In many smokers the same source of heat for cooking the food is what provides the smoke (e.g., stick burners, pellet smokers, charcoal and wood). Other smokers burn/smolder chips or pucks for smoke while running a heating element. In both cases providing the heat and the smoke result in “hot smoking”. By this we mean that the food both gets cooked and is flavored with smoke. Typically the temperatures we’re talking about are between 100 – 180°F. Above this temperature it is considered barbecuing (200-300°F) which provides a nice “low and slow” temperature with a perfect amount of smoke.
Cold smoking, on the other hand, can happen anywhere under 110°F. Typically you’ll be smoking for a few hours up to even a full day in the range of 60-85°F. That’s right, little to no heat and normally at or below room temperature. Cold smoking can be used for cheese, spices, cured meats, fish, and vegetables. Most meats should be cured, cold smoked and then later cooked to a normal internal temperature before eating (e.g., bacon). Specialty meats like smoked salmon, which results in a jerky-style treat, are typically cold smoked at a much colder temperature (under 40°F) for several days. This is done below the danger zone so it won’t spoil. This type of cold smoking is best in re-purposed old fridges and smoke houses.
What to Buy?
There are many great different types of setups for barbecuing and hot smoking. Cold smoking on the other hand may require a little more creativity if you plan to use your regular smoker/cooker. The key here is that you want to keep the heat to a minimum and most smokers don’t regularly run that low. There are brand-specific units like the Bradley, Traeger, and smoke generator for the Green Egg. There are also many universal and do-it-yourself options available.
Some grills like Kamados, Kettle grills and other charcoals grills can be used as-is with a little exercise of skill. For short cold smoking sessions these can pull it off.
Any Grill (inside grill)
UDS, Fridge, Any Grill (outside grill)
DIY / Smokehouses
Kamado and Kettle grills
There are also some cookbooks list at the bottom that I like that are focused on cold smoking.
A-maze-n Pellet Smoker
The A-maze-n Pellet Smoker is a great purpose-built accessory that you can use with just about any grill or smoker. It produces a nice thin, blue smoke for 10-12 hours. It’s incredibly simple and very cheap – about $40. They do recommend using their special pellets though, which are geared towards providing the most consistent smoke. You’d be fine to use any good brand of smoker pellets however. I would absolutely recommend this for easy and versatility.
Traeger Cold Smoker Attachment
The Traeger Cold Smoker attachment is a popular option for the Lil’ Tex and Texas-sized grills. It simply bolts to the side of your grill and you move your chimney to the outside of it. Easy.
I own one of these for my grill. I think it’s a quality build unit, but you should know, for me, it wasn’t a factory bolt-on-and-use cold smoker. I think it could benefit from a little re-design. Let me explain. From the factory your P-setting is set too high and there isn’t enough control for keeping it cold enough. For instance, on a chilly 32°F winter day, I couldn’t get the smoker cold enough to cold smoke cheese. As a result you will need to become familiar with your P-settings (no big deal), but you may also plan to look at adding a damper or two on the top of the cold smoker drum. I’ve also used something to shim the door slightly open to allow for more air flow (more flow=cooler). With a combination of the above you can be quite happy with this unit. I personally would take this unit over a home-rigged, dryer hose cold smoker any day of the week. It isn’t a permanent alteration and it looks great too. Not to mention it can also be used as a warming unit too.
Bradley Smoke Generator
The Bradley Smoke Generator with Adapter is similar to the above unit. It is designed for a DIY’er that is looking to convert an old fridge or port a hole in their pig cooker for a little more flexibility. These are pretty good units and Bradley has a great following and forums for support. This should be your first stop if you’re wanting an automated unit for building your own.
Bradley BCold Smoke Adapter
The Bradley BCOLD cold smoke adapter fits right onto any Bradley smoker. Many guys out there rig up cardboard boxes or other inventions to get their rigs set up for cold smoking. If you’re looking into this, many guys will recommend a longer power cord so the temperature sensors can still go inside the smoker. You *can* use a Bradley by itself without the heat on, but once you try one of these you’ll be happy that you’ll have better control and can keep lower temps more easily.
Another clever idea that will work for a wide array of smokers to provide both cold smoke and one that I’ve even seen added to pellet smokers for enhancing the smoke flavor is a smoke blower.
Favorites are the Cold Smoker III,
and the Smoke Pistol.
These are a great idea since most of them simple attach onto the side of your grill/smoker and work with wood chips, wood chunks and smoking pellets. These are a great idea for attaching to pellet smokers, fridges and Ugly Drum Smokers (UDS).
DIY / Smokehouses
The ultimate Do-It-Yourselfer with plenty of room will probably be most interested in the old fridge or building a custom smokehouse. Believe it or not, but there are some great designs out there that will help aid you in building a well thought out smokehouse. One of my favorite resources is Meat Smoking And Smokehouse Design. This is a book that I really enjoy and have owned for quite a long time. I’ve even been known to give this book as a gift. It includes everything from masonry, portable, wood, concrete, to drum smokers.
Kamado Kettle Charcoal Grills
Depending on how long you're cold smoking and your skills you may be able to use your kamado or kettle grill for cold smoking. Set up your grill by using a pan of hardwood sawdust and a few coals. The key here is you want a very slow smolder. Light 5 or so coals in a chimney starter and wait until they're covered with gray ash. Then transfer them with tongs to the sawdust. You will need to monitor the sawdust and coals. Stick a wireless or instant-read thermometer in to the top vent. If the temp goes too high then remove one of the coals. You'll also need to add fresh sawdust every 1.5 hours.
Cookbooks for Cold Smoking
If you’re looking to try cold smoking I would recommend taking the time to research when preparation, cures, times, etc. are involved – especially if you are interested in cold smoking meats. There are many great resources. I will be continuing to post recipes and tips on cold smoking. Here are some books that either recommended by me or some of my readers.