Smoking is a technique used to add and enhance flavour, colour, cook or preserve food by exposing it to smoke which is generated by smouldering wood, nutshells, herbs, tea, peat, rice, hay, seaweed or other suitable material. Often, a vented smoker housing is used to contain the food as the smoke freely passes over it and exhausts to the outside atmosphere. Smoking not only adds flavour to the food being smoked, but also seems to develop and release more of the existing flavours already contained within the food itself.
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Cold smoking is performed at 30° C or less which does not heat and cook the food. Some cold smoked foods can be eaten without cooking while others need to be cooked after cold smoking.
Cold smoking helps preserve food by salting prior to drying and smoking which removes excess moisture and limits bacterial growth. The cold smoking process not only preserves and flavours food more intensely because the salting enables the smokiness to be better absorbed, but it also allows more accurate control of temperature and humidity which is more difficult with hot smoking.
Cold smoking prior to cooking more deeply infuses and balances the flavours and thereafter provides for easy and accurate conventional cooking. This results in light and delicate flavours which are more suited to a contemporary palate.
Hot smoking is performed at much higher temperatures and cooks the food as it's being smoked after which it is usually consumed straight away. However, hot smoking does not preserve the food as it does not remove enough moisture. Anything that is hot smoked should be treated exactly the same as other perishable foods and refrigerated. Hot smoking is for flavour only and tends to impart a more outwardly robust smokiness to the food.
It depends on the food being smoked, the flavour and texture desired, and also the practicalities of smoking the particular type of food. Cold smoked salmon for instance has a distinctly different taste and texture to salmon that has been hot smoked. Cheese is usually cold smoked as it would melt if hot smoked unless that is desired. The flavours of cold smoked cheese will greatly improve if it is allowed to rest in the fridge for a few weeks, so cold smoking and time are an essential process.
Cold smoking is generally a slower, more considered and layered process whereas hot smoking is more immediate with food being readily consumable afterwards.
Smoke is a complex mixture of microscopic solids, gases and water vapours that together make almost four hundred different compounds. Some of them adhere to the surfaces of food and flavour it. The type of wood used to generate smoke and the temperature, moisture content, and the method of producing smoke all influence what type of compounds will be generated from smoke and ultimately the flavour imparted to the food.
For food smoking purposes it’s desired that the wood smoulders and does not flame. More smoke is produced from this primary combustion rather than a flaming secondary combustion. Smouldering wood also produces a different flavour that is much superior to flame burning wood.
The best smoke is blue smoke as it has the smallest particle size which derives from a clean primary burn. White, grey and black smoke in darkening order leads to bitter tasting food and is usually caused by oxygen starvation. Smoke Genies are specifically designed for the optimum generation of clean blue smoke for the maximum of flavour which remains free of acridity.
The attraction and infusion of smoke flavours relies on the food surface being tacky to the touch. With meat products and especially fish, this achieved by forming a pellicle by salting, rinsing and drying for the required length of time. This slightly tacky surface helps the smoke flavours to adhere to the meat being smoked.
Smoke does not penetrate further than the pellicle so it’s important that a good pellicle is formed. Produce that is smoked when wet, will only result in the smoke particles adhering to the surface moisture and produces a smoky sludge that is easily rubbed off.
Fish and meat form an excellent pellicle, but vegetables don’t.
The quality of smoke is achieved by maintaining a constant and consistent smoulder of the right smoke density. Variable smoke densities will result in an inconsistent product that is difficult if not impossible to replicate. This is the infernal problem when smoking with sawdust and woodchips. Good air movement that allows the free flow of smoke within the smoker and its escape to the outside atmosphere will smoke the produce efficiently and prevent a build up of stale and acrid smoke. Humidity is also important as too high a relative humidity will limit smoke particle adhesion and produce a less than adequate smoked product.
Experiment by adding various wood chips, spices, herbs, etc to the Smoke Genie sprinkle channel to create additional aromas and flavours.
A pellicle is the tacky skin that forms on the surface of meat, fish and poultry when it has been cured and allowed to dry sufficiently. This tacky surface is crucial in attracting smoke particles to adhere to the produce being smoked. It captures the smoke flavour and enhances colour as well as acting as a protective barrier which also helps to keep the produce moist.
To form a pellicle, the meat should be dried uncovered in a cool room or fridge, and the air allowed to flow around all surfaces.
The pellicle is the key to producing deliciously succulent smoked salmon.
Beef, pork, lamb, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, cheese, fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts, salt, herbs, spices, butter and more.
A smoked ingredient, such as olive oil or salt also adds flavour to many dishes before or after cooking.
With the exception of cold smoked salmon and trout, cheese, fruit, vegetables and nuts, most cold smoked foods such as bacon and chicken require cooking. Generally, anything that normally requires cooking should be cooked after cold smoking.
It depends on the type of food being smoked and on the strength of the smoke flavour required. Some foods require long smoking times of hours and even months, while others can be smoked in minutes. Hot smoking tends to last for as long as it normally takes to cook the food, but a smoke finish can be just as effective.
Cold smoking requires longer to fully develop the harmonious complexities and spectral nuances of the smoke flavours. Some prefer to smoke salmon for as long as 36 hours, whilst others for only 6 hours. As a personal preference, I cold smoke my salmon for between 6 and 10 hours for a medium light taste that is moist and succulent. Generally, the longer you smoke, the more intense the smoke flavours will be and the drier the flesh will become.
Sometimes an effective hint of smoke can be applied before, during or after the cooking process, or to an ingredient used in the recipe. Using a Smoke Genie to finish a food or flavour an ingredient will impart a subtle yet distinctive smokiness to the overall dish. It really depends on experimentation to achieve the right balance of smokiness and texture to achieve the perfect taste you desire.
Yes, provided it’s fresh and safe to eat. Smoking is normally performed as the food is being cooked as with hot smoking, or it is cold smoked for consumption as a raw smoked finished product. However, some cold smoked foods require to be cooked afterwards. Cold smoked salmon for instance can be eaten raw, but other cold smoked foods such as bacon and chicken must be cooked after cold smoking. The Smoke Genie can be used to smoke foods or ingredients before, during and after cooking.
Curing is a preservation and flavouring process and involves salting (pre-salting), drying and or smoking. At its simplest, the food is either dry salted (dry cure rub) or immersed in salted water (wet cure) called a brine. The cure time is dependent on the food being cured and the amount of salt used. Other constituents such as sugar, honey, alcohol, herbs and spices can be added to the cure, but the salt is crucial to inhibit bacterial growth, tenderise, and to prepare the food for cold smoking.
Make sure you use containers, measuring jugs and utensils that won’t react with salt.
Salt is used to help cure the food by dehydrating and neutralising bacteria which prolongs the shelf life of the finished product. All foods contain bacteria which need water to survive and multiply. Whilst the salt dehydrates and kills the bacteria it also concentrates the flavour and changes the structure and chemical interaction within the muscle tissue. This actually allows it to absorb water and swell, which enhances flavours and produces a moist and tenderized meat. Salting and drying firms the flesh, deepens colour, enhances flavour and extends shelf life. Salt also expands your taste buds and amplifies flavour whilst suppressing the tang of bitterness.
Brining is just like a marinade, except with sufficient salt to cure and inhibit bacterial growth. Salt is added to cold water in the right solution and the meat is immersed for the required period of time to cure and tenderise it. Larger meats require longer brine times. It is very important that the salt is fully dissolved in the water to cure the meat properly. Brining is usually done before smoking.
A brine is sometimes known as a wet cure because the product is fully immersed in the salt water solution. Brining tends to retain more water content in the finished product than it does with dry curing. However, brining is not always desirable as a drier meat forms a better pellicle and aids smoke adhesion when cold smoking.
Brining protein such as meat, fish and poultry enhances texture, flavour and adds succulence by aiding moisture retention.
It’s a matter of personal taste as to the strength of the brine solution and the brining and smoking time required. With experience you will find out what suits your individual palate best.
When following a brine recipe it’s important to know which measurement scale is being used. Some recipes refer to the brine strength in Baume degrees as a percentage of the weight of salt to a given quantity of water, but this can only go up to 26.4% as that’s the maximum amount of salt that can be dissolved into water and held in solution. Most recipes use the SAL scale which expresses the salt concentration as a percentage of the maximum 26.4%. For example, sea water in Baume degrees is approximately 4% whereas it’s 13.5% on the SAL scale.
Please note that my recipes use the SAL scale and are based upon a 40% brine solution (118 grams of salt per litre of water) unless otherwise stated. The saltier the brine the quicker the food absorbs the salt. A medium strength 40% brine solution is a good balance as it allows sufficient time for the immersed food to absorb the flavours of any added herbs and spices without it becoming too salty.
It’s also preferable to stick to one brine strength for brining all food as it’s then just a matter of altering the brining time to achieve the desired level of saltiness that suits your palate.
Yes, anything you want to impart and add flavour. Either mix in the added ingredients with the dry salt or in solution with the brine. Dry rubs are usually a blend of salt, sugar and spices.
Sugar compliments the curing process because it tenderises whereas salt can harden flesh. Sugar also helps to mask the taste of saltiness for those that are salt intolerant. Do not lessen the recommended amount of salt because other ingredients are being added. It is the salt that predominantly does the curing.
Some prefer to use white sugar for brine with cane and demerara reserved for dry salt curing. Sugar coloured with molasses can colour the meat.
Make sure that the brine is kept chilled during the curing process. A sealed bag of ice on top of the brine will not only keep the food cool and fully submerged, but it will not melt into the brine, diluting and altering its strength.
In general brining is more suited to hot smoking as more moisture is retained in the produce and the food is usually consumed shortly after smoking. Except for thin cuts and delicate meats then dry-salting is more appropriate for cold smoked foods as it intensifies flavour and increases the shelf life. A whole chicken and turkey is better suited to brining as it would be difficult to apply the salt to these surfaces. Some foods can either be dry-salted or brined and it’s just a matter of personal preference.
It’s not necessary if you are consuming the food after cooking and not storing it for longer than a normally acceptable period. Some cooks and chefs salt cure their meat whether they are smoking or not as it does give a moister and more succulent meat. Hot smokers like to use their own dry rubs which is usually a blend of salt, sugar and spices.
Ordinary table salt or cooking salt is okay to use, but it may contain minerals such as iodine, magnesium and anti-caking agents and best avoided if in doubt.
My personal preference is for pure dried vacuum (PDV) salt because it is 99.9% pure. The granules are of a small uniform size that dissolve and penetrate evenly which gives an overall consistent cure. It’s also inexpensive and can be bought in 25 kg bags from suppliers such as Amazon.
Pink salt (Prague powders, insta-cure) is a generic term and this type of salt is mostly used by commercial smokers because it contains added nitrites and nitrates to increase shelf life and helps to limit the growth of the bacteria that can cause botulism. Not to be confused with Himalayan salt which is naturally pink, it is dyed pink to differentiate it from other types of salt to prevent accidental ingestion.
Kosher salt is usually additive free and the term kosher is used to signify that it draws residual blood from the meat as required by the rules governing the preparation of kosher meat. Kosher salt is usually made of flaky rough crystals therefore one tablespoon contains about half the amount of salt as a tablespoon of table salt. Weight for weight it’s the same but not volume for volume. This has to be considered when working out your brine mix if using kosher salt. All my brine recipes use pure dried vacuum salt.
Nitrates and Nitrites are sometimes used in addition to ordinary salt with the intention of killing certain types of bacteria and to prolong shelf life even further. It also colours the meat a pinky red which can make the finished product look more attractive. Most commercially produced smoked products such as bacon include these additives, particularly in the production of store bought smoked bacon. If the bacon is home cured, smoked and eaten within a safe edible date or frozen for later use then these additives are normally not required. I personally do not use nitrates or nitrites in any of my own smoked foods, and I never buy smoked bacon as I prefer to smoke my own.
Cold smoke between 5° C and 30° C. Near zero and below and the flavour particles of the smoke will not penetrate the food. Above thirty and the food will cook and spoil.
Hot smoke at the temperature you would normally cook the food. If cooked unsmoked and you want to add a smoke flavour when nearing completion or at the end of cooking, then just add a smoke genie for a short smoke finish. Letting the meat rest is also an ideal time to flavour finish with a Smoke Genie.
Yes, Smoke Genies are excellent for both hot and cold smoking. For best results they should not be placed on or near an open flame, or used at temperatures above 210° C as they will smoulder too quickly or burn because they are an all wood product. The Smoke Genie will smoke for approximately 30 minutes in cool ambient conditions. With hot smoking the Smoke Genie will smoulder slightly faster because its smoulder rate increases due the cooking temperature so its smoulder time is less.
A smoker is any suitable enclosed container that can be used to smoke food. Usually, it is top vented to allow the free flow of smoke to escape. To aid the smoulder and the flow of smoke within the chamber, a draught aperture near the base of the smoker is preferable but not absolutely necessary for short smokes. As you will discover, all manner of containers can be used to successfully smoke food in. From ubiquitous pots, pans, ovens, barbeques, and even cardboard boxes and garden sheds, and on right up to purpose built smokers designed specifically for hot and cold smoking.
The position of the Cold Smoker is important. Position it in the shade and out of direct sunlight to prevent the smoker temperature rising above 30° C and spoiling your food. It’s surprising how a flash of sunlight will quickly raise the temperature of a smoker and spoil the food. If you use a BBQ for cold smoking you may have to move it to a shaded position as it’s probably placed in a sunny position. Make sure your smoker is also sheltered from the wind as much as possible to reduce wind blowing into the vents and backing up or blocking the free flow of smoke which can result in bitter tasting food.
Yes, you can smoke in a pot large enough to contain the food. You don’t need to heat the pot on a hob as is needed with wood chips. Simply light the Smoke Genie and place on a piece of tinfoil on the bottom of the pot. Insert a rack into the pot and place the exposed food on top. Either cover the pot with a lid that is left a little open to allow the free flow of smoke to escape, or seal with tinfoil and cut a fingertip diameter hole in it. Place the pot outside to prevent smoke build up in the kitchen. This is an excellent method for smoke finishing cooked foods such as steaks, chicken, potatoes, or other ingredients and you won’t end up with a pot that is charred by burnt woodchips. It’s also a simple method to cold smoke cheese provided the temperature is kept below 30° C.
Yes, many use an oven to hot smoke foods. However, smoking foods indoors should only be done in a well-ventilated area. If using a fan oven, cook the uncovered food as normal but with the fan off. If the fan is on then smoke will enter the kitchen area and also the fan’s airflow causes the Smoke Genie to smoulder too rapidly. After cooking allow the smoke to settle for a few minutes before opening the oven.
Yes, for long smokes of an hour and more, smoke must freely pass over the food within the smoker and vent to the outside atmosphere. Without a top vent the smoke will remain trapped and become too dense which can impart an acrid taste to the food being smoked. Most cold smokers should also incorporate a draught intake at or near the base of the smoker to allow the intake of fresh oxygen to aid circulation, aid dry curing, and fuel the smoulder for a cleaner burn.
Yes, provided it is large enough to contain the food and has a good sized hood that is vented to allow the free flow of smoke to escape to the outside atmosphere. Ensure the draught vent is open and unrestricted too. Simply place the required Smoke Genies in a tinfoil tray underneath the grill preferably offset to the side or if placed directly underneath ensure there is sufficient clearance between the Smoke Genies and the food. Make sure your BBQ is out of direct sunlight and the temperature does not rise above 30° C.
Avoid cross contamination by keeping different foods separate from one another particularly if smoking raw food that requires cooking afterwards. Place food that is to be eaten cold smoked above and clear of foods that need to be cooked after cold smoking.
Yes, either in the oven, a pan, a pot, a regular smoking unit or any other suitable container. This is one of the simplest and easiest of ways to add that special smoke dimension to so many foods. Simply light and place a smoke genie in the oven or container as above. The Smoke Genie really does add that extra special quality. One Smoke Genie finish to roast chicken for example, will lift it to a delicious and distinctive new taste experience. Sliced smoked chicken breast in a Caesar’s salad is delicious.
The wood or the mixing of woods used for smoking food is called the smoker recipe and is as important as the food and brine recipes themselves. Each wood has a different characteristic and imparts its own unique flavour to the food being smoked. Likewise, each and every person’s taste preference is different so it’s really a matter of personal likes and dislikes.
Some woods are more flavour suitable and should be selected to compliment food rather than overpower it, but don’t be confined by the accepted norm or afraid to add different wood chips to the Smoke Genie sprinkle channel to create new smoker recipes that are even counterintuitive.
Generally, in my opinion, both Oak and Beech are excellent for smoking all types of foods, but Oak is particularly suitable for oily foods whereas Beech is particularly suited to fatty foods.
It’s just as important to make mistakes by experimenting and testing the boundaries of smoking convention as it is to know the foundations upon which to build new possibilities. Don’t rule out what has gone before, but don’t discount what can yet be done by imaginative experimentation.
Keep notes you can refer and add to. That’s the science of the art bit, but innovative smoking is still very much an art and there are a lot of blank canvases still waiting to be painted. If you keep notes on what smoker recipes work for you, then you’ll be able to replicate them exactly with Smoke Genie.
It’s amazing that such an ancient art has still to reveal so much about our past and even more in the future. The good smoke signal is that we now have more available smoking tools and foods with which to make new flavour discoveries.
Mild to medium smoking woods are best for delicately flavoured foods. These include woods such as alder, almond, apple, apricot, beech, cherry, fig, grapefruit, grapevine, hazel, lemon, lilac, lime, maple, mulberry, nectarine, oak, olive, orange, peach, pear, persimmon, plum, pomegranate, sweet chestnut and whisky oak. Oak, beech and whisky oak are medium to strong but I’ve included them here as they also go well with milder flavoured foods.
Stronger smoking woods are best for robustly flavoured foods and include hickory, mesquite, pecan, walnut, and barrel woods such as whisky, brandy, wine, sherry and port. Stronger flavoured woods are often best mixed with a milder wood to balance out any bitterness that can arise in a long smoke of a strong wood.
Oak and Beech are the most popular smoking woods worldwide and are currently available in the Smoke Genie range. These are what I call primary flavour woods as they each give a uniquely recognisable aroma and distinctive taste. They can also be mixed with one another to complement their various characteristics and offer an abundance of different flavour combinations when various wood chips, herbs and spices are added to the Smoke Genie sprinkle channel.
Combinations of mild and strong smoke flavoured woods can be mixed to balance their light and heavy flavours respectively and used to smoke both delicate and strong tasting foods. Sometimes a short smoulder of a heavier flavour wood can be intermixed within longer smoulders of lighter flavour woods. This can add a spectral taste dimension to a delicate food.
One way to test the quality of the smoke flavour of each wood recipe is to smoke pieces of a relatively neutral tasting food such as chicken breast or cubes of the same cheese and then taste accordingly. I would recommend this first of all so that you can attune your palate to the characteristics of each wood smoke, and also the effect smoking time has on the strength of flavour.
Check out my recipes page but there are no hard and fast rules so I actively encourage you to experiment to suit your own taste and perhaps create that special signature dish.
The modular construction of Smoke Genies is simple and makes it easy to experiment or replicate an exact smoker recipe for repeated success. I particularly like to cold smoke salmon with Oak and Beech adding crushed juniper berries to the Smoke Genie sprinkle channel. Simply link them together and it’s a light and leave solution until completely smoked. I usually set and light the smoker recipe train before I go to bed, and enjoy a restful and uninterrupted sleep while the Smoke Genies quietly smoulder away until morning.
It’s all about imagination and experimentation. There are so many easy to construct permutations available with Smoke Genies to enable you to be as creative as you want to be in your exploration of flavour. There are just so many combinations of woods, herbs, spices, smoking times and densities of smoke available that the flavour permutations are almost limitless with so many awaiting discovery.
Let me know your own successes and failures on my Blog. I want to hear of your food smoking adventures and others want to know too.
Hardwoods are generally better, more roundly flavoursome and cleaner burning than softwoods which can be resinous and impart a bitter or acrid taste. Often you will read or hear that soft woods should never be used but this is simply not true. Softwoods are used in various parts of Europe to smoke some speciality products such as the renowned spruce smoked Black Forest Ham and pine smoked Merguez sausages.
NEVER use woods or foliage from poisonous trees, shrubs or plants.
“Not to omit any one of them, the yew … In the male tree the fruit is injurious; indeed, in Spain more particularly, the berries contain a deadly poison. It is an ascertained fact that travellers vessels, made in Gaul of this wood, for the purpose of holding wine, have caused the death of those who used them.” Pliny the Elder, from Naturalis Historia, ca. 77 AD (English).
The three important safety elements to consider when selecting a smoking wood are:
1. The wood has been confirmed by a reliable source as safe for smoking purposes
2. It has been traditionally used for food smoking without causing any ill effects.
3. It is uncontaminated and comes from a sustainable source that is verifiably traceable.
All Smoke Genie woods meet these requirements.
There are various methods and types of wood particulate used for smoking food and much is written about containment, lighting, burning, sustainable smouldering, heat and smoke control as well as some of the inherent problems encountered. Whole chapters in various food smoking books are unsurprisingly dedicated to some of these troublesome issues alone.
These problems are eliminated with Smoke Genies as they are designed to be easily lit and smoulder cleanly, consistently, and constantly for the smoulder time required, and without continual monitoring and management.
Frankly, I had so many problems myself with cold smoking when trying to light and sustain the even smouldering of sawdust and wood chips that I almost gave up cold smoking altogether. It’s what ultimately led me to develop the Smoke Genie as the solution to these problems.
Now it’s so simple and hassle free and will also give you consistently well balanced smoked food every time you smoke. From being the most finicky, labour intensive, and the most infuriating part of the whole process, you’ll now find that the actual smoking operation is joyfully simple and the easiest part of it all.
It enables you to be more productive, leaving you free to be creative and concentrate on the cure, recipes and whatever else without the worry of maintaining a cool and consistent smoke of the right quality and density. If you’ve smoked with wood sawdust and chips before then you’ll be aware of the issues involved. However, if you use the Smoke Genies then I am confident that all of these problems will instantly disappear and you won’t need all the add-on devices or their associated costs either.
Yes, It’s easy with Smoke Genies as they are designed to be mixed and matched with various wood chips, herbs and spices added as required. Just link the Smoke Genies together into your smoker recipe and add to the sprinkle channels to create your own spectrum of flavours.
Yes, all Smoke Genies use and are made of 100% natural wood and are designed for the optimum smoke generation of clean blue smoke that is acrid free.
Yes, very easily. Each Smoke Genie is designed to smoulder for 30 minutes so simply link the required number together for the desired smoking time. Please note that Smoke Genies will smoulder for approximately 30 minutes in cool ambient conditions. With hot smoking the Smoke Genie smoulder rate increases due the cooking temperature so its smoulder time is less.
Smoke Genies are designed for the optimum smoke generation for home and light commercial smoking whether using a flower pot or a shed to smoke food in. However you can increase the density of smoke by branching Smoke Genies, or running an additional Smoke Genie train, or lighting the train at both ends. Adding smoking particulate to the sprinkler channel will also increase the density of smoke. We also manufacture larger size Smoke Genies and speciality homogeneous and bespoke mixes for commercial smoke houses and restaurants. For commercial and wholesale inquiries please contact me directly.
You can add a sprinkle of herbs, spices, wood chips, ground nutshells or other flavourings to the sprinkle channel of the Smoke Genie to further flavour the food being smoked. This will cause the sprinkle to smoulder and release its own smoke flavour in addition to the smoke flavour of the Smoke Genie itself.
There are some good online resources, courses and books as follows:
'Curing and Smoking.' Another excellent handbook in the River Cottage series offering good advice and comprehensive recipes. www.rivercottage.net
www.coldsmoking.co.uk Good cold smoking information and day courses offered by the writer of 'Food Smoking - A Practical Guide.'
www.smokyjos.co.uk One and two day courses by the writers of 'Smoking Food at Home.'
'Really Simple Cold Smoking, BBQ and Salt Curing.'