So – you want to make your own homemade bacon. Fantastic! Welcome to the club. One word of warning – you’ll never go back to grocery store bacon again. Don’t start down this path unless you’re ready to commit to a lifetime of curing, smoking, slicing, and of course devouring the wonder that is homemade bacon.Jump to Recipe Print Recipe
Now that you’ve decided make your own bacon, how do you go about getting started? I’ve been there, so I can walk you through the process. Before you know it you’ll have your first batch curing in the refrigerator and you’ll be counting down the days until you can try your first slice.
Getting Started: Ingredients and Equipment
Ingredients for Homemade Bacon
To get started making bacon, you need four ingredients: pork belly, cure #1 (AKA pink salt, curing salt, Prague Powder, Instacure), kosher salt, and sugar.
Traditional American bacon comes from the belly of the pig. Unfortunately, it isn’t always the easiest cut of meat to find on the shelves. Try to find a local source if you can – meat is challenging to order online, and the cost is high. Ask the butcher at your local grocery, but if they can’t get them for you try:
- Warehouse stores: Costco, Sam’s Club
- International groceries, especially Asian
- Butcher shops and meat markets
- Local farmers: to connect with some in your state, check farmers’ markets or look on EatWild
- Online ordering – options include Grassland Beef, D’Artagnan, and JohnHenry’s
Bacon From Other Cuts of Pork (Buckboard)
If you can’t find pork belly, or it’s cost-prohibitive, you aren’t completely out of luck. Bacon very comparable to belly bacon can be made from pig jowls, but that is often tougher to find than belly. You can also make back bacon (Canadian bacon) from pork loin, or buckboard bacon from pork shoulder/butt. You will be making a different product, however. Back bacon is very lean, and buckboard bacon will still be much leaner than traditional American belly bacon. It will be chewier than you’re used to, but still delicious! You can follow any recipe for belly bacon and use the shoulder instead, just be sure to increase your cure time to compensate for its thickness.
Pink Salt AKA Prague Powder AKA Cure #1 AKA Instacure
This is the other ingredient that gives people trouble. Recipes use these terms (pink salt, Prague Powder, cure #1, Instacure) interchangeably, and that’s because they’re all the same product. Cure #1 contains sodium nitrite (NaNO2), which preserves your bacon and gives it a distinct “bacony” flavor and color. Brand doesn’t matter much. All types of cure #1 in the US should contain 6.25% sodium nitrite and 93.75% sodium chloride (NaCl, table salt), with trace amounts of anti caking agents and pink coloring.
Pink curing salt is NOT pink Himalayan sea salt. This is a common misconception. It’s usually dyed pink so as to not be confused with other salts in your cupboard – ingesting a large amount of curing salt is dangerous. I keep mine in a cupboard away from my other spices, on the top shelf where my kids can’t access it.
Where to find Cure #1? I ordered a big bag from amazon (Wishful Seasoning) and I think it may last me forever. You may be able to find it at a meat market, butcher shop, or outdoor store as well.
How much cure #1 should you use? Equilibrium, or weight-based curing, is best. You need 0.25% of the total volume of what you’re curing. That translates to 1 level teaspoon per 5 pounds of meat for a dry cure. If making a brine (wet cure), use 0.25% of the weight of the meat plus the liquid. I recommend purchasing a scale that measures to the 1/10 or 1/100 of a gram prior to embarking on your first bacon-making journey. I have this one from Kitchen Tour.
Concerns about nitrites? There are “natural” options, such as celery salt, that some people use, and others go without nitrites entirely. I strongly recommend using cure #1 in an equilbrium (weight-based) curing process to eliminate the risk of botulism. If you do not follow this advice, please do not cold smoke your bacon. You’re setting yourself up to become seriously ill. You can read more of my thoughts in this post about my first attempt at making bacon.
Alternative Curing Salts: Cure #2, Morton Tender Quick
Can you substitute cure #2 or Morton’s Tender Quick (MTQ) into these recipes? Short answer – no. Both of these products contain sodium nitrate as well as sodium nitrite, and are designed for curing meats with longer curing times than bacon. Some people do successfully cure bacon with MTQ, it just isn’t ideal due to the nitrate. If you have some in your cupboard and want to try it, follow the directions on the package. You’ll need more MTQ than cure #1 per pound of meat.
You also may run across pre-mixed bacon cures. These should all contain sodium nitrite and are safe to use. Follow the directions on the package. I’ve never tried these so I can’t recommend one, but it might be an easy way to get your feet wet.
One of the other main ingredients in homemade bacon is salt. Kosher salt is called for in most recipes. You can substitute another salt – I’ve used sea salt without issue – but make sure you’re weighing your ingredients as the weight per volume is different. Table salt contains more additives than other types and should be avoided if possible.
How much salt to use? Unlike with curing salt, there is room for customization here. 2-2.5% is common. I really like the flavor of salt, but find that if I use 2.5% the bacon needs a soak after curing or it tastes too salty. When I use 2%, it can go directly into the smoker.
Sugar is another important component of homemade bacon, and you can use whatever type you like. Many recipes call for brown sugar, but I actually prefer the taste of bacon made with plain white sugar when I sampled them head to head. Maple sugar is fun to play with, and adds depth of flavor without overpowering the meat. Maple syrup, honey, and other sweeteners can be used to add flavor as well.
The amount of sugar used can also be varied to suit your tastes. I like 1.5% for basic bacon, and I reduce it to 1% if I’m adding another sweetener like syrup or honey. Feel free to play with this as you embark on your bacon journey, and keep notes as you go on what you like. I don’t recommend leaving it out entirely, as its purpose is to balance the flavor of the salt, but it serves a flavor function and not a safety role. You can try reducing it, or play with sugar substitutes that fit your dietary needs.
Equipment for Homemade Bacon
The equipment needed to make your own bacon is pretty minimal. Most of it you probably already have on hand.
You’ll need a kitchen scale (I use this one), a small bowl to mix cure in, and heavy duty food storage bags. If you have a vacuum sealer, use that instead. I store my bacon in 1-2 gallon bags. A 1 gallon bag will hold a 3.5 pound belly without problems, but a 2 gallon bag is better for 5 pound or larger bellies. If you have a large enough container with a lid, you can also cure in that.
You do not need to run out and purchase a smoker in order to make bacon. You can cold smoke bacon (more on hot and cold smoking later) in an electric smoker, a charcoal grill, or even a cardboard box, by purchasing a pellet smoker. I use an A-Maze-N pellet maze with some good quality pellets (Lumberjack is my favorite brand so far) and use the electric smoker we’ve had for years. You’ll need a propane torch to light the pellets if you go this route – I use this one. You can hot smoke bacon in a smoker, on the grill, or even in your oven in a pinch.
You also need to be able to slice your bacon. I slice by hand. I had to pick up a new knife (this 11″ slicing knife), as none of my pre-existing options were long enough to cut through an entire belly. It would be great to eventually get my hands on a slicer, but they are expensive and take up a lot of room on the counter. Berkel and Hobart are two highly recommended brands of slicers, and many people find good deals on used equipment.
How to Cure Homemade Bacon: Equilibrium Curing
Perhaps you’ve read something about equilibrium, or EQ curing online or in a Facebook group (I recommend Makin Bacon), and wondered what people were talking about. Maybe you’re brand new to the hobby and have no idea what it is. Basically, equilibrium curing means that you weigh all of your ingredients, and use just enough salt, sugar, and cure to enable them to reach a dynamic equilibrium in both the cure and the meat. As long as you leave the meat in the cure for long enough to reach that equilibrium state, it will reach equilibrium and stay there. With other methods you risk your bacon becoming too salty – this doesn’t happen with EQ curing. Additionally, you have the added benefit of knowing that you’ve used exactly enough nitrite and no more.
How Long to Cure Bacon
The basic rule of thumb is to leave your bacon in its cure for a minimum of one day per quarter inch of thickness of the meat. Most people add an extra two days for safety. For pork belly bacon, this works out to about 10 days. You can leave it in the cure longer if you like, and it won’t over-cure or become too salty. Some people do 14 or even 21 day cures, in an attempt to enhance the absorbance of added flavors.
Most spice and seasoning molecules besides salt are too large to penetrate very far into the meat regardless of how long you leave the bacon in the cure, so there isn’t any reason to go beyond about 21 days. I usually aim for 10 days, but leave it in for up to 15 depending on when my schedule will allow me to smoke.
Wet Cure or Dry Cure?
Which should you use? The answer is personal preference. Both can produce great results. Some pros argue (Amazing Ribs, for example) that a wet cure or brine is safer for homemade bacon, as it both distributes the cure more evenly and limits the exposure of meat to oxygen while it cures. A dry cure allows for stronger flavor development if you’re adding spices, since they won’t be diluted in water. I prefer the flavor and texture profile of dry-cured bacon, as long as I am planning to cold smoke. When I hot smoke in the warmest summer months, I like the moister texture of wet-cured bacon. Read over the safety recommendations and make your own choices.
To use the calculators below, weigh your meat in grams using an accurate kitchen scale. Plug that weight into either the dry or the wet EQ cure calculators. I’ve listed suggested percentages for salt and sugar, but you can tweak those to fit your own tastes. You can also substitute another sweetener, like maple sugar or syrup, or even honey. There are some blank spaces below the salt and sugar – you may use these to add weight-based seasonings to your recipe. If you’re just doing a traditional salt/sugar cure, leave them blank.
Preparing to Smoke Bacon: Form a Pellicle
What is a Pellicle?
After the bacon has cured for an appropriate amount of time, the slabs of meat should be exposed to open air for a period of time to allow a tacky pellicle to form on the surface. The purpose of a pellicle is to better allow the flavors of the smoke to adhere to the surface of the meat.
How to Form a Pellicle
The easiest way to form a pellicle is to remove the pork from the cure, pat it dry, and leave it in the refrigerator on a rack overnight. If you’re pressed for time, it can also be left out on the counter for an hour or two with a fan blowing air towards it. Pellicle formation is more important for cold smoked bacon than for hot, so if you’re hot smoking and in a hurry you can skip this step entirely.
How to Smoke Homemade Bacon
What is Hot Smoking?
Hot smoking involves cooking bacon immediately after curing in a chamber that allows the smoke flavors to penetrate the meat. You want to smoke at a low temperature (165-225) until the bacon reaches an internal temperature of 145. Above this temperature the fat will begin to render, which we want to avoid. Hot smoking bacon produces a cooked final product, that is then sliced and cooked again in the pan prior to consumption.
What is Cold Smoking?
Cold smoking does not produce a cooked product. The pork is cured, then placed into a receptacle that can hold smoke (I use our electric smoker, turned off). The temperature inside the smoker must be maintained UNDER 30 C (86 F) to prevent bacterial growth. Smoke is produced using a tube or maze, or in an attachment on the side of your smoker, using wood pellets or powder. The final product is cured, but will not be cooked until the day it is to be eaten.
Which is Better, Hot Smoking or Cold?
From a safety standpoint, hot smoking is a better choice for the novice home bacon maker. At the end of the process, the bacon is fully cooked and safe to eat. Meat isn’t maintained in the danger zone for the formation of botulism or any other toxin, and there is more margin for error if you made a mistake with your curing percentages. Amazing Ribs lays out the argument against cold smoking at home here. Basically, don’t even consider cold smoking if:
- You cured without nitrites (cure #1)
- You measured with teaspoons instead of an accurate kitchen scale, or your cure isn’t based on the weight of your meat
- Anyone in your household is immunocompromised, pregnant, very old, or very young
- You can’t precisely control the temperature inside of your smoker and maintain it under 86 F
- You’re new to curing, smoking, or cooking in general
If you feel confident in your skills and your equipment and are using a good recipe, bacon is safer to cold smoke than many other meats. It will be cooked again prior to consumption, which does add a layer of safety. However, the safest choice is to hot smoke to an IT of 145F – cold smoke at your own risk.
Taste and Texture
You’ll read some places that hot smoked homemade bacon “tastes like ham” This just isn’t true. I’ve tested hot and cold smoked bacon alongside each other, and both are very good. My personal preference is for cold smoked, dry cured bacon, but not by much. I prefer wet cured bacon if I’m going to hot smoke – the added moisture seems to help preserve the texture. I’ll continue to hot smoke when temperatures are high (not often in WI!), and cold smoke the rest of the year.
How to Hot Smoke Bacon
If you have any kind of a smoker (electric, gas, pellet), simply heat it to about 175 F. Smoke your cured bacon as you would any other meat, until it reaches an internal temperature of 145 F (usually 2-3 hours). I’d recommend monitoring both the temperature of the smoker and the temperature of the meat continuously. Hickory will impart the most traditional smoke flavor into your bacon, but apple and cherry are popular as well.
If you don’t have a smoker, you can still smoke bacon on your charcoal grill. I haven’t personally tried this, so I’ll direct you to BBQ for Dummies who clearly have. If you have neither a grill nor a smoker, you can brush the belly with liquid smoke and cook it in a 200 degree oven until it reaches 145F.
How to Cold Smoke Bacon
Cold smoking requires a chamber of some kind in which to smoke the meat (smoker, grill, smokehouse, cardboard box), a smoke generator (tube, maze, electric, wood fire), and a way to get the smoke to the meat without heating the chamber. I use my electric smoker, turned off, with the vents wide open as my chamber. I place my bellies on the upper shelves and my lit A-Maze-N Pellet Maze on a lower shelf. Close the door, possibly leaving it unlatched for better ventilation, and wait 4-6 hours. Remove a beautifully smoked belly.
You can do the same thing on a charcoal grill with all of the vents open. I haven’t tried it, but you ought to be able to do the same thing with a well-ventilated large cardboard box, as long as rig up a way to hang the meat and have a safe place (portable grill?) on which to rest your hot pellet smoker. There are also instructions to build a cardboard cold smoker here.
Be careful in warm temperatures. Even a pellet maze is hot, and will add a bit of heat to the inside of your smoking chamber. You don’t want to cold smoke above 90F. You can try placing a bowl or block of ice inside of your smoker, but the increased humidity can cause problems for a pellet smoker. July is a good time for hot smoking.
If you like a strong smoke flavor, smoke in multiple sessions. Also consider using hickory pellets rather than apple or cherry. Each individual cold smoking session should be limited to 4-6 hours, for food safety reasons. The bacon should then be refrigerated until the next session. I’m happy with one session personally, but many people smoke a few evenings in a row until they’re satisfied with the final flavor. Others combine hot and cold smoking techniques to maximize both safety and smoke flavor. Experiment, but stay safe.
Tips for Pellet Smokers
These things have a few quirks, I’ll be honest. Through trial and error and a lot of reading, I’ve learned to navigate most of them. I’ll detail what I’ve learned below.
- Bone dry pellets are mandatory – consider microwaving your pellets for a minute or two prior to loading the pellet smoker to remove moisture
- High quality pellets work better than cheap pellets – I’m currently partial to Lumberjack brand, but just look for something with good reviews
- You need to light the pellets with a butane torch, not a regular camping lighter
- Torch the pellets for a solid minute to ensure you have a good burn going, then let them burn for ten minutes before blowing out the flame. Do this in a safe place, like inside your smoker or grill before placing the bacon inside
- Make sure your smoker is well-ventilated – open the vents as well as the feeder, and consider cracking the lid or door
- Check periodically to make sure smoke is still coming out of the vents – if not, relight your pellets as described above
Slicing Homemade Bacon
Finally! Time to slice your bacon. If you have a slicer, you probably know how to use it. Also, I’m jealous. If you’re like the rest of us, you’ll be using a long, sharp knife. Normal chef’s knives aren’t long enough, so you’ll need to purchase a slicing knife if you don’t have one. 11″ works well for me. If this is your first belly and you don’t want to buy anything knew, try cutting the belly in half prior to slicing. Your bacon slices will be small, but you can work with an 8″ chef’s knife.
Prior to slicing, place your bacon into the freezer for 1-2 hours to chill. This will make thin slicing easier. Lay it out on a large cutting board. Trim off oddly angled edges. Save these – they can be used whole or in lardons to flavor pots of beans or greens, or saved to make stocks (Ramen Broth, Pork Pho, Bacon Congee) Slice it to your desired thickness. Many people recommend placing a second cutting board over the top of the bacon if you’re having trouble cutting in a straight line, and using it as a guide for your knife.
Once sliced, fry up a couple of slices and see how you did! Homemade bacon is also fantastic in the oven. You can pop over to How to Cook Bacon for more details if you’d like. If you have a vacuum sealer, seal the rest in several portions and freeze what you won’t be using in the next week or so. Otherwise divide the bacon into several freezer bags and pull them out when the previous bag runs low. Make sure you date the bacon, and that you take notes on what worked for you and what didn’t during the cooking process! That’s how I’ve learned.
- Post from my first attempt at making bacon
- Post from my second attempt at making bacon
- Makin’ Bacon (private) FB group – request to join
- Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing by Rytek Kutas
- Makinbacon.net: EQ curing
- Amazing Ribs: How to Make Smoked Bacon at Home
- Amazing Ribs: The Science of Curing Meat Safely
- The Salt Cured Pig: Equilibrium Curing
- The Salt Cured Pig: Bacon 101
- Healthline on Nitrates and Nitrites
- Washington Post on the myth of “uncured” bacon
- USDA: Bacon and Food Safety
- Nutrients: Nitrates, Nitrates, Nitrosamines, and Gastric Cancer
- Journal of Ethnopharmacology: Nitrites and Nitrates in the Human Diet
- American Meat Science Association: Sodium Nitrite in Processed Meat
Please comment below with any questions about the process, or if you notice any errors on this page. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please pin and share this page if you enjoyed it, and sharing it on social media helps it to reach more people. I’m on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram if you’d like to follow me, or you can sign up for my email list above. Happy curing!
How to Use Homemade Bacon
Homemade bacon can be used in any recipe that would use store-bought bacon, and of course is fantastic fried up alongside eggs on Saturday morning. However, here are a few recipes from my site that are fantastic with it!
- Mushroom and Wild Rice-Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin
- Baked Haddock with Bacon Breadcrumbs
- Bacon and Shrimp Gyoza (Potstickers)
- Easy Clam Chowder with Bacon
- Authentic Italian Spaghetti Carbonara (in place of guanciale)
- Puff Pastry Breakfast Tart
- Zucchini Pancakes with Bacon
- Apple Bacon Pancakes
How to Cure and Smoke Homemade Bacon
- Accurate digital kitchen scale (to 0.1 or 0.01g)
- 1-2 gallon freezer bags (2 gallon for 4 lb or larger pieces of belly) or vacuum sealer
- Smoker, grill, or oven
- Butane torch if using pellet smoker
- Hickory, apple, cherry or blend of wood chips (to hot smoke) or pellets (to cold smoke)
- Slicing knife or electric meat slicer
- pork belly
- curing salt (6.25% nitrite) cure #1, prague powder, instacure #1 (see note)
- salt preferably kosher
- sugar white, brown, or maple
- water optional for wet cure
- optional seasonings use your imagination!
- Weigh pork belly (in grams) and divide into 2-4 pound (1-2 kg) pieces if desired.
- Decide if using wet (safest/easiest) or dry EQ cure, and enter weight of each individual pork belly portion into cure calculator. Salt and sugar may be adjusted if desired, and additional seasonings may be added. If this is your first batch, I'd recommend leaving the percentages as written and keeping it simple.
- Weigh each cure ingredient into a small bowl, using the "tare" function on your scale. Mix well. Distribute over entire surface of pork belly and massage in. Place pork belly with cure into freezer bag and seal (or use vacuum sealer).
- Place belly portions into refrigerator. Cure for approximately 10 days (1 day per 1/4" of thickness of pork bellies, plus 2 days for safety). May be left in cure longer, but not more than 21 days. Approximately every 2 days, flip bellies and massage.
- After 10+ days, remove bellies from cure. Slice off a few slices with your slicing knife and fry to check salt level. This is not strictly necessary with an EQ cure once you find your preferred level of salt, but is a good idea for your first few batches. If the bacon seems too salty for your tastes, soak it in cold water for an hour or two, changing the water every 30 minutes. Cut off another slice, cook, and taste again.
- FOR HOT SMOKING (safest option), load hickory, apple, or cherry chips into chip feeder and heat smoker to approximately 175°F and place bacon on grates (or hang with bacon hooks). If using a grill, smoke with a chimney over indirect heat at the lowest temperature you can maintain (under 200°F if possible). To use your oven, brush bacon with liquid smoke and bake at the lowest temperature your oven will maintain (175-200°F). Monitor the internal temperature of the bacon, and remove once it reaches 145°F. Refrigerate bacon.
- FOR COLD SMOKING, fill pellet smoker with hickory, apple, or cherry pellets. Light one end with a butane torch, and let burn for 10 minutes. Blow out flame. Place smoldering pellet smoker and bacon into smoker (or on grate of charcoal grill) with all vents open and smoker off. Monitor the temperature of the smoker and maintain under 86°F. Smoke for no more than 6 hours, then refrigerate overnight. This may be repeated if desired.
- After overnight rest, place bacon into freezer for 1-2 hours. Slice to desired thickness. If hand slicing, you may sandwich bacon between two cutting boards to assist with slicing in a straight line. Portion into freezer bags or vacuum seal, and freeze what you won't use in the next 1-2 weeks. Cook as desired.