Perhaps you’ve got a smoker and have hot smoked many pieces of meat over the years. You could have cooked pork butts, turkeys, and racks of ribs all of which will have come out with a delicious smoky flavor and the meat will have been tender and juicy. However, have you ever tried cold smoking? It is a little more difficult than hot smoking as there can be some health risks, but if you are precise and careful, you will get excellent results. In this article, we will tell you more about cold smoking, how to do it for the best results, and how to avoid health problems.
Cold smoking goes back for many years. When there were no fridges and food was scarce in the winter, it was used to preserve meat for the duration of the cold period. As time went on, smokehouses were created and in them smoking took place and the food was stored. Smoked products could be stored for months without being refrigerated and they still can be if you take the right precautions.
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What Types of Food Can be Cold Smoked?
The first foods which come to mind are meat and fish. If you go into any supermarket you are likely to find smoked salmon and a variety of cold-smoked meats like salami and bologna. However, cold smoking doesn’t stop here. You can cold smoke cheese, whiskey ingredients, nuts, vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, garlic, and even tofu for the vegans and vegetarians out there. In fact, you can buy smoked tofu in some supermarkets so it’s not that strange a thing to do.
How do you Cold Smoke Meat and Fish?
The first step is to cure the meat or fish. Curing means adding salt, sugar, and nitrates to the food to preserve it and to add flavor and color. Curing stops bacteria from growing inside the meat or fish and stops you from becoming ill.
The next step is to add the smoke. You don’t want to cook the food, so you need to keep the heat below 90F. The process can take hours, or it can even take days. What you must do is check on the temperature regularly as you don’t want it going too high and for the food to start cooking. To keep the temperature below 90F you need to have 2 chambers, one for the meat and the other for the smoke. The chamber with the food needs to have no heating so that you can keep the temperature down. Smoke is fed into this chamber by some sort of tube or connection.
How do you Cold Smoke Cheese?
After meat and fish, you will find that cold smoking cheese is also a popular thing to do. You can often find smoked cheese on the supermarket shelves, so why not make it yourselves at home.
The first thing to do is to cure the cheese which will give it a more intense flavor. Salt helps a lot to get an interesting flavor. Then place the cheese in the cooking chamber and let the smoke in. Again, the temperature needs to be below 90F. Any higher and the cheese could start melting.
It’s easier to smoke cheese and also meat and fish during the winter when the outside temperature is lower. If you want to cold smoke in the summer, it’s a good idea to put some ice in the cooking chamber which will keep the temperature down.
In many ways, it’s a lot easier to smoke meat than it is cheese. The smoke will only penetrate the outside of the cheese as it is a solid block so it’s a good idea to cut the cheese into smaller chunks. It’s also advisable to turn the cheese over periodically to make sure that the smoking is even. Of course, you can do this with meat and fish as well, but smoke penetrates meat more easily.
Before you start to smoke your cheese, bring it up to room temperature to stop condensation forming on the lumps of cheese.
A great thing about cold smoking cheese is that it only takes a few hours, unlike meat which can take days. Once the cheese is smoked, wrap it up in plastic and keep it for a few days in the fridge. By leaving it for a while, a stronger and more intense flavor will develop.
When it comes to things like tofu and vegetables you don’t need to cure them, so the process is a little easier.
Cold Smoker Set Up
Perhaps you have a smoker in which you have hot smoked. Hot smoking isn’t too difficult. You just have to keep an eye on the temperature which should be between 225F and 250F. This is satisfactory for cooking the meat although if you have a large piece of meat it will take some hours. In many cases the firebox and cooking chamber are the same, in others, you can have an offset smoker which means that there is both a firebox and a cooking chamber that are connected. An offset smoker is what you need for cold smoking. If you have the smoke in the same chamber as the food, it will overheat, and the food could be cooked. The danger zone is 140F and food that is smoked at this temperature or higher will cook and this is not what you want.
You have choices when it comes to cold smoking. If you have an offset smoker, many companies will supply you with a special connection between the firebox and cooking chamber which will allow the smoke to enter the cooking chamber without reaching a high temperature.
On the other hand, if you are into DIY you can make your own cold smoker. One way of doing this is to buy a kettle grill and have another grill attached to it with a tube. Light a fire in the kettle grill with either charcoal or wood pellets and allow the smoke to travel into the other grill which mustn’t be lit. You will have to have a thermometer attached to the kettle grill to make sure that the temperature stays around 90F. Below this temperature is even better.
Another option is to use a smoking tube that you fill with wood pellets or sawdust and then light it. Put it into an unlit grill and allow the smoke to infuse the food. The sides of the smoking tube are perforated which allows the smoke to escape. Again, you need a thermometer to make sure that the temperature is correct.
We think, however, that having a ready-made offset smoker is the best bet as for one thing, it will have an inbuilt thermometer so you will always be able to tell if the temperature is correct.
The Dangers of Cold Smoking
Cold smoking is a wonderful way of getting a smoky flavor on your food. However, it can come with some health risks so there are precautions that you need to take so that you don’t get botulism or listeria. Both are dangerous conditions and can make you extremely ill or even cause death. Make sure that you have cured the meat first and then smoked it below a temperature of 90F.
You may think that you want to smoke ground meats, but it isn’t a good idea as they carry a high risk of bacterial infection. The reason for this is because the bacteria that lives in the gut of the animals is distributed throughout the meat.
You might love smoked salmon, but if you are pregnant, chronically ill, or elderly, you should steer clear of cold smoked meats and fish. Cold smoked fish only lasts for around 2 weeks, so you need to be careful if you do buy it. Also, cold-smoked fish carries the risk of parasitic infection, for example, tapeworms. Cooking would normally kill off these parasites, but they might still be there if you cold smoke the fish.
Tips for Cold Smoking
- Choose the highest quality meat or fish that you can get. Go to your local butcher or fishmonger and get the best there is. This will decrease your chances of contracting any illnesses.
- Follow recipes to the bone so that you cold smoke the food correctly.
- Cure or at least salt the food before you cold smoke.
- If you cold smoke, you should follow it up by another cooking method/to heat it to the right temperature. Most cold smoked meats should be heated up to a temperature of around 160F before being eaten. The best thing to do is cure your meat, then cold smoke it and after, cook it.
Cold smoking may seem a little difficult and precarious, but the results are worth the effort. Just keep to all the instructions and look up more about it on the internet to make sure that you are doing the right thing. If you can hot smoke, you should also be able to cold smoke and we hope that this article has pointed you in the right direction.