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Is Cold Smoking Bacon Safe? (Detailed Answer)

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Writer / Enthusiast / Meat Curer / Forager / Harvester | About Tom

For decades, immersed in studying, working, learning, and teaching in the craft of meat curing, now sharing his passion with you through eat cured meat online resource.

Cold-smoking bacon and whether it’s safe depends on how you go about it. Just think about the bacon in supermarkets; most are cold-smoked.

I’ve been cold smoking bacon and other cured meats for nearly 20 years, and I write on this site, my online resource, which is all about curing and cold smoking. It all started when I had some friends who were traditional butchers, old-school Dutch guys.

Risk or safety all depends on technique and approach.

Meat curing is all about minimizing unwanted bacteria; cold smoking was traditionally a craft to assist in this.

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Traditional Cold Smoked Bacon! It takes a few months to dry after cold smoking.

Let’s start with whether cold smoking is safe, then continue with other aspects that may be helpful.

Cold Smoking bacon is safe if quality meat is used, handled hygienically using food-safe principles, appropriately cured, and cold smoked under 68°F / 20°C.

I’ve tried about five different techniques to cold smoke bacon, and they are all similar when safely done following the above process.

If you look at the cold-smoked goods across Europe, these types of cold-smoked meats are pretty standard. Colder climate areas tend to have more cold-smoked goods, I’ve found.

I think in some countries, litigation is an issue, especially when giving advice around specific topics. Some guys prefer not to cover cold smoking and label it – bad (not names being mentioned). I guess they haven’t studied it or read enough about it either.

Disclaimer

All this information is based on my knowledge and only my opinion. I’ll try to be as helpful as possible for someone who doesn’t know that much about cold smoking and wants to read about it, but don’t consider this advice – you have to make your own decisions.

However, some definitions, although I’ve some information to add about this.

Since foods are held in the temperature danger zone, rapid microbial growth (40-140°F) could occur. Therefore, only those meat products that have been fermented, salted, or cured, should be cold-smoked. Most cold-smoked products should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F before they are eaten.

Curing and smoking meats for home preservation – national centre of home food preservation

I regularly cold smoke many foods that are non-meant, such as cheese, eggs, salt, vegetables, and many other types of food.

It’s for flavor instead of preservation.

Also, I have cold-smoked fresh meat to add flavor and not preserve it before cooking it until a safe edible temperature has been reached.

Details About Whether Cold Smoking Bacon is Safe

Challenges and Risks of Cold Smoking Bacon

  • Quality of meat
  • How the meat is stored/cured- kept around fridge temperature
  • Use of salt to inhibit unwanted bacteria
  • Use of ‘Hardwood’ that is deciduous (not ever-green types, minimal sap)
  • Use of Nitrites to minimize the risk of botulism (optional for homemade)
  • Environment suitable to cold smoking (under 86°F/30°C ideally under 59°F/15°C)
  • Target Weight loss before freezing or hanging

If you curing your pork at regular kitchen fridge temperature and then cold smoking at a reasonably low temperature, like 40-59°F or 5-15°C – you are covering many of the risk issues.

You should be on the right track as long as your salt-curing process is well-defined.

I can see why the safety technique is often talked about: salt-cure their bacon and then hot-smoke it and cook it simultaneously at low temperatures.

For me, this is more like making a type of smoked ham that involves always reaching a safe internal temperature of 149°F or 65°C (145-160°F – USDA range)

What is Cold Smoking Bacon?

Cold-smoked bacon involves effectively curing the meat wet or dry curing, followed by drying out the meat while applying cold Smoke under 86°F/30°C ideally under 59°F/15°C, with airflow (cold-smoking meat is often just dried with cold smoke vapor around it).

Unwanted bacteria can grow exponentially as temperature increases, but using the right amount of salt and certain spices minimizes bacteria.

From what I have learned over the years, fish can start cooking above 86°F temperature. However, with effectively cured meat, this temperature may withstand some bacterial growth; this is the cornerstone of meat curing for preservation that has existed for thousands of years.

Cured meat is different because salt inhibits the meat and performs two main roles: water binding and diffusion.

The salt works its way into the middle of the meat during curing, and the water progressively works its way out, and the salt holds water inside the meat to slow down water activity (Aw).

I’m not a technical-scientific type, but these processes reduce or minimize the number of unwanted bacteria on and in meat if cured effectively.

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What I now use regularly for cold smoking – Smokai Smoke Generator – unique but not cheap!

I have cold-smoked many variations of bacon. I have primarily dry cured but also used to wet brine (it’s more subtle with the spices I’ve found).

This is a crucial step in making cold smoked bacon – dry curing/wet brining.

The pork needs to be adequately cured before moving to the cold-smoking stage.

In the past, I’ve dried the bacon to a weight loss of 25 to 30%. Drying is the traditional way of both preserving and intensifying the flavor.

The general guideline for dry curing meat like this, that’s not going to be cooked, is a weight loss of at least 30%.

Since I’m always going to cook my cold smoked bacon, I’ve now grown fond of about 20% weight loss (it’s quicker and needs maybe 2-4 weeks of drying).

I slice the bacon uniformly with a deli slicer and freeze the slices on baking tray sheets. I put the slices in a bag and pull a handful straight into the frypan when needed.

Slicing bacon cold smoked freezing large large

Fully dry-cured cold smoked bacon 25-30% weight loss. Fat dries out slowly – so depending on the fattiness of the bacon, this can take 1-2 months! (For homemade traditional styles).

Commercial supermarket bacon often has acidity added, which is another method of preventing unwanted bacteria and making it safer faster (quality goes down, production turnaround is faster).

It’s a combination of salt, cold Smoke, and drying for the bacon, which gives it flavor and preservation, too.

What Does Cold Smoking Do to Bacon?

Cold Smoke carries flavor and antifungal and antibacterial properties, and it protects the meat during the drying process of cold smoking.

What Temperature Should You Cold Smoke Bacon?

Technically, under 86°F or 30°C, cold smoking is done. For cold smoking bacon it is advisable to be under 68°F or 20°C for reduced chances of unwanted bacteria.

How Long Should You Cold Smoke Bacon For?

2 to 4 hours of cold smoking bacon, stronger smoke flavor up to 25-30 hours can be applied of cold Smoke. Resting every 8 hours is advisable to permeate the smoke flavor.

How to Avoid Risks When Cold Smoking Bacon

Keeping meat at a safe temperature is the key before cold smoking. Then, it is also operated at 40-59°F or 5-15 °C during cold smoking.

During the curing phase, you can use the method of equilibrium curing to choose the level of saltiness in the meat.

To avoid any risk, it’s a good idea to check the temperature during cold smoking.

This is where the smoke generator can be much better than a pellet tube smoker.

I’ve used both extensively.

When you use a pellet tube smoker often, it’s in the same chamber or area you’re cold smoking. If the area is small, the temperature can increase due to the combustion and heat from the pellet tube, and that’s not ideal.

But if you’re using a smoke generator, it’s only the cold Smoke that you are pumping into the chamber since you are typically mounting the smoke generator on the outside.

As mentioned above, this would help keep the temperature lower.

Are Cold Smoked Meats Safe?

Cold-smoked meats have safely been consumed by humanity for thousands of years. If eaten in moderation, well-made cold smoked meats are safe to eat.

They are if you follow the correct procedure with the right equipment and use decent meat!

I’ve got a whole lot of other resources on this website that are related to this. If you want to know the difference between cold smoking and hot smoking, you will find that there.

If you’re new to cold smoking and you want a breakdown guide, check that out here.

If you want to see how my process for making bacon works, you can check that out here.

If you’re new to meat curing and you want a beginner’s guide, check that out here.

I also offer an online whole muscle charcuterie meat curing course; it covers how to dry cure but also includes a guide and e-book on cold smoking, not just meat but also many other types of food.

I hope this post cleared up some mystery around cold smoking (here, I wrote about different cold smokers you could use) and whether or not that is safe. I have never had a bad batch of cold smoked bacon.


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Comments

  1. Clarify for me please. What is the highest safe temp for my smoker to reach for smoking store bought cured sliced bacon? Is it 68 degrees or 59 degrees? First time his morning and am 1 1/2 hours into it with an internal box temp of 64 degrees. I plan on pulling it at the 2 hour mark instead of a full 4 hours because on this concern. Trying to figure out when to do it next time in order to get a full hour smoke on it. Thanks.

    1. Author

      heya, store bought bacon ? hot smoked (aka cooked/smoked), or store bought cold smoked (which means raw)?
      if you are cold smoking tore bought, at 64f/17C, if it was me – i would be ok with that. My preferred cold smoking temp is 50-60F or slightly lower. Cheers Tom Mueller

  2. Currently attempting to cold smoke my own bacon. I brine cured it and then smoked it in a cabinet cold smoker @ 60deg f steady for 12 hours. After which my weight loss from original was only 2%
    I stored in the fridge on a wire rack overnight and achieved 3% overall weight loss.
    I am going for elevated grocery store style crispy bacon. Curious since I’m consuming what I want immediately and freezing the rest if I need to stick to the 20-30% overall weight loss. At this rate I’m looking at leaving it in the fridge (making everything smell smokey) for another 1-2 weeks. I’m imaging that grocery store bacon is injection cured and probably heavier than original weight and since it’s normally consumed immediately or frozen Curious as to your thoughts!

    1. Author

      Sounds on point!
      Takes weeks to lose weight.
      I do about 15-20%. 30% is preserving like prosciutto not cold smoked bacon. not much water left in meat.
      thousands of variation in the grocery store bacon.
      The last artisanal bacon factory i went to in Indianapolis, traditionally cold smoked for 20 hours, 2x sessions overnight in BIG chamber.
      I like 2x sessions for 4-5 hours personally.
      Thanks Tom

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