What is the Difference Between Cold Smoking and Hot Smoking?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Cold smoking and hot smoking are two different methods for handling meat after it has been butchered. The big difference between them is that one method involves heat, while the other does not. Both will impart flavor to the meat, but hot smoking also cures it, creating a shelf-stable meat which can be stored in more varied conditions than cold smoked meat. In addition to cold smoking and hot smoking, meats can also be cured through brining, salting, wind drying, and combinations of these techniques.

When meat is hot smoked, it is enclosed in a smoker along with a fire or pit of coals. Aromatic woods such as cedar, hickory, or apple, among others, are added to the fire so that they will generate strongly scented, flavorful smoke. The heat from the fire or coals cooks the meat, curing it so that it is less likely to decay, while the smoke penetrates the meat, infusing it with a rich flavor. It is not uncommon to marinate or brine meats before hot smoking them, to add flavors like honey or sugar.


When meat is subjected to cold smoking, it is also hung in a smoker, but the smoke is generated in a separate chamber and the temperature is kept much lower, typically a little warmer than ambient room temperature. The cold smoking process can take days or weeks, as the smoke slowly penetrates the meat without heat. Since cold smoking does not cure meats, they are usually salted or brined before being cold smoked. The salt cure ensures that the meat will stay bacteria free.

Cold smoked meats tend to taste very salty, and their texture varies, depending on how long the meats are smoked. Lightly smoked meats such as lox will have an almost raw, meaty texture, for example. Many cold smoked foods such as bacon need to be cooked before they can be eaten, to ensure that no bacteria is present. Sausages and ham are often hot smoked, so that they are ready to eat right out of the smoker.

In some cases, cold smoking may be combined with wind drying. This is accomplished by hanging meat to dry while also keeping a low level fire burning so that the meat is smudged with smoke as it cures. Wind dried foods like jerky and biltong can keep very well, since the wind drying removes much of the risk of bacterial contamination. These meats can also be eaten without cooking, as the curing process has essentially cooked them, albeit very slowly.

Probably the most important thing to remember when contrasting cold smoking and hot smoking is that hot smoked foods are generally safe as is, while cold smoked foods may be at risk of contamination. These foods should be kept under refrigeration to ensure that they stay edible. Since the techniques for cold smoking and hot smoking are slightly different, they also require different cooking skills, and cooks should approach cold smoking with care, as it is easy to contaminate food.


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Post 3

@genevamech- You can build a simple wind smoker with a few pieces of driftwood, some burlap, and a wire rack that is perfect for smoking fish on a long camping trip. The pit will take about a day to set up, but you will need to brine your filets for 24 hours anyway. Thin strips will take about one to three days to smoke, but thin filets will take at least four.

To smoke the fish, dig a rectangular hole about a foot and a half deep. Line the bottom of the pit with river rocks to build a small fire on. Next, you will want to make a driftwood teepee over the smoker pit and tie it together with

a natural rope or twine. At this point, you can either wrap the teepee in burlap, or weave flexible sticks or reeds through the driftwood teepee to make an enclosure. Finally, prop your smoking rack up with a few forked sticks so that it sits about a foot above the hole.

If you use burlap, you will want to cut small slits to allow for adequate ventilation. The point is to trap the smoke, but allow for adequate air exchange. Now just smoke and enjoy.

Post 2

@GenevaMech- Making a good grill smoker is an involved process. It is a fun project if you have some mechanical skills, but it does involve metal cutting, welding, and planning. You can find good plans for free and for sale on how to construct a drum smoker online.

The main components will be a rack, the grill/smoking rack, a firebox, and all of the proper venting. You can build a smoker out of a drum barrel to save time and money, but be sure that you are using a food grade drum. You wouldn't want to use a drum that was used to store toxic chemicals to smoke your dinner.

Post 1

How hard is it to make a smoker? I would like to make a smoker that can operate as either a cold smoker or a hot smoker. I like to fish, and I would love to have a smoker to smoke things like trout, salmon, and other fish. I would also like to be able to smoke my own bacon, sausages, and other meat products. I just need to know the basic idea behind making a smoker.

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