How to Cold Smoke Meat: The Basics
Smoking meat is an old time honored tradition. It harkens back to the days of the pioneers and to a time before refrigeration and modern preserving methods. There was a time that smoke and salt were the only known ways to preserve meat. While smoking meat never went away, it is having a renaissance, at least at my house.
Prior to meeting my wife, I had no concept of this. Smoking meat was never on my radar. The wife is first generation Serbian; both of her parents came from the old country and were very…country. They still carry on the tradition of smoking pork tenderloin, as do many of the recent immigrants. They call it suvo meso, which literally translated is smoked meat, and let me tell you that it is delicious. It is the perfect blend of salt and smoke; ideal for snacking on while sipping your favorite whiskey or beer. They serve it at every function, be it a Christening, wedding, birthday party; hell, even at the church. (Which has a full bar by the way. That’s my kind of religion.)
After being introduced to suvo meso I made it a goal to have my own smokehouse, on my own land, and smoke my own meats. Mission accomplished.
Build Your Smokehouse on the Cheap
I saved all the scrap wood and hardware from the demo of my basement and used it to build my own smoke house. While it won’t win any awards, it holds the smoke and didn’t cost me a dime to build. My father in law gave me a smoker box that he made from a 55-gallon barrel and had under his deck for years. A smoker box is where the fire is lit. The fire needs to be away from the meat so the meat doesn’t cook and a tube carries the smoke from the box to the house.
I bought a metal dryer duct and two ring clamps to hook up the smoker box to the smoke house. That was my only expense on this thing. Even if you don’t have any carpentry skills, which I surely didn’t, don’t let that scare you from trying something. I had nothing to lose. I had the material free and a rough idea of what I wanted and did it. There’s no need to call a “professional,” pick up a hammer and saw and get to work. But if your pioneer spirit is waning, you can buy smokers for under 100 bucks.
The Basics of Cold Smoking
Cold smoking meat is different from hot smoking in that you do it in the fall and winter months when the air temperature is below 40 degrees. The cold air keeps it from getting too hot in the smoke house thereby cooking the meat. It is best to keep the temperature in the smokehouse under 70 degrees. All you want to do is penetrate the meat with the smoke for the flavor and to help preserve it. Hot smoking is designed to cook the meat and a temperature of 180 – 200 degrees is ideal.
When selecting your meat, go to the butcher shop. Don’t get anything that is prepackaged or pre-seasoned. I like to use pork loin but any kind of meat can be smoked so go crazy and try different things. Use kosher salt when the time comes. It delivers better flavor and draws the water out of the meat better. For a salt box, I used an old plastic mail crate from the post office that was also free. I just washed the crap out of it to make sure I didn’t make anyone sick.
Are you seeing the trend yet? Free, free, free. Use what you have on hand and don’t spend any money if you can avoid it. Spend the money on a quality cut of meat.
Curing Your Meat
Before the meat is smoked it must be cured, or salted. The meat is completely surrounded with salt in a covered box in order to draw the water out of the loin so that there is nothing for any bacteria to grow on and to help the smoke penetrate. I learned the hard way not to salt it for too long. My first batch of pork loin I smoked, I salted the meat for 3 weeks in a salt box. Leaving it in there so long made it so salty that it was almost inedible. After I smoked it and it hung for a month it was so salty that I had to soak it in water to draw some of the salt out. I had to eat my mistake because no one else would touch it. They need only be salted for 2-3 days and it will be fine.
After the meat has been sitting in the salt take it out of the box and wipe off the excess salt.
I use steel hooks that have been sharpened on one end to hang the meat in the smokehouse. The hook needs to be strong enough to hold 6-10 lbs. of meat. Then hang it in the smokehouse and light the fire. Easy. Keep the fire going all day, I go for 8 hours usually. After the fire goes out, let the meat hang in the house for a month or so, until it is firm to the touch. And by firm, I mean like a rock. If it’s soft it isn’t done. After it is taken out of the smokehouse and you are ready to eat it slice it very thinly like a slice of deli ham or prosciutto. Then slice up some cheese, pour a glass of your poison of choice, put your feet up and eat up.
There is nothing to be afraid of. Here is the recipe;