You can definitely use your Weber kettle to hot and cold smoke bacon, and there are a couple of different ways you can do it. Hot smoking is the safest way of making bacon at home, and you can eat it directly out of the smoker. Cold smoking on a kettle is more difficult, but I discovered you can do it a couple of ways.
So how do you smoke bacon on a Weber Kettle? If you’re hot smoking bacon, setup the kettle grill for indirect two-zone cooking and lay the cured pork belly on the cool-zone of the grill above a water pan. Hold the temperature at 220°F and smoke until the internal meat temperature reaches 150°F. Scatter hickory chunks along the charcoal briquettes so there is a constant flow of smoke. Cold smoking bacon in a kettle is more difficult and can be dangerous. However, if you use a smoking tube and cured pork, cold smoking bacon in a kettle grill is possible.
How to Hot Smoke Bacon at Home
Hot smoking bacon at home on any kind of smoker is easy. For a charcoal smoker, setup the smoker for two-zone cooking and place a water pan underneath the meat. Hot smoke a cured pork belly at 220°F/104°C until the internal meat temperature reaches 150F/65°C. Prior to smoking, wet or dry brine a whole pork belly with curing salts and leave in the refrigerator for about 1-week.
- Setup your kettle for two-zone cooking. This is the best setup for low-and-slow cooking. With this setup, the meat will sit in the ‘cool-zone’ on the opposite side to the hot coals. Place an aluminium water/drip pan directly below where the meat will sit.
- Pre-light a chimney of charcoal briquettes. When the coals are fully lit, pour the hot coals into the smoker. Alternatively, you can arrange the charcoal briquettes using either a snake method or a minion method. The snake and minion method of arranging charcoal will provide a consistent heat over a long period.
- Scatter wood chunks along the charcoal. You want to have an even flow of smoke over a few hours. Hickory works best with bacon, and so does maple or any fruit wood.
- Adjust the vents and hold the temperature of your smoker at 220°F for the entire cook. Another option is to smoke at a lower temp (sub 200°F) and slowly raise it to 220°F over the cook. The purpose of starting low is to give the meat more exposure to smoke and enhance the flavor.
- Smoke the pork belly until it reaches an internal temperature of 150°F. As with all low-and-slow cooking, we cook to internal temperature, not time.
The Dangers of Cold Smoking Bacon
I don’t recommend cold smoking with charcoal smokers like a Weber kettle, simply because there are better alternatives. But if you don’t have a choice, it’s not impossible to cold smoke on a kettle or other charcoal smokers. You just need to work a bit harder and get a little creative.
There are a few cold smoking methods you can try, however they are risky and shouldn’t be attempted unless the meat has been properly cured. Cold smoking bacon involves smoking the pork belly at very low temperatures, which puts the meat in the danger-zone for microbial growth. So if you’re going to attempt cold smoking, first master curing bacon for hot smoking. Then, once you’ve smoked a few batches of hot smoked bacon, then dabble in cold smoking.
If you are cold smoking bacon, you should smoke it in the 80°F to 100°F range, which is a difficult temperature to maintain in a charcoal smoker like a Weber Kettle. Charcoal smokers are unpredictable, unlike other ‘set-and-forget’ smokers such as electric, gas and pellet smokers are as easy to control as a conventional oven. Charcoal smokers burn unevenly because fire is influenced by external forces like wind and climate. Having said that, it’s not impossible to cold smoke on a kettle grill, and there are a few methods you can try.
Cold Smoking with Charcoal
The snake method is one of the most common ways of arranging charcoal briquettes in a charcoal smoker such as a Weber Kettle. Depending on how long and how thick you make it, a charcoal snake can maintain 200°F plus for long cooks. Snakes are normally two briquettes thick, and will circle around the entire kettle. For cold smoking, try to build a small, thin snake with a single row. It will take a long time before you get a steady low temperature, and you will have to experiment with the vents. I would start by opening the bottom vent and have the top vent open a crack. This method is possible, and you will probably have to try it a few times before you master cold smoking on a kettle.
Cold Smoking with a Smoke Tube
Some people have success using their charcoal smoker or Kettle grill as a smoking chamber rather than a cooker. This method of cold smoking doesn’t use charcoal, but instead uses smoking tubes. A smoking tube is a metal cylinder or tray with holes. Wood pellets sit inside the tube and, once lit, the wood smolders for several hours, producing a steady flow of smoke. This method is risky because you are smoking the meat at very low temperature which puts the meat in the danger-zone for microbial growth. For this method to be safe, the meat must be properly cured beforehand. Again, I wouldn’t go down this path, but some people cold smoke bacon this way. If you’re interested in smoking tubes, check out my recommended gear page.
How to Choose the Best Pork Belly for Bacon
Buy whole pork belly rather than sliced. Cut the pork belly into big square chunks so they fit into a large zip-lock bag. When selecting pork belly for making bacon, choose a belly that has a lot of fat (a 50/50 fat to meat ratio). Try to get a belly about 1.5 inches thick. Remove the skin because it prevents the meat from curing properly and will block smoke during the smoking process.
How to Cure Bacon for Smoking
Curing the pork is the most important step in the bacon making process. If you don’t correctly measure out the ingredients, parts of the belly won’t cure and can become rancid. The best way to ensure all the quantities and correct, use Professor Blonder’s curing calculator. This calculator is simple to use, all you need to do is type in the weight of each piece of pork belly, and the calculator will tell you the exact amount of curing salt you’re going to need.
Curing Salt For Bacon
Curing salts are the chief ingredient you will need to cure bacon. The best, most popular curing salt on the market is Prague Powder #1. I use this product because unlike other curing salts; it doesn’t contain any nitrates. Check the latest price on Amazon here.
Wet or Dry Brine for Bacon?
There are two ways of brining bacon; wet brining and dry brining. Wet brining is the best way to ensure the meat is properly cured, however dry brining is also a suitable method. If you are cold smoking, I would highly recommend wet brining since cold smoking takes meat into the danger-zone where bacteria can grow. If you let the pork belly swim in brine all week, then it should be safe to cold smoke. Keep in mind, cold smoked bacon still needs to be cooked after it’s smoked.
Wet Brining Bacon
Ingredients and Materials:
- Curing salt
- Distilled water
- Brown sugar
- kosher salt
- large zip-lock bags or a large container.
- Weigh the pork belly and enter the weight into the curing calculator.
- Measure out the correct amount of curing salt, distilled water, and brown sugar (as given by the curing calculator).
- Add all the ingredients into a zip-lock bag or container and pour in distilled water.
- Place the meat into the zip-lock bag and ensure the brine solution is covering the whole pork belly.
- Leave in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.
- After 3-5 days, remove the meat from the brine and rinse and dry before putting in the smoker.
Dry Brining Bacon
- Follow the first two steps of the wet brining method (but without the distilled water).
- Dry the pork belly with a paper towel.
- Rub the curing salts and brown sugar into the pork belly.
- Place the pork belly into a zip-lock bag (or leave uncovered on a rack).
- Leave in the refrigerator for 8-10 days. Give it a shake every day and massage all the salt into the meat.
- After 8-10 days, remove the belly from the zip-lock bag and rinse.