Get Started with Smoked Foods

Learning to prepare your own smoked foods can seem daunting at first, so start with a food you know you'll love.

  • Curing meat is very forgiving and doesn't require much specialist equipment.
    Photo by Nick Pope
  • Dry curing can be done in a crock or even a plastic food container. When first starting out, you should probably start with something simple.
    Photo by Nick Pope
  • Cold smoking with sawdust and wood shavings is perhaps one of the easiest ways to make tasty food if you can get the wood's typical characteristics and flavors.
    Photo by Nick Pope
  • “Curing and Smoking,” by Dick and James Strawbridge, demonstrates how simple it is to use the magic of smoke to create wonderfully aromatic foods with distinctive flavors.
    Cover courtesy Firefly Books
  • sausages
    Cold smoking with sawdust and wood shavings is perhaps one of the easiest ways to make tasty food if you can get the wood's typical characteristics and flavors.
    Photo by Fotolia/voyagerIX

  • sausages

Curing and Smoking (Firefly Books, 2012), by Dick and James Strawbridge, offers encouragement and practical instruction on how to transform fresh meats, fish, seafood and even eggs and cheese into flavorful treats. The authors show you all the key methods and give you ideas on making your own creations with your homemade products as the star. The following excerpt from “Preparing to Cure & Smoke,” introduces you to several methods of preparing smoked foods.

When you set out to learn any new skill, you are faced with a mind-boggling number of choices. The main problem can be deciding when — and where — to begin. Most of the projects in this book can be started very quickly. You may need to take a shopping trip for some raw materials, but you will probably be able to get your hands on enough ingredients that are already in your kitchen to try something right away.

What Method to Try First

We suggest that you start by making what you love the most or what you cannot find in stores. If you have ever been disappointed by “premium” quality bacon that when grilled, lacked any flavor other than saltiness, do something about it. If you find the white residue that is released into the pan when you cook your cured meat a little worrying, take charge of your own destiny and make your own. We started with smoking cheese simply because we loved it and good smoked cheese was hard to find.


Curing meat is an ancient skill, and brining is the most widely practiced and fundamental of the methods. This wet cure is very forgiving and requires very little specialist equipment: a food-grade plastic container is all you need to get started. You will need some space in the fridge for your container of brine or at the very least a cool storage space. Try a basic cure first, and then you can go on to vary the ingredients. If at first you do succeed, don’t be fooled into thinking you have mastered the art: you are immediately faced with lots of decisions. Do you make the same cure again to show how clever you are? Do you change the cut of meat and keep the same method? Do you vary the cure and add your own aromatics? There is no right answer, but the fun lies in the experimenting. Keep a notebook, and as well as writing down the date and details of what you did, make some tasting notes. It’s surprisingly easy to forget which of your many delectable dishes was your favourite.

Dry Curing

Dry curing can be a method in its own right, or the forerunner to air drying or smoking. The container required for dry curing can be as simple as a crock or other large pot or a plastic food container. Using a hardwood box or barrel is the ultimate in traditional dry curing, and such items are sometimes available to buy, but you should start by using a simple tub instead. If you pop a couple of extra items into your cart next time you are in the supermarket you will be able to start dry curing the moment you get back home.

Making gravlax was one of our first forays into dry curing, which involved making a press, although you can improvise one. One day a side of salmon was on offer at the fish market and, having bought it, we decided to “add value,” as gravlax is probably three or four times the price of fresh fish. If we are completely honest, the press has never really saved us money, as we tend to eat a lot more of this delicious dish than most families. Not that we are complaining.

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