Making Bacon

All bacon, with the exception of turkey- and tofu-based products, is made from pork belly. One fresh belly can weigh from ten pounds to 25 pounds, though most fall between 12 and 18 pounds. The spare ribs are removed from the belly’s interior, the skin is taken off the exterior, and the remaining slab is trimmed for further processing into bacon.

Bacon

The next step is curing, which is generally done in one of two ways. Many small producers of artisan (aka smokehouse or premium) bacon choose to dry-cure by rubbing the slab with a dry mixture of seasonings (which always includes salt and sugar). Large producers usually inject the slabs with a liquid brine containing salt, sugar, and sometimes liquid smoke for flavor; sodium phosphate for moisture retention during processing and cooking; sodium ascorbate or sodium erythorbate to accelerate the curing process and promote color retention; and a curing salt that includes sodium nitrite to stave off bacteria and set flavor and color characteristics. Once the cure has been applied or injected, the slabs are hung. If a dry cure has been applied, this process could stretch up to one week. Curing with an injected brine can be completed in a mere one to three hours and so is quite cost-efficient.

The final step is thermal processing, which can take as few as four to five hours or as many as 24, depending on the processor. During thermal processing, the cured pork bellies are smoked and partially cooked to an internal temperature of roughly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, after which they finally merit the term bacon. The bacon is chilled to approximately 24 degrees, pressed to square it off for uniform slicing, sliced to the processor’s specifications, and packaged. A package of regular-cut bacon usually contains between eighteen and twenty-two 1/16-inch-thick slices per pound, whereas a package of thick-cut bacon, sometimes called country style, contains twelve to sixteen 1/8-inch-thick slices per pound.

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