Hot and Cold Smoking

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Meat can be smoked in two different ways. When hot-smoked, the meat is held directly above or in the same enclosure as the wood, and therefore cooks while it’s smoked. This will give it a more or less firm, dry texture, depending on the temperature (usually between 130 and 180°F/55–80°C) and time involved, and can kill microbes throughout the meat, not just on the surface. (Barbecuing is a form of hot smoking.) When it is cold-smoked, the meat is held in an unheated chamber through which smoke is passed from a separate firebox. The texture of the meat, and any microbes within it, are relatively unaffected. The cold-smoking chamber may be as low as 32°F/0°C but more usually ranges between 60 and 80°F/15–25°C. Smoke vapors are deposited onto the meat surface as much as seven times faster in hot smoking; however, cold-smoked meats tend to accumulate higher concentrations of the sweet-spicy phenolic components and so may have a finer flavor. (They also tend to accumulate more possible carcinogens.) The humidity of the air also makes a difference; smoke vapors are deposited most efficiently onto moist surfaces, so “wet” smoking has a stronger effect in a shorter time.