There’s no question about it—bacon contains a considerable amount of sodium. Sometimes, the salty flavor can be overpowering, even if you’ve cured the bacon yourself. Is there anything you can do when your bacon is too salty for the dish you’re serving?
Bacon Too Salty
Bacon is pork belly that’s been cured or brined in a salt solution. As a result, it may taste overly salty. Soaking the bacon in water before cooking it can help to reduce the saltiness, but it also may cut back on the smoke flavor. If you learn to cure your own bacon, you can adjust the recipe until you get the results you want.
Why Is Bacon Salty?
Pork is naturally high in sodium to begin with. However, bacon is even saltier because of the way it’s processed.
Bacon is a cured meat product, which means it’s been either brined or dry-packed in a salt solution. This preserves the meat by drawing out moisture and warding off dangerous bacteria. As you can imagine, it also imparts a noticeable salt flavor.
In the past, curing meat was the best way to keep it fresh over long periods of time. With the advent of refrigerating and freezing techniques, it’s become less necessary. When it comes to bacon, though, the resulting flavor is so enticing that the practice has endured.
Why Do We Use Salt For Curing?
Bacteria and mold spores are more likely to multiply in moist environments. Since salt draws out moisture, it drastically reduces the chances of bacteria growing on the surface of the meat.
Beef jerky is a prime example. Because the meat has been salted and dehydrated, it lasts much longer than raw beef would. Once the moisture has been drawn out, there are fewer places for bacteria to set up camp.
What Makes Bacon Too Salty?
Often, when bacon tastes too salty, it’s because the pork belly was exposed to the curing salt for too long. You can cure bacon for anywhere from 3 to 10 days, but if you’re looking for a less pronounced salt flavor, try to limit the curing process to 5 days.
It’s also possible that you—or the manufacturer—used too much salt when preparing the cure. 1 to 2 teaspoons of curing salt should be sufficient for 5 pounds of pork belly. Kosher or table salt are usually added to the mixture as well, so don’t be tempted to go overboard.
Speaking of ingredients for the cure: Sugar will help to mitigate the salty flavor. Consider adding a few tablespoons of brown sugar to your cure recipe if it doesn’t call for that already.
Be aware that dry-cured bacon tends to be saltier than bacon that’s cured in a brine. Consider using a wet brine recipe the next time you make homemade bacon, just to see if you notice the difference.
Finally, if you’re making your own bacon, be sure to use curing salt #1, never #2. The latter is used for pepperoni, salami, and other meats that don’t need to be cooked before you eat them. Curing salt #1, meanwhile, is meant to be used for smoked meats.
Bacon Too Salty: How To Fix It
You have several options for fixing salty bacon. Which method you choose depends on whether the bacon is cooked or raw, and how you intend to use the ingredient. Here are some of our favorite techniques.
Let’s say you’ve cooked off a few strips of bacon and found that the batch is too salty for your liking. Is there any way to salvage the strips that are still uncooked?
Fortunately, there is—and it’s not that complicated. Just submerge the bacon in enough cold water to cover it completely, then refrigerate it for at least 2 hours. Make sure the container you use can fit in the refrigerator.
After 2 hours, test the bacon by cooking off a small piece. If it’s still too salty, drain the container, refill it with a fresh batch of cold water, and let the bacon soak in the refrigerator for another 2 hours. Repeat as necessary until you’ve achieved the flavor you want.
This process, known as reverse-brining, will cut down on the saltiness of the meat. However, bear in mind that you might also lose some of the smoky taste, so proceed with caution.
A similar, faster method involves boiling a small amount of water in a frying pan, then adding the bacon and allowing it to simmer for about 1 minute. Drain the pan, pat the strips of bacon dry with paper towels, and cook as you normally would.
If you have a large batch of cooked bacon and it’s too salty for your taste, your options are somewhat limited. Since it’s already cooked, reverse-brining and blanching won’t work.
For dishes that call for crumbled or chopped bacon—like oysters Rockefeller or twice-baked potatoes—you can always cut back on the amount of bacon you use. Obviously, this won’t work if bacon is the star ingredient, but it’s a possibility.
Remember, too, that potatoes are high in potassium, which works to counteract the effects of too much sodium. So if health hazards are your primary concern, adding the bacon to a potato dish will help to offset the risk.
Cream and butter can balance out salty flavors, so if it works with your recipe, try adding one or both of these to the dish. Just be sure to use unsalted butter. Otherwise, you’ll only be adding to the problem.
Finally, if you’re serving the bacon as a side dish and find that it’s too salty, try adding an acidic ingredient to the meal as well. Acid and salt are both perceived by the sides of the palate, so a high concentration of one will help to offset the other.
How Can You Tell If Bacon Will Be Too Salty?
The only way to be sure that your bacon won’t be too salty is to cure your own using the pointers we’ve included above. If you don’t have the time or patience for that, however, there are a few tricks you can use.
When you buy bacon from the supermarket, it’s impossible to tell how salty it will be based on its appearance alone. Your first step should be to check the label for the sodium content. Compare different brands to find out which ones are the lowest in sodium, and choose whichever fits your budget.
Bear in mind that 3 strips of bacon—which is a typical serving size–usually contains between 400 to 500 milligrams of sodium. If you’re trying to cut back on salt, look for a product that falls on the lower end of this spectrum.
If you enjoy the taste of bacon but want to reduce the sodium content of your dish, you have a few options. Bacon isn’t the only cured pork product out there, and some of these alternatives may offer similar flavor without so much salt.
- Pancetta—Salt-cured instead of smoked, pancetta is nonetheless lower in sodium than bacon, and has a cleaner flavor.
- Prosciutto—Aged for over a year, prosciutto has a rich, buttery texture and can be enjoyed raw as well as cooked.
- Coppa—A rich dry-cured meat that may also be labeled as capicola or capocollo.
Tip: Beware of turkey bacon as an alternative to pork bacon. While it is leaner and slightly lower in calories, turkey bacon usually contains higher amounts of sodium. It’s also not as rich in protein, so it’s not necessarily a healthier choice.
The Bottom Line
Salt is the primary ingredient in the curing recipes that give bacon its distinctive flavor. As a result, it can be easy to overdo it and wind up with meat that’s unpleasantly salty.
If you want to cut back on the salty flavor of your bacon, try soaking it in cold water for a couple of hours before you cook it. Just be careful not to overdo it, as you’ll be losing some of the delectably smoky taste as well.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!