How to cold smoke

Do you Need Curing Salt to Make Bacon?

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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.

Adding curing salt to your bacon is one of those things that many new meat curers ask.

It’s also a question that often comes up on this resource site, so I thought I would share many years of research and give you some facts about it.

I’ll go into it, how I do it, and how I approach it.

I have produced bacon for about 20 years. During that time, I experimented with different aspects of dry curing, cold smoking, or hot smoking and cooking the bacon in various ways.

So let me give you a nice short answer and then go into more detail.

Add curing salt, like Pink Curing Salt, is about protection from potential botulism. Hot Smoking Bacon is cooking it and not as necessary; on the other hand, dry-cured cold smoked bacon is more exposed during the process.

The cases of botulism across the world should also be looked at; I’ve done research into this. For instance, the cases in the USA are often less than 100-150 per year (Link to USA Govt site information).

Relevant factors include the quality of the meat you use and how it was hygienically slaughtered, chilled, and transported.

I have found a school of thought that has developed, especially in America & across Europe, where pink-curing salt is used on anything that is salt-cured or dry-cured.

This includes dry-cured or wet-brined types of curing.

Pink curing salt is salt and nitrates/nitrites. In Europe, other products have sodium nitrate/nitrite with different names and ratios!

Pink Curing Salt is the most common across the globe, even in Oceania, where I am currently residing. I will focus attention on its relevance to bacon curing.

Pink curing salt number 1 – under 30 days meat curing (often recipes which are cooked as part of the process)

Pink curing salt number 2 for over 30 days meat curing.

You would use 2.5 g per 1000 grams of meat – this is an inclusion in the TOTAL salt for a bacon recipe.

Cold smoked vs hot smoked bacon large

If you want more information on the basics of curing using salt, here is a beginner’s post with more details.

Bacon and Curing Salt in Detail

Difference Between Salt & Curing Salt

When I cure meat, I use plain salt, which has no additives or anti-caking agents- it’s basically just sea salt.

Curing salts are known by many different brands and names, such as:

  • Pink Curing Salt No. 1
  • Instacure No. 1
  • Prague Powder No. 1
  • DQ curing salt No. 1
  • Quick Cure No. 1

There are others I haven’t used, with different nitrate/nitrites to salt ratios, for example: Mortons Curing Salts, Canadian or European alternatives.

Often, you will hear (and you also read on the internet) that pink curing salt helps to create that pinkish color and porky flavor and protects the meat from botulism.

Research into Nitrates and Nitrosamines

Science Based Article on this

“It’s not so much nitrates/nitrites per se [that are carcinogenic], but the way they are cooked and their local environment that are an important factor,” 

BBC News – The Truth about Nitrates in Your Food

Heathline – Are Nitrates & Nitrites in Food Harmful

Here is a more entertaining but informative read about botulism – a Doctor in Boston wrote this piece.

In their normal state, nitrates are pretty harmless. When we eat them, the bacteria in our mouths (and yes, we all have it), converts some of the nitrates to nitrites, and they’re a little different. Once they get to the stomach, that’s when reactions are kick-started by the acid there, and it’s when there’s the chance they’re going to turn into something carcinogenic. That happens when they’re in the presence of another set of compounds called amines. They form nitrosamines, and those nitrosamines also form in foods when they’re subjected to cooking at extremely high temperatures, like what happens in that bacon. Bummer. 

Mashed.com – The Truth about Cured Meats

Smoked bacon 1

Definition of Pink Curing Salt

So here is a breakdown of what Pink Curing Salt contains:

Pink Curing Salt =

(Designed for under 30 days) No. 1 consists of:

  • 93.75% table salt
  • 6.25% sodium nitrite

(Designed for over 30 days) No.2 consists of:

Ways to Make Cured Meat

I’ve given information and facts that I’ve learned over the years. Now, I will tell you what I do when I cure bacon.

Dry Cured Cold Smoked Bacon

I have developed a recipe that I include in my meat curing course, this includes salt and spices without any form of nitrates or nitrites.

This is because I like to cook my bacon until it’s crispy, generally with over 350°F heat. To avoid these issues with carcinogens, I don’t use pink-curing salt or other nitrates/nitrites.

Using whole muscle meat doesn’t expose as much area to the environment, I believe it is lower risks to unwanted bacteria. Also, cold smoking has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties in the smoke vapor.

Dry Cured Whole Muscle Curing & Curing Salt

For all the other types of whole muscle meat curing, such as braesola, pancetta, etc.

I use salt and spices without nitrates are nitrites for the same reasons.

Dry Cured Salami & Curing Salt

I have some recipes for cold-smoked dry-cured salami from Eastern Europe translated from Hungarian.

Eastern Europe is quite chilly, which means lower temperatures and, therefore, fewer risks of bacterial growth.

Often, temperatures hovering around freezing point and just above freezing point is ideal.

A classic Hungarian dry-cured salami requires just salt, three spices, and three cold smoking sessions of about eight hours.

What is interesting about this traditional recipe is that it can be hung and dried so that it loses over 30% of its weight and is therefore deemed dry enough to be eaten as dry-cured salami.

Or, you can cook the salami and eat it as a regular sausage.

In terms of equilibrium curing, the master method that I use for calculating curing is based on 2% salt per pound of meat.

Many Italian households I’ve visited whilst living in Italy – often had only salt and spices in the cured meats. The meat was of high quality.

Cooked Ham Types & Curing Salt

Again, I’m using equilibrium brining when I place ham in a brine for 10 to 30 days, depending on its size.

Then, the ham is often smoked and cooked simultaneously, otherwise known as hot smoking, with direct heat. As I cook the meat below 350°F, I use pink curing salt number 1 at the widely accepted ratio.

Conclusion

The craft of curing meat is at times a complex and a curious hobby.

But once you get the foundations and understand the theory, it all starts to fall into place. For me, making things like bacon regularly is second nature.

And getting consistent outcomes with the right techniques happens often.


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