Make: Projects

How to Cure Your Own Bacon and Pancetta

Praise the pork belly — two of the world’s best cured meats are easy to make at home.

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Everything’s better with bacon, and it’s a pretty simple matter to make your own. Bacon and its Italian counterpart pancetta are fundamental members of the expansive world of cured meats. At their most basic, they require just three ingredients — meat, salt, and time — plus a little woodsmoke for bacon. But there’s plenty of room to get fancy.

Make Pancetta

Pancetta is the simplest to make. Think of it as the gateway drug to making bacon. It’s a meat that is lightly cured, but brings big, porky flavor to classic Italian dishes like pasta carbonara or all’ amatriciana.

Head to your preferred butcher, and purchase a slab of quality pork belly. (Pro tip: If you can find hog jowls instead of belly, you will make guanciale, which is even better.) How much is entirely up to you; personally, I go in for about 3 pounds per batch.

Weigh

Get an accurate weight on the slab, because you want a 3% ratio of salt to meat to get a good cure. For this reason, I usually weigh in metric; for 1kg of belly I would weigh out 30g of salt. If you’re unwaveringly American, that’s ½ ounce of salt per pound of meat.

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Trim and Salt

Trim the belly so it’s a nice, even shape. You can remove the skin or leave it on. Lay the meat on a sheet of cling wrap on a sheet pan. Mix the salt and spices, and rub it all over the belly. Wrap tightly in a few layers of cling wrap, making sure the cure is in contact with all the meat.

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Cure

Keep in the refrigerator on the sheet pan for 5 days, turning daily. The belly will release some liquid; this is normal.

Rinse and Dry

On the fifth day, unwrap, rinse, and pat dry. Your pancetta can now be cut and cooked.

Hang (dry cure)

You can intensify the flavor by hanging the pancetta, and even turn it into a cured meat that can be eaten uncooked.

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Wrap the pancetta in 3 layers of cheese-cloth. Truss the pancetta with butcher’s twine, creating loops on about 1″ intervals. Hang the pancetta in a cool, dark place for 3 weeks or more. The ideal curing temperature is around 55°F, with humidity at 70–75%, but you can get perfectly satisfactory results by hanging it in a basement or any other cool place in the house.

Remember when you got that initial weight? Continue to weigh your pancetta as it cures. In order to be consumed as an uncooked cured meat, it must lose at least 30% of its weight (another reason I weigh in metric). When it’s ready, the flesh should feel evenly firm, not squishy in the center.

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Unwrap and enjoy

When you unwrap the pancetta, you may see mold. Fuzzy, white mold is in fact a good thing; it’s harmless, and you can wash it off with vinegar. Ditto green mold. If you see red or black mold, however, you’re in the danger zone, and the pancetta must be tossed. (This is unlikely unless you had it in an exceedingly humid environment.)

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Your cured pancetta can be refrigerated, wrapped in paper, for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 3 months.

Make bacon

America’s favorite pig product differs from pancetta in a few key ways. First, the cure typically has sodium nitrite, which, aside from deterring Clostridium botulinum spores, gives bacon its signature pink color and faintly tangy flavor. It’s also often sweet rather than savory. Finally, bacon is smoked.

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Sodium nitrite is sold as Prague Powder or Instacure #1, and is often referred to as “pink salt.” (Don’t confuse it with Himalayan pink salt or similar naturally occurring salts.)

TIP: If you’re concerned about nitrate consumption, you could omit the pink salt. The resulting product will still be good, but will lack the signature flavor of classic American bacon. In my opinion it’s better to simply enjoy bacon in moderation.

Trim and salt

Make a cure by mixing the salt, pink salt (nitrite), and sugar. This is enough for more than one slab, and can be stored in a sealed container in a cool, dry place indefinitely.

Again, trim the pork belly to an even shape. Lay ¼ cup of the cure on a sheet pan, and dredge the belly on all sides.

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Place the belly in a large zip-top bag and add the remaining cure from the sheet pan. You can also add flavors such as ¼ cup of maple syrup, and a shot or two of bourbon. Remove air and seal tightly.

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Cure

Place the bag in a container, and keep it in the refrigerator, turning daily to redistribute the juices and infuse the bacon with flavor.

On the fifth day, give the belly a poke. If it’s still a little squishy, keep curing it. If it’s firm at the thickest parts, it’s ready to smoke.

Rinse and dry

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Rinse the belly and pat dry with paper towels. Lay it on a rack, on a sheet pan lined with paper towels, and set a fan on low to blow air over the meat for a few hours. Or, you can just leave it on the rack in the refrigerator for 1–3 days.

The goal here is to create what’s called the pellicule. This is a tacky layer of proteins on the surface that will bond with smoke, creating deliciousness.

Smoke

Preheat a smoker to 200°F. When the meat is just lightly sticky to the touch, place it in the smoker, on a rack over a drippings pan.

The bacon is ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 150°F. Remove and let cool. If you left the skin on, wait until it’s just cool enough to touch, then carefully trim it away with a sharp knife.

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Enjoy

Like pancetta, bacon will keep a week in the fridge and 3 months in the freezer. But, realistically, it will get used much faster than that.

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  • David

    Why is it these methods yield a storage life of under a month, when, I thought, traditionally this was a long term (over winter, long sea voyages) method of preservation without refrigeration?

    • RNotR2

      Liability issues.

    • Booleanboy

      Pancetta is lightly cured and doesn’t carry enough salt for long-term preservation.

      The “bacon” described here is not what we in the UK are familiar with. This recipe is for a smoke-cooked pork product. Traditional British bacon (or the continental versions thereof) generally come either unsmoked (sometimes known as green bacon) or smoked. The big difference between British bacon and this recipe recipe is that the British smoking process is done with COOL smoke (10-15 deg C or 50-60 deg F) leaving the product raw and requiring cooking. I’ve been smoking bacon for three decades sometimes from my own pigs and sometimes from shop-bought pork. I don’t use nitrites (i value my health more than pink meat), I keep the cured bacon in the refrigerator for up to a month, and I’ve never had one incidence of illness.

      Be aware though that “traditional” British bacon from the past (and I speak here of the type made before domestic refrigeration was available) contained a lot more salt to prevent spoilage. The bacon was often soaked to remove some of the salt before cooking.

  • armchair naturalist

    Thanks for the cured pancetta recipe, I’ll definitely try it.

    My bacon recipe.
    Cut pork belly into 3 large pieces. Add 1 3/4 cup kosher salt and 2 cups brown sugar to about 1 gallon water in a stainless steel pot. Stir until dissolved. Add the pork belly, weight with a plate to force it under the brine solution, and place in the refrigerator. It’s better if you have a dedicated fridge with the temperature set temperature at 34-38 degrees F (2-3 degrees C). After 24 hours remove and rearrange, weight again and allow it to brine for another 24 hours. Remove and rinse the belly, discard the brine. Put it back into the fridge uncovered for 1-3 days to dry it out a bit for smoking. COLD SMOKE on smoker using your favorite wood (apple usually). Cold smoking is usually 68-86 degrees F (20-30 degrees C) using ice in the smoker if you need to (or a really cold day). You don’t want to cook it at all, only flavor it. You also want the smoke to be light, wispy and bluish (heavy white smoke imparts off flavors). I usually let mine run for about 90 minutes. Slightly freeze it so you can cut into slices better, and then slice/vacuum bag it for freezer storage. Voila!

    Be careful who you give this to, because they will want more (along with your organic happy hen eggs).

    I use kosher over nitrate salt, because, well refrigeration! Keep it safe people when curing, smoking or dry aging.

  • MyrddinWilt

    The idea that nitrites are a problem is lunatic. Your gut is full of them. Without them you would die from septic shock. They keep the anaerobic bacteria in check.

    Nitrates are a problem. And they are used in dry cures. But they convert to nitrites over time and you shouldn’t be eating any meat that still has the unconverted nitrates. Best steer clear of prague powder #2 unless you know what you are doing.

    Like most things, nitrites are poisonous if you take them in large quantities. But so will a spoonful of caffeine powder. There is no reason to believe that they are a problem in bacon unless you go to the Cameron diet which is all-bacon.

    Most ridiculous of all is the trend for ‘natural cures’ using only cures from ‘natural’ plants. The active ingredient in the plants is nitrites. The only difference using the natural cures is that unless you assay the material you are using (what the likes of Wholefoods would do), you have no control over quantity. So you may be using too little or too much.

  • jerry young

    there are two types of insta cure, one is for dry cured meats such as bacon or jerky the other for smoked meats ad sausages

  • joe

    hi this is the first time that l have attemped to make pancetta l have salted it for 4 days ,seasoned itand wrapped it in cloth and have had it hanging and just noticed a green mould in some places what can be done to recify this mould