What Is Cold Smoking? The What, How, And Why

Smoke is an excellent food preservative that has been in use for much of human history. Smoke from hardwoods like hickory and oak has both the ability to flavor meat and to create a barrier …

what is a cold smoker

Smoke is an excellent food preservative that has been in use for much of human history. Smoke from hardwoods like hickory and oak has both the ability to flavor meat and to create a barrier to bacteria that might cause the meat to spoil. It’s still a valuable tool, though modern smoking has more to do with flavor than with preservation. And there are two typical ways to handle it: hot smoking and cold smoking. Hot smoking is what barbecue chefs do with standard grills and smokers. Cold smoking is a little trickier. What is it and how does it work? Let’s review.

Table of Contents

What is cold smoking?

Cold smoking involves smoking meat at the lowest temperatures possible, the trickiness comes from ensuring that the meat gets an adequate amount of smoke while also maintaining a low temperature. A cold smoker is a smoker designed for this type of smoking.

Why would you want to cold smoke meat?

Both smoking methods have their own advantages, but many people believe that cold smoking is the superior method. Here are some of the reasons why cold smoking is better than hot smoking:

  1. Hot smoking cooks the food, while cold smoking only flavors it. This means that hot-smoked food can dry out and become tough, while cold-smoked food remains moist and tender.
  2. Cold smoking imparts a more intense flavor than hot smoking. This is because the smoke has more time to penetrate the food when it is cold-smoked.
  3. Cold smoking is much safer than hot smoking, as there is no risk of fire. This is because the temperature of the smoker is kept below 100°F when cold smoking, which prevents the wood from igniting.

–> Learn More: Hot Smoking Vs. Cold Smoking – How Do They Compare?

Works With Cold Smoking or Hot Smoking
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This cold smoke generator by Smoke Daddy works either as a cold smoker (temperatures under 100 degrees Fahrenheit) or hot smoker.

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09/30/2023 02:47 pm GMT

How does cold smoking work?

Meat that is cold smoked is usually cured beforehand. Curing involves drawing moisture out of the meat. When you cold smoke, the exterior of the meat is not hardened the way it is in hot smoking. The smoke is able to penetrate it further than it would if heat were applied.

In order to cold smoke meat successfully, it is important to keep its temperature between 68 degrees Fahrenheit and 87 degrees. In order to do this, it is necessary to keep the source of heat separate from the smoking chamber. The key is to avoid cooking the meat as this would limit the ability of the smoke to preserve it.

What should you look for in a cold smoker?

The thing to look for is the smoker’s ability to keep the smoking chamber cool. Note that there are smokers advertised as being perfect for cold smoking, but that actually get well above the 68 to 87-degree range mentioned above.

It is possible to keep the temperature cool in a number of ways, but it is most commonly done by using an offset smoker. This means that the part of the smoker with the wood (the firebox) will be completely separate from the part with the food. When shopping for an offset smoker, look for one with a firebox made of heavy gauge metal and that is properly sealed to ensure good heat retention. Keep in mind that even under ideal circumstances, it will still be difficult to keep your temperature in the right range using an offset smoker.

Another way that you can cold smoke meat is to use electricity. There are electric smokers and various electrical gadgets that can be used to turn an existing smoker or even an old refrigerator into a cold smoker. In many cases, these devices use wood pellets or sawdust rather than wood chips or chunks. When choosing one of these electric smoking tools, pay attention to how much work must be done to make them useful. They often require tools and skill to implement properly.

At present, there are not many smokers on the market that are ideal for both cold and hot smoking. The closest you will come is the standard barbecue grill with an offset smoker.

How does a cold smoker compare to a regular smoker?

A regular smoker is supposed to provide a low level of constant heat, which means that heat retention is very important. Conversely, a cold smoker is not supposed to get hot at all. Because heat retention in the smoking chamber is not all that important, you have options when it comes to materials for cold smokers that would simply be unfeasible for hot smokers.

For example, one popular DIY cold smoker is made from cardboard. That’s, of course, impossible with smokers meant for hot smoking.