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Hot Smoking - a quick summary
Using a smoker which generates heat either from a charcoal base, heated element within the smoker or from a stovetop or oven, food is hot smoked by cooking and flavouring with wood smoke simultaneously. The food can be eaten immediately or eaten cold within a few days. Temperatures used are similar to a slow cooking method in a range between 150°C and 200°C, so cooking times are approx twice as long as cooking in a conventional oven. The massive difference in taste is achieved by the added flavour from placing wood chunks, chips or pellets onto the charcoal fire once it is white hot, bisquettes on a hot plate or grains on the base of a smoker exposed to direct heat from below. The use of a water pan in some food smokers (such as the ProQ) creates a buffer between the heat source and the food and this has the dual effect of reducing cooking temperatures for the slow cooking required and generating steam which will permeate the cooking process and keep your food exceptionally tender and succulent.
Cold Smoking - a quick summary
Using only wood smoke flavour without any heat, food is cold smoked. This process is a means of curing or preserving meats and fish and flavouring cheese. It needs to be carried out strictly at temperatures below 20°C to ensure that the food does not begin to cook which would destroy the preservative effect. Cold smoking is achieved over longer periods and often several days, using only the wood smoke to penetrate the skin of the food and create a barrier to bacteria and pests. Food is soaked in a salt & sugar liquid for 24 hours first to remove excess moisture and to promote the absorption of the smoke flavour before smoking.
Use your outdoor smoker in a well-ventilated outbuilding or position outside in a sheltered position where possible. You need to be aware of ambient temperatures when smoking and adjust cooking times accordingly. Hot sun will be concentrated by steel smokers and will increase the cooking temperatures whilst cold weather and particuarly snow or wind will impact the internal temperature of your smoker. But the good news is that your smoker can be used all year round. The ProQ range should be used outdoors, Bradley smokers should ideally be used in a covered open area such as a lean to or garage. They can also be used outdoors (if a mains supply is accessible) or in a utility room if fitted with a dedicated flue or used in conjunction with an extractor fan, Camerons smokers can be used on your stovetop or hob or on your outdoor barbecue.
Food smokers do produce a lot of smoke and much of this is designed to seep out during the cooking process as the smoker construction needs to allow for the charcoal and wood chips to gently smoulder rather than burn up quickly or go out completely and for the smoke generated to renew itself. The seals between the smoker components are loose to enable this to happen. You may need to bear this in mind when siting your smoker, particularly if you have close neighbours.
Season Your Smoker
Before cooking in your smoker for the first time, it's important to season your equipment to burn off any chemical residues left over from the manufacturing process and to seal the interior surface. To do this you need to fire up your smoker, allow it to heat for a short period and then allow it to cool again. With a charcoal smoker, light a small charcoal fire in the base unit and wait for this to go white hot before building up your smoker components from the base upwards. Never put your smoker together when charcoals are aflame. Set the air vents to half open and add some wood chips to the fire through the bottom door. Then let the fire burn down till completely cold. This should take about 3 hours and will get rid of any chemical taint as well as sealing the interior surface.
* Use a briquette charcoal rather than lumpwood where possible as it holds its shape, burns more evenly and keeps its heat longer.
* Take care not to add the rest of your smoker if your coals are burning strongly and wait unit the coals have gone white hot - this may take approximately 20 minutes.
* Once your heat source is established you are ready to add your wood smoke product before building up your smoker components.
Creating wood smoke flavours
There is a vast array of wood smoking products designed for use in food smokers and Useful Stuff have over 20 different wood smoke flavours to offer in various forms. Wood size and shape varies and some smokers are restricted to certain wood forms. The Camerons, for example, works best with small grains to promote plenty of smouldering and the Bradley smoker uses a specific disc shaped compressed wood product, Bradley Flavour Bisquettes, as these automatically feed through its smoke generator. Hot smokers such as the ProQ offer the greatest flexibility and can be used with shavings, pellets, chips, or chunks. You can even use your own wood supplies such as oak, alder, beech, apple or cherry. Ideally wait for the wood to season (as you would for use on wood burners etc.) before chopping into chunks of around 2" to 3 " in size.
* Soak wood chunks and chips in water - the bigger the wood size the longer they should be soaked - to prevent them burning rather than smouldering during the smoking process.
* With Camerons smokers, wood grains should be placed in a heap in the centre of the base rather than spread around the base. This increases the smouldering effect and production of wood smoke and prevents the grains from burning. The amount required is stipulated as a table spoon, but with your own experimentation and depending on the duration of any particular cooking project you can vary this amount according to how smokey you like your food.
* You can use wood pellets straight from the bag without soaking. These are a 100% natural wood compressed into a pellet shape and which create a more intense and longer lasting flavour, in a foil pouch which should be pierced for the smoke to escape. Alternatively place pellets or chips in a re-useable stainless steel smoker box or, for pellets only, a cast iron smoker pot to prolong and intensify smoke flavour production and to prevent the chips from burning. Place either foil pouch or smoker box directly on the charcoal.
* Allow approx up to 30 minutes for the smoke flavour to develop. Don't be tempted to rush this by adding your wood product too early as if the charcoal base is too hot, it will simply burn producing more heat together with acrid burning flavours rather than the desired smoke flavour.
* Do not use treated or resinous softwood varieties (such as pine) in your smoker as these release unpleasant toxins which will taint your food. Conversely, the Ocote wood firelighters which are impregnated with resin are ideal for the task of lighting your charcoals because of their high resin content. This will quickly burn away as the charcoals ignite and burn to white hot.
« According to taste you may wish to top up your wood smoke flavour by adding more pellets or chips if you are smoking over long periods or add a larger amount from the outset for a denser smoke flavour.
Using a Water Pan
Water pans are a particular feature of the hot water smoker and are something of a secret weapon in generating truly succulent results. Although other smokers may not include a separate water pan component, there is often still a means of injecting moisture into the cooking process, via the Camerons drip tray or Cobb marinade well. The water pan acts in two ways, firstly it provides a buffer between the food to be cooked and the heat source and suppresses the heat to maintain the required slow cooking temperatures. Secondly, it infuses moisture into the sealed smoking chamber during cooking and this ensures not only that your food never dries out, but is bathed in moisture for extra succulence.
* Fill the water pan with hot (not boiling) water. This can be perfumed with aromatic fresh whole sprigs of herbs such as rosemary, mint or bay.
* Use hot water in the water pan as this will not interrupt the heat generated by the charcoal base.
* You can also use a marinade in place of water in the water pan. There is some debate as to how much these liquid flavours infuse into your food, however, in our experience a marinade will add to the food flavour. We have used watered down versions of marinades used overnight on meats in preparation for smoking with great success. At the very least they create lovely aromas during the cooking process. The marinade can be any concoction of your choice with a wine and herb mix, cider or beer, wine vinegar or any other combination you may wish to try.
* You can use your smoker without water in the water pan to create hotter cooking temperatures. You would nevertheless need to keep your water pan in place in the unit during your smoking session and line it with foil so that it catches any of the juices running from the food. You may not achieve as succulent a result without it, but the smoke infusion will work just as well and your cooking time will be shorter. You can also fill your water bill with sand, if you purely need to create a heat buffer but no additional flavours.
* For longer smoking sessions you may need to top up the water level to promote maximum succulence in your smoked food.
If your smoker has air vents, these can be used to regulate both temperature and smoke production. A top air vent will promote smoke 'turnover' and help the smoke renew itself as well as drawing on a charcoal base to maintain heat levels. A bottom air vent can help establish your charcoal fire in the first place and, if opened fully during the cooking process can be used to increase the burning rate and as a result the temperature.
* Position your smoker so that the bottom air vent is opposite the wind direction so the wind will not penetrate the unit. This will help maintain an even temperature.
* The top air vent should be left fully open during the cooking process to promote smoke and steam release.
* To achieve a higher temperature and particularly to increase the cooking temperature if it has dropped during your smoking session, carefully turn the entire smoker so that the bottom air vent is facing the wind direction. This will allow more oxygen into your charcoals making them burn more quickly and increase heat within the unit overall.
What foods to smoke
There are few if any limits to what you can smoke in your smoker. Any meat, poultry, fish or game in any type of meat cut is ideally suited to hot food smoking. You can also smoke seafood, vegetables, nuts and cheese. The smoking process is a very healthy cooking option which does not require the addition of oils and fats and yet still creates very succulent and tasty food.
* Don't feel you should stick to smoking foods which are traditionally smoked, such as salmon, ham and bacon. Smoke flavours bring a whole new taste dimension to many foods not usually associated with smoking. Feel free to experiment!
* The longer you cook and the lower the temperature, the better the taste. Cooking temperature in a unit such as the ProQ will be around 110°C and generally temperatures should not exceed the 150°C mark. The lower the temperature the less moisture is lost from the food.
* A medium whole chicken should take about 3 to 4 hours to cook whilst a 'cut', such as a chicken or duck breast will cook in approximately 1 and a half hours. These times will vary depending on how much food you cook at the same time and which smoker you are using. A large joint of meat may take over 5 hours to cook. Most smokers are supplied with detailed owner manuals as well as a selection of recipe ideas, giving you full information on cooking times and temperatures.
* Make sure the food to be cooked is at room temperature before placing in your smoker, otherwise there will be some heat loss as the smoker compensates for the cooling effect of the food.
* To be completely sure that your food is cooked - particularly if you are cooking larger joints of meat or whole poultry - we recommend the use of a meat thermometer or temperature probe.
* When first removed from your smoker, allow your smoked food to rest, particularly large joints and whole birds, bearing in mind that the meat will continue to cook. Resting allows the juices to redistribute themselves creating a more tender result.
Storing your smoked food
Hot smoked food is best eaten immediately, but it can be stored for consumption later on, either for eating cold in salads, such as chicken or salmon, or by freezing or by vacuum packing. We would not, however, recommend freezing hot smoked fish as the texture tends to deteriorate - though would be fine for use in smoked fish cakes! Cold smoked food has already been given the preservation treatment. A cold smoked cured side of ham can be stored in a refridgerator for several weeks. Other meats or sausage can be hung in a cool, well ventilated cold store. Cold smoked fish can be vacuum packed and tastes just as wonderful when you are ready to eat it.
Maintaining your smoker
* If possible keep your smoker under cover in a garage or outbuilding when not in use. Covers are available for most models which will provide protection from the elements if kept outdoors.
* The interior of your smoker will become browned from the smoking process, this coating will help to seal and protect your smoker. Clean the food grills, other cooking accessories, the water pan and the base unit after each use with hot soapy water, ideally when still warm, and do not use abrasive materials as this will damage the finish. You can put your Camerons smoker in the dishwasher!
* Depth of smoke flavour - depending on the meat, the particular cut of meat and the wood smoke intensity you have been able to create, you may find that the smoke flavours do not permeate to the very inside of the meat, but remain in a halo around the surface. This is most likely the result of too high a cooking temperature and too short a cooking time. For larger joints of meat, the smoke flavour will not penetrate right through to the centre, but the halo flavouring will be sufficient to give the full smoked effect.
* Heat Loss - this is commonly caused by removing the domed lid to take a peek a the food. This causes loss of both heat and smoke build-up and will set your cooking time back by around 15 to 30 minutes. If you want to view the food, use the access doors if you have them, but don't leave open for long.
* Pink colour to meat - the smoking process makes meat appear to be pink whether cooked or not. The only way to be really sure this is a by-product of the smoking process and not that the meat is undercooked is to use a good quality meat thermometer.
* Temperature decrease - if the cooking temperature sinks down before your food is successfully hot smoked you may need to top up the charcoal pan. This may be particularly required when cooking over longer periods. The best way to achieve this is to use a Charcoal Chimney Starter (available as a separate accessory) in which charcoal is established remotely from your smoker and, once at the required white hot/no flame level, can be tipped into the charcoal pan via the bottom door.
Any further questions?
If you need any further help with the operation of your smoker, please don't hesitate to call us on 01823 664452 or text 07973 739053 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to help.