Cold Food Smoking Vs. Hot: What’s The Difference?


smoking fish

Smoking is a method used to preserve food through using either hold or cold processes. Smoking food dates back to the cave men’s days when it was first used as a food preparation technique. Smoking adds flavor and improves the appearance of food and should not be compared to drying food methods. 

In general, the differences between hot and cold smoking are:

  1. Hot smoking cooks in a few hours, cold smoking can take up to a few days
  2. Hot smoking curing is needed; cold smoking curing isn’t
  3. Hot smoking temps +/- 300F (150C), cold smoking temps under 90F (32C)
  4. Hot smoking eat food immediately, cold smoking preserves food

Curing and cold smoking preserve meat and other foods. The cold smoking method has an antimicrobial effect on meat and is the best preservation method. The hot smoking method is generally used to add taste and to slow cook the meat. Our handy guide explores the two methods.

What Is Cold Smoking Used For?

The cold smoking process is a method used to preserve food to make it last for a few months. Used together with preserves and curing methods, cold smoking is a way to add flavor to your food without cooking it through. Food is cooked over wood at a low temperature for a rich, smokey flavor.

Some products like meat have different smoking methods from other products. Some cold smoked foods can last for a few months without being refrigerated, while others need to be kept at certain temperatures to preserve their freshness.

Many farmers and homesteaders have built smokehouses on their land for smoking, storing, and preserving food for later use, mainly through the cold winter months when food is scarce.

How To Cold Smoke Foods

To explain the differences between cold smoking and hot smoking foods and the different effects of both methods, we need to give a quick explanation of the two different smoking methods.

Read further on in this article for hot smoking instructions.

The basic method of cold smoking food is:

  • The food is cured using a brine mixture or salt – brine and salt extract the moisture from the food, prevents bacteria’s growth, and assists in preserving the food while it cures. The food is rinsed after the curing process to clean off some of the salt.
  • The cured food is then hung in a cold smoker. The length of time that the food stays in the drier is dependent on the food itself. There are different time periods for various food products, but this process can take days or weeks of slow exposure to cold smoke. The trick of cold smoking is to expose the food to the smoke while not allowing it to get too hot.

The temperatures in a cold smoker should be 70 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit (21 – 33 degrees Celsius). To keep the food at the required cold smoking temperature, which is under 90 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s best to keep it in an unheated chamber while pumping the smoke in from a separate chamber. 

Which Foods Are Better For Cold Smoking?

Not all foods are suitable for smoking or should only be used for either hot smoking or cold smoking methods. Cold smoking any type of meat can be risky as bacteria can quickly grow on meat if it has not been cooked, which is why meat products need to be cured before smoking.

There are many food products other than meat that can be cold smoked to add a wonderful smoky flavor to the product. The following low-risk foods can be preserved using the cold smoking method:

  • Cheese – Delicious smokey cheese can be achieved in 2 – 4 hours. After it has been smoked, wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator. The flavors will become more intense if left to develop.
  • Smoked salt – Using any type of salt, layer on a pan lined with parchment paper and place in the smoker for 12 hours for a nice flavor.
  • Smoked salmon – Leave in the smoker for two-three days.
  • Nuts – Any type of nuts can be smoked. Rub them in oil or butter before spreading onto a tray and placing them in the smoker for 2 hours.
  • Bacon – Generally cured before smoking which reduces the risks of bacteria, leave in the smoker for two to three weeks.

Certain foods, such as smoked salmon, which are smoked using the cold smoking method, should not be eaten by people who are immunocompromised, pregnant, or the elderly.

This is due to the risk of parasites that may still be alive in the food. Cold smoking does not kill all parasites which would have been killed during the cooking process.

Always make sure that any meat products, fish, or poultry have been cured before being cold-smoked to reduce the risk of parasites and bacteria.

Cold smoking is safe if the correct processes are followed and the proper temperatures of the smoker are maintained.

What Are The Advantages Of Cold Smoking?

The best thing about cold-smoking foods is that you can develop the flavor of the food over a more extended period without cooking it. Cold smoking is particular to foods that don’t have to be cooked, such as cheese and vegetables.

  • Cold smoking improves the flavor of food and adds a wonderful aroma to it.
  • The fat on meat products is preserved and will not go rancid, extending its shelf life.
  • Food that has been cold smoked, and preserved can be cooked later. 

What Are The Disadvantages Of Cold Smoking?

Although cold smoking is a tried-and-tested food preserving method that has been around for many years, there are a few disadvantages to preserving your food this way.

  • A cold smoker can be expensive. It needs to have two chambers so you cannot use your hot smoker as a cold smoker.
  • Cold smokers are in short supply, so you could have a hard time finding an affordable one!
  • A fuel source is needed for the smoker, generally a hardwood that does not contain resin but does produce a lot of smoke, such as oak, cherry, or apple.
  • Great care needs to be taken with keeping the temperature constant, so your time is taken up with maintaining and controlling the temperature.
  • If the temperature is not controlled, bacteria could grow on the food leading to contaminated foods and sickness in humans who eat it.
  • Meat products need to be cured first to prevent them from drying out during the smoking process, adding additional time to the entire process.

What Is Hot Smoking Used For?

Hot smoking and grilling are faster cooking techniques that use heat and smoke to preserve and cook meats and other dishes. With hot smoking methods, you cook the food and add flavor at the same time, giving the food a rich, smokey flavor.

Hot smoking reduces the risk of bacteria as the food is cooked for a more extended period over hotter temperatures which should kill any bacteria and parasites which may have made their way into the food.

How To Hot Smoke Foods

As stated previously in this article, in order to explain the differences between cold smoking and hot smoking foods and the different effects of both methods, we need to give a quick explanation of the two different smoking methods.

The basic method of hot smoking foods is:

  • Food is served immediately after being hot smoked, and cooked. Meat products can be basted with a marinade or soaked in a marinade for a few hours or overnight to enhance the tenderness of the meat product. Curing using a brine mixture or salt is not a requirement when hot smoking food.
  • Food products are held and cooked in the same chamber as the burning wood and heat.

Read further up in this article for cold smoking instructions.

The temperature for hot smoking ranges between 190 – 130 degrees Fahrenheit (87 – 148 degrees Celsius, well above the 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) danger cooking zone.

Which Foods Are Better For Hot Smoking?

As we have learned in this article, not all foods are suitable for smoking or should only be used for either hot smoking or cold smoking methods. Meat is best cooked in a hot smoker as it gets a wonderfully charred, caramelized, smoky flavor. 

Using modern smoking methods, preserving food is being replaced by slow cooking food over low heat to enhance flavors and to keep the food tender.

Hams, beef briskets, poultry, fish, pork roasts, herring, and oysters are delicious when smoked using the hot smoking method.

Try smoking and cooking the following foods using the hot smoking method:

  1. Smoked chicken – Best cooked using a charcoal smoker and basted with marinade or salt and pepper with a splash of lemon.
  2. Smoked meatloaf – Mix pork, beef, and turkey with your favorite spices, place in a pan, and smoke for an hour and a half in a smoker.
  3. Smoked sausages – Set the smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit (120 degrees Celsius), baste with chili, and smoke for at least 3 hours.
  4. Smoked Fruit – Preheat the smoker to 200 degrees Fahrenheit (90 degrees Celsius), leave the fruit whole but place onto a grill and cook for 30 – 35 minutes.
  5. Smoked Vegetables – Cut up all your vegetables, place them into a pan, drizzle with oil, and smoke at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius) for 45 minutes.

What Are The Advantages Of Hot Smoking?

Hot smoking food is a convenient way to cook food either using fresh ingredients or previously smoked preserved food.  Some significant advantages to hot smoking are:

  • Food does not have to be cured or salted first.
  • Hot smoking food is a social activity and can be used as a cooking method for a large group of people – think BBQ and meat!
  • Food will not dry out as quickly as the cooking time is shorter.
  • You do not need to buy a particular smoker – any BBQ can be used.
  • The food is only cooked once; no further cooking is required.
  • Hot smoking is easier to learn than cold smoking.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Hot Smoking?

Cooking your food using the hot smoking method can have some disadvantages, although, in my opinion, this is an easier, quicker and more social way of cooking food. Some disadvantages to the hot smoking method include:

  • A hot smoker can be expensive. It needs to have one chamber so you cannot use your cold smoker as a hot smoker.
  • Because the cooking method is quicker, there is a risk of losing some of the smokey flavor and aroma.
  • Some nutrients could be lost during the cooking process as the food is exposed to high temperatures.
  • The hot smoking cooking process is time-consuming as both the fire and the food cooking on it needs to be monitored.
  • Products cooked using this method have a shelf-life of three to four days in the refrigerator.
  • A fuel source is needed for the smoker, generally a hardwood that does not contain resin but does produce a lot of smoke, such as oak, cherry, or apple. Charcoal is a good fuel source for hot smoking and grilling.

Quick Tips For Safe Smoking

Smoking food for preserving and eating is a skill that needs time and practice to perfect. Follow our quick tips on how to smoke your food perfectly!

  • Invest in a good, reliable smoker – you will need two separate smokers if you are going to use both of the hot and cold smoking methods.
  • Source good quality meat and fish before you smoke them to ensure parasite-free produce.
  • Always salt and cure meat products before cold smoking.
  • Always cook all meat and products after they have been through the cold smoking process to make sure that they are safe for eating.
  • Regulate the temperature in the smoker by using a water pan.
  • Add wood and charcoal chunks to the smokers in small batches to avoid giving the food a bitter taste.
  • Avoid black smoke! White smoke is needed for optimal smoking conditions.
  • Constantly monitor the fire, water, and food – never leave your fire unattended.

Differences Between Hot And Cold Smoking Methods

While there do not seem to be very many differences between hot and cold smoking methods, there are a few that need to be mentioned.

Hot Smoking MethodsCold Smoking Methods
Food cooked in a few hours – 1 day or lessSmoking can take a few days to complete
Curing required using brine or saltCuring not a requirement
Temperature ranges between 140 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit (60 to 150 degrees Celsius)Temperature not higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius)
The method used to cook food to eat immediatelyThe method used to preserve food for later use

Possibly the one most important thing to remember when comparing hot and cold smoking methods is that cold smoking foods may be at risk of contamination unless they are correctly cured before going into the smoker and that they are cooked before being eaten.

Foods that are smoked using the hot smoking method are generally ok to eat as soon as they have come out of the smoker as long as the temperature is correct. 

Foods smoked using the cold smoking method should always be kept in the refrigerator until they are cooked, and foods smoked using the hot smoking method can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days after coming out of the smoker.

Conclusion

The smoking method is a great way to add flavor to your food and new tastes and aromas to your meals. Smoking food is not that hard to do and could become an excellent way for you to cook using new methods while entertaining your friends and family.

Expensive equipment is not needed to get started with home smoking. Experiment with different wood types and herbs, and spices to create the flavors that your family enjoys.

Whether you use the hot smoking method or the cold smoking method, fire is involved, so always have a fire extinguisher nearby in case of any mishaps. Your smoker should always be placed in a well-ventilated area to prevent smoking out your family as well as your food!

William Johnson

Will has loved smoking food in his free time for the last few years. Each major holiday or off-weekend, Will spends days testing and prepping new recipes for perfection.

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