Guide to Cold Smoking

Should you ever think of doing a cold smoke, you first need to take a step back and assess whether you have the skills to do so. The idea of switching up your BBQ style can be exciting but unlike ordinary smoking, (or what is more commonly referred to as hot smoking), this particular technique is a whole new world altogether. And as you can imagine the rules vary too.

Well if you’re interested in learning the do’s and don’ts, you’re in the right place. Based on experience and a ton of research we’ve compiled a complete smoking guide with the most important details when it comes to cold smoking.  Given the technicality of this smoke style, you should take time to internalize all the micro components before going ahead to try it out. All the same, we’re here to walk you step by step.

Hot Smoking vs Cold Smoking

At first glance, you may imagine there’s not a lot of comparison between the two given that smoke is involved regardless. But as you’ll see down below, hot and cold smoking are far from just close cousins.

The most obvious distinguishing factor has to be temperature. Hot smokes require more fire and thus higher temperatures which is not the case with cold smoking. On the contrary, the latter is better off with gentle smoke whips as opposed to heavy smoke.  Too much will compromise the whole idea of keeping foods cool.

Apart from the temperature variation, the other major difference lies in the purpose of each. Typically, hot smoking kills two birds with one stone – that is both smoking and cooking. The high temperatures diffuse the smoky flavor into the meats or food while at the same time properly cooking the insides till ready for eating.

On the flip side, cold smoking primarily integrates flavor but does not necessarily cook the food.  Now, this is what causes fear amongst many smokers because when food isn’t exposed to enough heat, any bacteria or parasites could live on and turn dangerous when ingested.  It explains why the majority of pitmasters out there recommend that you don’t try cold smoking at home if you’re not 100% sure you got all the knowledge and steps.

Still, on the differences, cold smoking works hand in hand with curing. Curing is the process by which food is soaked into a good brine solution or imparted with sodium nitrates/ nitrites to preserve them longer. It also has the benefit of a distinctive savor. Most store food snacks are often treated to this process and it’s no wonder they have longer shelf lives.

It’s basically a rule of thumb more especially if you’re dealing with meat. What curing does is that it drains off the excess water that could otherwise cause food to go bad, thereby creating more room for the smoke to penetrate deeper. Some claim that you can overlook this step but for effective results, it’s best that you don’t.  Only in hot smoking does it not matter as such but hey! If you want that extra tingle in your mouth why not?

The smoke particles infused are antibacterial so to some extent, they do eradicate lingering bacteria. You could eat some foods straight out of cold smoke, the likes of vegetables and salmon. But in the case of ground beef or other meats, a cold smoke is only safe when followed by a cook.

Similarities

Smoking in general takes time. Even in hot smoking, the low and slow approach with controlled temperatures is applied so that every surface is coated evenly. Depending on what you’re preparing, the time will vary but you can bet at the very least you’ll be set back a few hours. Possibly even days if you’re using cold air.

What Foods can be Cold Smoked?

Foods-can-be-Cold-Smoked
Photo credit: allthatcooking.com

Commonly, wild salmon and sausage types are the frequent food types that you think of when you hear of cold smoking. The surprising fact though is there’s a lot more you could smoke cool including cheese! Whatever you need to catch on to that raw smolder can go inside a cold smoker. And the longer it takes, the more intense the flavor gets.

As mentioned earlier, regulated smoke amounts should be your target. This averts a situation whereby the end product becomes too bitter to the taste. That said, expert smokers recommend that when doing a cold smoke, the ideal temperatures should be below 80 °F, or under 25 °C. Above this and the meats start to cook. Again, the smoking chamber should be as far as possible from the heat source in order to maintain the right temperature.

Apart from the everyday usual, for ideas on what to smoke think nuts, ham, eggs, noodles, bacon, spices, and even salt.  Check out these amazing recipes that you could crank up by following a couple of steps.

If you’re dealing with ready-to-eat foods that do not need to be cooked later, double-check the preparation and smoking process. Merely going over these no matter how straightforward it may look doesn’t cut it. In most cases, you would need to redo the curing for days and supplement with a prolonged smoking duration. A danger to not following instructions to the latter is contacting a deadly infection.

How to Cold Smoke at Home?

For the hands-on community who prefer to overlook commercially smoked meats and do it on their own, the equipment needed is what you already have lying around your home (that’s if you’re no stranger to the BBQ world). The most important perhaps being a cold smoker itself.

In case you don’t have one, the good news is you could make one of your own with some DIY hacks. Meanwhile, you’re going to need some fire materials, wood, salt, and some steak. Fun fact, cold smoking is best done in the colder months because then the weather is conducive enough not to impose any extra heat.  But not to worry, the ice cube tip does the trick and we’ll explore this further as we go.

Risks of Cold Smoking

Moving onto the elephant in the room. It’s undeniable just how much zest you could get after a good cold smoke, all those juices bursting in your mouth. But think about it. Why isn’t everyone in a rush to hop onto this bandwagon if it has so much to offer? Well, the simple answer is botulism.

For those unfamiliar with the terminology, it’s a common bacteria type that seemingly thrives in cold smoke conditions. Due to cold heat, the meat fails to cook to an extent that dissolves the bacteria. And in case you’re wondering just how bad it gets, the conditions span quickly to death.

Fair enough you did your curing and took all the necessary precautions. Unfortunately, this is not a strong line of defense. The treatment only goes as far as to kill some of the germs and parasites, but the real work is done by hot fire.  So for the sake of safety, you might not want to be in a hurry to eat everything and anything that comes off your smoker cabinet.

Listeriosis is another close companion to botulism, perhaps even more popular with home-smoked products. If you’re preparing your own meat mixtures from scratch, watch out for this. Certain animal parts like the gut and stomach are home to a plethora of rad microorganisms that you do not want creeping into your steaks.

If you’re going to be grounding different cuts, particularly sourced from the stomach region, be careful to do a thorough wash and follow up with intense curing. Rid those harmful toxins and finish off by cooking. Despite not registering as many death cases as botulism can still render the eater very ill. Better safe than sorry.

When Not to Eat Cold Smoked foods

Being that cold smoking is potent to so many diseases; some people are advised to stay away from it altogether. This is especially true for immune-compromised individuals. That is the senior in age, pregnant mothers, or anyone ailing from a chronic/ lifestyle disease.

Even the slightest bacteria percentage could send you down a tragic road. And given the high parasitic numbers more so tapeworms which make their way into water masses via fecal discharge, it becomes all the more detrimental.  Remember this precaution extends even to commercially smoked store foods and not just those done at home.

Similarly, overindulging in smoked foods, in general, is not wise in the least way. Smoking has a way of releasing chemical contaminants due to the burning down of fuel. These sip into the foods and have been found to be affiliated with heart diseases, and worse cancer. Food safety standards advice for moderation and occasional eating to seal any loopholes. Besides, a cut down is nothing compared to your health safety and that of your loved ones.

Cold Smoking Accessories

Having listed all the risks and dangers accompanied by cold smoking you’re probably sailing in the boat of never trying it. No need to give it up. Several BBQ lovers all over the world are doing it and doing it right. There’s no reason to close the door on cold smoking provided you are equipped with the know-how.

First things first, we’ll be looking at what cookware you’ll need and the best the market has to offer. Check out these.

It’s a great start really simple to use and equally within a friendly price range. With this, you can stack the meat inside the mountain chamber as the heat comes from a different source. Why this approach makes sense is because keeping the meat and fire all in one compartment will be difficult to regulate temperatures. Remember you’ll need to keep it between 20-25 °C to hit the sweet spot. Whatever you do, strive not to go over 90°F maximum.

A pipe will be needed as a conduit between the firebox and the smoking chamber. But apart from being a connection point, it helps with cooling the air before it reaches the cuts. As the smoke travels it’s rid of high-temperature points thus ensuring it is indeed low. See

Invest in an instant-read digital thermometer as you’ll need to be on point with scoring the ideal range. You won’t need one in hand if your smoker is already built with a thermostat device.

  • DIY with your Electric Cooker

If purchasing a new cold smoker is not an option for you, the great news is you can DIY one using whatever cookware you have whether electric, gas or even a charcoal grill. All that’s left to do is improvise the missing smoking box and this is how to go about it.

You’ll need a few blocks of white pine and a gearbox. You can fit the measurements depending on how big you’d like the box to get. But most importantly, inserting vents is a great way to get air flowing and by extension controlling temperatures inside. Follow this tutorial for DIY tips.

If you notice the smoke whips increasing, you can tone down the wood chunks or chips as a way of regulating. It, therefore, means although you might be away for whatever number of hours, don’t ignore stopping by to monitor the process.

  • Fuel

Here, there are loads of options to go by so don’t feel restricted. However, a pellet smoke tube generator has risen as a top choice for many smokers. This is because it serves both as a fire source and wood all in one. Talk about convenience. Even more, it hardly produces too much heat, something very critical.

Stash a good number of pellets in the tube and light with a torch. It quickly catches on fire in just a few minutes. But before setting the tube, allow time for the fire to turn from orange to a light blue color then blow it out. You should notice thin smoke strips rising and this is when you can place it inside your smoker box.

Sawdust serves as a good alternative if you happen not to have pellets. Also, both emanate clean smoke that’s not going to choke you out.  A pro tip, get a smoke tube that’s flat on the bottom surface. It prevents it from rolling over when placed in the cabinet. Roughly you should get about 4-6 hours of smoke from one filling. If this is not enough, you can always add as you go.

On a side note, by all means, experiment with fruitwood when cold smoking. The liberal you are the better and the flavor shows in the end product. Apple, peach, or cherry is great when mixed with hardwood such as hickory or oak. There are milder options too for those who prefer just a subtle kick.

How to Cold Smoke Cheese

Earlier on, we mentioned that you could cold smoke just about anything you like. It’s now time to show you how with some good old cheese. You can agree that cheese is a staple ingredient in BBQ and smoking it just brings this incredible tang when it marries with your BBQ platters

It’s recommended that you smoke varieties so you can explore more flavors and switch them up from time to time.  Cold smoked cheese that is left to sit in the fridge marinates the smoky flavor intensely and by the time you take it out, you can tell there’s a richer taste better than when it first came off the smoker.

This is how to start.

  • Shop for some cheese blocks each different from the other. Use any kind that you like whether cheap or expensive-mozzarella, cheddar, etc. The secret is to go for types that have a high melting point.
  • If you stored it in the fridge take it out and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Doing this allows time for the oils inside to rise without condensing.
  • After this, it’s now safe to place them inside the smoker carefully.
  • You don’t want to place the blocks directly on the grates so a deflector shield between the heat and cheese will come in handy.
  • If you don’t have one, improvise using a skillet filled with water on the bottom of the smoker or some ice.

It helps with maintaining low temperatures because melting will escape too many oils and we don’t want that. A creamy bite is what we’re working towards.

  • A pellet smoke generator is ideal in this case so consider it as a fuel option.
  • Once everything is set, all that’s left to do is wait. 3- 4 hours is a good time.

Come back to check on your cheese and pull it out. So that you know what degree of smoke flavor has caught on, cut a bite. Done correctly, it shouldn’t be overwhelming but just mild. Proceed to pack the blocks in a plastic wrap before putting them back into the refrigerator where the flavor will grow stronger. The estimated time to leave them in is about 7 days.

BBQ experts suggest that since the smoke only coats the surface, slicing the cheese into smaller blocks will give better results. Also, turning on the fan in your smoker will prevent melting.

Safety Precautions to Take While Cold Smoking

As a reminder, it’s fitting that we go over what to uphold while smoking with cool air. Keep these tips somewhere visible say on your fridge as you’ll need to revisit and memorize.

Find a credible meat plug

Where you buy your cuts should be from a trustworthy source. Purchase high-quality meat that has been certified by the National Food and Safety board and not just any tom, dick, and harry. This cancels out infection risks. If you choose to go local ensure you verify where your supplier gets their fish or beef from, and that they have the license to trade. Your safety depends on it.

Brine before you cold smoke

Salting brings you one step closer to clean meat. With fire temperatures out of the picture, the least you can do is cure to cut down on who knows what dangers. Use generous salt amounts because only high concentrations work to kill bacteria. Depending on what you’re cold smoking you may need to repeat coating the salt mixture. The drier your foods, the longer they last without spoiling.

Follow up with cooking

You could argue the whole point of cold smoking is to flavor at low temperatures, but for foods that don’t come ready to eat, there’s a need for cooking.  This is more specific to animal meats. Plus it is the safest method. It shouldn’t worry you that you could lose on the unique aroma and taste. The cuts usually hold onto their zest even after being cooked.

You could get away with cold smoking raw meat only if (and a big if) you cook immediately after. Given the choice, you’d rather go the safe way.

Get an expert recipe book

You could evade plenty of mistakes with some professional help. If you’re a beginner, this is a resourceful guide to navigate you. Learn the common pitfalls, how to avoid them, and most of all; gain pro advice on landing perfectly cold-smoked recipes. Keep at it long enough and you’ll be as sharp as the chefs themselves!

Summary Tips

  • On top of an instant-read thermometer, use ice to introduce cold air if you’re worried that the smoke rolling out is too dense.
  • It’s okay to turn your foods for even coating while on the grates. Unlike hot smoking, temperature drops do not do much harm.
  • Leave cold smoking for winter months and fall. If you need to do it outside this time, stick to early morning or late evenings.
  • The best temperature for cold smoking is under 80°F or below 25°C.

Hopefully, this guide answers most of your questions and gives you a dose of the confidence you need to experiment with this fairly old technique. It’s never too late to start so go ahead and give it a shot!

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