December 03, 2018 | Updated June 06, 2022
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Jowl bacon is to the South what guanciale is to Italy. A fatty, silky chunk of awesome.
It is what you think it is. Bacon, made not from pork belly, but from the cheeks of the hog, known as pork jowl — which you’d understand if you’ve seen fat pigs in a barnyard.
Well, my friends Christian and Kate Spinillo have lots of fat hogs at their Ham Sweet Farm in Michigan. And they were nice enough to send me home with one the other day. I could have made more guanciale, which is cured and dried pork jowl.
But I wanted to smoke it, and besides, I’ve been cooking Southern a lot lately, so jowl bacon it is.
The recipe is ridiculously simple: Cure the pork jowl, dry it out overnight, then smoke it cool until you’re happy.
In my case, I did what’s called an equilibrium cure, which means you weigh out a percentage of salt based on the weight of the meat, seal the meat in a vacuum bag and set it in the fridge for, well, a while. The beauty of this cure is that you can leave the meat longer than you might think and it won’t get too salty.
I do use curing salt, and you should, too. I know there are all sorts of people weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth about nitrite, but they are fooling themselves. “Oh! Use celery powder,” they say… perhaps not realizing that celery powder has more nitrite than what I use when I use Instacure No. 1. You can buy curing salt in good butcher shops or online through places like The Sausage Maker.
Incidentally, you will need a gram scale to do that properly. If you are making sausages or any cured meats, or baking, for that matter, you should have one.
Can you skip curing salt, celery or otherwise? Yes, you can. But it’s a harder process. You need to keep the meat very cold, as in refrigerator temperatures, at all times until you put the meat in the smoker. Then you need to smoke at very cool temperatures, as in less than 80°F, in order to get that specific bacon flavor and that pretty rosy hue we all know and love in bacon.
What wood to smoke on? I prefer a Southern wood, like pecan, which is what I used in the pictures, or you can use oak, hickory, apple or cherry.
Remember you are smoking bacon here, so you need the smoker to be cool-ish. I set my Traeger at 165°F and move the meat right from the fridge to the smoker, then leave it there for 3 to 4 hours. You can go longer if you want.
So how can you use jowl bacon?
Anyway you use regular bacon. Keep in mind most pork jowl has skin on it, which you can of course eat, or slice it off right before or after smoking. I like to slice off the skin and add it to a smoky broth I make with the carcasses of smoked ducks.
The bacon itself is typically fattier than normal bacon, and is excellent as a fat for cooking beans, greens or anything in the cabbage family. Cut the jowl bacon into pieces, fry them crispy, then remove (eat a few pieces) and cook the dish as normal. Return the crispy bits into the final dish at the end.
- 1 hog jowl
- Salt (see below)
- Instacure No. 1 (see below)
- Weigh the jowl in grams. Now weigh out 2% of that weight in regular salt, and then 0.25% -- that's a quarter of 1 percent -- of curing salt. Very roughly speaking, this should be about 4 tablespoons of regular salt and a quarter teaspoon of curing salt. Mix these salts together. If you like sugar in your cure, mix this in as well. I like a half cup of brown sugar sometimes.
- Massage the salts (and sugar, if using) into the jowl well. Put the jowl in a vacuum bag and add any stray salt. Seal the bag and put in the fridge for a week. If you don't have a vacuum bag, put the jowl in a sealable plastic bag and set that in the fridge for a week. In this case, flip the jowl over every day.
- When the jowl has been cured, remove it from the bag, give it a quick rinse and pat dry. Set it on a rack in the fridge overnight.
- Get your smoker ready. Set it at as close to 165F as you can, and you can go a little hotter and a lot cooler if you have that ability. Take the jowl out of the fridge and set it in the smoker. Smoke for at least 3 hours, and up to 8 hours if your smoker is below 120F. I like 4 hours at 165F.
- Remove the jowl bacon and set in the fridge to cool completely before storing. It will last a few weeks in the fridge, or more than a year vacuum sealed and in the freezer.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Made for the first time, so great…need more jowls in my life
Questions: no smoker, so can this done low and slow in a regular oven?
Robyn: I mean, sure, but jowl bacon is always smoked. Maybe use smoked salt and try it that way?
Just finished making this from a feral hog sow. As usual, I got great results and I now resolved to get the jowls in the future, especially from the bigger hogs.
If I have a 411 gram jowl. I want 8.22 grams of salt and 1.02 grams cure#1 ?
It seems like such a small amount of salt that I wanted to double check.
Dave: Yep. But you massage all of the in there, and then vac seal it. If you do that, you can leave the jowl in the fridge for days and days.
My first pig harvested this fall and we used this recipe for the jowls. It came out great but a little salty for our taste! I will follow this recipe again in the future but will likely add a short soak in place of the quick rinse step.
We used hickory in our smoker at 120 degrees for 4 hours, and it is deliciously amazing!
Thanks for this recipe. It’s a keeper.
Is tender quick the same weight ratio?
Monte: No. I never use Tenderquick. I don’t like it. So I can’t help you there.
Hi all, if you remove from the cure, rince and dry then flavour with white pepper, 5 spice or mustard powder rubbed all over.
Smoke for your desired length of time then hang at 10/14 degrees until it has lost 30% of its original weight ie 1kg start to 700g if you have a meat slicer
set it at 2mm if not put it in the fridge to firm it up to cut thin with a knife.
Either sit in a comfy chair and just let the flavour melt in your mouth yummy or wrap it around freshly cooked asparagus.
Laid under a piece of white fish.
I found my jowl meat at my local farmers market.
I like making pancetta and bacon and would like to make guanciale and jowl bacon but can’t find a source of pork jowls (unless I want to buy 250 pounds)!
Tried the Latin and Asian markets and had no luck. Any ideas where I can purchase a 5-10 lbs of jowls online or in San Diego area?
I have an outside smoke house. And I use the exact recipe that you have. I cure it for 5 days in vacuum bags and then I smoke mine for 25 days hanging in ambient temps in the fall and winter. Lighting a fire once daily and letting it smoke for around 8 hours then it has 12 to air out. Your recipe is foolproof
Thank you for the reminder. Our butcher introduced us to jowl bacon with our first hog. The butcher smokes it for us, and usually has some from other hogs as many people don’t want to try the cut. We use it in Dublin Coddle, a Dutch oven meal. Very good cooked on an open fire. Thanks again, Hank.
I am wondering, if I cold smoke under 80 degrees for 8 hours. Can I then put it in the oven at 165″degrees for a few hours?
Al: That would probably work, but I have never done it.
Thank you for speaking truth to celery powder!
Love your stuff man. Check it out, I actually fully cured a huge jowl from my cousins farm. From a pig they had called “ham and eggs” while raising. ? Took out 40% or so of weight in chamber. Ate without having to cook and let me tell you friend. Un-believable. Still had a ton of moisture of course! But man the flavor. Off the hook. You can of course cook it too after curing..I rendered it down for a crazy base for light pasta and tossed in small chunks. Real good!
Looks delicious. Can you use the vacuum bag method for your other bacon recipes ( like German style), any change in number of days in the fridge? Thanks
Nancy: Yes, you can, but you need to measure the meat and salt like in this recipe.
It might be our pigs but I’ve noticed it seems tougher than regular bacon. Still equally delicious though.
Beth: It is a little tougher, but jowl bacon is normally cut into cubes or lardons or other pieces besides thin strips.
I love to use jowl bacon as the fat in my venison grind. The smoky goodness infuses the resulting grind and you get the best bacon venison burger you’ve sunk teeth into just by making a patty.