Cold Smoking Do’s & Don’ts: This Packed Guide’s All You Need

If you find the smoky flavor of your charcoaled barbeque too intense, it’s time to try a different method of smoking. Cold smoking can give you that subtle smoky flavor with just the right kick.

This smoking method opens up a world of new flavors for your palates to explore. It offers a vast buffet of raw and cooked food with a distinct taste. From cheese, vegetables, spices, to fresh fish and meat, almost everything can be cold smoked.

So, let’s see why there’s a hype on cold smoke. And, if you’re starting to explore this method, there are foods that you might skip first. That’s for the benefit of your gut and health.

You will also learn how to do it safely. Therefore, you wouldn’t end up in a hospital bed for food poisoning because you didn’t spot a bad steak or fish.

What is Cold Smoking?

Cold smoking’s been around for centuries. Our forefathers used this method to preserve their food, especially when winter is coming. Before the circulation of refrigerators in the market, cold smoking’s primary use is for meat preservation.

Often, meat is cold smoked for hours, even days or months. Cold-smoking fans must love that smoky flavor, or it’s just one tough meat.

This method imparts a distinct, subtle smoky flavor to any food. Often, cold smoking co-operates with curing. Before you make your smoked salmon or your beef jerky, you have to cure it first. The foods are bathed in a solution of brine, killing the bacteria as it adds flavor to the food. It is also another form of food preservation—the combination of curing and cold smoke results in a distinct taste.

How is it Done?

mackerel

The food goes in a smoker for cold smoking. You then need to achieve the cold smoking temperature, which means that the smoke or the source of heat should be away from the food. The produced smoke pumps through the chamber containing the food. Or, if you have an offset griller, you can place the food on the griller and the source of heat way below it.

Whatever happens, the heat shouldn’t penetrate the food itself. Otherwise, you’re not going to get the desired flavor. Also, there should be temperature control, with the recommended temperature being around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. A drop or an increase in this temperature is an invitation for bacteria and other pathogens. It also presents a high risk of botulism.

With cold smoking, you should monitor the temperature, and it should be maintained until the process is complete. So, it requires a lot of patience, especially if you’re smoking thick chunks of beef. A deviation might turn your beef jerky to a bed of bacteria.

But why haven’t you heard of it? It’s because this smoking process entails a precise method. Otherwise, it might result in food poisoning.

Cold Smoking vs. Hot Smoking

So hot smoke or cold smoke? Let’s see first what differentiates the two.

Hot smoking

smoking meat on a smoker

Hot smoking is the more popular method. That charred baby back ribs sitting on your charcoal grill is so moist and tender that it falls off the bone. It has this strong smoky flavor that’s going to make you load up on mashed potatoes!

When you’ve hot smoked foods, you’re cooking it at the same time. The heat penetrates the food and cooks it. The source of heat and the food is also located in the same chamber. So the temperature can get hot. Therefore, all foods that are hot smoked are also cooked.

The desirable temperature for hot smoking is around 275 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit. As the food is cooked, bacteria and a myriad of harmful microorganisms are also destroyed by the heat. This also renders the meat with a distinctive smoky flavor.

The food becomes juicy, flakey, and tender too. When the flesh gets to higher temperatures, the fat from it sizzles out, making your baby back ribs tender, soft, and full of oh-so-smoky flavor.

You only hot smoke uncooked food. We never heard of doing it the other way around. You can try, but it’ll just burn that food to a crisp.

Cold smoking

skewered smoking fish

Unlike hot smoking, you can use cold smoking both for cooked and uncooked food.

The source of heat is far from the food, so it doesn’t cook it. So, you should eat some cold smoked food raw.

Moreover, this process may entail a longer time and requires a more controlled temperature.

What temperature is cold smoking’s setup? The recommended is 32 degrees Celsius or 90 degrees Fahrenheit. A deviation from this temperature can mess up the entire process. That’s why it requires patience and more patience.

If you’re having a challenging time with your smoking chambers, pellet smokers can be your saving grace. Unlike regular smokers, pellet smokers have well-maintained temperatures. They have more advanced systems that allow you to cold smoke with more precision.

Cold smoking carries some pros and cons. The cons? If you aren’t an expert, don’t attempt to cold smoke raw meat, or you can send your entire guest list to the hospital unless listeria monocytogenes are on your guest list.

Let’s dive further into it.

Pros

The good news is there’s a lot of low-risk foods that you can cold smoke! You can incorporate smoked food in your favorite recipes to give it a kick . Give a smoky twist to your heirloom bolognese recipe. We’re sure your grandma will like it too. And we’re positive that she wouldn’t mind that you tweaked her recipe. You can cold smoke virtually any food.

Can you hot smoke cheese and butter? No- it’ll just stick to the grill. Whereas with cold smoking, you can add a smoky flavor to your cheeses and butter. You can even amp up your spices and tomatoes for your homemade pasta recipe.

And did we mention yogurt? Yes, you can also cold smoke yogurt. Smoked yogurt in your salad will remind you of sweet summer kisses.

Cold smoking turns your regular dishes into something nostalgic.

Cons

Cold smoking high-risk foods (such as meat and fish) entails precise temperature and technique. If you can’t meet these standards, you’re better off throwing the food in the trash.

Since people often eat cold smoked meats raw, it’s not for all. It’s not ideal for those who are pregnant, the elderly, kids, and those who are immunocompromised.

The flavors from cold smoking are highly addictive. We’re not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing! All we know is that once you’ve tried cold-smoked foods, you’ll want it every time.

So, what food can we cold smoke?

What Food Should You Cold Smoke?

What’s a party without smoked food? We see several hands raising for the salmon canapes. And oh, your cheese platter is going to be the talk of the town.

The flavors of smoked food will make your party an enjoyable culinary experience.

Before we get to business, let’s categorize these foods into high risk and low-risk ones. A low-risk food’s cooked already, so there’s little danger of food poisoning and contamination. On the other hand, high-risk foods are raw food that entails precision in temperature, monitoring, and technique.

Low-risk foods

The following are some low-risk foods that you can smoke.

Cheese

cheese

Cheese is the most straightforward food to cold smoke. You can virtually choose from a wide assortment of cheese. From sharp cheddar, white cheddar to pepper jack, and mozzarella, the end product will surely delight your taste buds. You might make smoked cheese a staple in your wine and cheese nights.

Best time to smoke cheese? Anytime for as long as it’s not summer. The heat and humidity might melt your cheese.

Butter

Herbed butter may be the thing when it comes to gourmet spreads. But wait ’till you try smoked butter- it’s also fast to cold smoke butter. Since it’s 80-90 percent fat, the smoke is absorbed pretty quickly.

Vegetables

vegetables and spices

Did you know that you can cold smoke almost any type of vegetable? Take cabbage, for example. The smoky flavor will level up your coleslaw and kimchi. Or add a more smoky flavor to your pasta dishes by smoking tomatoes and mushrooms.

No one can resist that savory and smoky bolognese and garlic. The taste of a smoked garlic sauce is so intense you’d surely go for a second helping.

Spices and condiments

You can even cold smoke your favorite spices and salt! Doing that will intensify the already unique flavors in them.

Olive oil

Once you’ve tasted smoked olive oil, it will be one of your salad essentials. You’d stock up on these in your kitchen pantry. There also isn’t any other way to infuse smoky flavor to your oils without degrading it.

High risk foods

salmon canape cheese cracker

High risk foods are foods that are smoked raw and eaten raw. This type of diet requires precision in monitoring the temperature. We have a danger zone to consider. Once the temperature falls above or below the recommended range, it’s already an open invitation to microorganisms and bacteria. That’s how crucial it is.

Salmon

Cold smoking raw fish is hazardous for a novice, but it’s so tempting to make one. Cold-smoked salmon is a treat for your palates. Hot smoke produces flakey salmon, while a cold-smoking process leads to smooth, velvety salmon with just the right hint of smokiness.

Salami

Almost all cured meats taste best when smoked first. Though it’s rather refreshing to smoke your fresh ham and salami, if you can’t carry out the proper technique, it’s better just to buy one.

Sausages

smoked sausage

Sausages are often smoked. Though the curing process involves adding salt that could hinder bacterial growth, better leave it to the experts. This minced meat concoction may have all the microorganisms incorporated into the whole mixture. As compared to a chunky slice of beef, sausages can harbor more harmful pathogens. Why? Because it’s minced into tiny pieces. Think of it this way: every small bit of meat that came in contact with the knives, chopping board, and other kitchen tools may have exposure to contamination.

Cold Smoking Tips

How to cold smoke safely? Let’s get to it one by one.

1. Use meats and produce that are fresh.

fresh salmon

Source your food from a reputable store, especially if you’re going to smoke fish or meat. Get the freshest meat that you can. It’s also essential you know where the meat or fish originated. You have to buy from a trusted source since that will lessen the chances of your food having salmonella, botulism, and parasites like tapeworms.

Don’t buy pre-packed meats because you’re uncertain of their freshness or what chemicals went into it. Also, imagine if it’s been sitting in the freezer for too long. It’s better to buy from a trusted butcher, so you’re sure you’re getting fresh meat.

Make sure to inspect the meat before buying it. If you’re getting salmon, check for worms. When in doubt, don’t buy it. Unsanitary produce can cause tapeworms. These nasty parasites are quite challenging to remove from the body.

3. Make sure all utensils are clean.

Your kitchen and dining tools should be clean and sanitized, especially if you’re going to mince some meat for your sausages. Since it exposes more surface area that will touch your knife, it’s one highly vulnerable food. Having a separate knife for each food type will also help prevent any contamination.

3. All meats should undergo curing

raw fish with salt

High-risk meats should be well-cured before smoking. Curing can somehow help inhibit the growth of bacteria and also helps add flavor to the flesh. A brine solution cures meat- the salt helps keep bacterial growth at bay. As the salt draws the moisture out, there’s a lesser chance for bacteria to thrive.

You may also use a dry rub to cure the meat. How long should you cure meat? About 2-3 days. Anything longer than that will render your food too salty.

4. Dry the meat thoroughly before putting it in the chamber

Now that you’ve correctly cured meat, make sure that it’s dry before placing it inside the smokey enclosure. Any added moisture can be a breeding ground for bacteria.

5. Choose your fuel

Should you use wood or charcoal? Charcoal gives off more heat while you get more smoke from wood. So it’s fitting to use wood for cold smoking because we’re trying to keep the temperature low.

The type of wood chips would have a significant impact on the flavor. We often want a subtle smokey flavor for your cold-smoked foods. So the sweet flavors of apple, cherry, or maple wood are mostly preferred. But if you want a deeper smokey flavor, hickory and mesquite will serve you well.

Say no to treated wood and those covered with molds. Apart from a not so pleasing flavor, you might also be infusing harmful chemicals to your food. Some wood also lends a bitter taste- stay clear off liquid amber and sycamore wood.

6. It’s time to smoke!

You have your meat fully cured, and you’ve added the dry wood, you can now cold smoke your meat.

Make sure to set the temperature that’s outside the danger zone. You should maintain this temperature at all times.

You may use a digital thermometer to keep the temperature in check. It’s going to be a commitment until you finished the process!

7. Keep away from the sun

Especially if you’re cold smoking cheese, butter, or olive oil. The sun’s heat will mess up the temperature, and it may also melt your cheese and butter, plus degrade the oil. Cold smoking is an outdoor cooking activity, so the sun will always be a concern. Know where the sun hits the ground, and you might want to move your chamber from it.

Patience is the key to successful cold smoking.

Summary

Ready your bellies, and we’re going to feast on unique-tasting foods!

Cold smoking opens a new door of excellent flavor. It’s often unexplored and seen as intimidating, especially if you’re starting to do it on your own. Given the list of challenges, it’s understandable, especially if we’re talking about smoked fish and meat.

You can still enjoy the subtle smokey flavor of cold-smoked food. Try your cooking prowess with low-risk foods first. And who knows, by the end of the year, you might’ve learned who to smoke your salami. Your cold smoker might be busy the entire time! Just keep in mind that safety should always prevail.

Don’t rush into smoking your food if you haven’t learned the proper technique yet. You should practice patience at all times in cold smoking, but the end product is worth it. This method will give your food a distinct flavor that will remind you of happy days.

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