Are you interested in Cold Smoking? Shopping for the Best Cold Smokers? Maybe you want to convert your existing charcoal or electric smoker into a cold smoker. Then you will be able to smoke cheese, salmon, bacon, or any of the other cold smoked favorites. Well, you are in the right place.
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- What Is Cold Smoking?
- What Is A Cold Smoker?
- Hot Smoking vs Cold Smoking
- Cold Smoking Precautions!
- Best Cold Smokers
- How to Cold Smoke Foods
- About Me
- Affiliate Disclosure
What Is Cold Smoking?
- A Method of Food Preservation – It is believed that paleolithic people discovered that meats hung to dry in their smoky dwellings did not spoil as quickly. Wood smoke has natural antimicrobial effects and repels insects. It allowed people to keep meats for longer periods without bacteria causing disease from spreading. This is the origin of meat curing. It was not done to add a smoky flavor, but to increase available food during cold winter months.
- A Way to Add Flavor – We no longer need these food preservation techniques with modern refrigeration, and today we smoke foods for flavor and consistency. Many cold-smoked foods remain popular to this day. Smoked salmon (lox), bacon, and cheeses are at the top of everyone’s list. Most foods can be cold smoked including nuts, cheese, roasts, and steaks. All done to add that extra bit of smoke flavor. Since we don’t need to preserve foods, we can use cold smoking as a way to add smoky flavor to things we don’t want to cook.
- What Cold Smoking Isn’t – There’s a very big word of warning. Cold smoking is not a cooking process. It does not kill bacteria. Cold smoking happens at temperatures perfect for the bacterial growth of nasty things like botulism, listeria, and other pathogens. Because of this, many food safety organizations say that cold smoking should not be done in the home on non-professional equipment by people who are not professionally trained. You are warned. And I will be warning you more as we go.
What Is A Cold Smoker?
A cold smoker can be most anything. All you need is a box to hold in the smoke and some means of producing that smoke. Smokehouses were used for this function. You can still find them across the country and worldwide. On the commercial level, cold smoking is done in sterile, temperature-controlled facilities that eliminate the risks. For the rest of us, some smokers can be used for cold smoking. And there are smoke generators that produce the smoke with minimal heat. These can be used in an existing smoker or grill.
Cold Smoking Temperatures
Cold smoking occurs at temperatures below 86°F. Sound like an odd number? The tradition of cold smoking that most people refer to comes from Europe, where 86°F is 30°C. Thirty is a nice round number. But this number is the maximum temperature. Not the target temp. When cold smoking, stay below this temperature. Why 86°F or 30°F? Because most of the bacteria we are concerned with will grow best above this temperature and up to 112°F or 50°C. If you have ever done your food handler’s class (which you should do at least once in your life), you will learn that the danger zone temperature range for food safety is between 40°F and 140°F. Cold smoking happens in this temperature range. Staying below 86° F keeps food outside of the most dangerous range. (1, 2)
Smokers vs Smoke Generators
- Smokers – Most of the smokers that are capable of cold smoking will need an attachment to do it. These are generally electric smokers from companies like Bradley or Masterbuilt. These attachments are cold smoke generators that sit outside the smoker box and pump smoke inside. The advantage of going this route is that you have a hot smoker that you can use for barbecue and other types of smoke cooking with the added ability to do cold smoking. Most people only cold smoke occasionally. Smokers, like those from Cookshack, can be fitted with a cold smoke baffle. This metal plate separates the smoking chamber from the heat and smoke source. It allows smoke through but deflects much of the generated heat. They will tell you to add a tray of ice to the smoker to hold down the temperature.
- Generators – The other option is to buy a smoke generator for an existing cooker, like a gas or pellet grill. Smoke generators can be simple smoker tubes or full-on electric-powered smoke makers. A smoker tube typically burns wood pellets. Smoke generators burn wood chips, sawdust, or other types of combustible hardwood. This route is much more a DIY cold smoker path, but it can be done for a small investment, provided you have something to hold the smoke and food already.
The Difference between Hot Smoking vs Cold Smoking
What is Hot Smoking?
- Temperatures above 185°F/85°C
- High Moisture Environment
- Food cooks to safe temperatures
What is Cold Smoking?
- Temperatures below 85°F/30°C
- Low Moisture Environment
- Foods do not cook through and must be kept food-safe by other means.
Be Advised! Cold smokers are not refrigerators. If your smoke is sitting out on the porch on a 95°F day, it will not be capable of cold smoking. This is why many people choose cool or cold days or do it overnight. You want the air temperature to be well below the cold smoking range, which tops out at 86°F.
Cold Smoking Precautions!
Did I mention that The Health and Safety Bureaucrats do not recommend cold smoking? They have their reasons, but we can take precautions to make it safe. After all, the rules for cold smoking were written for hams and other meats that are cold-smoked for weeks or even months. We are not talking about here.
- Keep it Clean – Everything that comes in contact with food must be kept sterile. When using a smoker or grill, they should be heated to a minimum of 300°F for thirty minutes, then allowed to cool just before you place the food inside. All utensils, tools, wire racks, etc., should be run through your dishwasher before being used. Wash your hands before and after handling food. Use food-safe disposable gloves when possible.
- Keep it Cold – All items that are cold-smoked should be prepared and then refrigerated until you are ready to start the smoking process.
- Keep it Small – Smoking foods in small amounts. You need at least one inch of space between each item for smoke to get to the surface. Do not overcrowd items and keep different food items from coming in contact with each other. For instance, do not let the meat come in contact with cheeses or other items.
- Keep it Quick – Cold smoking times can be very long. Traditional ham can take months to reach perfection. On the other hand, a few hours in the cold smoke can impart a lot of flavors. Cheese can go anywhere from 2 to 6 hours.
Best Cold Smokers
There are two choices when it comes to cold smoking. You can get a smoker, typically an electric smoker, that can either do cold smoking out of the box or with an attachment. Or you can buy a smoke generator that you place inside your existing piece of cooking equipment, like a grill or hot smoker. Either of these will work fine if you follow all the rules.
Full Cold Smokers
Bradley Digital 4-Rack + Cold Smoke Generator
If you want the full cold-smoking solution, this is your unit. The Bradley 4-Rack is an electric smoker that can do both hot and cold smoking. It has precision temperature controls and is fully programmable. It will run for ten straight hours without needing any help for you. And it costs around $600USD for the smoker and another $130USD for the cold smoke generator. So, yeah, that’s a lot. And that isn’t the only issue, but let’s get to that in a minute.
The Bradley Smoker Digital has stainless steel construction in a completely enclosed unit. This really looks like a professional piece of cooking equipment. If you are familiar with Bradley smokers you are familiar with the smoke generator that hung off the side. This allows for a separation between heat and smoke. With the additional smoke generator, you can smoke without adding heat. It will still need to be a cold day out of the sun to achieve real cold smoking temps but this unit really is best at it.
The Secret Ingredient
The big question with this amazingly versatile smoker is the smoke source. Most of the units on this list use wood chips or wood pellets to produce smoke. Bradley uses their proprietary ‘bisquettes.’ These are hockey puck shapes wood disks that fall into a combustion chamber and burn. This produces a great amount of smoke and, more importantly, consistent smoke. And you can buy these bisquettes in all your favorite flavors like oak, hickory, cherry, ad apple. But you have to buy them from Bradley, and this smoke will burn through three of them in an hour. You get a better, more consistent smoke, but at a price.
If you are serious about smoking, particularly cold smoking, this is the model. It does it all, and it does it very well. You can even generate your smoking programs and upload them. There is no WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity, but it still remains advanced technology for a serious slow smoker.
- Maximum Temperature 280°F/138℃
- 1.6 cubic feet of smoking space on four grill grates
- Stainless steel construction
- Two 500 Watt Heating Elements
- Two 125 Watt Smoking Elements
- 9 Hour Maximum Operating Time without Intervention
- Weight of 61 pounds
- Total size of 19 × 22 × 37 in
Masterbuilt Digital with Slow Smoke
There is a reason that Masterbuilt makes the most popular electric smokers on the market. These reasonably priced units offer easy, no-fuss smoking. Generally, these are hot smokers, but Masterbuilt offers an external smoke generator for their Digital Smoker line. If you are familiar with these smokers you know that there is a small drawer on the side that allows you to add wood chips without opening the door. The Masterbuilt ‘Slow Smoker’ unit replaces this drawer. With it in place, you turn off the smoker and generate the smoke outside the box. Plenty of smoke without the heat.
The Slow Smoker unit costs around $80USD. If you already have a Masterbuilt smoker, it is a great investment. The Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smokers start at around $250USD for the most basic model. All in all, a more affordable solution to the Bradley above. You can run this generator for up to six hours before refilling it with wood chips.
Cookshack Amerique with Cold Smoke Baffle
Cookshack makes some of my favorite electric smokers. While designed for hot smoking, Cookshack offers a cold smoke baffle to convert any of their electric smokers into cold smokers. Cookshack is an investment. The Amerique, their top-of-the-line model runs well over $2,000USD. Add another hundred for the baffle and this is an expensive way to do some cold smoking. On the other hand, no electric smoker has this level of quality, solid construction, or durability.
The cold smoke baffle works by deflecting heat away from the smoking chamber. To keep things extra cold, Cookshack recommends filling the water pan with ice. This will keep the interior nice and cold and allow you to do long smokes at low temperatures. You will need to open the unit up to refill the wood chip pan, but you can run this unit as long as you want without worry.
A-Maze-N Pellet Smoker Tray
There are several options when you want to add some extra smoke to your outdoor cooking. There are many pellet smoker tubes on the market these days. These are metal mesh tubes that hold the pellets and let them burn slowly and evenly. The A-Maze-N smoker is a track. Fill it with wood pellets and light one end. The fire will burn slowly through the maze. This unit can produce smoke for up to 12 hours.
Smoke makes like this one will produce heat, but not a lot. Place this inside your grill or smoker and use it to produce smoke. With the grill off, the heat will remain low (as long as you are cold smoking on a cold day). It is also a great product for boosting smoke in your pellet grill, where the smoke flavor might not be as strong as you like. Best of all, you can buy this durable product for around $30USD.
Smoke Daddy Big Kahuna Cold Smoke Generator
The Big Kahuna Cold Smoke Generator from Smoke Daddy is a mini electric smoker. It uses an electric heat element to burn wood chips. The generated smoke funnels out through a small pipe attached to the intake vent of most smokers. Yes, it cost around $160, but the construction is stainless steel, and there are several power options for the electric smoke pump.
This device will produce smoke for up to two hours without being refilled. That doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but it produces a lot of smoke during that time. If you are smoking in an enclosed space, this unit will fill that with smoke that can last for hours.
How to Cold Smoke Foods?
Remember, cold smoking is done at temperatures below 86°F in a clean and controlled space. You need a smoke source that doesn’t produce heat. Do it in a well-ventilated space. Though there is little combustion involved, you do not want carbon monoxide or smoke accumulating in an enclosed space. Aside from these points and the rules below, cold smoking is just another low and slow smoking process.
How to set up your Grill (or Smoker) for Cold Smoking
If you are using one of the best cold smokers that can do cold smoking, follow the instructions exactly. Do not deviate from them. Period.
If you are using a smoke generator with a smoker not designed for cold smoking, follow these instructions. One point, the better your piece of cooking equipment is at holding in smoke, the better. Gas grills and pellet grills are not ideal. These units pump heat through but do not hold onto smoke for very long.
- Choose a Cold Day (or Night) – Cold weather is your friend. Let it help you keep temperatures down while you are cold smoking.
- Clean Everything – Clean the grill and then fire it up. Heat it to at least 350°F for 15 minutes. Then let it cool down completely. Use clean cooking grates or cookware for the food you will cold smoke.
- Install the Smoke Generator – If you are using an external smoke generator. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and install it on the cooker. If you are using a smoke tube or the smoke maze I listed above, fill it with fuel and place it inside, away from the food.
- Set your Vents – Charcoal grills (or charcoal smokers) are perfect for this purpose. These units are designed to control airflow, and that’s what you want, limited airflow for cold smoking. With a little practice, you will be able to get the right airflow that keeps the fire burning but holds in the maximum smoke.
- Load your Food – With the temperature low and smoke generated, load up the cooker and let it go.
- Remove When you are Ready – We are not cooking here. There is no done temperature. I recommend that you start with short smoking times and learn as you go. Over time, you can increase the time you cold smoke, but keep it short at first.
Why You Should Trust Me
I have been writing about Barbecue & Grilling for 25 years. I have cooked on almost every grill or smoker ever built. In that time, I have endeavored to match people with the grill or smoker that is right for them. I believe that the right product is the one that you find easy to use, capable of doing everything you want, and reliable for the long haul. If you have a good first experience, you will be back for more. In this way, we grow barbecue for the next generation. I want you to make memories that your children will cherish.
This article and the website it appears on use sales affiliates to cover the cost of operation. If you choose to purchase a product through the links provided, a portion of that sale will go to me. It helps me create content, so I can help you and others have the best barbecue experience. I am grateful to all my readers over the years that have been so kind as to assist me in my exploration of outdoor cooking. Thank you.