What Is Cold Smoking And What Is It Used For?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  March 19, 2022

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There is no end to the possibilities when you have a smoker and a tasty barbecue grill.

Smoking your meat is one of the best ways to get in some added smoky flavor to your favorite foods.

But there are so many different methods to use that it can often be confusing when trying to distinguish between them all.

If you love smoking your food on the grill before you eat it, chances are that you already know what hot smoking is.

But what about cold smoking?

What Is Cold Smoking And What Is It Used For

How does this differ from hot smoking, and more importantly, how does the cold smoking process improve the flavor of your favorite foods?

The good news is that we’ve done all the research for you so that you can quickly find the answers that you seek.

Today, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about cold smoking.

We’re going to cover what cold smoking is, as well as what cold smoking is used for.

So let’s get stuck in with everything you need to know about the cold smoking process, and how you can implement this yourself using a cold smoke generator!

What Is Cold Smoking?

Cold smoking is an ancient process that has been used for centuries to lengthen the time that food is edible for.

Whereas other methods of smoking make use of a hot smoking chamber, cold smoking involves placing your food inside a smoky chamber away from the usual source of heat that you would find on a standard grill or barbecue.

It tends to be meat that is most often used for the cold smoking process.

The meat will often be cured first to kill off any harmful bacteria as well as remove any unwanted moisture.

This cut of meat is then placed in a cold smoking chamber where it can be exposed to the smoke.

This cold smoking method often takes place over an extended period of time, as it exposes the food to the smoke, without actually cooking it.

This is the secret behind the cold smoking method, hence the name “cold” smoking.

It uses minimal heat so that only smoke is produced to flavor your food.

Cold smoking cheese is also a popular choice, as cold smoking cheese can add a certain complex flavor to the dairy products.

Unlike other smoking methods, cold smoking relies on the smoke chamber being kept to a specific temperature so as to not cook the meat you are trying to imbue with a smoky flavor.

The curing process and the whole process of cold smoking meat serves to prevent bacterial growth, too, so you can rest assured that your cold smoked meat will last you for even longer.

Similar to hot smoking, you can use a range of different wood chips to give your meat a range of smoke flavors.

Cold smokers are just as versatile as hot smokers, as you can use them to smoke all types of food.

It is typically used to smoke cuts of meat, but you can also use this method for cold smoking fish, as well as other foods such as cheese.

How Does Cold Smoking Preserve Meat?

So now that we know cold smoking works a bit differently to hot smoking, as it doesn’t actually cook the food you are trying to smoke, you may be wondering how does cold smoking preserve meat?

It does this by using forms of curing before the meat or types of food are smoked.

By using either a wet brine or salt cure to cure the meat beforehand, this helps to make the cold smoking techniques help to preserve the meat for as long as possible.

When you use salt curing before you cold smoke your meat, this helps to cut down on the moisture inside the meat itself.

This reduction in moisture allows the cold smoking process to better preserve the meat you are trying to smoke.

The cold smoke helps to preserve the meat because of certain chemical compounds in the smoke itself.

What Foods Are Good Cold Smoked?

The possibilities are endless when it comes to cold smoking. The most common foods to cold smoke include red meat, fish, as well as cheese.

However, you can also cold smoke things like vegetables if you want to give them added smoky flavor.

Some of the best foods to cold smoke include certain cuts of beef, sausages, bacon, a joint of ham, salmon, oysters, cheddar cheese, as well as a range of fresh vegetables such as tomatoes.

Ultimately, you can cold smoke whatever foods you want to.

Why not experiment with your cold smoker and flavor different types of food and compare them all to find your favorite combinations?

How To Cold Smoke

The key to cold smoking your favorite foods from the comfort of your own home is to not let the smoking chamber get to above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The most common temperature range that is used to cold smoke food is roughly around 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remember that you will need to cure any meat that you want to cold smoke first before you place it in the cold smoker.

This will lessen the likelihood of bacteria growing on your food, and also extract any moisture.

Then you will need to place your food in an unheated chamber, ideally with the smoke being pumped into this.

It’s also recommended to double check how long you will need to cold smoke your chosen food item before you get started.

How Long Should You Cold Smoke Meat?

The amount of time you need to cold smoke your meat will depend on several factors: ultimately, how smoky you want the overall flavor, as well as the type of meat you are trying to cold smoke.

For bacon for example, it can take anywhere between 6 to 5 hours for a light smoking, and anywhere from 25 to 50 hours for a heavy smoking.

It is always best to err on the side of caution and try not to use too much smoke, as this can leave you with bitter tasting meat that isn’t all that tasty at all.

When it comes to smoking fish such as salmon, you should use this general rule of thumb: cold smoke your salmon for between 4 to 6 hours for a light smoking, and 12 to 24 hours for a heavy smoking.

What’s The Difference Between Hot Smoking And Cold Smoking?

The main difference between hot smoking and cold smoking is of course that hot smoking uses hot smoke to cook the foods that you are trying to smoke.

A hot smoker will cook the food that you place in it while it flavors this food.

A hot smoker will also take a lot less time than a cold smoker, as it tends to only take a handful of hours to hot smoke your favorite foods.

It will also depend on the type of smoker that you choose to use, with electric smokers being better suited to hot smoking.

Pellet tubes are best used for cold smoking, as this allows you to keep the cold smoke from cooking your food.

In Summary

So there you have it!

You now know exactly what cold smoking is, how to use this smoking method yourself, as well as how it differs from hot smoking.

You also now know which foods taste best when cold smoked, including bacon, sausages, salmon, and cheese.

Cold smoking is a wonderfully versatile method for adding smoky flavors to your food, but it typically takes a much longer time than cold smoking.

It is also used to flavor your food rather than cook it.

It will always be important to properly cure your meat before you smoke it so as to avoid any unwanted bacteria.

Why not give cold smoking a go and try to smoke a variety of different foods?

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.