When it comes to food preservation, nothing beats a long, cool smoke. Traditionally bacon, fish, Virginia hams, cheeses, and sausages were all cured, cold smoked, and sometimes salted or dried in order to be stored without refrigeration. Unlike hot smoking, which is the method that most people are familiar with today, cold smoking doesn’t cook the meat through. Its preservation powers come entirely from the thick layer of smoke that penetrates the meat in order to create a climate that’s unfriendly to bacteria.
Materials you will need:
For a long time cold smoking has been seen as expensive and unapproachable, since a lot of modern methods involve a separate firebox. During days gone by, however, cold smoking was accomplished by lighting a very small, very slow fire in the center of a smokehouse. There was no fancy duct-work or expensive equipment, the methods were simple and sound. This DIY cold smoker uses the same basic idea on a smaller scale in order to cut the costs and simplify the smoker itself.
You’ll only need a few things to make your own cold smoker, and it won’t take much time at all to finish this project. As long as you have a tin can, drill motor, and soldering iron on hand you’re ready to get started. The idea is simple, drill a few ventilation holes in a tin can and use the soldering iron as a heating element. You can use your grill as an air-tight smoke box and be up and running in minutes. The one thing to keep in mind is that you want to use a clean soldering iron. Although the temperatures involved are far too low to vaporize any lead that’s potentially sticking to the iron, it’s better to be safe than blind, crazy, and sorry. You can pick up a nice, new 60-watt model on Amazon for less than you might think.
Gather all of your materials together before you begin. You’ll need a tin can, the heavier the better, as well as a drill motor and two drill bits and the soldering iron itself.
Using your drill, make ventilation holes in the side of the can. Since the top of the can will be covered with foil after it’s filled, it’s important to make sure you have plenty of airflow. Another, larger hole is drilled in the bottom, and ideally it will perfectly fit the shaft of your soldering iron. It can be epoxied in place, although that’s generally overkill since the can will wear out after awhile.
When you’re ready to use your new cold smoker, fill it up with soaked hardwood chips. Note that the top of the soldering iron is removed. The only thing left is to lid it up and get cooking.
The finished cold smoker, with a foil top held securely in place with wire, is ready to be placed inside of any closed container with a rack. A cool grill works perfectly, or a traditional backwoods Missouri method is to hang up the meat inside of a cardboard box and place the smoker underneath. Catfish cold smoked in cardboard for a few hours with Sassafras chips, sliced thin, and eaten on top of a bagel or crackers is affectionately known as “Show-Me State Lox.”
There are a lot of different recipes for cold smoking, but they all share one basic rule: Make sure the temperature inside of the smoker stays under 80 degrees. If you let your smoker get too hot, for instance by leaving it out in the summer sun, there’s a good chance that your meat will spoil before the smoking is done. Keep your smoker in the shade and use a thermometer in order to make sure the meat you smoke is safe to eat.
Curing with salt or nitrites before you smoke, with either a dry rub or a brine, is another insurance policy against bacteria. If you’re especially worried about getting sick, try out your cold smoker in the fall and winter, since those are the seasons when livestock was traditionally harvested and preserved. The cold, dry weather helps to dry your meat and stop harmful bacteria from breeding.