Cold Smoked Bacon vs. Hot Smoked Bacon

Cold Smoked vs Hot Smoked Bacon – Which is Better?

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

cold smoked bacon pancetta
Slab of apple wood cold smoked bacon – so good

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:

  1. Fully cure the Bacon either salt brine or dry salt curing
  2. Dry in the fridge to form a pellicle
  3. Cold smoke in the right environment (Temperature, Humidity & Air Flow)
  4. Rest in the fridge or a cool area between smoking sessions
  5. 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.

Wood Smoked Bacon

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?

pellet tube cold smoker hot smoker
One of my trust pellet smokers – 12-inch – smokes for 4 hours minimum

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

  1. Cure the Bacon either brine or dry salt
  2. Dry in the fridge to form a pellicle
  3. Hot Smoke / Low & Slow cook & smoke the Bacon
  4. Cooked – once the internal temperature is reached bacon is ready
  5. Rest in the fridge for a day
  6. Slice, pack & freeze

What do I Need to Hot Smoke Bacon?

Hot Smoking on Charcoal - Snake Method
Hot Smoking on Charcoal – Snake Method – it just burns and smoked around the ‘chain’ of charocal – this lasted about 7 hours @ 200°F/95°C

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?

Comments

  1. Tom you are a really a good man and a good person. There are huge amount of sites and videos spending just GBytes in one Data Server describing nonsense. I am fan of cured and smoking meat and food generally. After reading your posts i realize how many mistakes i ve done so fur . I spend so many times trying to make charcuterie just following instructions of people they dont know what they are doing. So many sites and youtube videos saying half truth . You are the only one so far i ve found that describes all process so detailed and give attention on the possible mistakes.
    I would like to thank you for you site .

    1. Author

      Hi Dimitrios!
      Thanks my friend, what a beautiful comment, you made me smile this morning!

      I am glad I could help you.

      If there is any other topics you can’t find good answers to, please suggest them and I may be able to write a post on them!

      All the best,
      Tom

  2. How long will hot-smoked bacon remain good to eat? Frozen versus refrigerated, I mean. Some sources say frozen, hot-smoked bacon is good for 3 months, 3 weeks for refrigerated. Cold-smoking sounds fantastic, but I don’t have the time or resources to do it, so hot-smoking will have to do.

    1. Author

      Hey Mike,
      Thanks for having a read.
      Here is what I go by.
      Unrefrigrated 7-10 days for hot smoked is what I go by (not really preserving with hot smoking), if you are using pink curing salt then I guess you could keep it longer in the fridge.
      Some plastic bags (zip loc or others) that you use for freezing, kind of give a plastic flavor after being frozen for too long. I try and devour things before 3 months is up ideally.
      If you can Vac-pac then you will get longer without any ‘plastic’ tastes. An issue with Vac pac is at some point (hard to say), you get that plastic taste.
      A friend had a young wild goat, gutted uncovered in a freezer for ….. 2 years . It was amazing when we roasted it up!

      All the best,
      Tom

  3. Hiya!

    A great read and very informative! I currently have my first 2 slabs of belly pork in a dry cure (only at the 24 hrs stage so days away from the final outcome) and after reading this I think that I will try both hot and cold methods with each slab. Like you have said, I was a little scared of the cold smoke method but you have put me at ease!

    One burning question though…..in your opinion, what is the best wood/ chips and wood dust for hot and cold smoking? I have many types stacked up for hot and a pro Q type for cold smoking again with a few types.

    Thankyou in advance!!

    1. Author

      Hey Thanks, appreciate the feedback!
      As long as your confident the meat is fully cured, that’s the key.

      ‘Best’ is a dangerous word on the web. Each one to there own, and of course, everyone has different tastes buds.

      But, I broadly feel smoking wood can be categorized into lighter and stronger. Mixing is another option.

      Not sure what wood you’ve got! I’m sure many will work great. Personally, light to medium woods I like for my bacon.
      Apple, Grape Vine Wood, cherry, pecan.
      As long as you have some good airflow, go easy on the Q. And remember the cold smoke (and hot smoke) will get stronger when it’s stored. So wait overnight and then have a taste and see what you think. If need be give it another session.
      All the best,
      Tom

  4. Hey Tom,

    Thank you for this great article. I have cured a piece of bacon for the last 2 weeks and let it rest in my fridge to form the pellicle. I’m now ready to start smoking. I’ve bought a cold smoke generator and cherry wood powder. However, the weather has been realy good the last fiew days and I doubt I’ll be able to keep it under 32°c inside my bbq. Would adding an Ice bucket to my bbq help to cool the environment? How long can I let the bacon sit in my fridge after curing?

    1. Author

      Hey Wim!
      Thanks for your thanks! How about night time temperature? If it was me, I would use a temp probe to make sure the temperature is below 15-20. I have used ice as well to bring the temperature down further too.I like to let it site after curing for anything from a few hours to overnight/8 hours. It should be sticky when you poke it with a finger! Thats the pellicle!

  5. Tom,

    I live in Malaysia and our climate does not allow for cooler periods. It is normally 28 – 33 C daily and high humidity.

    I have cured some belly to make bacon but would still like to cold smoke it. I am “cooking” the bacon in the oven for an internal temp of 65C then going to let it cool and stick it in the fridge for a day or two and try to cold smoke it for 6 hours.

    I would like to know if that would be a safer bet in terms of hygiene with the bacon “cooked” in the oven first?

    Thanks

    1. Author

      Hey, if you cook it you hopefully nuke most of the bacteria
      If you fully cure meat, you are also minimizing bacteria to slow decomposing.

      Yeah you could cook and cold smoke for flavour for sure.
      It’s not cold smoked bacon, it’s cooked bacon with cold smoke flavor – but that’s cool too!

  6. tom thanks for posting all information about curing and smoking,
    and the EQ table very use full for me, i been reading for about 20 years
    now every thin i find on meat curing and smoking. I like dry cure meat,
    now and want to do may own process
    i cure meat with cure#1 using EQ method and smoke it very slow to correct temp cool it down and slice, so far family love it
    again thanks for all that good information you put out there

  7. Tom,

    Quick question: Is there any value to cold smoking for a few hours first then going to smoker to 150F? My thought is to use my smoker with bacon hanging and leaving it off (it’s electric) and lighting my pellet tube and rolling smoke for 2-3 hours. Afterwards, I turn over the smoker and roll more smoke at 220F until temp hits 150F internal. It’s roughly in the 40’s (F) here in Chicago right now so it’s perfect for cold smoking with ambient temp. Thoughts would be appreciated

    1. Author

      Havent tried it , but if you let it dry out and form pellicle for a few hours. Then you may boost your smoke flavor! Cheers Tom

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