Curing Bacon at Home (Guide, Links and Pictures)

Cold smoking bacon at home is probably my favorite type of curing and cold smoking that I do. I have refined my process over many years and wanted to share a breakdown step-by-step on how I do this.

For me cold smoked bacon is real bacon.

The other main method is hot smoking bacon until it’s cooked means you really just re-cooking bacon a second time.

If you follow this form of solid process for dry curing and cold smoking, I believe it creates better outcomes.

Cold Smoking bacon and other treats!

At the end of the day, cold smoking is really just drying out the meat with some smoke under 30°C or 86°F. I prefer under 15-20°C or 68°Fish.

The smoke carries antibacterial and antifungal properties which were used in the past to protect the meat and makes bacon taste awesome as well!

How to Cold Smoke Bacon at Home

Here are the steps and summarization to make your own tasty bacon from pork belly or any other cut pork.

With each step – I’ll go into a bit of detail, I will also provide some pictures to showcase it. Lastly, I’ll talk about some of the ins and outs around cold-smoking bacon at home that I’ve learned.

Steps to Cold Smoke Bacon at Home

  1. Trim Pork to a Uniform Size
  2. Remove Skin if Desired (or keep for stews and stocks)
  3. Weigh Pork Belly
  4. Calculate Salt and Spice Curing Mix
  5. Rub and Mix Cure in a Bowl Over Belly
  6. Place Pork and All Cure Inside Ziploc or Vacuum Sealed Bag
  7. Leave in Fridge for 1 week per 1-inch Thickness of Pork
  8. Remove From Bag, Rinse if Desired
  9. Hang or Dry on a Rack or Plate in Fridge for 3- 8 hours to form Pellicle
  10. Cold Smoke for 4-20 hours depending on Smoke Flavor
  11. Complete at 15-30% Weight Loss
  12. Remove Skin, Slice and Freeze in Slices on Baking paper

Cold Smoked and Hot Smoked Bacon

Quick summary of the difference, if your new around here.

Cold Smoked Bacon: Is curing the meat (wet or dry curing) properly followed by drying the outside of the meat to form a pellicle so the smoke vapor sticks to it.

Then cold smoking the meat until the desired weight loss has been reached between 15 and 30%. I have now go into the habit of freezing slices, and bagging. Then when I want, I just throw a handful into the pan!

Hot Smoked Bacon: When curing the meat you add salt for flavor but not to preserve it. You smoke and cook the meat indirectly with hot heat until it has reached a cooked internal meat temperature. Then you slice and eat, or re-fry and eat.

Breakdown Steps to Cold Smoke Bacon at Home

1. Trim Pork to a Uniform Size

The classic cut to use is of course the pork belly, where I live it’s sometimes hard to get good quality pork that’s older than eight or nine months, which means it’s often 2 inches or less thick. Thicker the better I find, but then there is also the fat to meat ratio, most prefer at least 50% solid white fat running throw the belly.

Going into the bag for equilibrium curing! Thickish belly

The loin can be used with a streak of fat around the outside and a solid bit of meat inside. I have used a range of random cuts of pork depending on whatever I had handy.

If you have a uniform size, especially one that is suited to the width of your vacuum sealer bags or ziploc bags will of course make things easier (see above the squeeze..).

2. Remove Skin if Desired (keep for stews and stocks)

When I first started making bacon with pork belly, I used to take the skin off and and made pork crackle with it.

But nowadays, I like to leave the skin on, this takes a little bit of time once the curing smoking, and drying is done to remove the skin. But worth the effort I find.

I use kitchen scissors to cut out small squares of the skin and freeze them in a bag. They are an excellent addition to stocks and give you that delicious smoke flavor.

3. Weigh Pork Belly

Once you’ve got the desired shape for your chunk of pork, you need to weigh it to make calculations for an equilibrium cure.

You can do it the old-school way using a saltbox saturation method. This entails putting a layer of salt above and below your pork and then leaving it for one-day per kilogram of meat in the fridge approximately.

The challenge I had with this approach is – it’s often been too salty. For many years of having used the equilibrium cure which in a way creates a salty brine and equalizes the amount of salt evenly throughout the meat.

My equilibrium calculator gets used thousands and thousands of times a month. On this page here is a link to some guides around equilibrium curing.

4. Calculate Salt and Spice Curing Mix (Equilibrium Curing)

If you haven’t come across equilibrium curing for curing meat at home, this is something you really want to get familiar with.

Here is a summary:

Different teaspoons of salt will have different weights depending on the salt structure and the brand. However, it will still be the same volume, which makes volume measurement with teaspoons and tablespoons inconsistent.

It still blows my mind that most cooking recipes still have not changed to a more accurate measurement of grams, ounces! And we wonder why the recipe doesn’t come out right 🙂

For nearly all the dry curing that I do, I choose the salt level between 2-2.75% of the weight of the meat. To give you an example, 2% salt equals 20 g per 1000 g of meat. This is the minimum level of salt for equilibrium curing that I talk about in detail in my charcuterie course.

Salt 2.5%

Sugar 1.25%

When you are using the above percentages you cannot go wrong. I have been using this type of cure for over 10 years.

Garlic, Juniper, Pepper of each 0.5-1%

Dry Herbs like Thyme, Oregano 0.1-0.5%

I’ve been writing a ‘guide to spices’ over the last month, which I am going to add to the supplementary materials in my meat curing course.

Depending on how thick you like your bacon you can adjust the salt level, because one thing you learn about dry-cured meats is that the perceived saltiness changes greatly with thickness. I talk about this more below.

I often equilibrium cure my spice grinder on the accurate scale and zero it out for each spice.

The normal kitchen scale you have at home probably only has the accuracy to 1 or 2 grams but you really need a minimum of 1 decimal place accuracy (ie. 0.X or 0.XX). Home curing for charcuterie meat curing ideally 2 decimal places.

If you want to get an idea of some scales that are suitable for this, check out some recommendations on this page here.

It is much easier to use the metric system rather than the imperial system with these types of calculations.

5. Rub and Mix Cure in a Bowl all Over the Belly

In a bowl that’s proportionately a good size I sprinkle the cure mix with one hand and work the cure into the meat with the other hand. I’m making sure all the crevices and flaps of meat have cure mix on them.

You have to spread and sprinkle the mixture all over because you want to make sure it’s covering each side.

Then you wipe up the bowl with the meat to get as much of the cure adhering to the meat as possible.

You can also put any left-over cure from the bowl to the meat in the bag.

6. Place Pork and all Cure Inside Ziploc or Vacuum Sealed Bag

When all meat and cured is nicely placed inside your bag (you don’t really need a vacuum sealing set up) just make sure there’s no oxygen left in the bag.

Equilibrium curing gives you a bit more flexibility because it doesn’t matter if the curing is a week or two longer then you need.

One week per 1 inch of meat is the golden rule

All I do is just roll the bag up and squeeze as much of the air as possible out. 

An optional step is to place some kind of weight on top to force the cure through the meat a bit more.

Flipping the bag every two or three days is always a good idea.

In effect, when you create a very accurate wet curing brine that is doing some water-binding, the salt will start sticking to the cells inside the meat just as the old method of saturation curing diffusion occurs – to a certain extent this is happening from the meat science side of it too.

7. Leave in Fridge for 1 week per 1-inch Thickness of Meat

I like to place it inside the vegetable drawer at the bottom of the kitchen fridge or underneath the vegetable drawer.

Ziploc bagged Cured Meat Ready for Curing in my Kitchen Fridge
Ziploc bagged Cured Meat Ready for Curing in my Kitchen Fridge

It is always a good idea to write down on the bag the start and end dates, what it is you are curing, and when you check the finishing weight, especially if your doing a batch!

I have developed auto-calculating spreadsheets with my online course, and since equilibrium curing, I now have developed some winning recipes!

8. Remove from Bag. Rinse ‘if desired’.

I like to have spices and cracked pepper on the outside of the many of the bacon of dry-cured meats I make, so I don’t rinse – unless with some wine, of course!

Because equilibrium curing is done precisely you don’t have to check the level of saltiness that occurs.

In some other bacon recipes I’ve read online, they talk about soaking the meat afterward but this is generally only needed if it is over-salted – as mentioned which I have with saturation curing a fair bit.

9. Hang or Dry on a Rack or Plate in Fridge for 3- 8 hours to form Pellicle

If you want to know about pellicle I wrote about here. This is is a quick rundown on it.

If you form a pellicle on the outside of the meat before you cold or hot smoke the bacon, it makes the smoke vapor and the smoke flavor stick better onto the meat.

Tacky, Sticky and some shine – that’s the pellicle.

I usually dry the pork in the fridge for eight hours during the day or overnight.

The pellicle is binding the proteins together on the outside of the meat and develops a type of tacky stickiness when you touch it with your finger.

10. Cold Smoke for 4-20 hours depending on Smoke Flavor

I’ve done cold smoking in many sessions going for 7 days with 8 hours a day of cold smoking. This is really excessive in my opinion, but you do get a preserving effect. Cold smoke vapor can’t really do much more to the meat after a few weeks I think.

Cold smoking is like a lot of things in life – less is better than more. Although, sometimes we forget this.

I find cold smoking has a level of subtlety

You don’t want big bellowing chunks of smokiness – no – you want to see a transparent and decent amount of airflow through it as well.

For certain types of dry cured salamis it might take 3 approx. 8 hours sessions based on the traditional recipes.

For cold smoked bacon I like to do either 3 hour sessions or 6-hour sessions and the maximum is eight hours for our household bacon.

For me this is one 12 inch pellet tube session or a half 12 inch pellet tube session.

The next level of control is to get the smoke generator going which gives you great controller and very clean combusition.

Here is link to cold smoking gear on the site.

Complete at 15-30% Weight Loss

Weight loss is important because, for example, when you are dry curing meat such as prosciutto or pancetta you want a minimum weight loss of 30%. When this is done you slice the meat wafer-thin and it is ready to be eaten.

Not so much for codl smoked dry cured bacon, since your going to cook it eventually

Since I always cook my bacon, I have been playing around with just 15 or 20% weight loss.

For this you don’t need to put it in the curing chamber. You can put it in your kitchen fridge for a week or two.

You can also hang the meat in a reasonably suitable environment around 52-68°F or 10 to 20°C. But if you’re not putting it in a controlled environment like a curing chamber or a kitchen fridge, then, of course, you expose it to other bits and pieces in that uncontrolled environment

If you want more information about building a DIY curing chamber check out this post here that I wrote.

Remove Skin, Slice and Freeze in Slicers on Baking Paper

Yes a bit of work, but this normally means we have 3 months + bacon supplied! Frozen per slice!

As I mentioned earlier, it takes time to remove the skin once the meat has dried. Yet, I consider it a valuable resource.

There are certain types of deli slicers that do wafer thin slices which is more for dry cured meats, for bacon it’s not so important.

I use either an Iberian ham prosciutto type of knife or a brisket knife to get nice uniform cuts (Brisket knife probably better, this knife is a beast!).

If you want to do dry curing meat and want to have THE type of deli slicer that will do the job, it’s an investment and but will do what you want. I recommend a slicer which makes a little bit thinner bacon slices which is barely 1 to 2 mm.

I recommend and talk about wafer thin slicing here.

Another tip is if you freeze (not completely) the pork belly for half an hour to an hour, it makes the belly firmer and easier to slice with a knife.

What I have found, is it’s great to have cold smoked frozen slices of bacon ready when you want to eat ‘al fresco’ or just ready to fry anytime.

I slice the bacon and lay it down on a tray with baking paper. Then I freeze it for about a couple hours.

The frozen sliced pieces of bacon go in a bag and, hey presto, all I need to do is grab a handful of bacon whenever I want and throw them straight into the frying pan.

Types of Wood for Cold Smoking Bacon

I’ve talked about different types of wood to use or not in many other posts. If you generally use fruitwoods and hardwoods then you’re alright.

Any fresh green woods are not recommended for smoking because they can be bad for your health and lead to bad flavors as well.

Here is post I wrote on easy wood selection for smoking food!

Ways to Cold Smoke

Here is a link to different gear you can use to cold smoke bacon and a breakdown of the process. As an introduction, I’ve written a full guide below which goes into the detail of cold smoking all sorts of things like fish, vegetables, salt etc.. including meat.

Guide to Cold Smoking

Find more information in my guide ‘cold smoking’ here, which is also bundled into my charcuterie course as mentioned.

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