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DIY bacon for a memorable BLT

There was a brief period in the ‘70s when I was a vegetarian. But then I moved onto a farm that had an old smokehouse. My then-husband kept it stoked with alder and stocked with local trout and home-cured bacon. My resolve melted away faster than pork fat in a hot skillet.

The powerful memory of that bacon prompted me to start making my own about five years ago. It’s surprisingly easy to do and incredibly rewarding. Dry-cured bacon has a more concentrated flavor and meatier texture than commercial bacon, which is usually injected with a water brine.

The basic components of traditional, American-style bacon are pork belly, a cure of salt sugar, and sodium nitrite (in addition to playing an important role in food safety, nitrites help give cured meats their distinctive color and flavor) and spices. Smoke adds flavor and some preservative qualities but is optional.

When I make bacon, I purchase a whole slab of pork belly, which runs about 10 pounds. Since bacon freezes so well (and is such a popular gift), I like to make a big batch. However, if space is an issue, you can make a half slab (just halve the ingredients in the recipe provided).

If you have a kitchen scale (and really, you should), then calculating the precise amount of cure needed is easy using the bacon cure calculator available on a website called Local Food Heroes. You simply enter the gram weight of the pork belly, note whether the belly does or does not have skin, input desired percentage of salt and sugar (I recommend 1.9 percent salt and 1.8 percent sugar). The calculator will tell you the exact weight of salt, sugar and sodium nitrite needed.

For those who do not have a scale, I’ve provided volumetric measurements in the recipe in the sidebar article called "Whole slab (10 pounds) dry-cured bacon."