Introduction to Cold Smoking

Cold smoking is a means not of cooking but of preserving food, and if kept in cool conditions, cold-smoked products should last for many months.

| August 2018

  • cold-smoker
    Cold smoking needs little equipment, just good products.
    Photo by Nick Pope
  • curing-smoking-meats
    “Curing and Smoking Made at Home” is filled with tips and tricks for curing and smoking your own homemade meats.
    Courtesy of Firefly Books

  • cold-smoker
  • curing-smoking-meats

In Curing and Smoking Made at Home (Firefly Books, 2012) by Dick and James Strawbridge, readers will learn new ways to smoke their own meat at home. There are a variety of meats and ways to process each variety. Find this excerpt in chapter 7, “Cold-Smoking.”

The name, of course, says it all, and it is important to use as little heat as possible. Therein lies the challenge: we all know that there is “no smoke without fire,” but we need smoke and we don’t want any heat. It sounds tricky, but cold smoking is surprisingly easy and delivers delicious results.

How Cold Smoking Works

Food (more specifically meat) is usually cured before smoking, as the curing process draws out the moisture that bacteria need in order to grow, and this promotes the absorption of the wood smoke. We are after this smoke flavor, but the penetration of the smoke into the food also creates a barrier to pests and bacteria. Very little hardening of the outside surface of the meat or casing occurs in cold smoking, so the smoke penetrates the food easily and completely.


  • Choose a cool day.
  • Monitor the temperature of your smoke.
  • Make sure you leave sufficient space around the food for the smoke to circulate.
  • Leave smoked food in the fridge for at least 24 hours before eating (wrap it well).
  • Make sure your sawdust or wood chippings have not been contaminated by unwanted types of wood.
  • Put your food in the smoker when it is operational and producing lots of smoke.

The Right Temperature

Cold smoking is a bit trickier than hot smoking, because it’s important that the smoking temperature is under 20°C (68°F). With a little care this is achievable, but it usually means that any heat source used to get the wood product to smoulder must be kept separate from the smoking chamber.  If you get this wrong, the food can start to cook and will lose its preserving qualities.  Higher temperatures will also provide exactly the conditions in which bacteria thrive.


It may seem self-evident, but different types of wood will give you different flavors (see page 101 for a selection of our favorites). There are some woods to avoid, specifically softwoods such as pine or fir, as their high resin and tar content will spoil the taste of your food. As a rule of thumb, temperate hardwoods are what you need. 

Sourcing Your Wood

You have to be careful when sourcing your wood – it’s not quite as simple as visiting a local carpenter or joiner who makes lovely wooden furniture and getting an endless supply of shavings and sawdust. Many workshops use a variety of different materials, and a bag of shavings contaminated by softwood or the dust from MDF will render your food inedible and dangerous. So make sure you explain exactly what you need. Of course, you can also collect your own wood and pass it through a chipper. Autumn and winter are probably the best times to do this, when there is less sap in the wood.



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