Sidebyside comparison of cold smoked bacon slices versus hot smoked bacon on a grill, showcasing different smoking techniques.

How to Make Awesome Bacon at Home- (Variations & Guide)

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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.

After a few decades of studying and making bacon, I want to share what I’ve learned to help you discover how to make bacon with accurate salt perception so you can enjoy it exactly how you like.

Being a huge bacon lover, I’ve tried quite a few techniques and styles on how to make bacon at home. I have showcased below the accurate way to get the right amount of salt to match your taste, which I’ll highlight below.

Dry-cured or wet-cured, un-smoked or smoked, here is a page that has all my successes and learnings with a step-by-step guide to help you.

I’ll go over the fast salt curing method and the accurate method also.

Because bacon is the best!

Below, I will put links relevant to other bacon topics I have written about on this site if you want to read more about what I’ve learned over the years.

I will include the bottom three of my favorite styles, Sweet, Aromatic, and savory ideas for your convenience.

Thinly sliced cold smoked dry cured bacon
A good batch of thinly sliced dry cured bacon cold smoked bacon, the house bacon around here

How To Make Bacon

  1. Dry cure or Wet brine cure
  2. Wash off cure (optional)
  3. Dry the bacon to form the pellicle
  4. Cold or Hot Smoke
  5. Wrap & store to intensify the flavor

Firstly, I’ll go over the variations, then the steps finally, the other factors.

A dry cure or a wet brine liquid is the first significant variation.

The second is to either cold smoke and dry it out or cook and hot smoke it.

Before you make your epic bacon, you need to decide which method, and I’ll explain which equipment is necessary for each method. I’ve used all methods with many variations, to see all this in detail you can check out my online ‘every bacon style video course here.

Bacon types or categories

With the steps below, I’ll highlight the variations in detail:

  • Green Unsmoked/Liquid Smoked Bacon – great starter, no smoking, can use an oven or dry
  • Hot Smoked Bacon – if you have a hot smoker, indirect heat source, or gas grill
  • Cold Smoked Bacon – drying and cold smoking, most prolonged process, classic flavor

Green (Unsmoked) Bacon

It’s not green, it is unsmoked bacon; however, you can use a product to give it a smoke flavor without smoking it.

It’s still delicious since you can cure it and add lots of flavor with herbs and spices if you want.

I like to use smoked paprika to give it a certain angle.

You can hot smoke and finish this bacon off in an oven with liquid smoke.

Liquid Smoke is the condensation captured from a smoking fire. Once cured, you can dry it to intensify the flavor.

Hot Smoked Bacon Defined

Hot Smoked is cured, and dried to form the pellicle, then you low & slow cook it for several hours to get the smoke flavor into it.

Cold Smoked Bacon Defined

The key is to have the temperature & humidity (not as essential but helps) conducive for cold smoking.

Cold smoked bacon is about curing (wet or dry), forcing a pellicle, then cold smoking whilst drying out the bacon to intensify the flavor.

Dry Vs. Wet Curing

In short, dry curing is a direct application of the salt cure mixture with no water/liquid. I use two methods of dry curing – saltbox saturation and equilibrium curing.

Salt Box

Rub/]Sarurate salt in the meat and leave in a tray/container for some time (1 day per 1-2 pds of meat).

Equilibrium curing

Use a % of salt to the weight of the meat (my preference since you can ‘choose’ the salt level you want).

Wet Brining (Wet Curing)

A liquid salt curing solution with salt, potentially sugar, and spices. Depending on the thickness, submerge the meat for a while (saturation or equilibrium brining can be used).

I prefer dry curing because I can add more aromatics and spices, which I find come through in the flavor. Because moisture is drawn out of the pork belly, I think the flavor intensifies.

When I add plenty of herbs or other flavorings to wet cures, it always seems subtle, even if I use a lot of additions, versus dry curing.

Equipment for Making Bacon

Hot Smoking Bacon Equipment

Cooking Indirect Heat and Smoking at the same time can be achieved with:

Dry Curing is done either in a container of salt, Ziploc bag or a backpack bag

Wet curing is done in Tupperware or a bowl. A meat inject needle is very useful for speeding up wet curing and can half the curing time.

Having Ziploc bags or baking dishes, I presume people have in the kitchen already.

There is a range of ways to smoke bacon, depending on whether you want to cold or hot smoking bacon.

It’s generally hot smoking unless you have a device to keep the temperature below 30°C/86°F (I will list a few ways below).

There are many simple tools that can be used to cold smoke, you can even just use them with your gas grill.

I prefer to cold smoke below the threshold at about 20°C/68°F.

A lot of people hot-smoke bacon; it’s easier and quicker.

Then re-cook the bacon when they eat it; the bacon will last 1 or 2 weeks since it is cooked not preserved like cold smoking.

For hot-smoked green/uncured bacon, an oven can cook the bacon at a low temperature. Liquide smoke is a great hack/tip for smoking bacon without a smoker. More on this later.

Cold Smoking Bacon Equipment

Cold Smoking is more subtle if smoking is under 8 hours. It’s kind of simple – but there is a theory to understand.

Less old smoke, I’ve found, is better than too much, with cold smoking (and smoked goods in general, I find). Excess smoke can lead to bitterness and isn’t good for you, either.

Different Equipment for Cold Smoking:

How to Cold Smoke method piece of charcoal & some smoking wood)

Depending on where you live, cold-smoked bacon is what you would probably buy most of the time from the store!

Before getting to the step-by-step guide, I will review the main basics, so you can choose what to make. Bacon is done many ways, so hopefully, this demystifies the basics (the assumption is you may be trying bacon for the first time).

Nitrates

Using pink curing salt no. 1, otherwise known as instant cure no. 1, Prague powder No.1 it has many other names. It helps the curing process in many ways, but I prefer always to use it for bacon.

What Pink Curing Salt does for Bacon:

  • Reduces risk of botulism bacteria
  • It gives bacon that nice pink color
  • Cures faster
  • Gives bacon that ‘ham’ flavor you know and love

But the biggest reason is it helps make the meat safe from bacteria that could be harmful.

If you want to read more information on nitrates, I created a page that summarizes scientific studies. Please find that link here.

Salt

In this video I will highlight the saturation vs equilibrium curing process for bacon making.

Salt size can vary a lot when it comes to any type of cured meat. Size doesn’t matter for the saltbox method. I generally use coarse Silician sea salt because you are saturating and rubbing the meat in salt.

If you are using the EQ method, fine salt is best since you want to distribute it across all the meat you are curing. Accurate digital scales to 1 gram decimal point help you get the salty taste and consistency (Metric is a lot better than using imperial if you are using this method, for accuracy of small amounts).

When it comes to the type of salt, the short answer is to use pure sea salt or kosher salt. This will mean the salt doesn’t contain any additives, like anti-caking agents. Iodized salt is also not the kind that should be used for curing meat since it can create off flavors in the finished product.

Different types and brands of salt have different sizes; hence they have different weights.

Salt can also vary greatly in shape and density. It sounds crazy, but salt from one type to another can sometimes nearly double in space or volume.

So if you measure salt by volume, for instance, like a tablespoon, your recipe can have very different outcomes; you may have come across this in recipes and never noticed it, I didn’t realize it for many years.

I love equilibrium curing because you get precision.

Accurate kitchen scales are a must for this; most scales go to 0.1 oz or 1 gram or 0.3-0.6 oz or 3-5 grams. This isn’t accurate enough if you want to get into EQ meat curing.

For instance, if you have a 2 lb (900 grams)pork belly to make bacon.

Using metric because it’s easier,

Sea Salt @ 2.0% x 900g

0.02 x 900 = 18 grams of sea salt

&

Pink Curing Salt No. 1 is applied at 0.25% of the meat weight for equilibrium curing (see below)

Pink Curing Salt No.1 @ 0.25% x 900g

0.0025 x 900 = 2.25 grams of pink curing salt no. 1

Step-by-Step Illustrated Guide

  1. Dry Cured or Wet Brine
    • Dry Curing
      • Salt Box Method
      • Equilibrium Curing Meat
    • Wet Brining
  2. Wash Off Cure
  3. Dry the Bacon
  4. Hot or Cold Smoke

1. Dry Cure or Wet brine

Dry Cure

It’s a personal preference; I use equilibrium curing because I know that all the ingredients are absorbed and intensify the pork.

Salt Box Method

This is the traditional way of salt curing; you have a pan or bowl of your curing mixture, which includes salt, pink salt & spices.

You coat the pork thoroughly with salt on all sides and in all areas. Then, place the pork in a Ziplock bag or on a waterproof-rimmed tray.

The salt will draw out moisture; all you do is flip the pork every day or two.

The pork must be kept in the fridge or in a cool area during this process.

A weight can be applied about double or triple the pork weight to squeeze out moisture.

Length of Time with Saltbox Method

The general rule is:

1 day for every 1-2 pounds / 0.5-1 kg of meat.

Too Salty after Curing, Soak & Test

If you use the salt box method, it’s a good idea to fry a slice up afterward and see how salty it is after washing it. If it’s too salty, place it in a pan of fresh water for 20-30 minutes, then fry it up again until you get the preferred salt level.

Equilibrium Curing

Equiliubrium curing in a bowl large

My preference for the approach toward dry-cured meat projects. It’s the perfect way to get precision spicing & your preferred saltiness into the bacon.

As mentioned previously, if you have accurate scales, you can work out the percentage of salt to whatever the weight of the meat is.

Meat curing spice large

Most guys I know that now use this method vary from 1.5% to 3.5%, depending on what they like. Salt is a funny beast since everyone seems to perceive the intensity differently.

I generally use 2.25% salt to the weight of the pork. How thick you slice it will also have a big difference in the perception of saltiness.

Use a bowl to mix in the EQ cure. Make sure the mixture is evenly distributed, and put it all in a Ziploc bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible, seal the bag, and store it in the fridge to cure.

Adding Some Flavor Angles

Some flavors I like to play around with:

  • Brown Sugar/Honey – 0.5-1.5% of the weight
  • Juniper Berries – I like to use 3 or 4 per pound of pork
  • Dried Thyme – 1% of the weight
  • Cracked Pepper – sometimes toasted – 2% of the weight

Many recipes I have found online add a lot of sugar, which is not my preference.

I try to balance the salt with the sweetness.

Length of Time with Equilibrium Curing

Curing in the fridge
Curing in the Fridge

With EQ curing, you can leave it for a few more days, and it won’t over-salt the meat. A week is generally enough for most sizes of pork belly I have seen, but it will depend on how thick it is. With equilibrium curing, leaving it a few days longer doesn’t matter.

A couple of times, I have left it another week, with no issues. I may have even infused more of my spice bomb flavors into the meat!

Wet Curing or Brining

The old term for this was ‘pickling’; you dissolve the salt mixture in water and then submerge the pork in the salty brine for some time.

I generally use a weak brine of 5% salt (50 grams) to 1 quart/1 Litre of water as a base for bacon or other things I am wet curing before smoking.

It helps to heat the mixture to dissolve it, wait until it is fully room temperature, and then it is ready for use.

Place a plate and weight on top so the pork stays under the liquid; it tends to float.

So for a 2 pound/1 kg pork, I use as a base:

  • 2 Quart/Litres of Water
  • 3.5 oz / 100 grams sea salt
  • 0.35 oz / 10 grams / 2 teaspoons of pink curing salt no. 1
  • 1.7 oz / 50 grams brown sugar

Pink Curing Salt No.1 = 5 grams / 1 teaspoon per quart/liter of water

Length of Time in the Brine

A minimum of 10 days, up to 2 weeks, is good for complete curing.

Equilibrium Curing Bacon Calculator Tool (or any Meat Curing)

I created an equilibrium curing calculator to make it simple for anyone

Here is my curing calculator page.

If you’re new to bacon making or equilibrium curing, please read the rest of this post.

Equilibrium curing is something I’ve been using for dry-curing meats, like more classic Italian Salumi. It took over the way that I cured bacon or when I did a pancetta-style bacon.

This is really just a little bit of a calculation to work out the ratios. Once it’s done and recorded, it’s pretty straightforward.

The most important thing you can remember is that the total amount of saltiness will include the pink curing salt (@ the recommended 0.25% pink curing salt quantity to the total weight).

So, for example, you are aiming for 2% total salt to the weight of the meat. Then I would use 1.75% sea salt +0.25% pink curing salt.

So, if you want to check out some scales, here is a page that does a good job.

For wet curing brining that package will always say use:

2 tablespoons or 27 grams = 4 cups or 1 quart or 1 liter of water

So if you you are making more brine, just double the recipe, etc. It is a good idea to put the pork in the container and pour some water in first to determine how much brine you need. Then make the brine amount based on that.

2. Wash off Cure

Washing cure under tap after curing
Washing Cure under Tap after Curing

Regardless of the method above, you want to have a firmed-up piece of pork ready for a good rinse after the allotted time.

I have always used tap water to take off most of the cure. I rinse for 2-3 minutes and rub off most of the spices I see.

Optional – Spice Layer

Whilst the meat is still a bit wet from the rinsing, this is a good time to give the bacon a flavor hit if you want. When I combine spices, I get pretty excited and love to vary the combinations. Spice grinders (coffee grinders) are really useful for this.

Generally, I follow some basic rules, but I just throw it all in the mortar or pestle or spice grinder and keep trying it until it tastes good.

Cracked pepper is one I always use unless I have to appeal to someone’s sweet tooth, so real maple syrup can get lathered in sometimes, so I won’t use pepper.

Other common spices I like to pack on:

  • smoked paprika
  • garlic powder
  • finely ground bay leaves
  • finely ground up clove (like 1 or 2 max)

3. Dry the Bacon

Pellicle on pork
Pellicle on Pork Loin – reading for Smoking!

Whether you are smoking or not, it is important to leave the pork belly uncovered in the fridge for at least one day. This will firm up and dry out the belly, intensifying the flavor more.

The pellicle allows the smoke to stick to the meat more easily. This is especially important for hot-smoked bacon, which is smoked/cooked over a shorter period of time.

Green Un-smoked Bacon

Unsmoked can still have great flavor if you don’t have a smoker or don’t want to use one (I wrote about the easiest smokers here, if you are interested).

I use Spanish smoked paprika to add another layer of flavor and make it baconier.

This can be done in a cold cellar or a normal kitchen fridge. Using a cooling rack to do this.

4. Cold or Hot Smoke the Cured Pork

If you are smoking your pork, here is a quick guide on how I like to hot or cold smoke.

How to Hot Smoke Bacon

  1. Complete the drying or pellicle formation on the surface
  2. Use a thermometer to get the hot smoker to 200°F/95°C
  3. Smoke until the internal temperature of 150°F/65°C
  4. Storing bacon in a container overnight will intensify the smoke flavor

Generally, most pork I have smoked, either with charcoal (snake method), electric, or pellet smoker, will take 2 1/2 to 3 3/15 hours, depending on temperature.

Its indirect hot smoking or low & slow bbq style smoking

If you haven’t smoked food before, I have a beginner’s guide to smoking to introduce the basics; check it out here.

Smoking bacon is much easier when hot smoking; it is shorter, and pretty much everyone cooks the bacon while adding some smoke flavor. I then refry it up when I want to serve it.

Putting the fridge wrapped up for at least half a day intensifies the smoke flavor.

Cold Smoking Bacon

Cold smoked vs hot smoked bacon large

How to Cold Smoke Bacon

  1. Make sure smoke is out of the direct sun
  2. Start the smoke-generating device
  3. The temperature of smoker under 30°C, preferably 20-25°C
  4. Put in a container & refrigerate overnight if continuing smoking
  5. Cold smoke for 1 to 7 days, approximately 4-8 hour sessions
  6. 10-20% weight loss is expected, and bacon will be dry so it can be preserved slightly also

Cold-smoked bacon is the real deal; it generally takes longer, but the equipment you can use is super basic.

To really cold smoke bacon properly, it’s about cold smoking until it has dried out thoroughly, since you’re getting to a point where bacon has dried enough to be preserved. This is an incredibly old traditional form of preserving.

I like to do it in winter since you have to have a maximum temperature of 30°C/86°F. That is the upper end since things can start to cook around that temperature, and it’s also when bacteria multiply.

So I like to cold smoke around 59°F/20°C; humidity is another factor that seems to come into play with cold smoking. I read an old smoking book called Home Smoking & Curing by Keith Erlandson, which talks about humidity factors in the commercial smoking industry. Since you are drying out the bacon, you ideally want lower humidity.

Store to Intensify the Smoke Flavor

I like to let the bacon rest for a few days in the fridge after smoking it, and then I get the deli slicer out to cut and package it.

Worth letting the smoke permeate after smoking; it always tastes better.

Different Pork Cuts for Bacon

Streaky is classic, but there are other styles!

Bacon parts

Streaky / Side Bacon (Pork Belly)

Pork belly (streaky or side) bacon is the most common, and I get excited just typing it. It has a much higher fat content than loin (back) bacon. That is probably why it is enjoyed so thoroughly by many people.

Being quite narrow, it cures nicely and easily, too.

Loin Bacon (Back)

The leaner cut typically has a streak of fat and more meat. I also like to make loin bacon quite often.

Middle Bacon (Back & Belly)

A combination of streaky and loin bacon, connected. It’s a nice decent size, too.

Jowl Bacon (Cheek)

Full of flavor, you won’t easily find this cut of meat unless you are butchering your pig or know someone who is

Cottage Bacon (Shoulder)

There are lots of flavors, too, and no solid fat runs as many other cuts. I find a fair bit of marbling in this cut of bacon, though. Great flavor from this working muscle.

Gigot Bacon (Leg)

This muscle gets a lot of work. It is very lean. It produces solid runs of meat and has the lowest fat content compared to other bacon cuts. I have only encountered this in the United Kingdom.

So many people seem to think of only streaky, but these various cuts of pork can produce quite nice variations in flavor, even using the same curing recipe.

The texture varies a lot too I have found between cuts when making bacon variations.

Best Ways to Slice Bacon

One way to get bacon firmer is to throw it in the freezer for 30 minutes, which makes it easier to slice.

I have a Sirman slicer which does a fantastic job. I use a ham knife (or brisket knife) if it’s a small patch. I did a page on some decent cured meat knives I use often; check them out here.

Bacon Rind – Skin On or Off

I have tried both options; the skin can actually be super useful for flavoring soups and casseroles if it’s part of the finished product. So keeping it on can make it useful later; once the bacon is finished, I chop up the rind and freeze it in a bag for later on.

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.


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