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How to make your own bacon without a smoker

For DIY adventurers, curing your own bacon is worth the wait
Addie Broyles

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I've been wanting to make my own bacon since I started this job way back in 2008.

It was one of the lowest-hanging fruits of the DIY food world, but for some reason, I just never got around to it. When I decided to finally tackle this project with the help of Finn & Porter's Peter Maffei, I realized that it was my lack of smoking skills — not my fear of preservation or salt curing — that was getting in the way.

I still don't have a smoker, or any real-world knowledge of how to use it, but I did successfully make my own (delicious) bacon for today's lead story in the food section. You can click here to read all about the hurdles I cleared to get there (and find a nitrate/nitrite-free recipe), but here's the basic recipe/technique I used for my homemade bacon, which wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be to make.

Coriander Black Pepper Bacon

This recipe is a combination of ingredients and techniques from Finn & Porter’s Peter Maffei and cookbook author Michael Ruhlman, whose book “Charcuterie” is considered the bible for at-home curing.

Larger pieces of meat need more time in the cure, while smaller cuts of pork belly will be seasoned in a shorter period of time. If you don’t have a baking dish that will contain the belly, a two-gallon plastic zip-top freezer bag will work. If you are preparing a pork belly that is smaller than 5 pounds, reduce the quantities of salt and seasonings accordingly.

Sodium nitrite, like any kind of salt, is a polarizing preservative, especially when consumed in large quantities, so don’t make a habit of making bacon and eating it at three meals a day for a year. If you’re eating store-bought bacon, you’re likely eating sodium nitrate already. Also called pink salt, the ingredient is available in the bulk spice department of grocers including Central Market. You can also order it online.

If you have a smoker and know how to use it, you can skip the cooking step in these directions and smoke the bacon at 200 degrees for an hour or two. Use a thermometer to determine when the meat has reached 150 degrees internally.

2 oz. (about 1/4 cup) kosher salt
2 tsp. pink curing salt
3 Tbsp. coarsely ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. coriander seeds
4 bay leaves
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 cup maple syrup (can substitute brown sugar)
2 Tbsp. juniper berries (optional)
1 (4-5 lb.) pork belly

Combine spices and syrup in a small bowl.

Place pork belly in a 9-inch-by-13-inch glass baking dish. (You might need a larger vessel, depending on the size of your pork belly.) Pour salts and spices on top of the belly and, using your hands, rub all over the meat.

Cover the dish with a piece of plastic wrap or, if you have one, a corresponding lid or top. Refrigerate. Once a day for the next 5 to 7 days, remove the dish from the fridge and turn the pork belly.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Rinse off all the seasonings under cold water, washing as much of the mixture off as you can. Pat the pork belly dry and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the meat reaches 150 degrees.

Let cool completely and refrigerate. Slice into strips and cook in a pan or store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

— Adapted from recipes by Peter Maffei and Michael Ruhlman

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