A cold smoker can be made from many different things. The concept is simple – all you need is a contained fireproof area for your source of heat and smoke, and a flue that carries the smoke into an unheated chamber where your food is held. That’s the difference between cold and hot smoking, you’re not doing it above the fire, so you need two chambers connected so just the smoke can go through. See what you’ve got around – a rubbish can plus an unused cupboard? A biscuit tin and a wooden barrel? A metal filing cabinet or an old fridge, and then build your own box for the food? There are many tutorials online.
Luckily, I live on a smallholding with a lot of junk lying around (or treasure, depending on if you are talking to me or my husband). I scrounged various bits and pieces that might work. I unearthed an old galvanised sheet metal water drum housing, rusted and broken in parts, for the fireplace, and a fibre cement chimney for the flue (soon to be swapped for a longer galvanised steel chimney to reduce heat).
My food chamber cupboard was made with 38 x 38inch pine batons forming the structure, clad with fibre cement sheeting and a masonite door – I was going for something that would last! The shelving inside the food chamber was made with 15mm galvanised wire mesh sheets (2.5mm in diameter) with bamboo horizontal cross members for shelving and little meat hooks made from old bits of wire. One hungover Sunday (not ideal conditions to learn how to use a grinder) one handy helpful partner and a whole lot of DIY later, we had a fully functional, backyard cold smoker. Hot coals were added to a pile of sawdust, smoke entered the flue, and the food cupboard started filling with a cool fragrant smoke –result
HOW TO MAKE SMOKE
Remember to only use sawdust, wood chips or shavings from edible wood – safe and fragrant, nothing that has been treated or species that are toxic as this will obviously render your food dangerous to consume. Forage or source your own wood for chipping or get sawdust from someone who can tell you exactly what wood it is. Or you can usually order smoker chippings online. You can really play around with the different types of wood you use as each will add its own unique flavour and fragrance to your foods. You can make your own wood chip blend and I discovered the joy of flavour pairing different woods to different foods. I made a big barbecue fire near the smoker and used a couple of hot coals to start the smouldering process. I found I like to used sawdust the best as this is the least likely to burst into flame, otherwise soaking wood chips in water first also works well. At the very end, just to add a sort of a perfumed flavour to seal it off, you can finish it off with some fragranced twigs and dried wild herbs.Smoking time is dependant on the food, and can range from 12 –24 hours but the longer you cold smoke, the deeper and richer the smoky flavour will be.
There is a lot of worry over food safety with the low temperatures as the holding temperature for cold smoking techniques of less than 37 deg Celsius is perfect for microbial growth in the “temperate danger zone” . The ideal ambient temperature is 20-30 deg Celsius, and remember that the outside temperature will also play a role in influencing the temperature inside the food chamber. As cold smoking does not actually cook foods, make sure your meat and fish are properly cured for bacterial control – whether salted, brined or fermented.
Whether you are placing your food on a grid or hanging from hooks on rods, just make sure nothing is touching each other to ensure maximum exposure to the smoke – if they touch, there will be less surface for the smoke to bond to.
The fuller you can pack your food chamber, the more efficient it will be as monitoring one little fish for a whole day in the smoker is a bit of a time waster. My first experiment was exactly this – a line caught gurnard. It’s a highly underrated yet a delicious firm fleshed, clean flavoured fish. Smoked for 12 hours, flash fried and served with foraged mussels and smoked peppers on a bed of creamy coconut rice it was a thing of dreams. Well worth all the effort.