Where There’s Smoke . . .

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Cold-Smoking & Salt-Curing Meat, Fish, & Game

Cold-Smoking & Salt-Curing Meat, Fish, & Game

By A D Livingston

Published 2010

  • About
In cold-smoking, you’ll need enough heat to produce smoke—but not enough to overly heat the smokehouse or smoke chamber. Obviously, much will depend on the size of the smoke chamber, the location and intensity of the fire, and the outside temperature.
  • Electric Heat the familiar hot plate, usually with one or two coil-type rheostatically controlled heating elements, is by far the easiest way to go for most small-scale cold-smoking operations. They are quite efficient because a wood-chip or sawdust pan can sit directly on the coils; in short, they can easily heat the wood to the smoke point without heating up the smoke chamber too much. Some of these can be purchased from sausage and smoking equipment suppliers, but these are often expensive. You should be able to rig your own, using an old hot plate or a new one from a discount store. I recommend a cast-iron skillet to hold the chips or sawdust. Some of the small commercial “smokers” have a tin pan with a wooden handle.

    A single or double heating element will generate enough smoke for most chambers, but a walk-in unit may require two or three hot plates. An old electric kitchen stove or stovetop will also work if it is properly installed (these usually require 220–240 volts, whereas most hot plates operate on 110–120 volts).

  • Gas Heat Any small gas burner can be used much like an electric hot plate, and portable units with gas cylinders will work where electricity isn’t available. The larger refillable tanks are better (and cheaper in the long run) than small gas cylinders. Also, natural gas can be used if you have it. Of course, the burner should have a valve to adjust the flame. It’s best to use a cast-iron skillet to hold the wood chips or sawdust for these units.

  • Other Burners Any sort of camp stove, such as Sterno, can be used for generating smoke in a skillet or wood pan. You’ll need a long-burning stove for cold-smoking, unless you can be at hand to add new fuel as needed.

  • Coals You can heat sawdust and wood chips with hot coals, produced by burning wood, charcoal, or hard coal. Usually, the sawdust is piled onto and around the coals. The danger is that the sawdust or chips will become fuel for the fire, quickly burning up and raising the temperature in the smoke chamber.

  • Wood It is possible to combine wood for fuel and wood for smoke in large smokehouses with a dirt floor or, sometimes, in units that have the fire a good ways from the smoke chamber. For this purpose, I prefer to start the fire with dry wood, then add some freshly cut green wood for smoke. As the green wood burns into coals, more green wood can be added, thereby keeping the fire going and the smoke coming, if all goes according to plan. Parallel logs can be used in walk-in smokehouses, as pointed out earlier in this chapter. Be warned that this method requires lots of attention, but also remember that letting the fire go out from time to time isn’t disastrous, except possibly early in the process when blowflies or other insects are a problem.

    Personally, I find this method the most satisfying way to cold-smoke meat and fish. I believe that the quality of the smoke is better than smoke generated in a pan, but I have no explanation for the difference, be it real or imaginary.

  • Combinations You can combine the methods above, using, for example, green wood logs during the day and electric hot plates during the night.