Cold Smoked Bacon vs. Hot Smoked Bacon

How to Make the Best Bacon – (Calculator & Guide)

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.

Because at the end of the day, bacon is the best!

Below I will put a bunch of links relevant to other bacon topics I have written about on this site as well.

I will include down the bottom three of my favorite styles, Sweet, Aromatic & 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

All the options for all the recipes across the world are based on the above approach.

Basically, dry spices or a wet brine liquid is the first major variation. The second is to either cold smoke and dry it out or cook and hot smoke it.

My take on Bacon categories are:

  • Green Unsmoked Bacon great starter, no smoking, can use a normal fridge
  • Hot Smoked Bacon – if you have a hot smoker, indirect heat source, or gas grill
  • Cold Smoked Bacon – drying and cold smoking, longest process, most authentic result

Then lastly, it’s not bacon but it uses pork belly and is super useful that is:

  • Italian Spiced Pancetta – generally not smoked, but can be, can be made in a regular fridge.

Equipment for Making Bacon

Equipment for Hot Smoking Bacon

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

Dry Curing done either in a ziploc bag or vac pac bag

Wet curing in tupperware or a bowl of some sort

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 (will list a few ways below).

There is a bunch of 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.

Equipment of Cold Smoking Bacon

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

Less is better than more with cold smoking (and smoked goods in generally I find). This is because excess smoke can lead to bitterness and isn’t good for you either!

Pellet Tubes (I wrote a How to Use One Here)

Smoke Generators (More info)

How to Cold Smoke (Other options, ie. a piece of charcoal & some smoking wood)

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

Green (Unsmoked) Bacon

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.

Hot Smoked Bacon

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

Cold Smoked Bacon

For cold smoking, there are a few simple devices you can use to cold smoke your bacon. I have played around with all of them, so find a link if you want more info on any of them:

Pellet tube for Cold Smoking
Pellet tube for Cold Smoking, can you a pellet tube in a cardboard, gas grill or smoker

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

Most of the time I use a kettle grill with a smoker generator or pellet tube on the gas grill unlit. Can turn out some amazing bacon!

You can turn an old fridge or small wood area into a cold smoker with a simple affordable piece of equipment. But I will get into that later on.

Before getting to the step by step guide, I will go over the main bacony 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).

Dry Cure Vs. Wet Curing

salt curing pork

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 or equilibrium curing.

Salt Box = rubbing salt in and leave it in a tray or putting in a bag to absorb salt and extract moisture

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

Wet brining =a liquid curing solution with salt, sugar, and spices. You submerge the meat for a while depending on the thickness.

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

When I add a bunch of herbs or other flavorings to wet cures, it always seems to be subtle even if I use a lot of additions.

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, I prefer to always use it for bacon.

What Pink Curing Salt does for Bacon:

  • prevents bad bacteria
  • gives bacon that nice pink color
  • 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 some more information on nitrates, I made a page that relates to scientific studies and has just summarized these studies briefly. please find that link here.

Salt

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

If you are using the EQ method, then fine salt I think is best since you want to distribute across all the meat you are curing. Accurate scales helps you get the salty taste and get consistency.

When it comes to the type of salt, the short answer is to to use pure sea salt or kosher salt. This will mean there aren’t any additives in the salt. 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 the have different weights.

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

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.

As mentioned 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

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.

Here is another page (with same tool but other info) on equilibrium curing here.

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 do a pancetta style bacon.

Considering that this just really basically is 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 do 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 are making more brine, then just double recipe, etc. It a good idea to put the pork in the container and pour some water in first just to work out how much brine you need. Then make the brine amount based on that.

Often the pink curing salt is for commercial purposes, it’s cheap to buy in small quantities, here is a link to Amazon.

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.null

Step by Step Illustrated Guide

  1. Dry Cured or Wet Brine
  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 in the salt thoroughly on all sides and in all areas. Then you 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 needs to be kept in the fridge during this process or a cool area.

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

Length of Time with Saltbox Method

The general rule is:

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

Too Salty after Curing, Soak & Test

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

Equilibrium Curing

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

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

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, you can then make sure the mixture is evenly spread over and have it all in a Ziploc bag. Squeeze all the air out as much as possible, seal and store 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 weight
  • Juniper Berries – I like to use 3 or 4 per pound of pork
  • Dried Thyme – 1% of weight
  • Cracked Pepper – sometimes toasted – 2% of weight

Many recipes I have found online add ALOT of sugar, not my personal preference.

I try and balance they salty with the sweetness.

Length of Time with Equilibrium Curing

Curing in the Fridge
Curing in the Fridge

With EQ curing, because 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, it doesn’t matter if you leave it a few days longer.

A couple of times I have left it another week, no issues. 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 are dissolving the salt mixture in water then submerging the pork in the salty brine for a period of 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 up to fully dissolve it, wait until it is room temperature, then it is ready for use.

Place a plate and weight on top so the pork stays under the liquid, they tend 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

Minimum of 10 days, up to 2 weeks I find is good for complete curing.

2. Wash off Cure

Washing Cure under Tap after Curing
Washing Cure under Tap after Curing

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

I have always used just tap water to take off most of the cure. I tend to 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, love to vary the combinations. Spice grinder (coffee grinders) are really useful for this.

Generally, I am following 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 just about always use, unless I have to appeal to someone’s sweet tooth, so real maple syrup can get lathered in sometimes, then 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, leaving the pork belly uncovered in the fridge for at least 1 day is important. It will firm up and dry out the belly, it intensifies the flavor more.

The pellicle will allow the smoke to stick to the meat easier. Especially important for hot smoked cooked bacon since it’s 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 more bacony.

This can easily be done in a cold cellar or a normal kitchen fridge. Having a like to use a cooling rack to do this.

4. Cold or Hot Smoke the Cured Pork

If your 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 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 beginners guide to smoking, just to introduce the basics, check it out here.

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

Putting in the fridge wrapped up for at least half a day tends to intensify the smoke flavor.

Cold Smoking Bacon

How to Cold Smoke Bacon

  1. Make sure smoke is out of the direct sun
  2. Start 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 15 days
  6. 10-20% weight loss is expected, bacon will be dry so it can become preserved.

Cold smoked bacon is the real deal, it does generally take 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 your getting to a point where bacon has dried enough to be preserved. This is an incredible 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’ also when bacteria start to 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.

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.

 

Store to Intensify the Smoke Flavor

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

Definitely worth letting the smoke permeate after smoking, always tastes better.

Pancetta ‘Italian’ Bacon Spices

Dry Curing is Awesome

Just like green bacon, if you want to make something super tasty and aren’t going to do any smoking (well you can smoked pancetta if you want, it also tastes awesome). Try this pancetta, it’s traditional dry-cured salumi, I use curing salt no. 1 since I will be cooking this meat. The recipe is based on dry curing with no. 2, which, means 35% weight loss has to be reached before eating it.

(update-for whole muscle cured meat, where I know what has happened to the meat and how it was handled, I am opting out of pink curing salt 1 – but this is a personal call for anyone)

EQ Method, so there are percentages of the weight of the pork.

Sea Salt2.5%
Pink Curing Salt No.10.25%
Crack Toasted Black Pepper2%
Juniper Berries4 per pound
Garlic2 Medium Cloves
Majoram0.5%
Brown Sugar1%
Nutmeg0.25%

Pancetta is a super classic Italian Salumi, but also one of the easiest classic cured meats you can make. In some traditional recipes from Italy, they do also lightly smoke the pancetta. This above is my bacon version.

Pancetta is fully dry-cured and uses pink curing salt no.2 so that the outcome can be fully dried and consumed, once the weight is 65% of what it was when it started.

When you have something that can generate the smoke, cool conditions, then all take but time. My favorite cold smoked bacon was from the deli; it was called triple smoked applewood bacon.

What this meant was that it had three days of cold smoking and was rested overnight in between the smoking sessions. So quite often this is the same time bacon that I make when I have three days to keep an eye on it.

 

I'm completely fascinated with 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 charcuterie course covering what you need, how to do it, and some insider tips.

Start today making your own delicious pancetta, braesola, or dry-cured bacon with this course the 50% of does end at the end of April 2021 also.

It's all bundled together as a formidable resource - check out my Meat Curing Course Here.

 

 

 

 

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’s a much higher fat content then loin (back) bacon. That is probably why it is enjoyed so thoroughly by many people.

Being quite narrow, it cures nice and easy too.

Loin Bacon (Back)

Leaner cut normally has a streak of fat, more meat. I like to do loin bacon quite often too.

Middle Bacon (Back & Belly)

A combination of streaky and loin bacon, connected together. Nice decent size too.

Jowl Bacon (Cheek)

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

Cottage Bacon (Shoulder)

Lots of flavor too, 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, very lean. Solid runs of meat and the lowest fat content compared to other bacon cuts. I have only come across 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 mins, which makes it easier for slicing.

I have a Sirman slicer which does a fantastic job if its a small patch I use a ham knife (or brisket knife). I did a page on some decent cured meat knives that I use a lot, check them out here.

Related Questions

How to Make the Best Bacon

Use quality ingredient and follow an accurate recipe. Find the balance between salt and sugar. Personal preference prevails, cold smoking bacon will produce favorable outcomes. Unsmoked ‘Green’ bacon can be made also. Try a few recipes until you find one that you like.