Curing Bacon At Home

For hundreds of years people have been salting, curing, and smoking bacon to preserve it. In the days before the refrigerator nearly all meats were cured in some way shape or form and it was common for households to have their own smokehouse. These days with the convenience of grocery stores, the art of home charcuterie has gone by the wayside in favor of paper thin, limp, boring bacon. The good news is it’s making a comeback with folks who want to take control of their food, and it is way easier than you think! With a few basic ingredients and a pork belly you have the chance to experiment with flavors and bite into some of the most delicious bacon that has ever graced your plate.

Bacon fresh from the smoker.

If you don’t raise your own pork, call or stop by your favorite butcher shop and ask for a pork belly. You may find that you need to place an order, but a few days wait is a small price to pay. I recommend a 5 pound belly for your first try. While you are at your butcher, ask them if they sell Pink Curing Salt (Cure no. 1 is what you will need for this bacon) This is what cures the bacon and it is necessary to ensure the safety of your final product. Some butchers will sell it to you in a 4 oz package, which is more than enough to cure a 5 pound pork belly. If you cannot find Pink Curing Salt in a store, you can easily find it online in any quantity you desire.

Belly, spices & cure
Rub and press the spices & cure into every crack and crevice in the pork belly.

Pink Curing Salt is tinted pink to avoid confusion with table salt (Do not confuse with Pink Himalayan salt!) It contains sodium nitrite and sodium chloride which staves off food-borne illnesses like botulism & listeria. -You’re probably thinking ”aren’t nitrates supposed to be bad for you?”. According to the FDA so long as they are used in the correct amounts these nitrates are proven to be safe. You also may be thinking: “Why can’t I do this without nitrates?”. The recipes that say they are nitrate free utilize celery juice in the curing process. (Those gray nitrate free hotdogs at the store look really yummy don’t they?!) Celery contains naturally occurring amounts of nitrates, so they aren’t really “nitrate free”. Secondly, the amount of nitrates in celery isn’t standard. The nitrate levels in one bunch of celery can be different from the next due a number of factors: where it was grown, the nutrient level of the soil etc. all effect the quantity of nitrates it contains. This variance in nitrate levels is why I value the consistency of commercially produced Curing Salts when curing meats safely for my family. Unfortunately botulism is a horrible thing that really does happen, and I take it seriously.

I’m really excited to share my recipe for homemade meat candy…um…I mean bacon with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. I also hope you will discover a new hobby!

Maple Bacon Recipe:

The amounts of Salt, Sugar, and Curing Salt are absent since the amount of these ingredients varies depending on the actual weight of your pork belly. BEFORE BEGINNING to ensure accuracy I recommend weighing all ingredients. I got a digital scale from Amazon for a very reasonable price. Head on over to this fantastic cure calculator to convert your pork belly’s weight from pounds to grams then simply enter the new number in the cure calculator to get accurate weights for salt, sugar, and cure, then continue.

  • One pork belly (about 5 pounds)
  • In a small bowl combine the following:
  • Maple Sugar
  •  Kosher Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 ½ teaspoons paprika
  • Cure no. 1
  1. Rinse the pork belly with cold water, pat dry. Rub the curing mixture over the entire surface of the pork belly.
  2. Place the rubbed pork belly in a 2 gallon zip-lock bag, rest it on a rimmed cookie sheet and pop it in the refrigerator.
  3. Once every day flip the bag of pork belly to rest on its other side and give it a good massage. Repeat this process for 7 days.
  4. On day 8 remove the pork belly from the bag and rinse it off in cold water and pat dry. Place it on a rack on top of a cookie sheet to catch any possible drips and return it to the fridge, uncovered for another 24 hours.
  5. Smoke the now cured pork belly (I like to use maple or apple wood) until an internal thermometer reading reaches 150 degrees (it takes about 2 -3 hours, check it frequently)
  6. While the bacon is still warm from the smoker, sprinkle it with a very light dusting of maple sugar.
  7. Allow the bacon to cool completely in the refrigerator before cutting. It makes it a lot easier to cut. Cut to preferred thickness by hand or with a meat slicer. Package in desired amounts, store in freezer for future use.

5 Things You Can Do Right Now To Prepare For Canning Season Next Year

Canning is one of those things that homesteaders look forward to each year with excited anticipation and a slight twinge of dread. Nothing beats the quality and the feeling of accomplishment you get from preserving your harvest each year, and that peach cobbler sure is to die for in the frigid depths of January…but it’s such a lot of work, and most of that time spent is in the preparation. The jars need sterilized ,the lids need boiled, and the magnet fell out of the gosh dang lid grabber again. With all that happens during the canning season there are a few things you can do right now to prepare for next season that will make your life a little easier come harvest time.

Remove the gasket in the lid of your pressure canner and inspect it for cracks or disintegration.
  1. Check and replace the gasket on your pressure canner. Remove the gasket from the lid of your pressure canner and look for cracks in the rubber or signs of disintegration. Bad gaskets will affect your canners ability to reach and maintain proper pressure while in use. Gaskets should be replaced every 2-3 years as part of your canners maintenance regimen. You can pick one up online or at your local hardware store for around $10 or less.
You can get your dial gauges tested at your County Extension Office or a local hardware store.
  1. Get your dial gauge tested (Weighted gauges do not require testing). You can take your dial gauge to your county extension office to have it tested, often free of charge (be sure to call ahead so they have someone on staff to test it for you), . It is recommended to have your gauge tested and adjusted if need be before each canning season to ensure your safety. Gauges that read high can result in under-processed foods that are unsafe to consume. Ones that read low can result in not only over-processed canned food but it increases the risk of dangerous kitchen mishaps. If your gauge tests more that 2 pounds off, high or low it should be replaced. Cracked, broken, or otherwise damaged gauges must be replaced. You can find replacements online for around $15. Other places that test dial gauges include hardware stores and companies like “Presto” that manufacture canning equipment.
An example of rust that has been transferred to the lid of a sealed jar from a rusty ring.
An example of rusty and dented rings that should be discarded.
  1. Sort through your collection of can rings. Discard any rusty, worn, or dented rings. Dents can mean an improper seal.  Rust can transfer to the lids making it hard to remove the ring from the jar causing the lid to loosen when removing the ring before storage. To avoid rust, remember to always remove the ring from your canned goods 24 hours after removal from the canning vessel before long term storage. Then wash them in warm soapy water, drying them thoroughly to ensure they have a long rust free life. Leaving the rings on the jars can also cause a false seal or rust eating through can lids making food unsafe. Don’t want to just throw away your busted rings? GO HERE  AND HERE to see some great ways to re-purpose those rings!
  1. Inspect those jars. As you work your way through your pantry this winter wash your jars with warm soapy water and while they are still wet run your finger around the rim of each jar to check for any nicks or chips in the glass that would cause an improper seal. Discard any jars with defects, or give them a new life as decorations in your home. I like to use mine as vases for all the bouquets my boys carefully pick for me in the summer months.  Store unused jars upright, not upside down.  I like to place a hunk of cardboard on top of them to block dust from entering to make cleaning and sterilizing easier next season.
  1. Watch for off season deals. Keep your peepers peeled at your favorite stores for canning equipment on sale. You can often find great deals on jars, lids, rings, and maybe even that large capacity pressure canner you day dreamed of while you started your 5th load of canned beef this October. Now is also a great time to cruise the ball website for tested canning recipes to try something new and different next season. I’ve found some of my favorite recipes there…even an apple pie filling recipe that earned first place at the county fair this year!

Quick Canning Ring Pumpkin Project

Collect your rusty rings and sort into piles of wide mouth and regular mouth.
Cut a length of wire about 8 inches long – enough to hang onto while working on your project.
String rings on the wire in the same direction so they will nest. put lots of them on for a nice solid pumpkin!
When you have enough rings strung on the wire, twist the ends of the wire together as tight as possible. Trim excess wire or curl it in.
Add a stick from the yard as a stem!