Bacon Part One: All about the base.

John Gower

John Gower

Bacon, as many a GIF and T-shirt exclaims, is the gateway meat. I mean, who doesn’t love it? so making your own doesn’t ever sound like a bad idea – ‘as much bacon as you want, whenever you want it’ its not exactly a hard sell, right?

As luck would have it its a particularly easy one to cure to. Its not like some bone in ham or Culatello, no magic winds need to sweep down the right mountain to get it made, anyone with a fridge is basically ready to go.

Most of the trouble and confusion actually seems, to me, to start precisely because people love bacon so much. People become so passionate that we end up hearing bacon MUST be done this way, or made that way, must be hot smoked, must be cold smoked, must be sweet, must be salty, must be dry cured, must be brined, etc., etc. until anyone new to the scene has a head that’s spinning.

I have come to fully accept that there is a trinity of bacon. There is unsmoked (sometimes known as green) bacon, there is cold smoked bacon, and there is hot smoked bacon. We might all have individual preferences but they are all welcome here as part of the family and to a greater or lesser extent you cant have one without the other.

I also appreciate there are also different cuts that have similarly loyal followings. Here in England I would say that back bacon (loin) is the most common, although streaky (belly) is also universally available. We have a tradition of curing whole middles so are used to back, belly and rolled bacons that include both. In other places I fully understand belly is king and, given that it’s the most universally used cut I will generally refer here to making what we would call ‘Streaky bacon’ for the sake of simplicity.

Sorry if this preamble is all a bit long winded but, in fact, this relates to my point. Curing your own bacon can easily become far more complicated and confusing than it ever needs to be, ignore that and lets start at the beginning.

I am going to try here, in very simple terms over the course of some related posts, to break down some ‘Bacon Basics’ in order to hopefully explain to beginners a good grounding and simple technique which will lead, first and foremost to tasty reliable bacon. Once you have this cracked then the tweaking along the road to your personal perfection can be done confidently, knowing that the underlying product is both safe and a solid foundation to work off.

In later posts I will look at other methods, flavours, suitable variations of cure agent, different sugars and liquid additions to the bacon making process as well as look at smoking methods and approaches, but first we will look at the foundation on which all these other things are based.

Fundamentally, for me, all bacon is just pork cured with salt and nitrite. Before everyone kicks off I said “for me”. Some folks don’t like curing with nitrite personally I think its part of the taste that actually makes bacon, bacon. Don’t get me wrong, other ‘bacon like’ products are fantastic be they Ventreche, Pancetta or Schinken but they are fantastic in their own right. I also agree that the taste of the meat itself can be more pronounced, more delicate etc without nitrite cure, and that’s great – but for me Bacon has to have that ‘tang’, else its just salted pork, so I am not getting into them here.

If we agree with (or even just entertain) my premise, that basic bacon is pork so cured, then whats the easiest, simplest, cleanest and most consistent way to achieve the desired result? For me, for here, that’s easy – and it’s what I will call, ‘measured dry cure‘.

Basic Bacon!

Basic Bacon!

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