Cold Smoking and Curing
Cold Smoking and Curing
As we move into Autumn and Winter and the weather chills, it’s time to think about using your Big Green Egg for cold smoking. There’s nothing better than a home cured bacon sandwich. Or how about slicing your own home cured and smoked salmon for a Christmas appetiser.
Cold smoking is a process where we can flavour foods without actually cooking them. We can choose a variety of different woods to add different flavours to our foods. We need the ambient temperature to be low in order to keep the process safe.
Curing really goes hand in hand with cold smoking. Curing is the process of making a food safer to store for a longer period of time. Typically this was done by air drying meats and fish hanging them in the roofs of dwellings that also had open fires. It was quickly discovered that the smoke from the fires added another layer of flavour to the dried meats and fish. The smoke doesn’t actually preserve the food but it really does make it taste lovely. It helps slightly in providing a layer that is more difficult for bacteria to penetrate.
Here are some of the things I have made and cured. I’ll write up recipes for the missing ones when I next make them:
- Smoked Salmon – home cured and smoked
- Smoked Bacon, both streaky and back
- Guanciale – cured pigs jowls that are traditionally used in spaghetti carbonara
- Smoked cheese – take a cheap block of cheddar and make it into something really special
- Smoked maldon salt
- Smoked nuts
- Smoked butter
- Smoked garlic
- Bresaola – dry cured beff
- Duck bacon
- Saucisson sec
- Christmas ham – a full leg of pork that I cured in a 60l drum for 2 weeks before hot smoking it on the Egg.
Cold smoking is the process of smoking any food without actually heating or cooking it.
If we were to light the charcoal in our Egg, set the temperature to the lowest level we could without putting it out, and then add smoking chips or chunks to generate our smoke, we would still be running at around 70-80°C. This temperature would cook any food we put into the Egg, it would definitely start to melt cheese.
In order to cold smoke, we need to fill our smoking chamber, your Big Green Egg, with smoke that isn’t going to raise the temperature of the Egg and cook the food. There are several ways of doing this but the simplest is with a device called the ProQ Cold Smoke Generator (CSG). The ProQ CSG is a stainless steel mesh basket that when filled with sawdust, allows you to slowly smoulder the sawdust to make smoke to smoke your food. The ProQ CSG is simply lit with a tea light which, when the sawdust is smouldering, is extinguished. The smouldering sawdust generates so little heat your Egg won’t noticeable rise in temperature.
When smoking food you can put your ProQ CSG on top of the remaining charcoal from your last cook, it wont set it alight. I then use the stainless steel grid above the ProQ CSG to support whatever I am smoking. If you’re smoking nuts or salt, then you’re going to need to put in a tray of some sort. Don’t worry the smoke will get to the nuts or salt.
The ProQ CSG will smoke for up to 10 hours, plenty long enough for most foods.
If you take this to an industrial scale, then ProQ sell an Artisan version of the CSG, but for most people it’s overkill.
You need to smoke with your lid down and the top and bottom vents opened slightly. This will allow oxygen to get in and the smoke to swirl around your food.
Once you’ve smoked your food, it’s best to wrap it in cling film or vac pack it and leave it for a few days for the smoke flavours to penetrate the meat or fish and mellow a little.
Curing is the process of making the meat or fish safe to store for longer periods of time. Traditionally this is done by either air drying, salting or a combination of both of these.
The key to curing is to lower the moisture content within the food, to a level where bacteria can’t survive or it’s more difficult to multiply. To do this salt is used to draw out water through the process of osmosis.
I cure my fish with a mixture of sugar and salt. The salt will cure the fish while the sugar will reduce the saltiness when you taste the fish. To this you can add all sorts of other ingredients to flavour your fish such as betroot, gin and vodka.
With meats I use a curing salt that will typically contain either sodium nitrite or potassium nitrate. Nitrites will break down to Nitric Oxide which will bond with the Myoglobin in the meat, setting it pink. Without it your bacon with oxidise and go a brown colour. Nitrites and nitrates also help prevent the growth of bacteria that cause botulism. You can cure without them but it’s not as safe.
Curing salts containing potassium nitrate are used to cure foods that will be air dried such as salamis, pigs cheeks or whole legs of ham. The potassium nitrate will break down to form nitrites over a period of time, a slow release.
For most cures you need a curing salt containing sodium nitite. This can sometimes referred to as Instacure, Suprecure, Cure #1 or Prague Powder #1.
When making air dryed hams etc, you need a curing salt with potassium nitrate. This will can be called Cure #2 or Prague Powder #2.
Finally there is Saltpetre or nitrate of potash. This is potassium nitrate in it’s raw form. Stay away from this stuff as it needs to be mixed in with salt at such a tiny percentage, you’ll probably not be able to weigh what you need safely. Just buy a premixed #2 cure.
Where to buy your ProQ, sawdust and curing salts
ProQ Cold SMoke Generator
The ProQ Cold Smoke Generator is such a great product, I have chosen to stock it. You can therefore buy it from my online store.
The CSG comes with a pack of oak sawdust for your first cook and a tealight to get your sawdust going.
I’ve had sawdust from several different companies. The one I find the most reliable because their sawdust never seems to go out, is a company ironically called HotSmoked.co.uk.
I’ve arranged a 10% discount for my customers with them, use MSF10 at the checkout.
Salt – with no sodium nitrite or potassium nitrate
When curing fish I just use a plain salt. I like to use a salt with no anti-caking agents so I buy a Pure Dried Vacuum Salt (PDV). You’ll need to keep this in a large airtight container once opened.
You can get this in large bags from Amazon.
These salts contain sodium nitrite and may contain a little potassium nitrate.
I use Supracure from HotSmoked.co.uk when making bacon.
Tim Hayward is a Cambridge based food writer, restauranteur and chef. He’s judged on the BBQ scene. His book contain loads of great curing recipes as well as BBQ stuff. I really love it and use the recipes all the time. It’s available on Amazon from this link.