A Brief Beginner’s Guide to Cold Smoking

smoke house
Homemade cold smoke house with smoker box

Everyone in the BBQ game is familiar with smoking meat, and more specifically hot smoking. Hot smoking is when higher temperatures are used to cook the meat while applying smokey flavor.  It occurs at temperatures from 180 to 250 degrees and up and is the preferred method for smoking ribs, briskets, pork butts and so on. There is another form of smoking though that has been around for centuries and was used to preserve meat long before there was refrigeration. Cold smoking is the cousin of hot smoking and is the marathon to the hot smoke sprint. Check out this brief beginner’s guide to cold smoking.

A Brief History of Cold Smoking

As mentioned, cold smoking was a necessity in the old days before refrigeration. Ancient people used curing and smoking to preserve meat that would otherwise spoil and rot. That combination allowed them to keep meat longer, for months even, without it going to waste. Simplicity is the hallmark of cold smoking because all that is needed is some chilly air, a fire, a containment system, and time. Civilizations across the globe, ancient and otherwise cold smoked meat for centuries from Eastern Europe to Alaska and beyond. In fact, cold smoking is far easier than hot because there is no tending to a fire and worrying about the temperature.

The Cold Smoking Process

There are different methods to cold smoke but one of the most popular is salt curing first then smoking with a smoker box. First the meat, be it pork, fish, or beef is cured with salt for 5-7 days. This draws the water out of the meat and begins the preservation process. It’s like a very slow dehydration process to get rid of most moisture and any harmful bacteria. After the curing process it’s time to hang the meat and start the fire. Like hot smoking, a fire is started in an offset smoker box, and the smoke travels into a smoke house or chamber. As the wood burns the smoke and heat travels via a tube or vent into the smoke house where the meat hangs. Having the fire away from the meat allows for better control of the temperature and keeping it low. The goal isn’t to cook the meat, only to get the smoke deep within. Let the fire burn for several hours on the first fire, up to 8 hours at least.

After the fire burns out leave the meat hang in the cold for several days. Make sure it’s secure so that no critters come along and nab it. It would be a shame to waste all that time and effort just to feed a thief. You’ll need to smoke again so after a few days light the fire again and let it burn for another 8 hours then let it burn out. Wait another 5 days or so and check the meat. If you’re hanging bacon or pork loin the goal is to have it very fir to the touch like squeezing an unripe tomato or an orange. It should be firm but not hard. Let the meat hang for a couple weeks in the cold air. This will remove more water from it and further dehydrate it. If it’s still soft, then hit it with some more smoke. Once you’re satisfied with the amount of smoke just let nature do the rest. Leave the meat to hang for 6-8 weeks in the cold, that should take care of the rest of the moisture hanging around.

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