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Food smoking is the age-old process of infusing food with wood smoke flavours. Not only does it serve a practical purpose of preserving food, but it also brings an entirely new flavour dimension to cooking, both indoors and out. Originally developed to cure and preserve foods, food smoking is now a cooking technique which is undergoing a massive foodie revival. The increase in popularity of hot food smoking coupled with the availability of a range of 'off the shelf' food smoking equipment has brought the benefits of food smoking to a much wider public, from the barbecue enthusiast cooking for friends, to farm shops, butchers, pubs, restaurants and the small specialist producer looking to smoke their own produce - all of us achieving exciting new flavours.
We are all familiar with foods traditionally associated with smoking, such as smoked salmon, mackerel, hams and sausages, mostly produced commercially with highly distinctive smoked flavours. But these represent only a fraction of the wide diversity of smoked dishes and smoking techniques which are now being taken up by you and I at home. Only recently, the 2009 Masterchef winner, Matt Follas, used hot smoked dishes including smoked mash and smoked scallops created in a Camerons Smoker to help him win the title and our food smokers are used by a wide variety of chefs, farm shops and specialist food producers to create exceptional taste and succulence.
Now a wide range of custom designed hot and cold food smokers are available using a range of techniques to suit individual users which means the culinary and health benefits can be enjoyed by all. Techniques include hot smoking where food is prepared for immediate consumption or cold smoking where the food remains cured and preserved rather than cooked, for a longer shelf life.
Hot & Cold Smoking - What's the difference?
Hot smoking cooks food for immediate consumption. Shelf-life can be prolonged by vacuum packing or freezing and many hot smoked foods such as chicken and salmon will work wonderfully well in cold dishes and salads, but hot smoked food is best eaten as soon as it's ready! Hot smoking will involve a heat source of one type or another, either charcoal as for a barbecue/smoker combination or gas hob for the indoor smokers, or heated element for the Bradleys range. Cooking temperatures are generally lower than those which can be achieved in a conventional oven and this ensures that hot smoking is always a slow cooking process to enable the wood smoke to fully infuse. The wood product used to create the wood smoke flavour is gently heated to promote smouldering rather than burning and the wood is often soaked to prevent any flames taking hold. Many hot smokers are also known as water smokers and this means that they include a water bowl which not only acts as a buffer between the heat source and the food to be smoked keeping the temperature down, but also adds moisture to the smoking process. Because the entire hot smoking process is enclosed, there are little if any drying effects from the slow cooking approach and a water pan just adds to the succulence of the food being cooked. Use for a liquid marinade of your choice with any combination of wine, beer, fresh and dry herbs and you also add yet more juicy flavour!
Cold smoking is not technically a means of cooking but one of preserving. Using as little heat as possible and just the effects of wood smoke, the food is firstly cured for several hours in salt/sugar combinations to draw out moisture and promote the absorption of the wood smoke. The smoke penetrates the surface of the food creating a barrier to pests and bacteria and, if kept in cool conditions, will last for many months. Of the two processes, cold smoking is possibly more tricky as you need to ensure that the smoking temperature is under 20 degrees centigrade, this means that any heat used to get the wood product to smoulder must be well away from the smoking chamber. Get the temperatures wrong and your food will start to cook and the preserving qualities will be lost.
Choosing a Food Smoker
There is a wide range of food smoking equipment available using quite different techniques, so it can be a bit of a minefield trying to decide which smoker might be best for you. Below is a quick analysis of the main types of smoker on offer at Hot Smoked:
Electric Smokers - eg Bradley range of insulated smokehouses and Anuka portable smoker
Very easy to use - just plug into the mains
Very maintenance free cooking process
Clean operation - no messy charcoal
Can both hot and cold smoke (though the latter using either a D-I-Y adaptation of the unit, or by use of the Bradley Cold Smoking Adaptor
The most expensive smokers available - prices start above the most expensive top of the range ProQ Smoker
Creates clean and consistent smoked results, so ideal for small food producers, butchers, farm shops etc.
Wide range of accessories available
Will only work with Bradley Flavour Bisquettes which represents a cost going forward
Can be 'plumbed' into an air vent for use in a utility room
Charcoal Smokers - eg ProQ range of smoker/bbqs
A hot smoker which also features a water pan for extra succulence
Set up similar to a barbecue using charcoal heat source
More labour intensive to use, but offers greater scope for experimentation
Can be used with your own wood supplies
Offers a highly versatile design which can be tailored to suit any particular cooking assignment
Accessible price point
Can be used outdoors in any weather
Wide range of accessories available
Ceramic Grills - eg Kamado Joe, Monolith
A multi-functional outdoor cooking device which really does cover all bases
These heavy duty thick ceramic ovens with a crackled or smooth external glaze are a modern take on the original Japanese 'Kamado' which means stove or oven.
They can achieve a vast temperature range and the ceramic material has excellent heat and moisture retention properties which means food remains extremely succulent
To smoke on these grills you simply add wood chunks or chips to the lumpwood charcoal base
Latest Kamado style grills have complex internal structures which further increases the cooking possibilities including off-set grilling.
Whilst they appear expensive in comparison to other outdoor cooking and smoking methods, they offer a long-lasting versatile outdoor oven which also looks amazing.
Indoor Hot Smoker - eg Camerons Indoor/Outdoor Smoker
Highly versatile smoker of more simplified construction than the Bradley or ProQ
Creates excellent hot smoked/steamed dishes indoors on a stovetop
Highly portable and can be used outdoors on a bbq or on the move
Solid stainless steel construction, all dishwasher safe
Very quick and easy operation, just load wood grains, add food and that's it
Need to use a wood product with a small surface area, ideally the Camerons grains
Portable Smokers - eg Cobb, Camerons
These devices can be used out and about as well as in your back garden for general bbq and food smoking. The Cobb bbq system offers all the features of a ProQ smoker but in a much smaller frame which is so portable it has been used as the portable bbq of choice by the Hairy Bikers and strapped to the back of their bikes! The Camerons Mini Smoker is a great choice for camping or campervanning. Its compact size and versatile uses more than justifies the small amount of space it takes up. Even a portable bucket bbq can be used for hot smoking with just a handful of aromatic wood chips added to the charcoal base during cooking.
We hope this quick overview points you in a direction you can then explore further. Take a look at the individual product entries for much more detail and, of course, if you'd like to discuss any of these products further, please just give us a call. We'd be happy to help. Call us on 01823 664452 or email us at email@example.com