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I know bacon was originally a meat preservation method. Now it is just for flavor and manufacturers take shortcuts that make it need refrigeration. I have read in other answers that it is possible to find fully cured bacon that does not need to be refrigerated. Bacon curing recipes indicate that the process must occur in a "cool, dry place".

I live in Texas. It is rarely dry and never cool. Do I need to have a temperature controlled fridge to cure bacon? Is there bacon that can be safely stored at relatively warm temperatures? Say up to 85-90F?

Bacon used to be a staple of cowboys, so was it historically more like jerky?

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Rice and beans used to be the staple! Meat products have always been luxury items until sometime in the last century –  TFD May 30 '12 at 4:27
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@TFD- This is surely going to vary by country. In the American west in the mid to late 1800's bacon was a staple. It was frequently carried by cowboys and westward moving pioneers and was so common that some journal entries record dumping huge quantities of it on the trail to save weight. Additionally, in the US, pork has always been plentiful and bacon is often found in cuisines from poor areas. Bacon and cornbread was eaten so exclusively by the poor in the south that it caused a nutritional epidemic at the start of the 1900s. –  Sobachatina May 30 '12 at 11:56
    
You must have read different history books than me? From what I remember, meat was rare, and usually beef jerky. Cowboys after all where herding cows. The main protein source was beans. And all other foods where dry too (biscuits, fruits etc) –  TFD May 31 '12 at 7:59
    
Whatever they made 100+ years ago, they also contended with all kinds of foodborne pathogens. Every recipe I've ever seen clearly and carefully states that the curing process for meat should be done 33F-40F (1C-5C), even if smoke is part of the process. That goes for bacon, country ham, corned beef, pastrami, sausage, duck, salmon -- you name it. Given that refrigeration is widely available in Texas, I have a hard time envisioning a reason to flirt with danger. –  Bruce Goldstein Jun 26 '12 at 15:41
    
@Bruce- I'll get started on my modified refrigerator/cold smoker. Actually- that sounds like it would be awesome. –  Sobachatina Jun 26 '12 at 15:52
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1 Answer

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Most bacon home curing methods you will read use a semi-dry cure where the bacon is covered in a cure mixture then allowed to sit in the resulting brine made of salts, sugars, and exuded liquid from the meat. This is probably due to the fact that most people are more comfortable using their fridge and are also only making a small amount of bacon. The key to what you are looking for is dry curing with drainage. By using a cure mixture which includes nitrates (traditional) or nitrites (modern) as well as a draining board or table you produce a quickly cured meat product that is stable and can be produced at higher than fridge temperatures. The drawbacks are that the final product will have a greater loss of meat weight due to the loss of water, the product will have more pronounced flavor, and will be saltier but it will also be better preserved. This method is best for meats that will not be cooked but smoked and air-dryed or just air-dryed. It is the best curing method for people living in hot climate or having no refrigeration.

In the South, bacon and ham production is something that was traditionally done in the late Autumn to take advantage of the natural cooling to reduce spoilage during the air drying portion of the curing process. The second traditional foodway that allowed bacon to be a staple in the South was the use of root cellars.

Method:

To guarantee continuous supply of salt and uninterupted curing of the meat, the dry curing is performed in a few stages.

  • The cure ingredients should be thoroughly mixed. The mix should be rubbed into the meat at a ratio of 1:100, curing salt mixture to meat, by weight. During this initial salting of the meat, it is important to thoroughly cover all surface of the meat piece with the salt mixture, because the high salt level and the cooler temperatures are the only means of protection against the growth of spoilage bacteria.

  • Then the meats would then be packed tightly in a container with larger pieces like hams on the bottom and smaller pieces on the top so that each piece will retain its shape. The meats are packed skin down. Liquid drawn from the meat will accumulate on the bottom of the container and if the holes were made it would drain off. (If you want to experiment with smaller amounts of meat you can perform this part of the process on a flat tray set at an angle to allow juices to drain away or in a perforated pan.)

The rule of thumb is 2 days of curing for each pound of original meat weight. Flip the meat after 3 days, and then again every 7 days thereafter, making sure that there is salt covering the entire surface. (For bacon that would be stored for a long time or subject to higher temperatures they would most likely overhaul the cure, replacing the salt mixture 1 or more times during the process.)

  • After curing is complete, the meat pieces must be rinsed in fresh water to remove any crystalized salt that accumulates on the surface that would prevent sucessful smoke penetration. Blot dry then hang the meats or place on wire mesh to dry overnight. Store meat in a refrigerator or cool root cellar overnight or for up to 2 days. Allowing the bacon to dry uncovered in a cool place the night before you plan to smoke it encourages smoke retention through pellicle formation.

  • At this point you would smoke the bacon and then let it air dry in a cool barn (during Autumn and Winter) or a root cellar. Like country hams, the bacon would likely be stored by hanging it in the root cellar in a muslin sack.

  • Bacon produced this way is saltier than modern bacon. If you find it too salty, you can blanch it in simmering water for 30-60 seconds immediately before frying to reduce the salt.

Curing Methods Info

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This is a truly inspirational answer. Thank you. –  Sobachatina Aug 3 '12 at 13:58
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