Preserve Your Food with Cold Smoking

Cold smoking might seem tricky or unsafe, but it’s easier than you probably think and worth the effort.

  • Leave different food products far apart enough so that they don't taint one another in your oil-drum smoker or smoke box.
    Photo by Nick Pope
  • It's important to not cook fish and other food in temperatures between 75 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit because that's the range ideal for bacterial growth.
    Photo by Nick Pope
  • Chickens can provide both meat and their eggs to your cold smoker.
    Photo by Nick Pope
  • Though you should fill your cold smoker to capacity, you should also make sure to leave enough space for smoke to circulate.
    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
  • In addition to an oil drum, you'll need a wooden lid, threaded bolts, lid with holes drilled in, sawdust and a paving stone to make a cold smoker like this one.
    Illustration courtesy Firefly Books

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 “Introduction to Cold Smoking” covers cold smoking basics.

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. 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. For our easy cured bacon recipe, check out Learning to Make Bacon at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. — MOTHER


• 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 68 degrees Fahrenheit. 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. 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.

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