey mustard sauce that is so good!
Bacon Wrapped Chicken Livers – Give these a shot. The fat in the bacon renders into the livers and the result is just amazing!
How to Home Cure and Smoke Bacon
Coffee Bourbon Cure
- 3 lbs Pork Belly
- ½ cup Bourbon
- 1 cup Brewed Coffee
- 1 tsp Curing Salt
Savory Herb Cure
- 3 lbs Pork Belly
- 2 tbsp Oregano
- 1 tbsp Thyme
- 2 tbsp Garlic
- 1 tbsp Rosemary
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1 tsp Curing Salt
- ⅓ cup Brown Sugar
- ¼ cup Paprika
- 3 tbsp Black Pepper
- 1-2 tbsp Salt Sea Salt or Kosher Salt
- 2 tsp Onion Powder
- 2 tsp Garlic Powder
- 2 tsp Celery Seed
For All Of The Cures
- Add all of the ingredients to a one gallon ziplock bag
- Add Pork Belly to the ziplock bag.
- Close the ziplock bag and set it in a container in the refrigerator
- Flip the bag over once per day for one week
Rinsing Off The Cure
- After one week, the pork belly will be much firmer and you will see additional liquids in the ziplock bag.
- Remove the pork belly from the bag and thoroughly rinse it off. (And rinse it again! You want as much of the curing mixture off of the pork belly as possible).
Form The Pellicle
- Set the rinsed pork belly on a tray and place it back in the refrigerator for another few hours. This will allow the surface of the pork belly to dry and form a pellicle which will allow the smoke to adhere better.
Prepare the Big Green Egg for Smoking
- Set up the Grill or Smoker for Indirect Heat. I added the plate setter to my BGE. Light the grill.
- Once the white smoke dissipates, reduce the temperature of the grill to 225 degrees. You want to smoke the bacon, not cook it.
- Add a few chunks of wood for smoke flavoring. I used apple wood, but cherry or hickory are good alternatives.
Smoke Bacon on the Big Green Egg
- Add the Pork Belly to the grate on the Big Green Egg and close the lid. I was able to get three pork belly slabs on the grate.
- Monitor the temperature to keep it close to 200-225
- Add additional wood for smoking as needed
Remove the Bacon from the Grill
- Once the internal temperature of the bacon reaches 150 degrees, remove it from the grill. This took me about three hours, but monitor it closely for your set up.
- Temperatures above 150 will result in the fat being rendered out of the bacon
Cool, Slice and Eat
- Let the bacon slabs cool to room temperature and place them in the refrigerator to harden.
- A cold bacon slab is much easier to slice as the remaining fat will harden.
- Slice the bacon and fry it up!