Cold smoking for subtle flavour

by Andy Bryenton

Smoked cheese, smoked salami, smoky salmon with a hint of manuka; even lapsang souchong tea. All of these products go through the process of cold smoking, an art, which comes down to us from ancient times and that served to replace the fridge when such appliances were not invented.

With the resurgence in barbecue lore, hot smoking is a common practice, allied to the low and slow cooking techniques, which produce melt-in-your-mouth ribs and brisket. Moreover, cold smoking opens up a world of other possibilities, so long as it is performed well and managed with good food safety in mind. This last part is important as cold smoking is, as its name suggests, done cold. Even lower than room temperature, in fact. Which means that, unlike hot smoking, it’s not a cooking method. Instead, it’s used to help impart a delicious taste to meats, cheeses and even mushrooms, tofu and some kinds of whiskey.

An important first step when looking to cold smoke is, of course, buying a suitable smoker. It should definitely have an offset smokebox, so that heat from the burning wood chips and pellets does not raise the temperature where the ‘magic’ is happening. The key to cold smoking meat and fish is to cure it well beforehand. It slows the bacterial process down to near zero; it’s what our tribal ancestors used to do, long before the advent of the freezer. Dry curing is time-consuming but renders up delicious meats like prosciutto and real bacon. The meat is painted with a solution using special curing salts and then slowly smoked for up to six months.

That is a long time for smoking for the home user, so most people in modern times use a bringing method. Making a solution with 10 to 15 per cent salt to water, and soaking fresh meat in this solution for up to six weeks for very large cuts — less for smaller joints and seafood. Salmon, for example, can be treated with a paste of salt and sugar with water and brine for two days in the fridge.

After brining, wipe down and dry the meat and start up the smoker. Allow for enough fuel to keep the cold smoking process going for two days for maximum flavour. Things that don’t need curing include mushrooms, vegetables like capsicum, and cheeses. After two days of cold smoking — the results are well worth the effort.

There really is no substitute for the flavours unlocked by the cold smoking process, which is different from hot smoking in character. Remember that cold-smoked foods are still raw, and should be cooked prior to serving. A full walk-through of how to get started in cold smoking is available at