In this article you will learn everything you need to know about cold smoking.
Cold smoking is one of the oldest methods of preservation and if you know how, not so difficult.
So I’ll show you what cold smoking is, what you need to do it, how to do it and finally a few recipes and tips & tricks.
I hope you enjoy the article.
What is cold smoking?
As the name implies, cold smoking does not rely on heat for cooking. The smoked food is preserved rather than cooked by smoking it at a temperature of 15 – 25 °C (59 – 77 °F) for a longer period of time.
By preserving, the smoked foods are still edible weeks later. Not only is the shelf life extended, but the taste is also affected by the smoke.
Cold smoking is usually a longer process because of the low temperatures. It can occasionally take several days to weeks (depending on the thickness of the smoked food)
The exact time depends on:
- The type of food being smoked
- The thickness of your smoked food
- The smoke itself
- The amount of salt and other spices (duration of curing process)
Before smoking, the meat / fish / cheese must be soaked in a brine or salt (more on this in the section on preparation).
To smoke cold, the fire should be a considerable distance from the food or there should be a small ember. Otherwise, it can quickly get too hot and you’ll end up warm smoking and hot smoking.
It’s also important that the vents of your smokehouse are open. This regulates circulation and smoke flow. The goal, after all, is to create a cool, even draft of smoke-rich air.
However, if the vents are opened too wide, too much smoke can escape and/or cause excessive heat and flaming.
The easiest way to achieve this is to use special cold smoke generators and smoke chambers.
I’ll now show you exactly what they are….
What you need for cold smoking
To smoke your food, you need certain equipment. I will show you here, which exactly…
Some kind of smoking chamber / sm0ke house
Okay the most important thing to start with
You need a chamber where you can safely smoke your food. The range goes from a homemade smokehouse from a paper box (I explain in another post yet) to a smoker grill for several hundred euros. The advantage is that you can also warm and hot smoke in it.
I have you here, the in my opinion, 3 most important criteria summarized:
1. It must be a dense smoke chamber that can hold enough smoke. In addition, the smoke must also be able to escape. It is best if the exhaust vent is at the top, or at least near the top, so that the smoke can flow slowly from the bottom to the top. Indeed, the food to be smoked should naturally be suspended in the smoke stream.
2. The smokehouse must have a means of suspending the food to be smoked either on racks or on poles or rafters. So that it can be exposed to the smoke without touching it.
3. When cold smoking, the smokehouse must function safely for an extended period of time. Even if the temperatures are low you should make sure that it is made of a decent material.
As long as you follow these criteria, you can’t make a wrong decision when choosing your smokehouse.
It doesn’t matter if it is made of cardboard, wood or metal.
Cold smoke generator
In order to achieve the longest possible smoking time and not have to keep an eye on the temperature all the time, I recommend a cold smoke generator. It allows you to flexibly adjust the time and amount of smoke. Depending on the producer and flour, 5 – 20 hours of cold smoking are possible.
This method has a low consumption of smoking flour in your smoker. You only need about 85 g of smoking chips per run.
Smoking flour / Economy fire / Smoking chips
Besides the equipment you need wood to develop the smoke. Since wood chips are not so well suited for cold smoking, I focus on smoking flour / economy burn / smoking chips.
No matter what wording you read on the package, all three types are great for cold smoking.
Some people think there is THE BEST type of wood to smoke (One wood for red meat and another for fish, etc.). Personally, I don’t put too much stock in those claims.
The important thing is that you do not resinous woods such as beech. Oak, Alder, Willow and Birch and good other hardwoods (e.g. fruit and walnut woods) .
Otherwise, my advice is to buy several varieties of your choice and then find out for yourself what you like best.
Overview of the most common woods and their properties:
- Maple: Smoky not too strong with a sweet note
- Apple: Mild, fruity smoke flavor, a slight hint of sweetness and the genuine apple flavor
- Beech: Typical, traditional smoke flavor, which you probably know from most sausages or fish here in Germany (The classic)
- Oak – Strong heavy smoke flavor (if you like whiskey, the right one)
- Alder: Mild and very fine smoke aroma, subtle and not too strong (The reserved)
- Hickory: Very strong, sharp smoky aroma (e.g. used in American bacon)
- Cherry: Mild , sweet-sour, fruity smoke aroma
- Plum: Slightly stronger aroma than apple, yet mild and fruity
- Walnut: Spicy aroma with a nice flavor
Cold smoking instructions – step by step
In addition to preparing your equipment, you’ll also need to prepare your smoked goods.
If you’re going to smoke meat or fish, the first step is always curing. It doesn’t matter whether you choose dry or wet curing
In dry curing, you add between 2.5% – 4% = 25 – 40g of salt per kilo of meat and massage it in (you can also add any spices of your choice). After that you put the meat in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days (the time varies with the thickness of your meat). Now let the meat “bake” on a rack in the refrigerator for the same amount of time. This process distributes the salt and the meat loses liquid.
For wet curing, you prepare a brine for this process. For a 10% brine you need for one liter
- 1 liter of water
- 101 g salt
- 10 g Cure #1
- 20 g sugar
- Spices to taste
In it you put your smoked meat and let it soak in the same way as with the dry curing variant.
If you want to know more about it, I have a detailed article about curing for you here.
Only after this procedure it goes to the cold smoking.
The actual smoking process is very simple:
- Hang your smoked food in your smoking chamber
- Prepare your cold smoke generator and ignite the smoking powder
- Let your meat hang in the smoke (The time varies from recipe to recipe)
- Give your meat the rest it needs. It should be smoked for a maximum of 12 hours at a time. After that, the same amount of rest time must be given. The smoked meat can hang in the smoker if it is protected from insects. Otherwise, put it in the refrigerator or cold cellar.
- Repeat the process until the desired smoking time is reached
- Give your smoking material the opportunity to mature, well ventilated. So it can develop the aroma. The longer the storage time, the stronger the flavor (please also note the exact times of the recipes)
Make sure that any condensation does not drip onto your smoked meat, otherwise it will quickly lead to problems.
How long do I have to cold smoke?
The smoking time is usually specified in each recipe. It depends on the curing time and your personal taste. So if you like it well smoked, the smoking time may exceed the curing time (but note that the weight loss will be greater the longer you smoke).
How long does cold smoked meat have to mature?
Your smoked meat should always be matured after smoking. This process further dries it out, giving it a firmer texture and making it darker. Maturing should take place in a ventilated room at around 15 °C. The minimum maturing time is about the same as the smoking time. Once the desired degree of maturation is reached, you should make sure that your smoked meat does not dry out further. It is best to eat or vacuum seal it.
What can be cold smoked?
You can generally cold smoke pretty much any type of meat. The best known are ham, bacon, salami and liver sausage. But you can also cold smoke other sausages, fish (e.g. salmon), duck and goose breast and also hard cheeses (soft cheeses are not suitable) .
What is the optimal temperature for cold smoking?
The perfect temperature is between 15 – 25 °C (59 – 77 °F). The temperature must not exceed this value! Therefore, also pay attention to the outside temperature. In summer at 30 °C you have to cold smoke in the cellar or in a cooler place. Otherwise, your product will spoil.
5 delicious cold smoking recipes
Here you will find a selection of recipes..
Smoked Bratwurst – Classic from Franconia
Click here for my smoked bratwurst recipe.
Make Mettwurst yourself – complete instructions
Click here for my Mettwurst recipe.
Make ham yourself (incl. cold smoking)
Ham is a classic for cold smoking and is perfect for beginners. Here you can find my complete ham recipe with detailed instructions
This recipe is a little more time intensive, but it pays off. The pepper biters are flavorful and taste heavenly. Much better than store-bought
Smoked pork tenderloin
Cold smoking pork tenderloin is to die for. It’s super tasty and the quick preparation makes it perfect for DIY. You can find the recipe here.
Cold smoking tips & tricks
Finally, I have a few tips & tricks for you that I hope will help you make something great to eat….
- Cold smoking has two primary purposes: it’s a gentle way to preserve your sausage at a low temperature, and it adds another layer of flavor to the finished sausage
- Smoked sausages tend to cling tightly to the casing, creating a very “bitey” texture
- You can add individual flavors to your smoked meats by adding spices to the smoked meats (e.g., pepper, juniper berries, hay, etc.)
- Mix your smoking chips. Combining different types of sawdust often results in interesting new flavors.
- Make sure the temperature does not exceed 25 burrs. My tip for the summer: Smoke at night or if you can’t help it during the day in a cool place (e.g. in the cellar)
As with most things in life, there are both advantages and disadvantages to cold smoking.
I would like to bring you here a few closer…
- Long shelf life: Cold smoking causes the product to lose water. This makes it more difficult for microorganisms to multiply. Your meat and fish will spoil more slowly
- New level of taste: The smoke from your wood chips gives your food a special aroma, which can improve the taste
- Long duration: depending on the thickness and weight of your meat, the smoking process alone can take over several days. The complete process can take several weeks. So it’s not for “quick fixes”.
Not suitable for all foods: Although you can smoke most meats, some cheeses and vegetables, not everything is suitable. If your vegetables have a high water content, for example, it will not work. Soft cheese is also not suitable for cold smoking.