Grilling in progress with an assortment of vegetables getting charred to perfection, smoke rising from the sizzling hot grill.

How Long Does it Take to Cold Smoke – Meat, Vegetables & Cheese

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Writer / Enthusiast / Meat Curer / Forager / Harvester | About Tom

For decades, immersed in studying, working, learning, and teaching in the craft of meat curing, now sharing his passion with you through eat cured meat online resource.

The time it takes to cold smoke, will, of course, depend on how much smoke flavor you want and what food your cold smoking.

I have experimented using a whole bunch of different food types and kits. So I thought I would quickly give a rundown below on cold-smoked meat, vegetables, cheese, and, of course, bacon.

I recently did a super long cold smoke, compared to what I generally do which is around 8-20 hours (1-3 days / 3 sessions mainly at night). 55 hours of cold smoking some wild venison and equilibrium dry cured bacon. But for many other cold-smoked (link to cold-smoking article category list on this site) foods (especially vege & cheese), you don’t need that extreme end of it.

Don’t think the rules are really strict, but it depends on what outcomes you’re chasing.

Cold Smoking Salami
Cold Smoking Hungarian and Spicy Venison Salami
Cold Smoked Venison & Pancetta Bacon
Long Cold Smoked, 50 hours with pellet tube – delicious outcomes!

The density of the smoke and the type of wood will also have quite an effect on flavor. From what I have learned about Central and Eastern European traditional cold smoking, which has probably over 1,000 years of development. Lighter smoke with lots of air flow seems to generally be the go over longer periods for cold smoked meats, Central Europe like Germany love the long strong bacony Speck for instance.

TIP- Less Smoke Flavor is always Better Then too much, which will make food bitter.

Many enthusiastic smokers have pumped out heaps of smoke like myself on occasion; the result is bitter and not worthy of serving friends and family; go light is always better.

How Long Does Cold Smoking Take? 1-30 days for many cured meat styles across the world. For dairy (cheese, cream etc.) and vegetables, 15 minutes to 4 hours will impart an adequate smoked flavor.

Cold Smoking Times for Different Foods

Just going to touch over what cold smoking times I used for:

  • Meats – Bacon, Wild Game, Salmon
  • Dairy
  • Vegetables

How Long to Cold Smoke Meat

Of course, it depends on the method and flavor. Some cold smoking equipment, you can have adjustable smoke and/or airflow.

Here is a video that I made, goes into detail about cold smoking.

Cold Smoked Bacon

Curing Chamber Bacon Pancetta

I go for a lighter/medium blend of wood normally for the cold smoking, so apple wood combined with something that’s a bit more medium like beech.

If you want an easy breakdown of smoking wood, I wrote a full post here.

FlavorApprox Time
Light Smoke1-6 hours
Medium Smoke6-15 hours
Heavy Smoke15 + hours

Of course, cold smoking needs to be done in a cold environment, and this will also be affected by humidity. If the goal is flavor, then weight loss isn’t so important. But if you are looking to get the proper preservation through cold smoking/drying, then you will need to continue the cold smoking and dry phase until targets are reached.

My favorite method is to use a dry-cured pancetta recipe with some cold smoking to make a piece of hybrid bacon (as done in certain regions of Italy).

Cold Smoked Salmon

Smoke is a personal taste, of course. Sometimes, I cold-smoke salmon for just 6 hours, at the higher end, 24 hours.

But if your goal is preservation, then losing 20-30% of weight would also be the goal. Cold smoking can be either about flavor, preserving or both!

Light1-6 hours
Medium6-10 hours
Heavy10-24 hours

Cold Smoked Wild Venison

The deal is the same as above. The meat is of similar density, and I use the same guidelines. However, wild meat being lean will mean the fat will take longer to dry out as well. That should probably be a tip.

TIP – if there is fat in the red meat, it will take longer to cold smoke/dry!

How Long to Cold Smoke Diary – Cheese, Cream, etc.

Cold Smoked Salt
Cold Smoked Salt & Egg Plant

From the book Smoked, it says cream should be smoked for no longer than 1 hour. Which seems to provide a decent amount of smokey flavor, when I made a Smoked Potato Gratin.

This is about the right flavor for my preference also.

Cheese – a lot denser so 1 hour seems to work for a light smoke. Up until about 4 hours if you have a decent block and you really want to give it a flavor bomb!

How Long to Cold Smoke Vegetables

The book Smoked by Jermy Schmid, never says go over one hour, I never have, the outcomes have been very interesting and delicious. It depends on how thick the smoke, and how much airflow too.

Cold Smoking Cream, Salt, Beetroot, Mushrooms & Wild Duck
Cold Smoking Cream, Salt, Beetroot, Mushrooms & Wild Duck

Vegetables I have smoked:

  • Eggplant
  • Beetroot
  • Corn
  • Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms

Things I want to try:

  • cashews
  • walnuts
  • sweet potato
  • and so many more!

Out of these, my personal favorites have been eggplant and beetroot – it seemed to add a great flavor angle with applewood after about one hour of cold smoking (that session was in the rain too

TIPSprinkle salt on the eggplant to draw out some moisture wash and leave it in the fridge to dry out so the smoke vapor can get into the aubergine.

How Long to Cold Smoke Salt

I’m pretty sure it was about 30-40 minutes, it really took on what I can only describe as a ‘caramel’ smell and taste with apple wood. Bizarre but enjoyable! I wouldn’t want to go longer than that though.

What is Happening When Meat is Cold Smoked?

When I read a few books specifically about cold smoking, one is from the 1970s, it was fascinating to learn about the impact of humidity and that cold smoking is just another form of drying the meat for preservation purposes. Just like all the stuff I have been doing with dry cured meats, or salumi – cold smoked meats just have the benefits of the cold smoke like the anti-bacterial & antifungal effect.

So drying is really what is going on (with smoke to help the preservation), this is after the first phase which is using salt to draw out moisture, which makes the environment in the meat inhospitable to bacteria growth. For meat VERY important, for all other foods like veggies and diary – Eggplant is the only one I think salt is needed for.

Why Does Cold Smoking Take so Long?

Specifically talking about cold smoked meat, since there isn’t any cooking going on like with hot smoking / low and slow smoking – it’s about drying out the meat slowly, not getting the outside dried out before the middle has.

But you want the humidity to be about 60-70% so that the outside of the meat doesn’t go hard (case hardening), you want even removal of the moisture.

As a related example, with dry cured meat, this is achieved by a DIY curing chamber like this, it’s a similar idea for cold smoking. But I like to cold smoke around or lower than the dry curing temps.

Ideal Dry Curing Temps = 50-60°F / 10-15°C

Or like they do in traditional Italian salumi production, drying is done near lakes and rivers where humidity is naturally a bit higher.

The Curing Time vs. the Cold Smoking Time

Since salt curing is part of the cold smoking process, the old school method was the ‘salt box’ or saturation method. This is where you immerse the meat in salt for a set number of days, depending on its weight. But the new school method is equilibrium curing. This method involves calculating a percentage of salt compared to the weight of the meat.

ie. 2% salt = 2g per 1000g of meat.

The huge advantage of this is that you can choose the level of saltiness. The curing is done wrapped up or vacuum-packed to make sure all the salt inhibits the meat. Using reusable sous vide bags inside other bags is a method I want to experiment with, so I avoid single-use plastic.

If you want more info on the curing side of cold smoking, I wrote a full post on cold smoking covering all the important bits, check it out here.

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  1. “Or like that do in traditional Italian salumi production, drying is done near lakes and rivers where humidity is naturally a bit higher.”

    I don’t quite understand this. If you are drying why would you want humid air?

    1. Author

      Howdy, for dry-cured meat that are cold smoked you want to dry but not too fast, so 60-75% humidity means the outside dries but not too fast. You don’t want case hardening where the outside is too dry and the inside hasn’t transferred the moisture to the exterior for evaporation. Salt has a large part to play in this process. All the best Tom

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