Throwing a handful of hardwood chips into your charcoal kettle can infuse your steak or slow-cooked pork with a richly memorable flavor, but that combination of heat and smoke isn't the only way to prepare smoked foods. Separating the smoke from its heat, and exposing your foods to the smoke alone, results in a very different end result. Cold-smoking is a bit more challenging for the home cook, but well worth the effort.
Hot or Not
Both hot and cold smoking give foods a distinctive and appealing flavor, but they're very different processes. Hot-smoking in a conventional smoker cooks the foods as they smoke, so they become food-safe. However, cooking causes physical changes to the structure of proteins, and alters the texture of the finished food. Cold-smoking doesn't do that, so -- for example -- cold-smoked salmon retains the silky-soft texture and rosy color of the uncooked fish, while hot-smoked salmon becomes firm and pale. You must make cold-smoked meats food-safe either by curing them in salt, as hams and cold-smoked fish are, or by cooking them afterward.
Preparing Your Foods
In most cases, you'll begin by curing or marinating the meats to preserve or flavor them. Meats can be cured either in a dry mixture of salt and other flavorings, or in a brine made by dissolving the same ingredients in water. Foods intended for immediate consumption might only require 20 to 30 minutes of curing or brining, while large cuts destined for long-term preservation may need days. Once the meat is adequately cured, it should be blotted dry and left uncovered overnight in your refrigerator to dry. This forms a tacky surface -- the "pellicle" -- that helps smoke adhere.
Smoking Your Foods
Arrange the meats on flat racks in your smoker, or hang them from racks or hooks as appropriate. The actual combustion takes place outside of your smoke chamber, and the smoke is routed through to flavor your foods. Smoking usually takes place at temperatures ranging from the mid-70s to mid-80s Fahrenheit, and 100 F is the upper limit for cold-smoking. Commercial smokers are often refrigerated, to keep the temperature at a food-safe 40 F or lower. You can achieve the same effect by "hacking" a surplus refrigerator and using it as the smoke chamber. Depending on the size and type of meats you're preparing, they might require as little as an hour or two in the smoker, or as long as a few days.
Once your meats have finished cold-smoking, their paths diverge. For example, cold-smoked fish is usually served as-is, in thin slices. A pork roast or turkey breast might be lightly smoked for flavor, then roasted conventionally in your oven. Home-cured bacon is often cold-smoked first and then hot-smoked afterward, rendering it food-safe. Dry-cured sausages and country hams have the longest road, hanging in a cool and well-ventilated place for weeks or months after smoking. Whichever type of cold-smoked meats you make, pay scrupulous attention to sanitation and food safety. Any cured meat represents a risk of food-borne illness if it isn't handled properly.
- Garde Manger: The Art and Craft of the Cold Kitchen; Culinary Institute of America
- Meats and Sausages: Cold Smoking
- The Ingredient Store: Refrigerator Conversion Smoker
- Photo Credit RGtimeline/iStock/Getty Images
How to Cure and Cold Smoke Bacon
To cold smoke a meat such as bacon is to smoke it at temperatures below 90 F. Before the smoking can take...
How to Smoke Meat
For those that like to grill, smoking meat is a very exciting process and a nice change from grilling or cooking indoors....
Directions for Smoke Curing Meat
Smoke curing meat is one way of preserving food. Smoke cured meats do not need refrigeration or freezing. You can use a...
How to Use a Weber Grill As a Cold Smoker
Cold smoking is a great way to impart smoke flavor to cheeses, fish and vegetables because these items would not be able...
How to Smoke a Lamb Roast
Smoking a lamb roast produces rosy, juicy slices of meat with a good crust and that delicious smoked flavor -- a dish...
Hazards of Smoked Fish
Smoked fish is often considered a delicacy served at brunches, as appetizers or main entrees. While many of us enjoy this salty...
Traeger Cold Smoking Tips
Cold Smoking is a cooking technique is which foods are smoked for long periods of time over a heat source averaging 85...
How Do I Cold-Smoke Fish?
Cold-smoking, along with hot-smoking, is one of two ways to heat fish in the smoking process. It can be prepared in a...