2000s Archive

Making Bacon

Originally Published June 2002
With just a kettle grill, a few good ingredients, and a little patience, Bruce Aidells takes you back to the real thing.

Early one morning when I was seven, a sizable earthquake rolled through Southern California. Nobody in my family was surprised that I slept right through it, since my sleeping habits were legendary. But my mother knew one surefire way to get me out of bed—all she had to do was fry up a little bacon, and I’d be wide awake and standing by the stove in a flash.

Of course, this was a different bacon than the kind most folks are used to eating today. While it may seem unbelievable, bacon was once even better, both simpler and more delicious, than it is now. And this is not nostalgia or curmudgeonly ranting. When I was young, the bacon my mother bought was made by curing pork in nothing more than salt, sugar, and sodium nitrite (curing salt), and then slowly smoking it over sweet hickory or fruitwood. It came as a chunk with the rind on, and she sliced it thick and slowly browned it until it was crisp. The bacon sold in most supermarkets today is overprocessed, the taste manipulated with additives to give it flavors that it doesn’t need and that I don’t want.

For anyone who remembers the way bacon used to be, and for those unfortunate souls who have never experienced pork perfection, I’ve got good news: You can make your own bacon. Sure, it takes a little time, but the process and the ingredients are simple. Pork belly, the traditional cut for bacon, is almost never seen in grocery stores anymore (fat may carry flavor, but it doesn’t sell very well). Happily, other easy-to-find cuts also work wonderfully. Boston butt (shoulder) is an ideal replacement because it still has ample fat but is leaner and meatier than belly bacon and has a truly great taste. By halving it, you can fashion slices that have the same shape as belly bacon, and the curing time is only two days. Boneless pork loin, when smoked, becomes tender, lean Canadian bacon—but the homemade-version has a flavor the commercial varieties don’t even approach. This is bacon that smells, looks, and tastes so good, it'll wake the neighbors.

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