Cold smoking bacon and whether it’s safe or not comes down to how you go about it. Just think about the bacon in supermarkets, most are cold smoked actually.
I’ve been cold smoking bacon and other cured meats for nearly 20 years, and my blog is all about curing and cold smoking. It all started when I had some friends who were traditional butchers, old-school Dutch guys.
I’ve seen a $150,000 cold smoker (commercial fast pressurized system). In contrast, once when all my smoking equipment was in storage I used some smoking wood and a chunk of charcoal to cold smoke some bacon!
Let’s start off with whether cold smoking is safe; then continue with other aspects of it, feel free to hang around (like my bacon does).
Cold Smoking bacon is safe if quality meat is used, it’s handled hygienically using food-safe principles, cured properly 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 have a 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.
To be honest, I think in some countries litigation is an issue especially giving advice around certain topics. Some guys prefer not to cover cold smoking and just label it – bad (not names being mentioned). I guess they haven’t studied it or read enough on it either.
All this information is based on my knowledge and only my opinion. I’ll try to be as useful 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.
Details About Whether Cold Smoking Bacon is Safe
Challenges and Risks for 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 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’re doing it safely, cold smoking bacon can be delicious and simple. These are things I cover in detail through on online charcuterie course.
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.
As long as your salt curing process is well defined, you should be on the right track.
I can definitely see why so many guys across the world prefer to salt cure their bacon, and then hot smoke it and cook it at the same time at low temperatures.
For me, this is more like making a type of smoked ham which involves always reaching a safe internal temperature of 149°F or 65°C (145-160°F – USDA range)
What is Cold Smoking Bacon?
To summarize, cold-smoked bacon involves effectively curing the meat, followed by drying out the meat and at the same time applying cold smoke (cold smoking meat is often just drying it with cold smoke vapor around it).
Unwanted bacteria multiply quickly at temperatures below and above the technical temperature of 86°F or 30°C, but using the right amount of salt and certain spices minimizes bacteria. Exponential bacteria growth can occur above 86°F/30° – for meat that isn’t cured or kept around fridge temperature.
From what I have learned over the years, fish can actually start cooking above this 86°F temperature. However, on cured meat, this temperature wouldn’t start to promote a lot of bacterial growth.
Cured meats are different because salt inhibits the meat and performs two main roles of water binding and diffusion.
The salt works its way into the middle of the meat during the curing, and the water is progressively working its way out and the salt is holding water in place inside the meat to slow down water activity (Aw).
I’m not a technical-scientific type, but these processes reduce or minimize, if cured effectively, the number of unwanted bacteria on and in meat.
I have cold smoked many batches of bacon. I have dry cured most of the time but also used to wet brine (it’s more subtle with the spices I’ve found).
This is a key step in making cold smoked bacon – dry curing/wet brining.
The pork needs to be properly cured before moving to the cold smoking stage.
In the past, I’ve dried the bacon to a weight loss of 25 to 30%. The drying is the traditional way of both preserving it and also intensifying the flavor.
The general guidelines for dry curing meat like this, that’s not going to be cooked, is a weight loss of at least 30%.
Since I’m going to always 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 just pull a handful out straight into the frypan when I need it.
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).
Commerical supermarket bacon often have 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 flavors and preservation, too.
What Does Cold Smoking do to Bacon?
Cold Smoke carries flavor, antifungal, and antibacterial properties, 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 also operating at the 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 good idea to check the temperature during cold smoking.
This is where the smoke generator can be a lot 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 normally 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 right 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 and whether or not that is safe. I have never had a bad batch of cold smoked bacon.
Thanks for dropping by, I’ve been passionate about meat curing for around 20 years now. Having been lucky enough to learn inside fine dining kitchens through to backyard smoking sessions. From doing courses, trial & error and reading extensively – finally, I thought it was time to share my passion online.
My insatiable appetite and passion toward classic Italian dry-cured salumi and all forms of curing and smoking are what drives this website engine. All the best, Tom