How To Make Low-Sodium Bacon at Home

How To Make Low-Sodium Bacon at Home

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

I love bacon. There’s no replacement that quite equals the taste of the real thing (trust me, I grew up in a turkey bacon household). And I’d give anything to eat it again. But 10 years ago, my kidneys failed, and to stay alive and healthy, I started a very low-sodium diet. Which, in turn, meant saying goodbye to bacon.

Luckily, though, that’s not where the story ends. After months of experimentation (including a dehydrator full of pork belly), my sister-in-law came up with a recipe for salt-free bacon that actually tastes, looks, and feels like the real thing. A monumental win for low-sodium eaters. And, it turns out, a great trick for anyone who wants to experiment with making easy, quick bacon from scratch!

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

The Evolution of This Low-Sodium Bacon

While I had to cut way down on sodium after my kidney failure, I still wanted to enjoy the foods I loved. And after a decade of cooking, I've found that — with the right ingredients and some creativity — it is possible to salt-free any recipe, from Bloody Marys to bread to bahn mi. Everything, that is, but bacon. The Holy Grail of the low-so world.

However, my sister-in-law is a genius. After much trial and error, she figured out this twice-cooking method for making a quick bacon from slices of pork belly. First you bake the slices at a very low temperature in the oven to render a bit of the fat and dry them out, then you fry the slices on the stovetop just like regular bacon. A bit of maple syrup and a sprinkle of spices completes the bacon fake-out — this "bacon" is just as crispy, chewy, smoky, and meaty as regular cured bacon.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)
(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Why You (Non-Low-Sodium Eaters) Should Try This

For starters, this salt-free bacon is quick — it only takes a little over an hour to make which is way less time than a real curing process for traditional bacon. So if you’re in a rush or don't feel like committing to a traditional charcuterie project, then this method is your new best friend.

More importantly, though, you control the flavor. For those of you not on a low-sodium diet, be my guest and add some salt to the spice rub.

But also feel free to experiment. Since we are already breaking the bacon rules, go ahead and rebel a little more. Try some curry powder or shichimi spice or even powdered ranch dressing mix. And match your bacon to the rest of the meal — it’s the ultimate accessory.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Tester's Notes

This quick bacon is a game-changer, both for folks on low-sodium or salt-free diets as well as those of us who just love a good DIY project. I am in the latter category of cooks — I've always wanted to try making my own bacon, but lacked the time, space, and overall commitment to actually do it. This method gives us a bacon-y shortcut and allows a lot more flexibility for experimenting with flavors and spice rubs. Very fun!

In texture, this bacon hit all the right notes for super-crispy edges and slightly chewy bits (I'm a thick-cut bacon gal!). I tried a salt-free version first, and while, yes, I confess to missing the salt, I was also really happy with the depth of meaty flavor and the smoky blend of spices and seasonings. Honestly, in both texture and flavor, it was superior to a lot of traditional bacon I've had!

You can make this as thick-cut or thin-cut bacon; the method is the same for both. You can often find packages of pre-sliced pork belly in the refrigerator cases in the meat section. To customize your slice thickness, you can ask the butcher to slice some for you. If neither option is available to you and you need to slice the pork belly yourself, I recommend following Jess's tip to partially freeze the pork and then using a very sharp knife to slice it as thinly as possible.

Convinced? Go forth and make bacon!

- Emma, April 2015


How To Make Your Own Sodium-Free Bacon

Makes 1 pound of bacon

What You Need

Ingredients
1 pound pork belly, sliced 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick (See Recipe Note)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
4 teaspoons liquid smoke (optional)
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper
Sprinkle of salt, for low-sodium version

Equipment
Kitchen shears
1 to 2 baking sheets
Aluminum foil
1 to 2 cooling racks
Skillet, for frying

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 200°F: Line 1 or 2 baking sheets with aluminum foil and set the baking racks over top. You'll typically need 1 baking sheet for thick-cut bacon or 2 baking sheets for thin-sliced bacon.
  2. Trim the rind from the pork belly: Use kitchen shears to trim away the tough outer rind on the slices of pork belly. The rind will be a slightly different color and have a tougher, more rigid texture than the softer pork fat underneath. Discard the rind or save for rendering lard.
  3. Transfer the pork to the baking sheets: Lay the slices of pork on the cooling racks over the baking sheets. Arrange the slices close together, but not touching. You want to make sure there's air flow under and around the sides of the slices.
  4. Brush with maple syrup: Mix the liquid smoke into the maple syrup, if using. Brush all of the slices with the maple syrup, then flip and brush the other side.
  5. Sprinkle with spices: Mix together the smoked paprika, cumin, and black pepper. Sprinkle the top side of the slices generously with spices, then use your fingers to gently rub the spices into the meat. (If you're not on a low-sodium diet, you can add some salt to this spice mix; you can also sprinkle the slices with a little salt after frying.)
  6. Bake for 1 hour: Place the baking sheet(s) in the oven and bake at 200°F for 1 hour to dry them out. When done, the pork will be cooked through and opaque, but still very rubbery and flabby.

At this point, the bacon can be fried immediately, refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 3 months. If freezing, place wax paper or freezer paper between the layers and thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.

  1. Fry the bacon: Warm a skillet over medium-high heat, then add the bacon in a single layer without crowding — work in batches, draining the fat from the pan as needed between batches. Fry until dark golden-brown and as crispy as you like it, turning frequently to make sure neither side starts to burn. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. Serve while still warm.

Recipe Notes

  • Slicing Your Own Pork Belly: If your butcher can't cut your pork belly into slices for you, you can do it yourself with a sharp knife. To make it easier, freeze the pork belly for about 20 minutes, until the edges feel hard and frozen, but the middle is still flexible.
  • Low-Sodium Bacon: If you're not on a low-sodium diet, you can add some salt to the spice mix. You can also sprinkle the slices with a little salt after frying.
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