Are you a bacon lover who is concerned about the use of nitrates in commercially preserved meats?
If so, you’re not alone. While nitrates are used to prevent botulism and give bacon its bright red color, they have also been linked to health concerns such as migraines and the production of toxic nitrosamines.
But fear not, home cooks! You can still enjoy delicious, homemade bacon without the use of nitrates.
In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of curing bacon using natural ingredients and safe handling procedures.
So grab a pork belly and let’s get started!
How To Cure Bacon Without Nitrates?
The first step in curing bacon without nitrates is to mix together a salt and sugar cure. For a sweeter cure, use a 50/50 ratio of salt to brown sugar. Rub the mixture generously onto both sides of the meat.
Next, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the cure per pound of pork belly onto the bottom (fat side) of the meat. Be careful not to apply too much, as this can result in overly salty bacon.
It’s important to note that botulism is a concern when curing and preserving meat. To prevent this, commercially preserved meats contain sodium nitrite. However, as mentioned earlier, this can have negative health effects.
To cure bacon without nitrates, wash off the salt and spice mixture with water and pat it dry with paper towels. Let it sit in the fridge for another day to form a “pellicle,” which helps smoke adhere better and improves shelf life.
For the curing mixture, use 2.5 parts salt (kosher works well), 1 part sugar, and a generous grind of black pepper. If using pink salt (which contains 6.25% nitrite), add 7 teaspoons per pound of your cure mixture.
Rub the mixture thoroughly all over the pork belly, making sure to coat every surface very thickly. This will ensure that the salt draws enough moisture from the meat.
Why Nitrates Are Used In Commercially Preserved Meats
Nitrates and nitrites are commonly used in commercially preserved meats due to their ability to prevent bacterial growth and extend the shelf life of the meat. These salts create an unfriendly environment for bacteria, preventing rancidity and controlling the growth of harmful pathogens such as Clostridium botulinum and Listeria monocytogenes. Nitrate salts are inert and must be converted to nitrite by bacteria before they can be effective in improving meat quality and safety. Nitrite salt is responsible for very effectively improving meat quality and safety. When added to meat at the allowed levels set forth by the USDA, nitrite completely inhibits Clostridium botulinum growth, almost completely inhibits Clostridium perfringens, and slows the growth of many other pathogenic bacteria.
While sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are effective in preserving meat, there have been concerns about their negative health effects. Studies have shown that processed meats containing nitrates and nitrites can increase cancer risk. The World Health Organization has raised concerns about the link between processed meats and cancer. It is important to note that botulism is a concern when curing and preserving meat, which is why commercially preserved meats contain sodium nitrite. However, for those who wish to avoid nitrates, it is possible to cure bacon without them by using alternative curing methods such as salt, sugar, and black pepper.
Health Concerns Related To Nitrates In Bacon
Nitrates and nitrites are commonly used in the curing process of bacon to preserve the meat and give it a desirable pink color. However, there are health concerns related to these additives. Studies have shown that nitrates and nitrites can form carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines when heated in the presence of proteins, such as those found in bacon. This has led to concerns about the potential link between nitrates and cancer.
While some bacon manufacturers now offer nitrate-free varieties that use celery powder instead, it’s important to note that celery juice naturally contains a high level of organic nitrate, which is converted to the problematic nitrite by bacteria during processing and also by saliva during chewing. This means that even nitrate-free bacon can still produce carcinogenic compounds in your body.
It’s also worth noting that botulism is a concern when curing and preserving meat, which is why commercially preserved meats contain sodium nitrite. However, as mentioned earlier, this can have negative health effects.
If you’re concerned about the health risks associated with nitrates and nitrites in bacon, there are alternative options. You can cure your own bacon using a salt and sugar mixture without the use of nitrates or nitrites. Alternatively, you can seek out high-quality pastured varieties from your local farmer that do not contain these additives. When cooking bacon, it’s recommended to cook it at a low temperature to reduce the formation of potentially harmful compounds.
Natural Alternatives To Nitrates For Curing Bacon
While nitrates are commonly used in bacon curing to prevent botulism and preserve the meat, there are natural alternatives available. One such alternative is celery juice or powder, which is used in commercially made nitrate-free cured meats. Celery contains high amounts of nitrates, making it possible to make a nitrate-free label for the products. However, it’s important to note that the FDA has accepted celery juice or powder as a flavoring agent, not as a preservative.
Another natural alternative is raw sugar or turbinado sugar, which is extracted from sugar cane juice evaporation and centrifugation to eliminate molasses. While there is no clear evidence on substantial amounts of nitrate or nitrite found in raw sugar, it can be used as an ingredient in naturally-cured products.
Non-iodized sea salt is also a good alternative for curing meats without nitrates. It draws water out of the cells, similar to nitrates, but without the negative health effects. However, experts recommend avoiding iodized salt as it may slow down cooking and affect the taste or leave a sediment in the brining liquid.
It’s important to keep in mind that if you decide to use a nitrate-free cure, there is an increased risk of bacterial pathogens left. For this reason, you should cure meat for a shorter time to limit bacterial growth. Ultimately, using natural alternatives to nitrates for curing bacon can be a healthier option without sacrificing taste or preservation.
Safe Handling Procedures For Homemade Bacon
When making homemade bacon without nitrates, it’s important to follow safe handling procedures to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Here are some guidelines to follow:
1. Keep the meat refrigerated at all times during the curing process. The temperature in the fridge should be under 38 degrees Fahrenheit for safety.
2. Use clean utensils and surfaces when handling the meat to prevent contamination.
3. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling the meat.
4. Make sure the curing mixture is evenly distributed over every surface of the pork belly to ensure that the salt draws enough moisture from the meat.
5. After applying the curing mixture, place the pork belly in a plastic bag and seal it tightly. This will prevent any bacteria from getting in or out.
6. Store the pork belly in the fridge for 7 days, turning it over every day to ensure that the cure is evenly distributed.
7. After 7 days, remove the pork belly from the curing mixture and rinse it off with cold water. Pat it dry with paper towels and let it sit in the fridge for another day to form a pellicle.
8. When smoking or cooking the bacon, make sure it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any harmful bacteria.
By following these safe handling procedures, you can ensure that your homemade bacon is safe to eat and deliciously flavorful.
Step-by-Step Guide To Curing Bacon Without Nitrates
1. Begin by preparing the curing mixture. Mix together 2.5 parts salt (kosher works well), 1 part sugar, and a generous grind of black pepper. If using pink salt (which contains 6.25% nitrite), add 7 teaspoons per pound of your cure mixture.
2. Rub the curing mixture thoroughly all over the pork belly, making sure to coat every surface very thickly. This will ensure that the salt draws enough moisture from the meat.
3. Place the pork belly into a large plastic bag, seal it tightly, and place it in the fridge for 7-10 days. During this time, flip the bag over every day to ensure that the cure is evenly distributed.
4. After 7-10 days, remove the pork belly from the plastic bag and rinse it off thoroughly under cold running water. Pat it dry with paper towels and let it sit in the fridge for another day to form a “pellicle,” which helps smoke adhere better and improves shelf life.
5. Smoke the pork belly over low heat until it reaches an internal temperature of 150°F. This can take anywhere from 2-6 hours depending on the size of your pork belly and your smoking setup.
6. Once smoked, let the bacon cool to room temperature before slicing and frying it up for breakfast.
By following these simple steps, you can easily cure bacon without nitrates and enjoy delicious, homemade bacon that is both safe and flavorful.
Tips For Cooking And Storing Homemade Nitrate-Free Bacon
Once your homemade nitrate-free bacon is cured, it’s time to cook and store it properly. Here are some tips to ensure that your bacon is safe to eat and delicious:
1. Cook the bacon to an internal temperature of 150°F, which is the minimum safe temperature for pork. This will ensure that any harmful bacteria are destroyed.
2. If you’re oven-roasting the bacon, preheat the oven to 175–200°F. If using liquid smoke, baste the cured pork belly with a pastry brush to evenly coat all sides.
3. If you’re smoking the bacon, use hickory, cherry or applewood chips at 175–200°F for 2–3 hours until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 150°F.
4. Let the bacon cool to room temperature on a wire rack over a baking pan, tightly wrap in parchment paper, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. This sets the flavor and texture.
5. When slicing your bacon, use a long, very sharp knife and slice across the grain, thin or thick, as desired.
6. Use hard-to-slice pieces in pots of beans or soup. Cut bacon into cubes to make lardons and use them like bacon bits in salads, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, baked beans, sauces, etc.
7. If you put the bacon slab in the freezer for 15 minutes, it becomes easier to slice.
8. Fry bacon pieces/slices in a skillet or crisp them in the oven.
9. Save the fat for up to a month and use it to fry.
10. Homemade bacon will keep for a week in the refrigerator and several months in the freezer. When storing in the freezer, wrap tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and place in an airtight container or freezer bag.
By following these tips, you can enjoy delicious homemade nitrate-free bacon that is safe to eat and full of flavor.