Smoking Meat at Home

Even without professional equipment, smoking meat at home can be done in a variety of ways.

| August 2015

Charcuterie (W. W. Norton & Company, 2005), by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, is a comprehensive guide to smoking, curing, brining and preserving meat. Classic and contemporary charcuterie recipes are presented with clear illustrations and instructions so even beginners can enjoy the rich flavors of cured and smoked meats.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Charcuterie.

We smoke foods to give them a great flavor. Smoked meat and fish also take on an appetizing caramel-brown hue. Hot dogs are brown, not pasty looking, because they’re smoked. While the smoke coating does have some preservative effects by making the surface of the meat acidic, thereby discouraging the growth of unwanted microorganisms and bacteria, smoke is not used to preserve foods the way drying and salting are. Smoking may have become part of the charcutier’s trade because of its initial preservative nature, but we continue to smoke food because of the fine color and flavor it gives to dried and cooked foods, and especially to pork.

Smoke is flavor. It’s why we love barbecued ribs, chicken on the grill, burgers cooked over open flame. Smoke is what gives bacon its depth. It’s the reason smoked ham hocks are so good with beans or long-simmered greens. Cure salmon in your refrigerator, then smoke it, and you will have transformed it into something truly special. Jalapeño peppers, when smoked, become chipotle peppers, one of the great seasoning elements of Southwestern cuisine. Smoke not only elevates a ham, in many cases the type of smoke used determines the kind of ham it is and the regional nuances that distinguish it. Was it smoked over American hickory and apple wood, traditional woods for the American hams, or over the beech and juniper of Westphalia, Germany? Smoke can describe a culinary tradition and the spirit of the terroir.

The smoking environment may be hot, in which case it cooks the meat or fish while enhancing its flavor (as with Canadian bacon), or it may be cold, so the food remains uncooked but takes on a smoky flavor (as with smoked salmon). Smoking at or below 100 degrees F/37 degrees C is cold-smoking; smoking at between 150 and 200 degrees F/65 and 93 degrees C is hot-smoking. Meat or sausages that are hot-smoked cook gently for a long time while being flavored by the smoke. They can then be eaten immediately or chilled and later reheated. Pan-smoking (smoking on your stovetop) and smoke-roasting (as in a cylindrical smoker or barbecue grill) occur at temperatures of 300 degrees F/150 degrees C.
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