I’m one of those ‘tin-foil hat’ weirdo preppers and proud of it; especially in light of the recent lockdown orders that many states have unconstitutionally ordered in light of COVID-19. When everyone was on a wild grab for toilet paper and other things they thought they needed, emptying store shelves of everything; my family and I were sitting home comfortable and unstressed.
I am always teaching myself new things to make everything I need or want including making cured meats – in case it would no longer be available on supermarket shelves or in a SHTF situation. In the past three years, I have also taught myself to make bacon and ham at home and it has only been home-cured since then.
Making ham and bacon at home is really easy, tasty and satisfying. For both, you do not need to use the traditional cuts of meat, pork belly for bacon and leg and butt for ham. You can use any cut of fresh pork you like. I personally always like my bacon more meaty than I can find in the grocery store – I used to spend lots of time checking every single package of bacon and never finding something I was really satisfied with. Making it myself, I can use meatier cuts for my bacon (like pork loin) and I buy fresh pork shoulder for my ham which is usually so much cheaper and once you’ve cured it, tastes just the same as leg or butt.
I’ve used our own pork shoulder from the pigs we raised a few years ago, but the meat processing place froze everything before we got it back. You are not supposed to use frozen/thawed meats – they say that it alters the cellular structure and doesn’t cure as well. When I used it frozen/thawed I just gave my shoulder hams a little more time to cure and they worked out just fine. I baked them and used them right away but did not put them back in the freezer after baking them. We didn’t eat the whole ham for dinner (we are a family of five) so I cut the leftovers in small pieces and canned them (adding a little water) in ½ pint jars. I thought this might be nice to add to other dishes such as beans, pea soup or scalloped potatoes. I think home-canned ham in small pieces is a great item to have in my long term storage.
We’ll start with bacon. When my grandsons moved in with me a few years ago and I was homeschooling, this is one of the first projects I had them do. It is that easy and gave them a huge sense of satisfaction when we ate the bacon that they made.
For bacon, you do need to have or cut a thinner piece of meat about 1” to 2” thick. It can be longer and wider rectangular whatever fits in a Ziploc bag.
You will need:
1 to 2 lb. piece of fresh pork (cut to no thicker than about 2”)
I most often use a pork loin– it is really meaty!
- 1/4c Kosher or canning salt (non-iodized salt)
- 1/2c brown sugar
- ¼ c Maple syrup
- ¼ c honey (or molasses – or a mixture of both)
- 1 tsp. ground pepper
- A few drops liquid smoke (natural smoke – not synthetic)
- ¼ tsp. garlic powder
- Or anything else you think would be delicious
Mix your salt and sugar together (and optional ingredients if desired). I personally use maple syrup and pepper most often – but have used several different mixtures and all have been delicious. Again this time I used canning salt, brown sugar, maple syrup and pepper.
Rub your curing mixture into all sides of your pork making sure to get into crevices, and then place seasoned pork in a Ziploc bag. (I also place the bag into a low sided pan – just in case my Ziploc bag leaks) and place it into your refrigerator which should be between just above freezing to 40 degrees.
Take out and flip to the opposite side daily and return immediately to the refrigerator. There will be liquid in the bag from the salt pulling the liquid from the meat – this is how it cures – DO NOT drain this liquid. If your meat is 1” thick or less, you need only to do this daily for a week. If it is closer to 2”, I would give it a few extra days – 10 days up to potentially 2 weeks. I have allowed my bacon to stay over two weeks in my curing mixture – lost track of time. It made no difference in the taste of my bacon.
When it is done curing, you then rinse it to take off the curing seasoning or soak it in cool water in the refrigerator for up to about an hour to reduce the salty taste (I never do, I love the salty flavor).
Now after your curing period you have two options:
A.) Plan to use immediately within about a week.
B.) Storing it in the refrigerator and when you want it, fry it up — cooking thoroughly. I usually just slice it when I am ready to cook it. It is much tastier than any bacon you will find in the supermarket.
Note: if using a meatier/less fatty piece of meat you will likely need a bit of fat or oil to fry your bacon. Also, you will likely find a sticky dark brown or black residue in your pan and on your bacon after cooking your bacon. That is a result of the sugar from your bacon caramelizing.
My husband does not like smoked meats very well, so we do not smoke it – we just slice and use it immediately. If you are making large amounts and not going to use it immediately or freeze it, you should smoke it or bake it.
To bake it: Roast the cured bacon in a 200 F / 93 C oven until the internal temperature reaches 150 F / 66 C. This should take about 2 hours, use a meat thermometer to be sure it is done and safe to eat. Store the bacon in a tightly sealed container or bag in the refrigerator for up to one month or in the freezer for up to one year.
To smoke it: After rinsing off the cure, place the bacon on a rack and let it air dry for 1 to 2 hours to form a pellicle (sticky surface layer that forms on the surface of the meat; the smoke will cling to the pellicle, resulting in more flavorful bacon). Smoke the cured, air-dried bacon at approximately 200 F until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 F / 66 C (again check with a meat thermometer), which should take between 1 and 2 hours.
To make ham
This is wet-cured ham, like the kind you find in the grocery stores, not an air-dried, cured ham, like Virginia ham. (I will work on learning to make that, next fall). This requires you having some Prague #1 curing or pink salt (NOT Himalayan salt).
A fresh 6-9 lb. pork leg or butt or shoulder
- 2-1/2 c Kosher or canning salt
- 2c brown sugar
- 2-1/2 TBL pink Prague #1 curing salt (This is necessary if you want a nice pink ham instead of a slightly gray ham)
- 1 TBL pickling spices
- 1/4c maple sugar, honey or molasses (or mixture)
- Up to 6 quarts water
I personally use a 5 gallon bucket and a food grade plastic bag to cure my ham in but you can use a large enough pan to totally submerge your ham in (and that you won’t need for the next two weeks). I bought my bags at Amazon, but there are several places you can buy them. I have a second refrigerator out on our enclosed porch which I use to cure the ham.
I place my pork in the bag which is in the bucket (make sure the bucket or pan will fit in the refrigerator).
I just use about 1-2 quarts of water, place that into a sauce pan, and bring it to a boil with the curing ingredients in it. Boil for a few minutes then cool or add cool water to it, pour over your pork. Add enough additional water up to your total of 6 quarts to totally submerge your pork. Push down the pork (it will float slightly) and seal your bag removing air and keep the entire ham under the curing liquid at all times (I use a rubber band to seal my bag). Or if using a large pan place a plate and weight to hold your pork under the liquid at all times.
Store in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks. For a 6 lb. piece of pork keep it in the refrigerator for one week to cure. For a 6- 9 lb. piece of pork, cure for two weeks.
When it is done, remove you ham from your curing liquid and place it in the oven or smoker. Roast/smoke the cured ham in a 200 F / 93 C until the internal temperature reaches 150 F / 66 C. This should take about 4 hours (check with meat thermometer to be safe).
I told you it was easy to make your own cured bacon and ham. My family prefers my home-cured meats to store-bought ones, they are delicious!