Our prehistoric forefathers sat around primeval campfires. Then, they came up with the idea of hanging strips of meat to dry and preserve them. The meat got a pleasant smoky flavor and didn’t spoil as quickly.
Since then, the idea of cold smoking has evolved, and various techniques like brine and curing are used to extend the edibility. Now you don’t have to build the setup for cold smoking as you can get your cold smoker from the shops. So, go through the article to find out the ins and outs of cold smoking as we have left no-stone-unturned.
What is Cold Smoking?
Cold smoking is a process that is used to preserve and put flavor into the meats. You can preserve the cold-smoked food for months without keeping them in the refrigerator. Generally, the smoke gets entrenched into the meat in low heat.
The meat is brined with salt below 30° C/86° F in this process to extract moisture and inhibit bacterial growth. Maintaining temperature is vital here. But it varies from one place to another. Like in German, they prefer a temperature of 18°C/65°F. And in Europe, they follow 22°C/72°F.
When the meat is cured, it gets exposed to smoke. This is done to provide the smoky flavor to the meat. Depending on the food, the smoking process can take 1 day to 6 weeks.
What is the difference between hot and cold smoking?
Though both hot and cold smoking are important to process the foods, they are different from many aspects.
The meat is kept in a chamber in the cold smoking process that requires a low temperature of below 25°C/77°F. The food gets cooked in high temperatures in hot smoking, usually from 100-240°C /212-280°F.
Curing The Meat
In cold smoking, the meat must need to be brined with dry salt. It makes the meat cured. It’s not necessary while you are hot smoking.
People use hot smoking for cooking food for immediate consumption. While cold smoking prevents the food from drying out and adds a smoky flavor to it.
Cold smoking can take days to weeks, depending on the type of food. But hot smoking doesn’t need much time, which particularly can be less than hours.
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Why you should do cold smoking
When you do cold smoking, the smoke will fully penetrate the meat. The flavor will be changed, and the meat becomes quite firm. You will not get Virginia ham, hard-cooked eggs, Nova Scotia-style salmon, or smoked cheeses without this marvelous invention.
On the contrary, hot smoking is the sear on the surface of the meat. The cold smoking will add a unique savory delicacy to your flavor profile. The smoking time can be either a few minutes( for smoked mozzarella) or several days( for hams). You will get a semi-soft and velvety internal texture, and the food will bear a handsome brown patina of wood smoke.
Equipment for cold smoking
The types of equipment used for cold smoking is simple, and anybody can use it. The whole process is so common in European countries. The pieces of equipment are as follows:
- cold smoker
Now, there are some instructions you need to follow. For instance, before you cold smoke the food, make sure that it has been frozen in the refrigerator properly. You must also fully apply salt to the food items like meat, fish, etc. The smoke generated in the smoker must be under 30oC to get the best experience.
What types of food are best for cold smoking?
When you think of cold smoking, the first thing that comes to your mind is meat. Meat and smoke seem to be a pair made in heaven. But is it the only thing that you can smoke? Of course not! The list of all the food you can cold smoke as follows:
- Fish( many types, but we prefer salmon more)
- Cheese (brie, Swiss, Gouda, mozzarella etc.)
Usually, cold smoking has the risk of botulism. Salmon or other fishes, meat, etc. have the most risk. It is better to leave it to the masters. So, when you are just a newbie, you can start with cheese and upgrade your skills with more difficult items with time.
What Do I Need To Cold Smoke?
Cold smoking mainly requires smoke. But regular combustion methods can’t be used here for producing smoke. You need some particular equipment and the investment of your time. The cold smoker should have two chambers. One for placing the heat source and the other for keeping the food. You can use an external firebox which pumps smoking into the chamber through pipes. It would be good if you have food-safe racks in the food chamber. Using ice blocks in the smoke chamber can help to get the optimal temperature.
You’ll also need a fuel resource, which can be wood. You need to use the right type, which produces smoke without resins. You can use a cold smoke generator, which will ease your hassle.
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Best wood for Cold Smoking?
You shouldn’t use green woods that have resins for cold smoking because resins leave an unpleasant flavor on the meat. The hardwoods are a great choice. They grow slowly, but they are hard to break. So when we take a dense, dry hardwood, it produces a high amount of smoke, which is very much helpful. So for smoking, select a hard, dense dry wood like Hickory, Oak, Alder, Maple, Apple, etc.
Apple and cherry wood give off lighter and fruity smoke flavor while Maple imparts a mild and slightly sweet smoke flavor. Alder will provide a light smoke with a slightly sweet flavor, and Hickory provides a dense smoke. So it would be best if you used them according to what flavor you want to add.
Don’t use wood logs or chips in this process as they produce much heat, which is not appropriate for cold smoking. Rather use wood pallets or wood dust.
Cold Smoke Generator
Cold smoking can be hugely satisfying with basic types of equipment and knowledge. Some are trying to use a charcoal smoker, or some have used ice bowls to keep the temperature down. But you can not get the authentic flavor if the fire is in the same chamber. There should be either flow of ‘cold’ smoke into the chamber or a small fireplace ( like pellet and maze smokers) for heat generation. We are covering you with all types of options for the best cold smokers. And most come in the form of kits or extra accessories for your existing grill or smoker.
Masterbuilt slow smoker kit
This kit can convert almost any Masterbuilt hot smoker into a Masterbuilt cold smoker. This kit from Masterbuilt can cold smoke your food at a temperature of up to 275°F. This model has a continuous wood feed system that can deliver smoke to the chamber for up to six hours. And the unique feeding system can say how many woodchucks it can handle at a time. The Masterbuilt digital electric smoker goes well with it when they have the wood chip loader. You can have a no sweat cleaning by the removable ashtray. With just a push of a button, the wood chips will get heated automatically.
- Provides smoky flavors and consistent results.
- Good for smoking and curing.
- Easy user interface.
- Compatible with Masterbuilt Electric Digital Smokers.
- Handy wood chip feeding system.
- Constant supervision is not needed.
- This model might leave a bitter taste in your food by producing creosote.
Solution – Wait for the wood chips to be flared up. Then feed the smoke into the chamber after the blue smoke is produced. You can use the dryer tube to remove the creosote.
Pellet tube smoker from A-Maze-N Oval
This one is designed in such a way that it can be right in the cooker. You will only need to fill this smoke generator with pellets and light them with a torch. Then, they will burn and blow out the flame. Since it is portable, you can carry it anywhere. The tube can provide 4 to 6 hours of smoke. However, we prefer you should use a good brand of pellets. This versatile and user-friendly tube truly bangs for your bucks.
- Lightweight and portable
- The oval design stops the smoker from rolling and
- Since there is no control over the pellet’s burning, you need to keep an eye on whether the fire is blown out.
- For a smokehouse or bigger cabinet, this smoker might not generate enough smoke to fill the space.
Other types of smokers
The design of the maze smoker is superior to smoker tubes. Sawdust, finer than pellets, will be fuel, and they will smolder much longer for the meandering of the burning area through the maze. This is a very smart system for creating a prolonged burn. This stainless steel construction is quite convenient and lightweight. This 5×8 inches compact size provides 12 hours of constant smoke. This model is suitable for both hot and cold smoking and smokes up to 8 hours
Smokehouse Smoke Chief Cold Smoker
Smokehouses were invented before the revolutionary war. They were used to preserve meat in the USA. Meats were hung, and smoke was provided in the space. A small fire on the floor would create the necessary smoke.
Nowadays, the electronically powered smoke generator unit is there. The fuel is wood pellets. An electric heating element sets the pellets smoldering. Thus it maintains a consistent flow of smoke till all the pellets are used up.
Smoke daddy big kahuna Csg
This one is basically a small firebox with an air hose. This is made from heavy gauge aluminum yet quite lightweight. And you will only need a couple of minutes to get it attached. The hopper needs to be filled up with fuel and connect to the smoker. The adjustable air pump will blow the smoke out of the exit pipe and into the chamber. One of the issues with it is that it is not portable. So, it has to be mounted tp the smoker.
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Factors to consider when shopping for a Cold Smoker (Buying Guide)
To select the best cold smoker in the market, you must consider several factors. These are as follows:
Smoke generator Type:
Smoke generators are of two types – electric ones and non-electric ones.
The electric smoker has a heating system and does not need a match stick to generate the smoke. However, the manual smoker needs a match stick to set the heat source.
Source of fuel:
You can use anything from fine sawdust to large wood pieces for the fuel of the cold smoker. You can also use wood pellets for the same purpose. Now, what is the ideal one for your cold smoker? If you have a large model, then you can use the large wood pellets. While for smaller ones, you can use the smaller chunks. In the case of wood pellets, the right extent of the wood will be enough for your smoker.
The runtime of fuel:
If you are going to buy a cold smoker, you will need something with a runtime of 3hours, at least. Now, in this case, the slower the time it takes to burn out the fuel, the more runtime it provides. So, before considering to buy a model, check out whether it has a long runtime or not. Usually, electric smoker generates smoke depending on the fuel. On the other hand, the non-electric models generate smoking time depending on their designs.
While buying your favorite model, make sure that it fits on your cooking container properly. For non-electric models, all you need to do is place the smoker along with your food. Here, you must check whether the dimension fits your container properly. On the other hand, the electric ones come with a mounting system that allows the smoke to be generated inside the container.
A cold smoker can be your companion of outdoor adventures. If you go on hiking trips or any outdoor experience, you will need to get something easy to fit your car. It must also be of such a dimension that you can carry it with ease.
Other accessories and attachments:
Usually, we tend to attach the grill to our smoker to get the best experience while cooking. Even if the results are great, attaching the grill to the smoker is quite a pain. It is best to avoid such accessories. But, if you still want it, we consider that you buy a grill that is easy to attach.
How to Cold Smoke
Cold smoking is a process of preserving food that is done below 30C to a fully curated meat. Now, have you thought what might happen if you do it above this temperature? The meat, in this case, will start to cook itself instead of smoking. So, the European guidelines suggest to do it at 22C while the Germans suggest to do it at 18C. The process takes about 1 day to 6 weeks, depending on the recipe of the meat. It is highly suggested to conduct this procedure at night or during winter.
Principles of Cold Smoking:
Different food items need to be smoked in different ways. For instance, the cold smoking procedure of cheese is quite straightforward. All you need to do is put it in the cold smoker. The same goes for veggies, tofu, nuts, etc. On the other hand, salmon and sausages need to be cold smoked for 2-3days.
However, the smoking process of meat is more complex than the rest. For this purpose, you need to follow some specific rules. These include:
- The food item must be fresh and of good quality.
- Don’t forget to weight the meat before and after curing it.
- Refrigerate the meat properly.
- Cure the meat or brine it precisely.
- Get a cold smoker that does not need too much maintenance.
- The wood chunks shouldn’t be too hard.
The technique of cold smoking:
There is a common way to cold smoke every desirable item. It may be a bit complicated for some while easy for the others. The steps of cold smoking your favorite food and enjoy it on a cold winter night are as follows:
- You need to cure or brine the meat precisely. If it is not a meat item, you do not need to cover the whole thing with salt. These food items might include cheese, butter, fruits, fishes, etc.
- Now, you need a good and easy to set up a cold smoking device. It must be such a model that is easy to use and low maintenance.
- Then, you must put it into cold smoke.
- Make sure that you keep a close eye on the food. It could need more time than intended depending on what traditional recipe you are following.
- Lastly, refrigerate the food and continue to cold smoke it if needed.
DIY Cold Smoker Setup
Making a cold smoker is quite easy. You can easily make it in your home without spending a lot of money on expensive machines. This attempt might take a lot of time, but it will be worth it. Let us clarify to you that you can use your regular combustion methods to smoke your food. So, what should you do? The steps are as follows:
- Assemble the box first by taping all the open edges. Then, cut an access door into the box in such a size that your skillet can fit. Make sure you cut the door by placing the fan inside and on the blowing side of it. You have to cut 3 more doors but smaller sizes in the same way. Then, you wedge the fan with a hook. Make sure the cable is outside the box. After that, tape the opening of the fan.
- Then, trace out a line and cut a hole on the lower back of the cabinet to fit the adaptor. It should be in such a way that the adaptor holds perfectly. To seal it, use foam strips on the body of the cabinet.
- Stretch out the hose with the help of a hose clamp so that you can use it for more than 6 hours or longer. Using the hose, clamp at the far end of the hose and attach it to the adaptor’s larger parts.
- Now, power the fan using a car battery. This will work as the power source for the cold smoker. You can also use a solar panel to do the same.
- Now, for the main finale. Make sure that you check the weather before doing anything. It is better to do it at night. First of all, place the skillet or the pan you will be using inside through the assess door. Assembly the wood in such a way that it touches the hot iron. Set the plate for 5-10min to heat the skillet. When it is at a sustained smoke, you can add the cured meat into the smoker. Leave your skillet in there for as long as 6hours or overnight. Your meat will come out with a black-crusted outer layer.
While smoking your meat, you will need something to hold in place. For this reason, you can include racks in the smoker. You can also use hooks to hold the meat in an upright position. Use an ice block to block out the passage of the smoke. This setting will prevent it from overheating. You can use vents to control the temperature inside your smoking chamber.
Foods you can smoke:
You can smoke anything in this smoking chamber. This can include fish (mostly; salmon), meat, cheese, vegetables, etc. It is remarkable what you can smoke inside this DIY cold smoker.
Is Cold Smoking Safe?
If we want to give a single word answer – it will be ‘Yes’, but with precision control and tools.
Right off the bat, you have to follow a standard recipe from a pro to avoid the pathogen in the meats. You need to understand some basic temperature principles, which means you should have digital thermometers. The curing part is crucial too. Lastly, you can not overlook the importance of proper storing.
According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation – Most food scientists cannot recommend cold smoking methods because of the inherent risks.
The pathogen Clostridium botulinum creates neurotoxin, which is deadly to the people. Listeria or Listeria monocytogenes is another risky one. At the process of hot smoking, the pathogens or contaminants died at the heating process. But at the cold smoking, the center did not get much heat to pasteurize it. And the higher the storage time in the refrigerator, the more the proliferation of bacteria.
The temperature range from 40F to 130F is optimum for the rapid reproduction of microbes. The salt of the curing might inhibit the growth but not completely kill the germs off. So, the immunocompromised people like elder ones, pregnant women should avoid this.
So you have to spend a lot of time to make it ultimately safe for all. In the past, when there is no refrigerator, people preserve their meat in this process.
When the curing is done properly, a large chunk of the risks is mitigated.
Again, the smoke contains chemicals that possess anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties. That is why smoke is used as a preservative. Highly-perishable foods can be preserved really well by cold smoking
Some tips for cold smoking
- Always check the meat at the time of taking it from the butcher.
- Cure it as early as possible.
- Since cold smoking is another form of removing all the excess moisture, we should measure the weight loss before curing. This way, you will figure out how long the cold smoking should be.
- You can keep the food in the fridge uncovered overnight after curing.
- Do the smoking process in a shady place as the sun can heat things up.
- Check the fuels if they need to be ignited.
- You need to refrigerate the foods after cold-smoking. It will definitely improve the texture.
Cold smoking is the example of something old is new again. Try out this innovative thing at your home and share with us your experiences with cold smoker.