What’s the secret to cold smoking? Well, it’s a whole lot like designing a good fireplace chimney- – a certain amount of knowledge, plus good luck, plus maybe some help from one of Harry Potter’s magic friends. Here are some tricks which I used on my Masterbuilt smoker that would work on just about anything. (To be honest, a cardboard box would work just as well.)
I use (and often rant about) an “Amazin’ “ smoke generator. This is a perforated cylinder which I fill with a choice of wood pellets, then light the top layer with a blowtorch. Let it burn for just a bit, then blow it out and, assuming the top layer or three of pellets are glowing, it’s ready. I use the “Amazin’ “ for all my smoke generation needs, usually hot-smoking, but it works great for cold smoke too.
The Masterbuilt has a hole in the side where there used to be a wood chip charging gimmick. It proved to be useless, so I plugged it temporarily with a tin can to which I attached a ceramic knob so I could easily pull it out. For cold smoking, I pulled it out, mounted a gutter downspout attachment, and screwed an elbow over it, angled out and a little downward. I inserted half of a 12 foot downspout on it, leaving it detachable, and yeah, I used some duct tape on the joints. I used aluminum downspout, figuring that plastic could melt or catch fire if the pellets flamed. The idea is to have good heat transfer so the smoke is cool. Aluminum is quite good at this, compared with plastic. The ideal case would be smoke that’s only a few degrees above ambient, and this rig seems to cool to within ten-or-fifteen degrees. However, measure your results and keep them in mind. I have read that you should keep the smoke below about 70 degrees F (20 degC), 80 (27 C) at the max, to avoid cooking whatever you are smoking.
The equipment is powered by natural convection, meaning that slightly warm smoke rises. There’s not much of an up-angle to this thing, so you may find that it needs a little help when you first light it. Open the vent wide, light your pellets, and stick the “Amazin’ “ into the lower end of the downspout. The combustion gases, being just a bit warmer than ambient air, should rise up through the downspout, then up through the smoker box and out the top. As you start it, the box is still cold, so the smoke cloud will probably pool in the bottom. To get the contraption “drawing” (old fireplace terminology), it would be nice to blow some air into the intake end and up through the equipment. Back in the old days, I recall holding a flaming wad of newspaper up the chimney to get the fireplace started. In these days of no newspapers, the easiest (and a whole lot safer) way is to borrow your wife’s hair dryer and blow into the intake for fifteen seconds or so, to blow smoke into the box and out the vent. Once the box fills with warm combustion gases and it starts drawing, it should run nicely (see picture).
Internal smoke distribution can be a problem. I use a couple of slotted gas grill inserts to distribute smoke inside the box. Otherwise, smoke short-circuits without evenly smoking the contents. These are available at home improvement stores, in the grilling supplies area. Be sure to clean the crud off of them occasionally, especially if you prepare any meats which contain a lot of fat. Every time I do a brisket “Texas style,” I have to scrape off the residue …a small price to pay for some good eatin’.
What tastes good, cold-smoked? Well, salmon, for one thing. Have a look at our brining recipes. (Ol’ Sawhorse Ray is onto something really good.) Fermented, cold-smoked sausages are outstanding, too. Be aware, though, that ALL smoked recipes need to include cure #1 or cure #2 in their formulation, to lower the risk of botulism.
That said, I confess that I have become almost addicted to cold-smoked Spanish chorizo, Serb sausage, and smoked salmon. Regrettably you can’t make these things in typical Texas weather, but come a cold snap, I try to be ready.