When I was thinking about writing this, and about cold smoking temperature food like salmon, bacon or cheese. I thought it would be short, but then I realized, I can’t talk about temperature unless I also talk about humidity and airflow in relation to cold smoking food.
For about 10 years I wasn’t aware of how important it was. Once you think and factor in humidity and airflow, it makes it all come together and for many years now I have been improving my technique, or that’s what I’m told anyway.
Cold smoking for some reason is a bit of a mystery for many, but as long as you follow the process like any type of curing it’s straightforward.
I have cold smoked everything from dairy cream through to many different types of fish, vegetables and of course meat (farmed and wild) some I have harvested from the wild.
Being a man of science, I needed to dig deep into the parameters and factors that change the cold smoking process. Many commercial smoking textbooks later, I am comfortable and always like experimenting whilst following the main process.
But then you go to realize that cold smoking is actually just another form of drying to meat out to intensify flavor by losing moisture. As you probably know cold smoking was traditionally used to create antibacterial and antifungal protection to make preserving more effective.
What Temperature for Cold Smoking?
10-20°C or 50-68°F is a cold smoking temperature suitable for meat, seafood or dairy. Over 30°C/86°F meat begins to cook, other factors such as airflow and humidity should be taken into account.
So I base the above information not only on my experience of learning for producers and Artisan butchers but the authority of salami making and some dry curing., a textbook called the Production of quality meats and sausages by Marianski and Marianski.
These guys have put out many books about curing and brining many types of meat. And as I sit here with a 700-page book, it’s definitely a bit dry (excuse the meat curing pun), but it is the textbook of smoking and curing as far as I’m concerned, a ton of international recipes to play around with as well (buy it here on Amazon)
And many others either online or in chef books don’t talk about is the other factors when cold smoking
I first actually read all about these factors in a 1970’s book from the library which is a man’s experience of at-home & commercial hot & cold-smoking.
Humidity and airflow are mentioned often. And because both of these are so important I wanted to go over a bit it below.
I mention this in my cold smoking guide but want to elaborate on this again.
Details on Temperature & Other Factors
(Buying through any amazon links supports the site and doesn’t cost you anything fyi)
Drying the Meat & Cold Smoking Helps
Cold smoking by definition is actually drying the meat out with beneficial cold smoke happening. Because you’re using hardwood wood which generally loses its leaves in winter. It has the right properties from the smoke to inhibit unwanted bacterial growth and also keep away flies and other pests.
When you dry cure, you end up growing healthy good bacteria often on the meat, with cold smoking I have never had any since the smoke vapor (it’s not actually the smoke itself) becomes the protection.
Dry Curing and Cold Smoking are similar
For myself and for so many people I talk to about curing and smoking, especially cold smoking. You’re really just drying the meat with smoke at a temperature that won’t cook the meat at all. Which minimizes the chance of unwanted bacteria growing because of the low temperature.
So, if you’re up to the point where you are looking at the temperature of cold smoking, you probably have already got your head around the importance of the salt and potentially other preservatives like nitrates, spices, and sugar. If you haven’t you need to do more research my friend!
Temperature, Humidity & Airflow -Interaction
Now I’ll be honest, I’ve done a lot of dry curing before I got into the cold smoking because the dry curing gives you all the basics you need in terms of getting the salt saturation right.
I prefer the equilibrium curing method, if you want a bit of a rundown on this, you can check out a post on curing at home here I wrote.
But it’s the interaction between the humidity airflow and the temperature that’s important.
For me and my local climate, that means high humidity and the lower temperature is at nighttime (which is the case in many parts of the world with moderate temperatures). You kind of want over 60-70% humidity just like a curing chamber really or the area you are drying meat. wrote about building curing chambers here).
I remember the first few times I was trying to hot smoke my freshly caught fish in the portable smoker.
Portable smokers don’t really have any airflow so you have to be a bit careful about how much wood you put in. In of course you’re cooking the meat with wood flavor which is completely different from cold smoking.
(Portable Smokers are Awsome – read about them here)
Anyway, the lessons I learned when I was rather young, was that you don’t need a lot of smoke to create the flavor. There were a few fish that came out very bitter, lesson learned when I was a kid.
I have some photos of my first nasty style cold smoker which was quite a sight, using a cheap old kettle grill and putting a pellet tube underneath it. I could open up the top vent on the Kindle led or offset that lid slightly.
And can control how much air flows blocked out of the smoker. Here is one of the commercial smokers I use which can be used as a hot smoker or cold smoker. It has a flat that can be pushed across on the small chimney at the top. This allows restriction of airflow if needed, here is a picture of some dry-cured wild venison salami and traditional Hungarian salami being cold smoked.
But it does depends on where you live, if you’re in an arid desert environment, then quite often you working around 20-30% humidity and I’m not sure what it’s like at nighttime maybe there is a bit of moisture.
And the quick hack for this is just placing water in a bowl inside the smoking area which can increase the humidity substantially. A bit of moisture testing with a Hygrometer like this makes sense
Cold Smoking Meat vs Vegetables vs Dairy
Here is a picture of some cold smoking I did, it was actually raining at the time but the recipes I was following were saying that all these bits and pieces shouldn’t be smoked for longer than an hour to impart flavor (cream and salt only 20-30 minutes).
In this cold smoking session there was salt, cream, beetroot, mushroom, eggplant and wild duck.
From all the cold smoking I’ve done my favorites have been eggplant and beetroot.
I did create a rather amazing potato gratin using the cold smoked cream.
Most dairy type products like cream or cheese I’ve found generally only need 30 minutes max of cold smoking. Like any cold smoking, you always want to put your food in a container and waits for the flavor to develop further.
I have liked the lighter woods like fruit woods or grapevine. Applewood is very to acquire locally and a go-to for me. it’s a nice light smokey touch.
Heavy woods like mahogany I prefer to use on meat or mix with lighter wood. I did a simple breakdown from my perspective on woods for smoking, check that out over here.
I just pulled out a chunk of cold smoked venison that I hit pretty heavy to see the max smokiness. About 10 4 hour sessions for quite a few nights.
I gave it to a friend, and then I went traveling for nine months through Italy and Europe (yes lucky me I know). When I got back he had vacuum-packed it and left it in his fridge.
We produced quite a few of these smoked venison loins say he had decided one of them was too much. So I have now been slicing slithers off recently and it’s been rather deliciously received by all.
It’s a completely lean piece of meat, but it does dry out fast if it’s not kept in that cold moist environment like a curing chamber.
Important Factors for Cold Smoking
Here are some things that cover alot of cold smoking, even though it’s a simple process once you start cold smoking.
This is cold smoked ‘food for thought’.
Will mention a bit on each.
- Make sure you have fresh good quality meat
- Weighting before curing and work out the finished weight (my preference)
- Make use of effective refrigeration when processing meat
- Accurately salt cure or salt wet brine the meat
- Choose wood that won’t be too strong
- Have a reliable smoke generation device that isn’t high maintenance
- Airflow & Cold Smoking
- Humidity & Cold Smoking
If your looking for the 'ducks nuts' (that means a very good bit of equipment). A smoke generator can be used as a cold smoker, or adding smoke to indirect cooking which equates to a form of 'low & slow' bbq or making smoked ham and some much more.
The inventor of smoke generators was Smokai, it's a simple device that uses the venturi effect and a variable air pump to control the amount of smoke you are pumping.
I have a range of cold smoking options, and the Smokai is my favorite.
By far the smokai is the most efficient cold smoker I've come across because you have control.
It also burns very clean, which flavors the food exceptionally well. I've been using smoke generators for over 10 years, and this one is the ducks nuts.
Check out this review I did of the Smokai Smoke Generator here.
Fresh Good Quality Meat
Even though you get stronger smoke flavors from with cold smoking unless you hold back and do a few hours in 1 or 2 sessions. I think using sustainable, ethical and ideally locally sourced meat is best. A bit harder when you live in a big city, then maybe there’s something on the fringes that you could acquire.
Weighting Before Curing and Work Out the Finished Weight (my preference)
If you want to have a pretty good idea of when you cold smoking is done, the textbooks say 25 to 35% weight loss. So remembering to record this information can be very helpful. But it also depends on what meat you are cold smoking. For dairy and vegetables, it doesn’t matter, since your just imparting another flavor angle.
Make use of Effective Refrigeration When Processing Meat
Using the modern refrigeration that’s available when handling meat is really important since it slows down any bacterial stuff that can happen.
Pretty much all of the meat curing I do is always in a refrigerated area as well.
Accurately Salt Cure or Salt Wet Brine the Meat
I know it’s still pretty popular to do the saltbox saturation methods and for very large pieces of meat, it still makes a lot of sense as well.
But generally speaking, most of the stuff that I like to do is with equilibrium curing, it just gives more consistent results.
If you haven’t checked it out, I have one post on curing at home including an intro to equilibrium curing here.
I put the equilibrium curing calculator on the main menu, you can find at the top of each page. Thanks to my brother who put together the code for.
Choose wood that won’t be too strong
I think woods like Apple peach, cherry, grape, manuka, beech (medium I think) are great.
Have a Reliable Smoke Generation Device That isn’t High Maintenance
The great thing about cold smoking is if you want to do huge slabs of pork belly for bacon, massive hams or smaller projects – it doesn’t take massive amounts of machinery or tools to create the cold smoke.
If you have a large smoking area or chamber (fridge, smokehouse etc.) you may want to consider a smoke generator.
Here is more on smoke generators if you want.
That is for a larger smokehouse or if you’re retrofitting it to something like a green eggs ceramic. For pellet grills, just be aware of backdraft issues if you’re fitting a smoke generator directly to the grill.
I have even been cheeky and pumped the smoke generator and to my 5 burner gas grill for some interesting smoked projects.
For something that gives reliability, burns well, and is so simple can’t go wrong with a pellet tube too. But you can’t control the smoke like a smoke generator.
12″ tube I find lasts 3 to 5 hours on average which is enough for letting it burn when I go to bed and then whatever I’m smoking I stick in the fridge or curing chamber the next day ready for another evening cold smoking session.
Here is a little write up on tubes and mazes for cold smoking.
I am fascinated making dry-cured meat and sharing the amazing flavors you can create at home.
After curing for nearly 20 years, with a focus on dry-curing classic Italian and exotic ideas also. I've got a fantastic video charcuterie course covering what you need, how to do it, and some insider tips.
It's all bundled together as a formidable resource - check out my Meat Curing Course Here.
Thanks for dropping by, I’ve been passionate about meat curing for around 20 years now. Having been lucky enough to learn inside fine dining kitchens through to backyard smoking sessions. From doing courses, trial & error and reading extensively – finally, I thought it was time to share my passion online.
My insatiable appetite and passion toward classic Italian dry-cured salumi and all forms of curing and smoking are what drives this website engine. All the best, Tom