Smoking bacon either with the cold or hot smoked method can both lead to some excellent outcomes. There are quite a few differences and remember, pretty much all the bacon you buy will be cold smoked.
I have tried both hot and cold smoking using various different techniques and equipment. So I thought I would share what I’ve learned over the last few decades.
I will also try and talk about the simplest ways of doing both techniques for the maximum amount of flavor.
Difference between cold smoked and hot smoked bacon – cold smoked bacon involves drying the bacon with cold smoke after fully salt curing the bacon. Hot smoked bacon involves cooking the bacon after salt curing. Both methods can lead to quality outcomes.
Differences in Detail
If you want to try making hot or cold smoked bacon at home. I will go through the important bits and pieces to give you an overview and help you decide which way you want to go.
Both methods involve some form of smoking, however, you can also make green (uncured) bacon which I will talk about at the end.
Cold Smoked Bacon
It depends on how long you smoked bacon, but with this technique of cold smoking bacon, you can choose how smoky you like your bacon.
Cold smoked bacon should be cooked after it has reached the target weight loss.
Technique & Difficulty of Cold Smoking
Here is the process:
- Fully cure the Bacon either salt brine or dry salt curing
- Dry in the fridge to form a pellicle
- Cold smoke in the right environment (Temperature, Humidity & Air Flow)
- Rest in the fridge or a cool area between smoking sessions
- Once 20-30% weight loss – Bacon is ready
The time it takes to fully cure even a small half pound of bacon will be at least a week. Once cured in the fridge, I like to dry in the fridge to form the pellicle. The pellicle is a tacky sticky feeling on the outside of the meat. You leave it uncovered (can be in a cool area) so the protein on the surfaces binds together.
Then you have to decide how much you want to cold smoke bacon. A minimum of 1 day or eight hours is what I prefer. A little bit of weight loss will occur, but it will need more time smoking and hanging to get to a point where it is ‘preserved’ as well.
On occasion, I got up to 50 hours over a week of evening sessions. Using lighter flavored woods, like fruit woods, helps to not overpower the taste with the smoke.
It’s not a difficult process, you just have to do a few things in a particular way. And even the equipment is pretty straightforward which I’ll talk about below.
Certain properties in the smoke help protect the meat from going off, this is why it’s a technique that has evolved over thousands of years. There are a couple of points that are really important with cold smoking.
Cold smoking has a lot to do with humidity & air flow
These are a couple of factors that aren’t talked about very much.
If you want a full guide on cold smoking, I wrote a long post here.
It covers meat and non-meat cold smoking.
What do I Need to Cold Smoke Bacon?
Many folks I have talked to always think that you need a whole smokehouse and elaborate setup for cold smoking. From a traditional point of view, this is the way it was done.
However, there are lots of new inventions that can easily provide a cold smoking environment to make bacon and many other delicious goods.
If you really want to you could use a cardboard box with a simple cold smoker pellet tube (would have to watch the heat though – under 80ºF/30°C is the key temperature, I think meat starts cooking at 89.6°F/32°C supposedly).
If your looking for the 'ducks nuts' (that means a very good bit of equipment). A smoke generator can be used as a cold smoker, or adding smoke to indirect cooking which equates to a form of 'low & slow' bbq or making smoked ham and some much more.
The inventor of smoke generators was Smokai, it's a simple device that uses the venturi effect and a variable air pump to control the amount of smoke you are pumping.
I have a range of cold smoking options, and the Smokai is my favorite.
By far the smokai is the most efficient cold smoker I've come across because you have control.
It also burns very clean, which flavors the food exceptionally well. I've been using smoke generators for over 10 years, and this one is the ducks nuts.
Check out this review I did of the Smokai Smoke Generator here.
Since cold smoking has a preserving effect, I love to make cold smoked bacon for camping trips. It doesn’t need any refrigeration as you may have seen in many delicatessens and shops across Italy they hang dry-cured meat and cold smoked meat throughout the year.
Hot Smoked Bacon
From the cured meat groups that I am a part of hot smoked bacon is the more popular technique. This is definitely the case in the U.S. Compared to the Europeans will still traditionally cold smoked bacon, speck or other forms of bacon alternatives.
In essence, hot smoked bacon is salt brining or dry salt curing, then cooking a cured pork belly with some smoke being involved. Versus cold smoking which is drying with cold smoke and intensifying the flavor (through the smoke and moisture loss).
Technique & Difficulty of Hot Smoking
- Cure the Bacon either brine or dry salt
- Dry in the fridge to form a pellicle
- Hot Smoke / Low & Slow cook & smoke the Bacon
- Cooked – once the internal temperature is reached bacon is ready
- Rest in the fridge for a day
- Slice, pack & freeze
What do I Need to Hot Smoke Bacon?
You need a smoker that can hold a temperature ideally. For example, charcoal, electric, gas, offset or pellet smoker. Certain types of smokers are easier to use than others, I have cooked on all of them and all have produced great results.
Did a logical comparison of how easy the different smokers are, you can find the post I wrote here.
You can also use a barbecue gas grill with a smoke producing device like a pellet tube or maze smoker. You have to set up the gas grill for indirect cooking. It can take some experimentation to find out how the heat and smoke travel around under the hood.
I am fascinated making dry-cured meat and sharing the amazing flavors you can create at home.
After curing for nearly 20 years, with a focus on dry-curing classic Italian and exotic ideas also. I've got a fantastic video charcuterie course covering what you need, how to do it, and some insider tips.
It's all bundled together as a formidable resource - check out my Meat Curing Course Here.
Traditional Cold Smoked vs. Hot Smoked New Age
I think another big reason why hot smoking has become so popular, there is a bit of fear around not cooking the meat completely and the danger zone of meat to grow bacteria. If normal decent hygiene practices are used there shouldn’t be concerns (mainly keep the meat refrigerated unless cold smoking & handle cleanly as you would normally).
Travels through Southern, Central and Eastern Europe have been quite remarkable since meat curing has a very deep and interesting history.
Interesting Story Roman soldiers were partly paid in salt, the word “salary” has some derivative from this – for more info, check out the Salt Association which talk further about the history.
Definitely, I would say that both techniques are awesome and lead to great outcomes, however I lean towards cold smoking because I like to have something that is preserved and I can use over a few months without refrigeration.
The time is takes to hot smoke is less than cold smoking, for many this is also a reason.
If you want to get more smoke flavor, then cold smoking does provide opportunity to really hit the pork with the smoke.
Other Factors – Skin Removal (If Still Attached)
It is super easy to remove the skin when you hot smoke the bacon. Some people prefer to hot smoke without the skin as well.
I like to cold smoke with the skin or rind because once you have finished the process you have an incredibly tasty addition to stocks or strews. It’s literally a flavor bomb! It does take a little bit of time just to cut off the skin but it’s worth it and you can just freeze it until needed.
Green (Uncured) Bacon
I have read about it but I haven’t tried doing it with liquid smoke to flavor bacon without smoking (I think liquid smoke is like the essential oil intense version of smoke flavor – extreme reduction)
Green bacon is basically cured pork belly so you can give it some spices as well so it’s got some flavor. Then, you can leave it uncovered in the fridge or a cool area to dry out and intensify a bit.
What are your thoughts on hot and cold smoked bacon?
Thanks for dropping by, I’ve been passionate about meat curing for around 20 years now. Having been lucky enough to learn inside fine dining kitchens through to backyard smoking sessions. From doing courses, trial & error and reading extensively – finally, I thought it was time to share my passion online.
My insatiable appetite and passion toward classic Italian dry-cured salumi and all forms of curing and smoking are what drives this website engine. All the best, Tom