I have been a cooking enthusiast my entire life: managed/owned several restaurants, specializing in smoked foods and wild game preparation.
How Do I Smoke Meat?
Smoking food is easy. Anyone can do it, and once you have mastered the basics, you can develop your very own techniques. First, let’s get to definitions or the most common definitions anyway for cold and hot smoking.
Cold smoking for most cooks and grill masters is simply the process of adding smoke flavor to any food, which can include meats. Typically, foods cold smoked are ready to eat foods, but meats or any other raw foods that require cooking before consumption can be cold smoked if you plan on cooking the food to the proper temperature later.
Typically, cold smoking temperatures are at or below 100° F, which is well below the needed temperature to cook raw meats or other raw products that require cooking/heating to consume.
Ideal foods to cold smoke to simply add smoke flavor can include salmon and other fish, bread, corn on the cob, baked beans, various cheeses, ring bologna, and even butter. Your choices are virtually endless, so use your imagination and experiment a little.
Hot smoking is usually done at temperatures ranging from as low as 170° F to as high as 300° F. Some like to smoke between 200 and 300° F to ensure the foods are cooked in a timely manner, and moreover, to ensure the internal temperature is sufficient to destroy any bacteria that may be present.
Hot smoking not only adds smoke flavor it also cooks the food product such as whole or cut up chicken, beef roasts, fish, and wild game, corn on the cob, and so on.
Why Do You Have to Cook Meats Later If They Are Cold Smoked?
Cold smoking does not raise the internal temperature of the meats or other foods (it only adds smoke flavor) enough to ensure the foods are safe to consume. Bacteria found in chicken, beef, pork, and wild game meats will not be destroyed at the temperature(s) typically used for cold smoking.
Therefore, once you have added the smoke flavor you can cook your foods to the proper safe eating temperatures in any manner you wish.
Steaks, chops, roasts, and so forth can be placed on direct heat produced by charcoal or wood to cook or the foods can be placed in your kitchen’s oven, Dutch oven, or cooked using a frying pan on top of the stove.
Does Cold Smoking Require a Fire?
To cold smoke, you will need a source, a fire where the wood of your choice can be added to produce smoke. Many smokers sold today have a firebox attached so the fire is separated from the chamber which would contain your foods.
It would be nearly impossible to cold smoke in the same chamber as the fire. Too much heat would cook foods that you do not necessarily want to be cooked or you could end up with a cheesy, buttery blob in some cases.
You need heat to produce smoke, but you want your smoker set up to where the heat is far enough away from the foods to prevent overheating and yet allows smoke access to the foods. Duel chambered smokers are ideal, where you have a firebox and a separate cooking chamber.
Most smokers will have heat control drafts that are used to control the flow of oxygen, and in some cases, the flow of smoke. Less oxygen means less fire, thus a lesser amount of heat.
It requires practice to master this technique. You want to control the airflow and yet not dampen the fire to the point it is extinguished. Frequent monitoring and the use of a quality temperature gauge are required.
Types of Wood Used For Smoking, And Yes You Can Experiment With Hardwoods
Use only hardwoods, because soft woods like pine, for example, would impart a flavor not suited to most meats and other foods, and being a soft wood it will create a thick smoke that is simply not appetizing.
However, certain types of cedar are ideal for grilling planks such as western red cedar. Salomon is usually cooked on cedar planks but vegetables are well suited for this type of cooking, as well.
Avoid smoking or cooking with redwood, spruce, fir, sycamore and eastern cedar. These woods are heavy with resins and oils and like your typical pine, they also produce a thick oily smoke.
Apple, pecan, cherry, oak, hickory, alder, mesquite, and maple are abundant and will give most of you the desired flavor no matter the type of food you are smoking.
Oak is the go too wood for most meats due to its availability and versatile nature. Mesquite, for some, can be a bit harsh so save it for beef roasts and chicken.
Cherry, pecan, and maple are ideal for pork. Maple and alder are ideal for cheeses, fish, baked beans and other soft foods that are cold smoked. Apple and cherry are good for pork, cheese, and fish, as well as meats for those that want a milder smoke flavor.
Here Are a Few Other Smoking Woods to Consider If Available
- Grapevine wood is tart and some refer to it as fruity. It works well with small game birds and other poultry, as well as, pork, lamb, and sausages.
- Mulberry wood is very similar to apple and it is ideal for poultry, fish, and meats.
- Olive wood has a similar flavor to Mesquite, however, with a slightly lighter flavor, which is excellent for poultry.
- Peach wood is sweet and fruity and is used for pork, small game birds, and poultry.
- Pear and peach wood are very similar, so use whatever one is available to smoke pork, small game, and poultry.
- Walnut produces a strong and many times a bitter flavor so be careful. You can mix it in with other woods such as pear or peach, or maple to create a milder flavor. Paired or used alone, walnut is ideal for red meats and wild game. Never smoke with any wood that has been treated for water resistance or to repel pests.