Bacon (dry brine “equilibrium curing” method)

  • 1.5 kg pork belly, skin off
  • 37.5g Kosher salt (2.5% of the weight, be precise, 3% is a bit salty)
  • 75g sugar (optional, this makes it quite sweet). Maybe about 10g to help with the color without making it sweet.
  • Pepper, Bay leaves, flavours

Make a dry rub with above and rub it in really well, not wasting salt. The exact quantities matter and are based on weight of meat.

Put meat in a sealed ziploc bag and refrigerate 10-14 days, turning once a day and rubbing it in. A liquid forms in the bag (the brine…). The brine works better if it’s vacuum sealed.

Take the bacon out, wipe and pat dry, no need to rinse. Better to also leave one night in the refrigerator to dry out the outside, on a rack. Could just prepare and cook it now without smoking, but there’s still a lot of water so it takes forever to cook. You can also dry it in the fridge or a better controlled temperature and humidity at this point (to lose 30-40% of weight).

Smoke – took about 7h to bring the temperature in the middle to 153F (aim for 150F-155F, 65C) smoking at 175F to 180F. Don’t exceed ~200F/95C for too long so that the fat doesn’t render. Hot smoking should be above 150F/65C, cold smoking needs to be below 80F/25C and should be a light smoke.

You don´t need nitrites but use good hygiene, good quality meat and good temperature control, it’s particularly important not to put the meat in contact with things that have touched vegetables, etc, since those have more of the botulism spores on their surface, although you should assume there are spores on the surface of the meat. You need to avoid putting the spores in the environment where bacteria will grow and produce the neurotoxin. The food can´t be warm (out of the fridge or cold smoking) and in a low oxygen environment at the same time. Curing in the fridge is low oxygen (sealed vacuum bag), but cold so ok. Hot smoking is fine, as long as above 140F/60C, even if low oxygen, the spores on the surface won´t grow. Cold smoking, you have to be careful to have a light smoke, so that there’s still enough oxygen circulating on the outside of the meat. You can also just dry hang it.

The nitrites really only make the color pink and you’re much more likely to get colon cancer from the nitrites than botulism from not using them. Parma ham is nitrite free and mass produced, nobody has died from botulism from Parma ham… Nitrites are only really used in mass production so that industrialists can use crappy meat and speed up the curing time (and time is money, hence the lobby to make people think you need nitrites and not to worry about the third most common type of cancer!). If you make salami, it’s a different story, then you can still avoid using nitrites but you have to pay attention to acidity (pH level), since salami will be warm and low oxygen… For entire pieces of meat (a whole muscle), then it’s quite safe without nitrites if you are careful with hygiene (good quality meat, clean tools, not warm and low oxygen at the same time).

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