Recipe: DIY Basic Bacon

Thompson: BaconToday is National Bacon Day! If you’re as delighted (and hungry) as we are, check out Fred Thompson’s Bacon!  Filled with tons of delicious recipes, Bacon will be sure to fulfill your National Bacon Day cravings.  Try this recipe for DIY Basic Bacon and see how easy homemade bacon can be!

From the earliest days of European settlement in the South, as in many rural economies around the globe, cured pork became a main source of sustenance, and the cheaper, lower-on-the-hog cuts–notably, bacon–became some of the most important traditional southern foodstuffs. In this cookbook, Fred Thompson captures a humble ingredient’s regional culinary history and outsized contributions to the table. Delicious, of course, straight out of the skillet, bacon is also special in its ability to lend a unique savory smokiness to an enormous range of other foods.

Today, for regular eaters and high-flying southern chefs alike, bacon has achieved a culinary profile so popular as to approach baconmania. But Thompson sagely notes that bacon will survive the silliness. Describing the many kinds of bacon that are available, Thompson provides key choices for cooking and seasoning appropriately. The book’s fifty-six recipes invariably highlight and maximize that beloved bacon factor, so appreciated throughout the South and beyond (by Thompson’s count, fifty different styles of bacon exist worldwide). Dishes range from southern regional to international, from appetizers to main courses, and even to a very southern beverage. Also included are Thompson’s do-it-yourself recipes for making bacon from fresh pork belly in five different styles.

Fred Thompson, well-known cookbook author and editor of Edible Piedmont magazine, is the author of Fred Thompson’s Southern Sides: 250 Dishes That Really Make the Plate, among other books.

For more mouthwatering recipes, grab a copy of Fred’s addition to the Savor the South® collection.

Remember to “like” the Savor the South® book page on Facebook for more news and recipes. Keep an eye out this fall for a new Savor the South® cookbook!

DIY Basic Bacon

Making your own bacon at home is simpler than you might think. Finding a fresh pork belly used to be difficult, but now most specialty shops and stores like Whole Foods Market carry them or can order them for you. Also check with your pork producers at the local farmers’ market. You can really custom-tailor your bacon to your likes with savory, sweet, and heat. Use these recipes as a starting point and then have some fun. Just keep the salt ratios intact. I thank Michael Ruhlman at least once a week for his wonderful book Charcuterie, which has taken this European tradition and introduced it to American cookery. Had it not been for Michael, I would never have started making my own bacon. But I’m here to tell you that once you’ve done it, you will be hard pressed to ever pick up another pound of processed store-bought bacon again. There really is that much difference. I encourage you to try this recipe. I think you’ll become a convert like me—great bacon is best made at home.
Servings: 4 pounds


  • 1 (5 to 6-pound) slab fresh pork belly (order this from a specialty market, butcher shop, or the pork guy at the farmers' market)
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt (I prefer Morton for this)
  • 2 teaspoons pink curing salt #1 (available at spice shops, online, and where canning items are sold)
  • 2 tablespoons dried juniper berries lightly crushed with the edge of a heavy skillet
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 10 cloves garlic smashed with the flat side of a knife
  • 10 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 bay leaves crumbled
  • Recommended wood: Hickory, apple, or cherry


  • Place the pork belly on a cutting board and trim the edges to square it up nicely. Throw any pieces that you’ve cut off into a freezer bag and freeze for another use.
  • In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, pepper, salts, juniper berries, nutmeg, garlic, thyme, and bay leaves. Rub this mixture on all sides of the belly. Place it in a 2 1/2-gallon ziptop plastic bag. Pour any remaining spice mixture into the bag and give it all one last rub. Seal the bag, forcing out as much air as possible. Place the belly flat on a shelf in the refrigerator for 4 days.
  • Open the bag and rub the spices back into the pork. Close the bag, again, forcing out as much air as possible, and refrigerate for 3 days.
  • Press on the pork belly—it should be somewhat firm, but not solid; to be ready for smoking, it should still give but be much firmer than it was at the start of this process. If it’s still a little mushy, put it back in the refrigerator for another couple of days.
  • Remove the belly from the bag and completely rinse off all of the cure under cold running water. Pat the belly completely dry.
  • Some suggest placing the belly, unwrapped, back in the refrigerator to dry out and develop what’s called a pellicle, a tacky surface that allows a meat to absorb more smoke. For making bacon, I find this step unnecessary.
  • Light a fire in the smoker. Set the temperature for 200–250°. Add the belly and wood chunks. Smoke the belly for 1 1/2–2 hours, until the internal temperature is 150° F. Guess what? You now have bacon. Let the bacon cool a bit and then go ahead and slice off a piece and cook it in a heavy skillet over low heat, turning often. The bacon will keep up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator and 3 months in the freezer.


From BACON: a Savor the South® cookbook by Fred Thompson. Copyright © 2016 by Fred Thompson. Used by permission of the publisher.