100 Techniques

Technique #88: Cure Your Own Meat and Fish

Cured food is easier to make at home than you might think. Among our favorites are two of the classics: bacon and gravlax.

Published Aug. 5, 2023.

This is Technique #88 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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Though cured foods such as bacon and smoked fish may seem like a daunting undertaking, they are actually quite easy to make from scratch—all you need is a bit of time.

With our foolproof techniques you can customize your own cured bacon for breakfast sandwiches, burritos, tarts, or make your own gravlax to top bagels and blinis.

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How to Home-Cure Bacon

American-style smoked bacon is produced from pork belly, the fatty strip of meat found on the underside of the pig that has become a standby on restaurant menus.

To make homemade bacon that will outmatch store-bought, first remove the skin from fresh pork belly, leaving as much of the thick layer of fat intact as possible. Fat absorbs flavor, so once you’ve cured and smoked the belly, you’ll be glad you left it all on there.

Cure the pork belly for 7 to 10 days in a dry rub of sugar, salt, and aromatics to firm it up and add flavor. Including pink curing salt in the rub prevents bacterial growth.

Flipping the pork every other day ensures the cure is evenly distributed, and a rinse under cold water at the end prevents the finished bacon from being excessively salty.

For Best Flavor, Smoke the Bacon

While you certainly can make homemade bacon using a charcoal grill, we found in testing that an outdoor smoker produces the best results because it’s the ideal source for the moderate, indirect heat that allows the bacon to cook slowly and evenly.

For either smoking setup, a few wood chunks placed on top of the charcoal impart the requisite smoky flavor, and placing the pork belly fat side up allows the fat to baste the meat as it renders.

Smoked pork slab on a charcoal grill with a thermometer in it reading 150 degrees.
Smoking the bacon with hickory wood not only gives it a unique flavor but provides rich, dark color as well.

Cure Seafood Without Smoke

In a manner similar to bacon, cured seafood is usually smoked in some way, and it is typically brined before the smoking step.

Gravlax, on the other hand, is cured without being smoked at all, making it almost ridiculously effortless and a great way to get started with curing. Salmon fillets are hit with a splash of booze, coated with sugar and salt, and blanketed with a thick layer of dill.

Then, press the salmon under a weight and refrigerate it for a few days, during which time it releases moisture and is cured and flavored by the salt (the sugar, dill, and liquor lend a hand, too).

Once a day, baste the salmon with the released liquid. Finally, on the last day, brush away the toppings to reveal the tender, compact fillet, ready for slicing and serving.

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Step by Step: How to Cure and Smoke Bacon

Follow these six straightforward steps to home-cure your own bacon.

Step 1: Remove Skin

Remove skin, but as little fat as possible, from pork belly.

Step 2: Cure and Flip

Rub belly with dry cure. Cover dish and refrigerate until pork feels firm yet still pliable, 7 to 10 days, flipping it every other day.

Step 3: Rinse Bacon

Remove meat from dish. Rinse and pat dry.

Step 4: Prepare Grill or Smoker

Arrange unlit briquettes in center of smoker in even layer. Light chimney starter three-quarters filled with briquettes. When top coals are partially ash-covered, pour evenly over unlit coals.

Step 5: Add Wood

Place soaked wood chunks on coals. Assemble smoker and heat until hot and wood is smoking.

Step 6: Smoke Bacon

Place belly meat side down incenter of smoker. Cover and smoke until pork registers 150 degrees. Remove bacon from smoker and let cool.

Prefer seafood? Follow as long as we make gravlax step by step.

Recipes That Use This Technique

When you're ready to make homemade cured food, go for one of the following foolproof recipes.


Homemade Bacon

Cooking low-and-slow for nearly 2 hours over pungent hickory chunks imparted just the right amount of smoke flavor without overwhelming the pork.
Get the Recipe

Brown Sugar–Black Pepper Homemade Bacon

Curing bacon takes a while, but the wait is worth it.
Get the Recipe

Spicy Candied Bacon

We wanted completely rendered, crispy strips of spicy-sweet bacon.
Get the Recipe


Unlike its cousins smoked salmon, lox, and nova, which are all usually brined and then smoked, gravlax relies on a one-step process.
Get the Recipe

Gravlax for a Crowd

Here's an easy method for wet-brining salmon fillets that ensures even, never salty curing.
Get the Recipe

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