If you own a smoker or have your own DIY set up for smoking at home, you know how wonderfully smoking can change the flavor of your dishes through heat and of course, smoke. What if you want to cold smoke though? Can you cold smoke without a cold smoker?
You do not need a cold smoker in order to cold smoke a dish. To cold smoke food like cheese, eggs, and fish, you can purchase smaller devices like a smoking tube, smoking maze, smoking gun, and a smoke generator. Other, more unconventional methods are also possible for cold smoking.
Cold smoking is a process that has been around for centuries and is one that does not require a ton of gizmos and gadgets. If you are wanting to try your hand at cold smoking, but don’t have an actual cold smoker, don’t toss those cold smoking dreams aside. Continue reading to find out the differences between cold and hot smoking, the different methods you can use to cold smoke (cheese) without a cold smoker, and the best types of woods to pair with all your favorite cold smoked foods.
What is the Difference Between Cold and Hot Smoking?
If you are new to the smoking arena, you may be perplexed by the statement that there is such a thing as cold smoking. Even in your apprentice position, you of course know that there is such a thing as hot smoking. After all, the point of you stacking a 10-pound beef tenderloin is to, in fact, cook it so that it is edible for you and your guests.
With hot smoking being so popular, why would anyone need to cold smoke?. Let’s discuss the differences.
What is Hot Smoking?
Hot smoking does not necessarily mean the highest temperatures possible for your dishes, but it does mean that it is using heat in order to cook your food. Temperatures for hot smoking can range anywhere from 160 degrees Fahrenheit to as high as 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Although 170 may be very low, this temperature is still working on food in a way that no other device can: low and slow.
Through the use of heat, temperature control, and smoke, a hot smoker is able to cook food at a rate that is considerably slower than a grill, oven, or stovetop can do. Through this low and slow process, smoke is able to infuse deep into your food while also cooking it at a rate that helps to maintain moisture and also allows the item to remain tender. Hot smoking uses heat and that slow-burning heat and smoke combination is what creates exceptional dishes.
Hot smoking has exploded in the last decade and smokers have been produced in mass quantities in order to meet the demand that is out there for hot smoked foods right at home. Hot smoking through the use of modern smokers has made this ancient process simple and easy for anyone who finds themselves wanting.
With hot smoking being all the craze, is there really a place for cold smoking? And if so, what exactly is it?
What is Cold Smoking?
Now that you understand the purpose behind hot smoking, it would be relatively easy to guess what the intent behind cold smoking is, right? If you guessed that cold smoking has to do with infusing smoke into food products without the use of heat, you would be correct! Cold smoking is used quite a bit less than hot smoking when it comes to the use of the general public, but cold smoked items certainly have their place in society.
With hot smoking, you are using heat and smoke to create a different depth of flavor for your dishes. Heat is necessary in order to cook the usual items that go on a hot smoker to avoid bacteria from blooming. With cold smoking though, the purpose is to infuse a smoky flavor into foods that are already ready to eat. With cold smoking, the temperature will be right at or even a bit below 80 degrees Fahrenheit which couldn’t be done with “need to cook” foods.
To give a more tangible example, cold smoking is used for items like cheese, boiled eggs, fish, butter, and bread. Especially with smoked cheeses and fish, the price in-store can be high for such a luxury item, but lucky for you, a bit of cash can be saved if you take your favorite items back home to smoke on your own. You may not have a cold smoker, but you are in luck because this method of smoking can be done perfectly without one.
Different Methods of Cold Smoking at Home
Although a cold smoker might be the simplest option for cold smoking cheese, it is certainly not your only one. There are various different methods for cold smoking – some conventional, some a bit more outlandish – but they each offer a way of cold smoking that does not require the use of a formal cold smoker.
Take a look below to find a method that is most appealing to you and one that will work the best for your home’s setup.
1. Smoking Tube
This little device is probably the least expensive option as far as formal cold-smoking gadgets go, but it is also one that does very well and takes up a minute amount of space in your home. Smoking tubes are designed in a way that keeps small amounts of heat contained while simultaneously creating a hefty amount of smoke through the use of pellets or sawdust. Smoke streams out of the device and creates minimal heat to get the best cold smoked food (like smoked gouda, for example).
2. Smoking Maze
A smoking maze is a bit less common than a smoking tube, but the concept is very similar. Instead of being round, the smoking maze is usually either a square, rectangle, or even circle that is filled with pellets or sawdust and is slowly burned in a pattern due to the design. This helps to create a bit of a longer burn for cold smoking. Smoking mazes are also designed to produce small amounts of heat and can be distanced from food to avoid heat contact.
3. Smoking Gun
A smoking gun is a great option because it can be used for food as well as for drinks. Smoke is created within the chamber of the gun and is dispensed into either a drink of your choice or into a dome that you would have to create yourself for different food items. You can simply grab a glass bowl and place it over the items that you wish to cold smoke, get the smoking gun started, and you are on your way to perfectly smoked food.
If you are looking for something that is a bit more put together and a little less DIY for cold smoking cheese without a cold smoker, consider purchasing a smoking dome. This device can either be purchased with a smoking gun, or can be purchased separately and hooked up to either the gun that you already own, but it is made to house all your cold smoked items under a glass casing that is the size of your choice. They are clear, are spacious, and create an easy spot to cold spot without having to be inventive.
A smoke generator is another item that needs to be used with something else in your home. For this product, that “something else” is your grill. If you already have a grill, the smoke generator can be placed inside the dome of the grill alongside your food item, turned on, and left set to cold smoke with ease. The ideal time for this to be used is in the winter so that the outside temperatures are more conducive to a true cold smoke for the cheese (or another type of food you are attempting to cold smoke).
6. Get Creative with Ice
Let’s move on to the more creative side of cold smoking. If you don’t want to go out and purchase anything new, considering using the power of ice. If you find yourself wanting to cold smoke but only have a hot smoker, consider sticking your items between two sheets of ice (frozen in a kitchen pan and covered with heavy-duty aluminum foil) and set your smoker to the lowest possible temperature. Unconventional, but it can get the job done.
7. Use an Old Household Appliances
Now, even more unconventional than using ice, you can look at using old household appliances like an old spare refrigerator for cold-smoking. If you have ever found yourself with an old working refrigerator with no way to use it, cold smoking could be a great option. Simply use the fridge as your chamber, insert a smoke generator, and get to smoking. This may not be the most attractive option, but it will do in a pinch or if you simply want to be resourceful.
What Type of Wood is Best for Cold Smoking?
Although cold smoking may not use intense heat to cook food that needs to be immediately consumed, it does use wood and that wood must produce smoke in order to flavor your cold smoked foods. It would be easy to assume that all wood is going to work well for cold smoking because all you really need is smoke and when wood is heated, that is going to be the product. However, this may be the biggest reason to be conscientious of the wood you use.
With cold smoking, your food will not change in texture or overall structure in any way. This means that your cheese is going to remain either soft or hard, your cured meats will have the same density, and your fish will still be very meaty. Hot smoking has a component that cold smoking does not, and it is to its advantage: it changes the texture of food in (usually) a very good way. Along with the infusion of smoke, hot smoking can tenderize.
With cold smoking, this is not an option. Therefore, your most effective tool for changing your food is the smoke itself. If smoke is the only component that affects the food, then it has to be the right type of food, otherwise, your fish, cheeses, eggs, and cured meats might end up in the trash rather than on a charcuterie board.
With this being the case, you want to choose woods that pair well with your food, woods that will help to complement their existing flavors. Consider the following:
Before getting into the importance of the flavor of your wood, you want to think about the type of wood that you are burning. If you were to use something like an evergreen wood, you could wind up regretting the choice. Although evergreens may sound like an interesting choice for flavor and do burn relatively well, they are laced with resins. These resins, when burned, are then put into the air and transferred to your food, which can leave them tasting bitter.
You want to stick with a wood that will burn well, will not burn too quickly, and will produce a good amount of smoke. When it comes to cold and hot smoking, this is why hardwoods are so favored. Hardwoods do not contain resins, they have a great burn rate, and they are able to produce a wide array of different flavors that will compliment your foods well. Hardwoods offer so many options for flavor that it would almost be wrong to use anything else.
Flavors of Hardwoods
It seems almost strange to think that would have a flavor, but when it comes to cold smoking, there is no denying that hardwoods come with their own pallet that greatly affects the taste of your food. There is no right or wrong type of hardwood to use for your food, but you do want to consider the type of hardwood you are using and how its own flavor will pair with the item you are trying to cold smoke.
For cheeses, you can either go for a deep flavor using a heavy wood like hickory or oak, or you could try for something a bit more light by using fruitwoods such as grapewood or cherry. For fish, there are so many different flavors that can complement their buttery and mild taste, so the possibilities are almost endless. Really, pairing your woods with your food is up to you, but consider your likes and how you plan to use the food either in a dish or on its own.
A few great staple hardwoods to use when cold smoking include:
These hardwoods can be used for a wide variety of different cold smoked food options and are all quite versatile. Cold smoking and paring the perfect wood is going to be an experiment that will include lots of trial and error. Enjoy yourself in the process and figure out what your likes and dislikes are and share your favorites with the ones you love! There are so many pairing options out there, so what are some great foods to start cold smoking with?
What are the Best Foods for Cold Smoking?
Cold smoking can be done with just about any food that does not need to be immediately consumed. This gives you a lot of options as far as what to experiment with, but just because you can cold smoke them doesn’t mean you should. Certain foods are much better at absorbing flavor than others and these are the types of foods that you want to cold smoke. So, what are the two most common foods, and why are they a good choice for cold smoking?
Cheese is one of the most popular items for cold smoking and for good reason: it has fantastic absorptive qualities. Hard, semi-hard, and soft cheeses are all great at absorbing smoke, but be a bit weary with soft cheeses. They absorb a smoky flavor fast and can very easily be too smoky once all is said and done. Hard and semi-hard cheeses are a bit less penetrable and have the perfect balance of smoke, cream, and saltiness when cold smoked.
Fish and Other Cured Meats
You know that cold smoking is not intended for items like raw beef or pork, but good quality fish can be consumed raw and is a great treat when cold smoked. Cured meats are also wonderful to add a bit of cold smoke to enhance their overall flavor without having to cure the meat yourself. This allows you to have thin smoked salmon or perfectly smoked prosciutto without having to go to the store to purchase something that you can make yourself.