Despite the fact that hot and cold smoking both have the word smoking in the name, they are two different processes. One is for preservation and flavor and the other is a cooking method. If you are trying to choose which one to use, consider the following factors when making your decision.
How does cold smoking differ from hot smoking?
With both smoking methods, the wood that should be used is hardwood. Hardwood refers to the wood from trees like hickory, oak, and pecan trees. They provide the cleanest smoke with little potential for creosote and soot accumulation.
Cold smoking is the method that is specifically for the preservation of meats. First used in the era before refrigeration was widely available, cold smoking involves the application of smoke to meats that are first cured with curing salt. Depending on the cure, you can keep cold smoked meats for months without refrigerating them. In some cases, meats can be kept for years.
Cold smoked meats are often smoked for several days and the temperature at which they are smoked is typically relatively low. Cold smoked meats are usually smoked at temperatures below 120 degrees Fahrenheit, which is not recommended for uncured meats. This low of a temperature can make uncured meats unsafe to eat, but is perfectly fine for cured meats.
In comparison, hot smoked meats are smoked at much higher temperatures and for much shorter periods. temperatures usually bottom out at about 140 degrees and 24 hours is the typical maximum time for hot smoking.
Unlike cold smoked meat, hot smoked meat is to be served within a short time of cooking. The time within which it can be safely consumed is about the same as any other cooked meat.
Hot smoked meats are not cured but should have a marinade or dry rub applied.
Is one method easier than the other?
Cold smoking involves the careful application of heat within a set temperature range. It also requires the use of curing salt. Any errors with the temperature or with the curing salt can turn your meat into a health hazard. Unless you have a significant amount of experience with smoking meats and with sodium nitrate, you should probably leave cold smoking to the experts. In addition, maintaining a low and consistent source of heat can be difficult with standard grilling setups. You may need to invest in special equipment or make modifications to your grill.
Hot smoking does not involve low temperature ranges or potentially dangerous chemicals. As long as you smoke within a safe temperature range, your food should be safe. Hot smoking can be accomplished with even a simple store-bought grill. Off-set smokers that make hot smoking easy can be found in many hardware stores.
When should you cold smoke? When should you hot smoke?
As noted above, cold smoking takes time. This means that it is not ideal for a weekend barbecue. Not only will you have to spend time curing meats, the smoking itself will require much more time when compared to hot smoking. Opt for cold smoking if you are a veteran barbecue hobbyist who wants meats with a significant shelf life.
If you want something that is not labor intensive and that you can start and finish within 24 hours, hot smoking is the better option.