Where there’s smoke, as they say, there’s fire. And this is why many can’t help but assume that smoked bacon is cooked. However, the health-conscious in you is saying that you should not enjoy it straight from the packaging.
In general, not all smoked bacon products on the market are cooked. Some are exposed to temperatures high enough to cook the bacon during manufacturing. Others are subjected to low temperatures only. Manufacturers of smoked bacon usually indicate on the packaging if their products are pre-cooked.
Love smoked bacon but hate that it could endanger your health if you eat it raw?
See to it that you read this article until the very end to have an idea of whether smoked bacon is cooked and if you can enjoy it with very little to no cooking beforehand.
Why we Smoke Bacon
Bacon is smoked for a couple of reasons. First, to boost the flavor. Smoked bacon, generally speaking, tastes better than unsmoked bacon. Second, to extend the shelf life. Besides smoking, the curing process before the bacon is smoked inhibits bacterial growth. Curing also enhances the flavor and color.
Flavor-wise, what makes smoked bacon a complete standout is that it has a smoky flavor.
In most instances, this is achieved by exposing the bacon to smoke and heat — there could be a lot or very little heat involved. The smoking process can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours to complete.
Bacon can be smoked through either hot smoking or cold smoking.
However, before the bacon is smoked, it undergoes curing first. The reason why bacon is cured prior to smoking is that it helps remove excess moisture. This helps fend off the proliferation of bacteria that can make bacon go bad quickly, thus extending its shelf life. Curing bacon can be done in a couple of ways:
- Coating the bacon with a mixture of salt and sugar, sometimes with nitrites.
- Allowing the bacon to sit in brine, which is a mixture of salt and water.
Curing bacon using dry ingredients is referred to as dry curing. On the other hand, curing bacon using wet ingredients is known as — you guessed it — wet curing.
Either way, one thing remains true: curing helps preserve the bacon. It also makes bacon look and taste better.
Hot vs. Cold Smoking: What’s the Difference?
The process of smoking bacon can be carried out via hot smoking or cold smoking. Both methods involve the presence of smoke. They also involve subjecting the bacon to heat. However, unlike hot smoking where there’s lots of heat, cold smoking entails exposing the bacon to minimal heat only.
Earlier, we talked about the two methods of curing bacon.
It’s not just the process of curing that comes in a couple of ways but also smoking bacon itself. Well, there is a third method some manufacturers of smoked bacon opt for, but there is no actual smoke involved — we will talk about it in a few, so make sure that you keep reading!
Let’s take a quick look at the key differences between hot smoking and cold smoking bacon:
As the name suggests, hot smoking bacon involves placing the bacon where there’s lots of heat and smoke.
When hot smoking, the temperature the bacon is exposed to can range anywhere from 175°F to 225°F (79.4°C to 107.2°C). Keep in mind that pork starts to cook at 145ºF (62.8°C). This means that smoked bacon processed via hot smoking is fully cooked, which makes it possible to be consumed without having to cook it beforehand.
If hot smoking involves exposing the bacon to temperatures as high as 225°F, cold smoking, on the other hand, entails subjecting the bacon to a temperature ranging anywhere from 68°F to 86°F (20°C to 30°C) only.
Needless to say, cold smoking bacon does not cook the bacon. Still, it allows the bacon to acquire a smoky flavor as well as a longer shelf life, although it’s primarily due to the curing process performed beforehand. Because it’s not cooked, you should certainly cook smoked bacon that’s cold smoked.
Liquid Smoked Bacon: What is it?
Some smoked bacon products are not smoked naturally. Instead, they are flavored using what’s called liquid smoke. Basically, liquid smoke is the collected condensation of smoke from burning hardwood chips or sawdust. The use of liquid smoke is a fast and economical way to manufacture smoked bacon.
Just because smoked bacon is called such doesn’t mean right away that it came into contact with smoke.
There are instances in which the bacon is smoked with the use of what’s referred to as liquid smoke. Refrain from assuming that smoked bacon that’s smoked using liquid smoke is artificially flavored.
It’s for the fact that liquid smoke actually comes from smoke. You can think of liquid smoke as water with smoke suspended in it. However, some liquid smoke variants do have some added artificial ingredients. Many commercially produced food products with a smoky flavor get their unmistakable characteristics with the addition of liquid smoke:
- Hot dogs
- Lunch meats
- Meat rubs
- Smoked spices
- Barbecue sauces
- Salad dressings
Liquid smoke is brushed onto the bacon to instantly give it a delightful smoky flavor without the need to use real smoke. There are manufacturers that soak the bacon in liquid smoke, too.
Needless to say, smoked bacon given a smoky flavor using liquid smoke is not exposed to heat and smoke.
Is It Safe to Eat Cured Bacon Raw?
Cured bacon is safe to eat. That’s because the curing process kills bacteria, which is why it helps extend the shelf life of the bacon. However, it doesn’t mean that bacteria can no longer grow on cured bacon. If handled or stored improperly, it’s not safe to eat cured bacon without cooking it first.
Many people assume that smoked bacon is cooked and thus safe to eat from the packaging because it’s smoked.
While it’s true that some smoked bacon variants are thoroughly cooked, there are also those that are raw. It goes without saying that they are not safe to eat without cooking them first.
They are the ones made by means of cold smoking — as talked about earlier, cold smoking does not involve exposing the bacon to temperatures high enough to cook it. While the curing process conducted beforehand kills bacteria, chances are that some will grow on smoked bacon all over again after curing and smoking.
It’s because of this why you should avoid eating raw bacon if its packaging does not say it’s cooked.
Otherwise, you could end up ingesting parasites such as tapeworms and roundworms that could make a colony in your gut. And even if there are no parasites around, you could still end up with food poisoning, whose symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
The good news is that there are smoked bacon variants that are cooked as a result of the smoking process — hot smoking, in particular.
More often than not, manufacturers of pre-cooked smoked bacon will let the consumers know about it by indicating it on the packaging. This is when the importance of reading labels carefully comes in.
Still, if handled improperly, cooked smoked bacon could harbor bacteria and parasites. In order to be safe and sure, it’s a good idea to cook smoked bacon beforehand.
Just Before You Enjoy Smoked Bacon
Not all smoked bacon products are given a smoky flavor by exposing them to high temperatures, thus cooking them. Some variants are exposed to low temperatures only, while others are not really subjected to smoke — they get their smoky flavor with the help of an ingenious ingredient called liquid smoke.
If the packaging of your favorite brand of smoked bacon doesn’t say it’s pre-cooked, cook it first.
The good news is that smoked bacon cooks really fast, no matter if you like it fried, grilled or microwaved. This way, you can please your taste buds with its delightful flavor without much delay.
How do you eat smoked bacon?
For most people, smoked bacon is best grilled or fried. The goal is to cook smoked bacon in a way that it will end up crispy. It’s a great idea to serve smoked bacon with creamy sauces that can highlight or go well with the smokiness. Smoked bacon can also be sautéed with onions and used as a base for soups or stews.
Can you cook smoked bacon in the microwave?
It’s possible to cook smoked bacon in the microwave if one wants to enjoy it quickly and hassle-free. Smoked bacon should be placed on a microwave-safe plate lined with paper towels. Cover smoked bacon with paper towels and microwave on high for three to six minutes or until crispy.
Read Also: How to Smoke Water