After my friend Louis told me about the awesome bacon he used to eat while growing up on a farm, I decided that I wanted to try to make my own. I found it extremely easy to cure and smoke bacon, but it does take a lot of waiting around. The four main steps to making your own bacon are curing, rinsing/soaking, air drying, and smoking. To cure and smoke your own bacon you will need the following:
Based on my write-up of Skin On vs Skin Off bacon, I feel that this first skinning step is optional. It's time consuming and I couldn't find a difference in taste. It's much easier to leave the skin on and pull it off when the smoking process is nearly finished. If you do decide to skin it, try to leave the fat but get rid of the tough skin. While pulling up on the skin, use a very sharp knife to cut it away from the fat. You can save the skin and make pork rinds if you'd like, but I discarded mine. Another good tip I heard was smoking the skin (whether by itself or smoked while on the belly), cutting it into slices, and using it to add smokey bacon flavor to soups, stocks, beans etc. Cut off any irregular bits of the ends and square up the pork belly.
Next, mix the curing salt, kosher salt, and pepper. If you're using brown sugar instead of maple syrup, throw that in with the curing mix. I experimented with the irregular end cuts by adding a bit of ground coffee to the curing mix. The bacon came out very similar to the regular cure but with a slight hint of coffee- pretty tasty. Take the maple syrup and rub down the pork belly. Sprinkle on the curing mix and place the belly into a large Ziplock bag. I placed the bag into a Pyrex dish to catch any juice if it leaked. Let cure in the fridge for 6-7 days, flipping the bag over each day. After the curing process is finished, rinse all the curing mix off of the pork belly, soak the bellies for 24 hours in plenty of water, and switch the water at least once throughout the 24 hour soak. I've noticed my bacon has come out almost too salty if I do not cycle the water. After the soak, drain, pat dry, and place on a metal rack in a Pyrex dish or cookie tray, and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.
After 2-4 hours dry, fire up your smoker and maintain a temperature around 200F-225F. I added a few chunks of maple wood. Smoke the pork belly for four hours or to an internal temperature of 150F. Once the bacon is smoked, take it off the smoker, wrap in parchment paper, and refrigerate until cool. Once the bacon has rested and cooled, you can slice the bacon to your liking. I measured out 12 oz portions, vacuum sealed them with my Foodsaver, and placed them into the freezer for future use.
So how does this compare to store bought bacon? Well for my most recent cook, I bought two bellies totaling 28lbs for $58. The final yield of finished product was 19lbs, so this bacon cost me slightly over $3 a pound. Around me, bacon that compares to this homemade thick cut bacon sells for $8.99/lb and up. This stuff is delicious and I encourage anyone with a free weekend and a smoker to give it a go.