I've hatched a plan to cure and smoke some bacon, and I was hoping that fellow hounds can provide some advice. I have several recipes (from a recent Gourmet article, a Good Eats episode, and a few websites) and some include sodium nitrate, and some don't. So question one is: do I need it? I don't care if the final product retains a pink color, but do nitrates play some other, more crucial role in the curing process? I'd certainly prefer not to use it, but I will if it ensures better results.
Also, as I read the recipes, it occurs to me that the smoking process involves putting the meat in the "danger zone" between 40F and 140F for about 6 hours. I assume that the curing process has made this safe, but how? Has the salt and sugar cure/brine seeped into the meat enough to make it inhospitable to microbes? Really and truly?? ;)
Any great recipes for home-cured bacon also gratefully welcomed! Many thanks in advance for any advice.