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The meaning of cold smoked has really changed in our modern commercial times, with a focus on flavor.
What Does Cold Smoking Mean? Cold Smoking is preserving and flavoring food. Achieved through airflow and a temperature below 30° C/86°F, much lowered ideally. Humidity is also vital for cold-smoking meat. If meat is being cold smoked, it must be fully salt-cured before cold smoking.
Cold smoking is an ancient form of preservation and nowadays a way of flavoring instead of preservation – since we now have modern refrigeration to take care of our foods.
Cold-smoked experimentation using various vegetables and dairy foods seems to be happening everywhere. The first time I cold smoked cream, it was quite the revelation.
However, the topic has developed and expanded across so many different cultures. Traditionally, the European cold smoking in Central and Eastern Europe is very developed and has been around for thousands of years.
The actual equipment you need is pretty minimalist; the environment is something most can cater for quite easily at home, too. Cold smoked meat has got a bit more of a process. Vegetables and dairy are super straightforward and can be done in a box (cardboard), an old fridge, or just on a BBQ gas grill.
You can really experiment with different foods and meats, both farmed and wild, like I have at home. The amazing world of cold smoking has led me to try wild duck, turkey, venison, wild boar, chicken, and many different vegetables. I also had a crack at dairy and cold smoking cream for a potato gratin (came out fantastic!).
Cold Smoking – Equipment & Environment Needed
My favorite setup is a pellet tube smoker; you get one end going, and it can burn for 4-5 hours. It smolders away consistently with airflow coming through the perforated metal tube.
Another method is smoke generators, which give you some control over the smoke with a variable pump.
If you are interested in learning more about cold smoking, check out a beginner’s guide I wrote here, with some easy starter projects.
Equipment for Cold Smoking
I did a lot of ‘fast’ hot smoking (cooking and smoking at the same time), especially for fish I caught in the river or ocean. Then, I got into cold-smoking and dry-cured meats.
It’s straightforward what equipment you can use for cold smoking. When I first learned about cold smoking from a traditional Dutch butcher a few decades ago, he just had a large metal double doors tank when the conditions suited at night or in winter. He would start the smoldering pile of untreated furniture wood offcuts and have the cured meats & salumi hanging at the top of the large metal smoking chamber.
The first smoker I got was a smoke generator, which burns a little bit in a vertical metal tube, it has a variable control pump which pushes/draws the smoke, I think it’s called the ‘venturi’ effect. I just attached this to a basic charcoal kettle grill, gas grill, or any other enclosed area I want.
A simple pellet tube can also be used – but you don’t have control over the amount of smoke with the variable air pump.
You fill the perforated tube with a pellet tube, then use a butane torch or creme brulee torch to get it going (I even used a camp cooker or gas burner on the BBQ to get it lit). Once lit, you leave it for 6-8 minutes generally and blow it out. It will provide 4+ hrs with a 12-inch tube.
You can also put the pellet tube on your hooded gas grill BBQ or kettle grill to add or boost the smoke levels. The options are endless, I know a friend, who used a large cardboard box to do some cold smoking with a pellet tube.
Some low and slow smokers (hot smoking) also can have cold smoke generators attached – these generally just burn a small amount on the side of the primary device – if you want an electric-based, consistent cold smoke. Masterbuilt Electric/Gas smokers and a few others have these attachments.
Environment for Cold Smoking
You have to remember cold smoking is just a form of drying with cold smoke that is being drawn through at less than 30°C/86°F.
Three things are needed:
Airflow is something you want generally push through the cold smoking area, since this will help the drying out, getting too much cold smoke can also make the food bitter.
TIP: Less is more when it comes to cold smoking
15-25°C/59-77°F is what I generally target for most cold smoking projects; my preference is to just wait for cool nights and let it burn out.
Humidity is something which you can get roughly right, most advise and books I have read lean toward 60-80% humidity, so dewy nights – if you get them can suit. I sometimes add a bowl of ice inside the cold smoking chamber to increase the humidity level if the humidity is a bit high.
Raining isn’t ideal since humidity is 100%, but just doing cheese or vegetables can work fine (for dairy or vegetables – you are just flavoring, not really drying) – 30-60 mins is always enough. Beetroot and eggplant can produce some interesting smoke flavors (apple wood is nice and light/sweet).
Easy Cold Smoking Starter Projects
The first go-to and dead easy thing is cheese. You can get a whole other complexity and nothing like that orange smoked cheese that is commercially produced.
I find generally lighter woods, and under an hour of cold smoking is plenty. As mentioned, go for cheese, dairy (needs to be a bit cooler <15°C/59°F, I prefer), or vegetables if you put your cold smoking training wheels on.
Cold smoked goods benefit from a resting period in the fridge, intensifying the flavor. Bear that in mind when putting it in the refrigerator overnight.
Here is a video I made which showcases cold smoking in detail: