Homemade smoked bacon from scratch. Made from pork belly and prepared in an easy salt-sugar cure and slow-smoked over pecan wood, this DIY bacon is better than any store-bought slab you’ve ever had.
Bacon is so delicious already that you wouldn’t think there would be a way to improve upon it. How do you take something perfect and make it even better? The answer: Make it yourself.
Making homemade smoked bacon is time-consuming but well worth the extra effort. The process is fun and making your own cure ensures the final product won’t include any nitrates or other preservatives. One round of this bacon and you’ll never go back to store-bought.
Discover how to make smoked bacon from scratch, from meat curing to smoking tips. Let’s get cooking.
What is Smoked Bacon?
There are many different types of bacon, including:
Most bacon that you buy at the grocery store isn’t smoked. Even when it says ‘smoked’ on the package, chances are that the bacon has just been injected with liquid smoke and oven-heated.
True smoked bacon is slow-cooked over a wood fire. If you’re buying bacon, look for hardwood smoked bacon at the store to ensure you’re getting the real deal. It takes more time to make bacon this way, so most manufacturers don’t do it.
Bacon comes from a cut of meat with a very high fat content. Typically, this means either pork belly, back, or sides. In the United States, the most commonly used meat for bacon is pork belly.
Once pork belly is removed from the pig, it is cured to preserve it. Once cured, the bacon is smoked at a low temperature. The purpose of smoking the bacon is to impart flavor and further perverse the meat, not to cook it.
Smoked bacon is dark in color, high in fat, and has a fine texture. Fatty, tender meat is best for bacon. Trying to use a lean cut of pork for bacon won’t yield the same results.
How to Buy Pork Belly for Smoked Bacon
If you’re ready to make homemade smoked bacon, it starts with choosing the right pork belly for the job. Thankfully, there are a few key characteristics you can look out for to ensure you’re getting the best belly.
The pork belly you select for bacon should have a healthy, pink color. Avoid any meat that looks gray or dull. Look for a good layer of white fat along the edge of the pork belly. If the fat is yellow, the meat is likely old.
You want a cut of meat that has a very high fat content. A good ratio of fat to flesh is about 50:50. It’s also important that the fat is distributed evenly throughout the meat, with even layers of intramuscular fat. This will prevent some areas of the bacon from drying out while others stay oversaturated.
Pork belly should be tender. Look for meat with low muscle striation and a fine texture. Avoid any meat that looks coarse or grainy.
Once you’ve got the perfect belly for the job, it’s time to start preparing it for the smoker. The curing process can take a while, but it’s well worth it for flavorful bacon.
Curing is the process of preserving meat with salt. Salt draws the moisture out of the meat, making it less easy to spoil. It increases the shelf-life of your bacon and helps prevent bacteria growth and botulism. It also imparts a lot of delicious salty flavor into the meat.
Although you can buy both cured and uncured bacon, it’s recommended that you always cure bacon when making it at home. Part of the process of smoking bacon at home is letting the meat sit out at room temperature to allow a pellicle to form.
A pellicle is a sticky layer of proteins that form on the surface of the meat. This layer traps smoke and imparts an even more rich flavor. Curing your bacon before you let it sit out at room temperature ensures that no bacteria will form while the pellicle is forming.
Cure your pork belly in a dry salt rub for at least 14 days before you smoke it.
How to Cure Bacon
Curing bacon sounds scary, but it’s a simple process. All it takes is a dry salt rub and time. Wash and thoroughly pat dry the bacon before curing to remove any impurities that could result in bacterial growth.
Cure your bacon in the refrigerator to keep the temperature consistent and prevent spoiling.
We’ll have a complete recipe and process you can follow below to make the curing experience easier and less intimidating.
Best Smoking Woods
The wood you choose to smoke your meat depends on the flavor you want to impart. Most people choose hickory for bacon smoking. Hickory is a great way to impart a classic smoky flavor without taking away from the flavors you used in the cure.
If you want to give your bacon a sweet undertone, try using pecan or applewood – both go great with just about any cut of pork.
Times & Temperatures
Bacon should smoke at a low temperature. Aim for about 165°F while smoking. Once the bacon is smoked, you can fry it in a pan as you would store-bought bacon or cook it in the oven at around 200°F.
At 165°F, a 5lb piece of pork belly will take about 5 hours to smoke. The internal temperature of the meat should be around 150°F when you take it out.
Homemade Smoked Bacon
- gallon-size ziplock bag
- cast iron skillet (for frying bacon)
- Pecan smoking wood
- 3 lbs pork belly
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 3 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 ¼ tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp Prague Powder #1
- Prepare the pork belly by trimming any excess fat. Rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
- In a small bowl, combine the bacon cure ingredients. Use a fork to remove or crush any lumps that may form.
- Massage the cure into the pork belly, covering all sides and working into any crevices or folds on the meat surface.
- Place the seasoned pork belly and any leftover cure in a plastic ziplock bag and lay lengthwise in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Flip it over each day.
- Remove meat from refrigerator. It should be firm with no soft spots – this means it’s fully cured. Rinse and thoroughly pat dry.
- Set pork belly out for 1 hour to bring it to room temperature. This will allow a pellicle to form on the meat.
- While pork belly sits, fire up your smoker to 165°F (75°C). Add pecan smoking wood chips to coals or wood tray.
- When smoker and meat are ready, carefully place the pork belly on smoker grates fat side-up.
- Close lid and smoke until pork internal temperature hits 150°F (65°C), about 5 hours.
- Remove pork belly from smoker and rest until completely cooled. Once cooled, place pork belly in refrigerator and leave to chill.
- Remove pork belly from refrigerator and slice into bacon strips.
- Fry bacon strips in an oiled cast iron skillet over high heat