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Discussion Starter #1
Does anyone have an info on nitrates/nitrites? I am looking into smoking our own pork, but I was hoping to avoid using nitrates in the cure. Is there a safe way to do this? We would be cold-smoking bacon, so it would stay at a fairly cool temp for several hours, but then fried on the stove when we want to eat it. Will that kill any botulism that might be in it?<br><br>
Are there any safe alternatives?<br>
Are nitrates really that bad?
 

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Hey, me again, I've replied to your other bacon posts (call me bacon-obsessed). Bacon without nitrites is safe in terms of botulism, IMO, even if it's cold smoked. There wouldn't be enough time or the right environment for botulism to reproduce. Botulism is anaerobic and requires moisture and low acid in order to reproduce, so the danger is when there's a moist, non-acidic environment that's sealed up or otherwise away from oxygen (immersed in liquid for brining or inside a sausage casing, for instance, or in a non-pressure-cooked canned good that isn't acidic enough) <i>and</i> warm enough for long enough to allow the bacteria to start reproducing and making its toxin. If you're talking about curing the bacon in a refrigerator for not more than a few days, then smoking for only a few hours, then storing frozen, I wouldn't feel nervous about it. If you're not going to store it frozen, there <i>might</i> be more cause for concern. I kind of doubt it, though. You can buy cold smoked salmon without nitrites, and we've made that as well. It has about the same curing and smoking time as bacon, so I'd think there wouldn't be any more risk with the bacon. Did Alton Brown do his cold smoked bacon on Scrap Iron Chef without nitrites? I think so.<br><br>
I know it's hard to find good, solid info on this, people seem to hedge their bets and no one will say "it's safe to do it this way without nitrites and not safe to do it this way..." Frustrating, isn't it?<br><br>
How bad are nitrites? I'm not sure. Saltpeter (potassium nitrate, naturally occurring) has been used for centuries to cure meats. Sodium nitrite is used now because it's more refined and standardized (or so I've read) and so easier to control and anticipate results. Nitrites are so prevalent in the SAD, what with lunchmeats, bacon, sausages, any smoked meat, etc., containing it, that I think most people consume huge amounts of it. If you're talking about a home-cured product using minimal amounts of pink salt (sodium nitrite) that's not part of your daily diet, any danger from it is likely offset by the rest of your good diet. We ended up using pink salt when we cured our hams, because we just couldn't find any really solid answers, and we don't eat ham daily (or even weekly), it's a special-occasion food for us. Bacon we eat much more often, and we don't use pink salt for that. We dry-cure and hot smoke it, then store in the freezer. I'm perfectly comfortable with that, it never has the opportunity to grow botulism.<br><br>
BTW, the danger of botulism is from the toxin it produces while it's growing and reproducing, not directly from the presence of the bacteria - the bacteria don't directly attack you, the excreted toxin poisons you.
 

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they recently came out with a study that the nitrates in bacon significantly increased people's risk for cancer. but it could be hard to single out just the nitrates for this problem, since i'm sure the bacon was from factory farmed animals...
 

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I have never smoked/cured my own bacon, but I have done a ham on occasion and you CAN definitely skip the nitrates. And yes they are very bad as is the red dye they add to bacon, ham etc. during the curing process. Nitrites/trates form nitrosamines in the body which are highly carcinogenic and directly have proven higher risks of digestive cancers in people who consume processed meats containing them.<br><br>
Here is what we did for the ham: Cured it in a salt-water brine for 3-4 days, then slow-smoked it. We ate it for Christmas dinner and it was delicious! The leftovers we sliced for sandwiches and froze what we didn't eat the next couple of days. This may give you some idea:<br><br>
Brine Recipe<br><br>
* 3 gallon Water<br><br>
* 3 cup Pickling Salt (I have also used table salt)<br><br>
* 1 cup Sugar / maple syrup / brown sugar (to taste)<br><br>
* 2 tsp Spice to taste (thyme for lamb, black pepper & cloves for ham)<br>
* does about 30 lbs of meat.<br><br>
I boil the water to sterilize it as much as possible and to make it better dissolve the sugars. Empty the clean buckets of their sterilizing bleach solution and carefully pour in the hot water. Add the ingredients and stir. Once the ingredients are mixed, cool the brine to 40°F before you add the meat the to the brine.<br><br>
When you add the meat, make sure it is completely covered by the solution. If you have a large piece of meat, like a ham, you may want to either debone it or inject the solution into the depths of the meat in order to get better penetration. You can get special syringes for doing this and they are worth having. Mine cost only $5 at a local store.<br><br>
Finally snap the lid on and place the bucket in a cool place (38F to 44F is good) for four days to a week depending on how salty you like your meat. Higher temperatures risk bacteria growth - not good. Lower temperatures cause the brine to stop working. I keep a calibrated thermometer on one of the buckets.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thank you so much!<br><br>
I had heard all kinds of bad things about them, but since saltpeter has been around for so so many years, it seems pretty safe. And you're right about Alton Brown's recipe, I didn't even think of that!<br><br>
So did you use nitrates on your hams because they have to smoke longer? or just to be on the safe side and because you don't eat it every day?<br><br>
And when you hot-smoke your bacon, do you still fry it up like "regular" bacon? Is there any advantage to cold-smoking it?<br><br>
Thanks so much for all your bacon help! Seems like all I'm posting about lately. <img alt="" class="inlineimg" src="http://www.mothering.com/discussions/images/smilies/lol.gif" style="border:0px solid;" title="lol">
 

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Discussion Starter #6
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<div>Originally Posted by <strong>goodearthmama</strong> <a href="/community/forum/post/7898306"><img alt="View Post" class="inlineimg" src="/community/img/forum/go_quote.gif" style="border:0px solid;"></a></div>
<div style="font-style:italic;">I have never smoked/cured my own bacon, but I have done a ham on occasion and you CAN definitely skip the nitrates. And yes they are very bad as is the red dye they add to bacon, ham etc. during the curing process. Nitrites/trates form nitrosamines in the body which are highly carcinogenic and directly have proven higher risks of digestive cancers in people who consume processed meats containing them.<br><br>
Here is what we did for the ham: Cured it in a salt-water brine for 3-4 days, then slow-smoked it. We ate it for Christmas dinner and it was delicious! .</div>
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Thanks so much for responding. So when you say slow-smoked, how many hours are we talking? And is that cold smoked or hot? And then did you bake it after you smoked it, when you were ready to eat it? Or was it cooked from the smoking? (I guess that would be hot-smoked then?)
 

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<div>Originally Posted by <strong>ani'smommy</strong> <a href="/community/forum/post/7898393"><img alt="View Post" class="inlineimg" src="/community/img/forum/go_quote.gif" style="border:0px solid;"></a></div>
<div style="font-style:italic;">Thanks so much for responding. So when you say slow-smoked, how many hours are we talking? And is that cold smoked or hot? And then did you bake it after you smoked it, when you were ready to eat it? Or was it cooked from the smoking? (I guess that would be hot-smoked then?)</div>
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DH and my dad did most of the work on this one until the very end. I know they smoked it a good 6 hours or so on a low temp., don't know exactly what. But then my mom and I took over, brought it it and warmed in the oven for about another hour or so before dinner and added more brown sugar and maple syrup and my mom's ham secret spices (I know clove is in this concoction). SO i am not much help answering your questions. I do know that when my dad has smoked fish in the past, it was extremely low-temp and it was eaten when it was taken off the smoker.
 

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<div>Originally Posted by <strong>ani'smommy</strong> <a href="/community/forum/post/7898360"><img alt="View Post" class="inlineimg" src="/community/img/forum/go_quote.gif" style="border:0px solid;"></a></div>
<div style="font-style:italic;">So did you use nitrates on your hams because they have to smoke longer? or just to be on the safe side and because you don't eat it every day?<br><br>
And when you hot-smoke your bacon, do you still fry it up like "regular" bacon? Is there any advantage to cold-smoking it?</div>
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We used pink salt for the ham because of the time it would be in the brine (7 days I think it was), even though it was refrigerated below 40F as that only slows down bacterial growth, doesn't stop it entirely, and because it was going to smoke for more than 4 hours (which seemed to be the magic number we kept running across as what's safe, above which botulism would have enough time to start reproducing). Even though it was hot smoking the internal temp of the meat doesn't get above the point that it would stop botulism from growing (having it inside the meat is very unlikely, though). Yeah, it was basically just to be on the safe side and because we don't eat it often. In the future, we'll probably do it without the sodium nitrite, but we'll cut it into smaller pieces so it doesn't have to brine as long and so it won't be in the smoker as long. What we've read has indicated botulism can grow and produce its toxin in the temperature "danger zone" of 40F to 140F, with moist, low-acid, anaerobic conditions, and that it takes a few hours to get going if it is in that danger zone. So, if we can eliminate those possibilities, we figure it's safe.<br><br>
Hot-smoked bacon fries up just like any bacon you'll buy at the store (I still don't know if most of those are hot or cold smoked), only better since it's homemade of course. It doesn't come out of the smoker "cooked" per se, even though it reaches 150F. The fat is all still there, not melted away, it looks just like any other bacon.<br><br>
Our favorite bacon so far that we've made is the one in which we used juniper berries in the rub (along with salt and black pepper). Yum!
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Awesome. I just ran across an old tall filing cabinet for sale for cheap at my dad's work, so I think I'm going to try to make a smoker out of it, ala Alton Brown. I'm not sure how low I'll be able to get the temp, so it's good to know that if it ends up being hot-smoked it will still be yummy. <img alt="" class="inlineimg" src="http://www.mothering.com/discussions/images/smilies/smile.gif" style="border:0px solid;" title="smile"><br><br>
I think most store bought bacon is not smoked at all -- I think they use liquid smoke or some equivalent. <img alt="" class="inlineimg" src="http://www.mothering.com/discussions/images/smilies/greensad.gif" style="border:0px solid;" title="greensad"><br><br>
So 40-140 for 4 hours, I think I can remember that.
 

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Oh, I thought of one other thing you should know about making bacon without nitrites. The meat won't stay red, it turns to the greyish color of uncured, cooked pork (depending on how long you cook the bacon, it browns if you cook to the crispy stage). This puts some people off, apparently. The storebought brands of nitrite-free, uncured bacon I've had (like Niman Ranch, Organic Valley and Beeler's) use beet extract to color it, so it stays more red when cooked. I don't even notice anymore, until I see nitrite-cured bacon, which looks artificially red in comparison (and tastes bad to me now).
 

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Yeah, I heard that about the color, but I don't care too much. <img alt="" class="inlineimg" src="http://www.mothering.com/discussions/images/smilies/smile.gif" style="border:0px solid;" title="smile"><br><br>
I'm picking up the pig tomorrow, so hopefully by next weekend we'll have rigged up our filing cabinet and be ready to do some smoking.
 
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