One of the ways bacon is preserved and flavored is through a process called curing. The dry sugar cure involves rubbing the pork belly slab with a mixture of salt, sugar, and sodium nitrite. Additions to these ingredients include herbs and spices that give the bacon additional flavor. Brown sugar can be substituted for white sugar for coloring and flavor. Commercial mixtures are available that take the guesswork out of creating the proper rub. These mixtures preserve the meat safely by killing harmful bacteria. Sugar-curing bacon is not a complicated process.
Obtain fresh pork bellies that have been chilled to 42 degrees F within two days of slaughter.
Trim the pork bellies with a knife to create a uniform shape for curing evenly.
Rub the dry cure onto the pork bellies, making sure to coat all sides.
Place the pork bellies on a flat surface, preferably a table or wood planks, tilted very slightly for liquid runoff. The room chosen for curing should stay at or below 42 degrees F but not freezing, and have good ventilation.
Cure for seven days by allowing the coated bacon to sit without being disturbed. Thicker bacon will need additional curing time. If the bacon is two inches thick cure for 14 days, or seven days for each inch of thickness.
Wrap the pork belly securely in aluminum foil or in a zip-close plastic bag after curing, and refrigerate. Or choose to smoke the cured bacon before final packaging.
If the sugar-curing project is a small one, the pork belly can be kept in the refrigerator during curing. Farms generally rely on the winter weather when curing bacon.
Package the bacon in serving sizes for convenience.
Freeze the treated bacon for longer preservation.
Natural curing is done when the weather is cold enough to maintain a temperature of 42 degrees F. If this is not possible, cure in a refrigerator. The period of December through February is the general time period when outdoor curing is done.
Curing bacon does not cook it, and it can still go bad after a while. Refrigerator shelf life will depend on many factors including the quality of the pork belly, the rub used, and the conditions under which it is held in the refrigerator. Freeze portions that will not be eaten within a week or two.