How to make nitrate free bacon in 3 days

make your own bacon

Having bacon and eggs for breakfast today? I’m sure a few of you will be after seeing the new year in last night. Tired of watery, tasteless store bought bacon? Me too. I’m also tired of the nitrate preservatives used in commercial bacon. But I’m not that keen on botulism either so is there a way to make a nice dry bacon without nitrates? Yes, there is but first, a bit of history.

For hundreds of years potassium nitrate (Salt Petre) crystals were mined and manufactured. These crystals were then mixed with other traditional curing agents and rubbed into bacon, ham and sausages to prevent botulism developing while they cured in the cool larder for months on end.

These days, sodium nitrate does the same job in bacon and ham but is also used increasingly as a food additive to give that appealing pink colour and tangy flavour we’ve come to expect in a whole range of meats including saveloys, luncheon sausage, smoked chicken and many others. Nitrates are highly toxic and their use as a food preservative is heavily regulated but no-one can regulate how much you consume across multiple food products.

So a few years ago I set out to make nitrate free bacon. I had some spectacular failures following old recipes that required long curing periods in salty brines accompanied by much rubbing, soaking in wine and hanging in chimneys (the bacon not me). But then I realised the whole point of these recipes was to produce something that would keep for months if not years at room temperature.

Because I don’t store my bacon in a cool larder (who does these days?) keeping qualities were not high on my bacon check list.  I also found that my freezer would stop botulism in its tracks. From then on my experiments became much more successful and now I make a pretty good bacon with no nitrates in 3 days flat.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • Pork Belly
  • Brown Sugar
  • Salt (non-iodised)
  • Wood chips for smoking (I use manuka but any aromatic wood is good)
  • Hot Smoker
  • Large plastic bin with a lid
  • Sharp knife or bacon slicer

Method:

  1. Take a piece of pork belly, I usually ask the butcher for a whole side and do a big batch to freeze but you can start smaller until you get the hang of it.   Trim off any cartilage or ribs left on the pork and any hangy,  flappy bits so you’ve got a nice smooth piece of meat to start with.   I use pork belly because it’s thin enough to cure quickly and it’s got a nice mix of fat to meat to make a streaky bacon.
  2. Sterilise the plastic bin with boiling water and then place the meat in it.   Cut the meat into two or three pieces if you are doing a whole side.
  3. Mix together salt and brown sugar in a bowl and rub it all over the meat.   I like quite a sweet cure so I do 50/50 salt to brown sugar and I mix enough to generously rub into the meat on both sides, (see the photo at the top).   Many recipes call for a higher salt ratio but because you’re freezing the finished product you’re not relying on the salt to preserve the meat, it is merely drawing the moisture and adding flavour.   Too much salt and you’ll get something inedible, not enough and you’ll get wet bacon with no flavour.     You’ll get the hang of it – I don’t even measure it now.
  4. Put the lid on the bin and leave it in a cool place overnight or for 12 hours and that’s your first day done. If the weather is really hot do this in the fridge.
  5. Next morning, turn the meat and rub the gooey sugary brine all over it again. Put the lid on and leave it for another 12 hours
  6. Do the same again and leave overnight and that’s day 2.
  7. On the third day you should have a lot of liquid and the meat will have reduced in size and feel tighter. Remove the meat from the bin and pat it dry, then leave it to dry on a rack in a cool airy place for an hour or so while you get the smoker ready. The fridge is fine in warm weather.
  8. Put the chunks of meat into a hot smoker and smoke with manuka chips (or a wood of your choice) for 2 – 4 hours depending on whether you like a strong smokey flavour or a light smoke. When it comes out of the smoker, cool it on a rack and then put it in the fridge overnight to set and that is day 3. (I’m not sure I’d use this recipe with a cold smoker as you don’t want to have the meat hanging around for hours on end given the lack of preservatives, it may spoil during the smoking process – someone with more experience using cold smokers may like to comment on this)
  9. The next day it will be firm enough to slice.  You can use a sharp knife to make thick rashers.    I’m lucky enough to own a vintage meat slicer that my sister found at a garage sale, still in it’s original box and it makes short work of the job.
vintage bacon slicer
Vintage bacon slicer made in Waihi by Brown & Brown does the job.

Remember it is raw meat and must be kept in the fridge or freezer once it has been sliced and you must cook it well before eating. It will keep in the freezer for several months and can be cooked from frozen. Cook it more gently than shop bacon because there is no water to get rid of. You won’t need any extra fat, just lay the rashers in a pan on a low heat and you’ll get something that looks like this: 

how to make bacon
3 day bacon – ingredients pork, salt, sugar and smoke

The “recipe” is very adaptable you can add herbs and spices if you like, a few crushed juniper berries and peppercorns are nice, but be really sparing with seasonings as a little goes a long way. I’ve also tried a batch with a little bit of maple syrup and one with a bit of honey in it and that was nice.

And yes before you say it, I know salt, sugar, fat and smoke are not super foods but man can’t live on Goji berries alone. Happy New Year.

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33 comments

  1. […] this recipe, sounds straightforward enough, plan to try it soon. How to make nitrate free bacon in 3 days | Country Trading Blog Has anyone else made your own bacon?? Annie's Primal Highlights […]

  2. Can I make this bacon without smoking it?

    1. Hi Jessie, I don’t see why not. Because you’re freezing it immediately the smoking is more for flavouring and texture than preservative. If you’re not going to smoke it I would rinse the brine off and air dry it for a couple of days uncovered in the fridge before freezing it. The fridge would have a drying affect.

      1. Bacon by definition is smoked.

        1. And also by definition – YUMMY 🙂

  3. Can I use honey instead of sugar

    1. Hi Mary, yes I have tried this. You don’t need as much because the honey is a much stronger flavour and sweeter cure. Also you need to dry it for a little longer and smoke at a lower temp so it doesn’t burn but yes it works and is lovely. Heather

  4. Hi Heather,
    Thanks so much to sharing your knowledge! I definitely want to give this a go but at the moment I don’t have a smoker. Do you know if I could use a BBQ with a hood? Can you recommend a good smoker? And lastly what sort of temperature should you be smoking at?
    Many thanks,
    Hayley

    1. Hi Hayley, thanks for your question. I would think you could use a BBQ with hood. Put a metal pie dish of wood chips in there and cook it away on low for a while. My electric smoker is a hot smoker and gets to around 40 – 50C I think. You wouldn’t want it too much hotter than that or you’ll cook the meat rather than just smoke it. You don’t have to smoke the bacon, you could just wipe the cure off and air dry it somewhere cold (15°C or below) and airy for a couple of days before slicing and freezing it. The salt is the main preservative, the smoke is mostly helping with drying and adding flavor.

  5. Hi
    You mention that maple syrup can also be added. Is it added to the brine? how much?
    Please email me the directions how to cold smoke it?(type of wood, smoking time and Temp)

    thanks

    1. Hi Martin, yes when I add the maple syrup I add it with the rest of the cure and reduce the sugar slightly. When I smoke it I use manuka chips and smoke it for only 3-4 hours in an electric smoker that gets to around 50°C internally. I don’t have a cold smoker. If you are cold smoking you will smoke for a lot longer. But be aware that because this recipe doesn’t use nitrates, extended periods of cold smoking at lower temperatures could risk spoilage of the meat. I recommend a brief spell in a hot smoker for a bit of extra flavour and drying and then straight into the fridge to set before slicing and freezing.

  6. i just bought a smoker with the intention of making my own nitrate free bacon – so am loving your recipe! 🙂 due to the fact that i live overseas, can not find kosher salt (which is listed in almost all the recipes i have found) but from your recipe, looks like plain ‘ol non-iodised table salt can be used. is this correct? what about using sea salt? and i assume best to do the 50/50 salt sugar ratio based on the weight.

    1. Hi Eve, congratulations on your smoker purchase. I hope you have a lot of fun with it. You are correct. You can use non-iodised salt in place of kosher salt quite happily. Sea salt also can be used but is more expensive. You can play around with the salt/sugar ratio once you get to know how you like it, sweeter, less salt or saltier, less sweet. Because you’re freezing the finished product you don’t have to worry so much about the salt as a preservative agent. And if the weather is particularly warm while you’re curing it then pop it in the fridge. In terms of the quantity of cure – I will measure it next time I make it and add this to the recipe but as a guide you want enough cure to rub all over the meat thoroughly coating it.

  7. Did you leave the skin on for the whole process? I did but am not sure if I should have. Its in the fridge now curing, and I am amazed by the shrinkage.
    Thank you for your excellent post!
    Kurt

    1. Hi Kurt, Thanks for your comment. I do leave the skin on during the whole curing. I’ve wondered about removing it as it does make it hard to cut but I figure it adds something to the flavour and protects the meat from drying too much? Hope you enjoy your bacon.

  8. Could you please give me an idea of how thick the pieces of meat should be…I’m wanting to convert basically all of a couple of pigs to bacon so just need to know how thick I should cut them up for curing. Oh, and thanks so much for these instructions, I’ve been nervous about trying this, but definitely feel that I could have a go now.

    1. Hi David, thanks for your question. So far for my bacon I’ve only used the pork belly – which depending on the size of your pig is usually between 2 – 3 inches thick. I’m starting to play around with curing larger pieces of meat using a brine injector that you can get off Amazon which helps get the cure right into the meat but I don’t have a recipe to share for this yet. Happy Baconing.

  9. What ratios/measurements do you use for the salt and sugar for the brine rub on the pork belly?

    1. 50/50 but you could use less salt if you want – see how it tastes for you.

  10. What ratios/measurements of salt and sugar do you use per pound of pork belly?

    1. I make up enough cure to make sure every bit of the meat has cure rubbed into it generously – the meat isn’t buried in cure but it is well rubbed all over. Mix up a small amount and mix some more if you don’t have enough.

  11. Hi Heather. I was wondering how long the bacon could be stored in the fridge once cured. The last time I tried making bacon I had this handy container that had a rack in in so the liquid drained away from the meat as it cured. Was that a good idea? or should the meat sit in the juice so the salt and sugar soak into it?
    Thanks

    1. Hi Sharon, thanks for your post. I leave the meat marinading in the juices during curing, turning it daily and rubbing the cure in. Once cured I slice it and freeze it straight away but it would last at least a week in the fridge if not longer.

  12. I have pasture raised side pork in my freezer. It has already been sliced and frozen in family sizes portions. Do you think using the rub/curing mixture and the 3 day process alone with the individual slices would work if I did it in my refrigerator? Essentially, I would be making one family serving of bacon. Thank you.

    1. Yes that would work Michelle. Let me know how you get on.

  13. should you rinse the salt off before you pat dry….usually with a brine you rinse or the product is too salty…just need clarification.
    Thanks,

    1. Hi Ann, usually the salt is all dissolved so patting with paper towel removes the liquid salt from the surface of the meat and I don’t rinse it but if you’ve got a lot of undissolved salt on the meat at the end of the cure I would rinse it.

  14. Hi Heather, I don’t have a smoker, but am thinking of purchasing a smoking gun, do you think this would be suitable for the smoking phase as I see you said above that the smoking is mostly for flavour and texture. Also where do you get the manuka chips? Thanks

    1. Hi Jacqui, a smoking gun – never heard of one – how intriguing. The smoker does also help dry the meat a little. You can get manuka chips by cutting up any manuka tree you may be near – bark and little leaves shred easily or you can buy bags at the Warehouse or hunting and fishing stores.

  15. Heather,

    We are on a completely sugar free diet. Is there a way of doing this without using any type of sweetener?

    1. Hi Steve, not that I’ve tried. The sugar replaces the preservative quality of the nitrates.

  16. Hi,
    As we speak I am currently curing pork belly and I am on day 8, I’m going by a recipe that calls for adding salt everyday until their is no liquid left but am now concerned that it may be too salty to eat, I need it done by Saturday bc I’m off work and was going to smoke, I was thinking maybe soak it 2 hours tomorrow then add sugar and maple let it sit 2 nights in that then smoke?
    Any ideas

    1. Hi Donna, I hope you did that as it sounded like a good move and delicious. Did it work out? You can always soak it in water before processing it for the freezer if it turned out too salty.

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