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4 Hour Rule and Cured Meats

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 

For hot smoking, I've followed the four hour rule religiously, but now I'm getting into cold smoking and am curious about the applicability of the rule to cured meats. I've read about folks smoking cured pork belly to make bacon and having smoke times over 12 hours. Same for cured salmon. Clearly it would be difficult to keep the meat at 40* or less and at 140* or more you're cooking it. Is it safe to have cured meat/fish in the "danger zone" for more than four hours?


Thanks in advance.


PS I've got 3 pounds of brine-cured salmon in my cold smoker now with the AMNS burning hickory and a smoker temperature of 85* - 90*. I've always stopped the smoke at four hours to play it safe.

post #2 of 26

The Sodium Nitrite in the cure eliminates the need to follow the 4 hour rule...IF AND ONLY IF...You used the proper amount of cure for the given weight of meat and left the cure on for the recommended period of time!...JJ

post #3 of 26

What Chef Jimmy says

post #4 of 26



I need to do a bit of research to find out what kind of lattitude brining gives you.  I know you are safe if you add sodium nitrite to the brine  but I don't know how much if any time you buy by just a salt brine..  I believe the salt concentration has to be pretty high to give you any type of "curative" property.

Edited by alblancher - 8/17/11 at 7:59am
post #5 of 26
Thread Starter 

Thanks. I've always used only salt in the salmon cure. I could switch over to TQ easily enough (or even go with #1 or #2, I never can keep the two differentiated in my mind since I haven't used them). I'll stop this smoke at four hours to be safe.


post #6 of 26

Just remember TQ contains nitrates.  A lot of people use TQ with great success but my opinion is if you don't need the nitrates don't use them.   Unless you intend to allow the salmon to cure and/or go without refrigeration for long periods of time Sodium Nitrite (Cure 1 aka Pink Salt) is sufficient.

post #7 of 26

I never got this 4 hour rule stuff




Must be some sort of cure police type of rule.



post #8 of 26
Thread Starter 

The four hour rule states that you've got a maximum of four hours to get the meat through the danger zone of 40* to 140*. Below 40*, the growth of harmful microorganisms is inhibited. Above 140*, the harmful beasties are killed. In the danger zone, they can (and do) grow like crazy, but if you get through the danger zone in 4 hours, they won't leave behind enough toxins to hurt you.


Do I need the nitrates if I'm going to cold smoke for 12 to 18 hours?

post #9 of 26

I agree USDA, state and local food code would be considered the "food safety police"

post #10 of 26

No Pokey


Cure 1 , Pink Salt is suffucient

post #11 of 26

Unfortuately I can't give a recommendation on Brined Salmon.   With a Salt and Sugar DRY cure that is left on for 2-3 days then COLD Smoked is not an issue no Sodium Nitrite is needed. Our Jewish friends and many others have been making LOX and NOVA for hundreds of years this way.


Sorry I missed the fact that you were working on Salmon, my previous post was more meat specific...JJ

post #12 of 26



Do food safety codes mention that fish can be handled differently?    I don't smoke fish so I have never looked up the rules.  Why would a salt and sugar dry cure be suffcient for fish?  The final salt concentration in the fish would have to be pretty high I think?


post #13 of 26

Al, Not so much that the Salt concentration is high, as the fact that so much MOISTURE is removed with a dry cure that bacterial growth is inhibited. The Fish Fillets are very thin compared to most meats and the Antibacterial components of the Smoke help a bunch too. Check out how Leathery Lox can be.


Bacteria need, Time, the right Temperature, Food and Moisture, to survive and multiply. Take away any ONE of these components and although they may be there, they are inhibited from reaching Unsafe levels.   Unlike Jerky, Lox still needs to be refrigerated because there is some moisture still left. As a matter of fact MANY restaurants cook off 40+ pounds of Bacon till Crisp, then leave it sitting next to the stoves, pretty warm environment, all day, only refrigerating over night. No Moisture, No Bacteria...JJ

post #14 of 26



i agree where the salt is making water unavailable to the bacteria.  Many long cure sausages use the same type of curative technique


I guess we need to remember that Lox is a salty, kind of dry product and with plain old smoked salmon what drying there is occurs during the smoke.  Smoked salmon and Lox are two different taste profiles and products. 


So if I am going to take a couple filets of salmon or redfish down here, brine them for 24 hours and throw in the cold smoke for up to 12 hours would you recommend a Sodium Nitrite based cure/brine?

post #15 of 26

I'm not sure what flavor profile you will end up with...Brine cured Ham with Cure #1 is a lot more moist and has a very different flavor from a Smoked Fresh Ham, simply brined, that is sliced or pulled.   And as far as Brining the fish, you have not removed any moisture, so you may not be safe without the cure. You stumped me Bro!  It would be a BLAST to find out what happens when you use Cure #1 on fish...JJ

post #16 of 26

Ok...As I said in my previous post I was stumped!  Well I did some more research to educate myself further on the use of BRINES in Cold Smoked Fish.


With Proper handling including but not limited to, Freezing to kill Parasites, Brining in a solution containing sufficient Salt to float an Egg, a 12 or more hour rest in the Fridge to get full salt distribution, allow evaporation to Reduce Moisture and form a pellicle and a LONG Smoke of 12-16 hours... Cold Smoked Brined Fish would be not only SAFE but Tasty!...JJ

post #17 of 26

Funny how like minds think alike


I found this site that discusses smoked fish and it might be worth a read   Looks like you don't need cure to cold smoke fish.  The amount of time in the smoke determines how long the fish will be good.




post #18 of 26

What do the Indians up in the Northwest do ? I have seen them catch and clean the fish lay them out on wooden racks and start a fire on the up wind side and stay there all day until dry and smoked...

post #19 of 26

hello guys,


I have been smoking salmon for many years and learned how to cold smoke from a native family here in alaska!


here is the recipie that I was taught many years ago...


cut salmon fillets in strips lengthwise from head to tail about 1/2 to 3/4 inches wide

make a brine with water and enough salt to float a potato. brine for 8-10 minutes (yes that is minutes not hours)

hang in smoke shack tieing two strips together and hang over sticks.

run an alder fire all day and all night for the first 3 days until outside of fish is "sealed"

run an alder fire once per day for 7-10 days until salmon is dried to desired level.


keep in mind that the smoke shack was exactly that...   a shack about 6 foot wide and 8 ft long about 8 ft high.  built very much like a bad garden shed.  framed out 2x2's and covered with rough cut 1x6 with lots of "holes".  what i am getting at is that it was in no way "sealed up tight" from outside air or anything else!


the product was a dried "sqaw candy" type salmon sticks.  I have used this as a recipie to work from and smoked salmon in a "little chief" for many years.  I would brine it as listed above (I added some spices and stuff to the brine) and would smoke the fillet chunks flat(not hanging) in the chief for about 7-10 hours depending out outside temp and wether it was raining or not.  I have never had any problem with this product and have been eating it for many years.  keep in mind that the little chief does not maintain a consistant temp so it is hard to say what the actuall smoking temp is.  I have since moved on to a different smoking method. (new traeger)



please keep in mind that I am not qualified to give food advice as I am not a trained or liscensed food professional but this is just my experience!!



post #20 of 26

Hey Dalton


Aside from the amount of time on the smoke that's just about what everyone else is saying.   I guess fish dries out fast enough and takes enough smoke that you don't need to worry about the bad bugs getting a good start.


thanks for the post



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