Beginner’s Guide to Cold Smoking

Cold smoking, hot smoking, what’s the difference?

I love to cold smoke meat. Not just because it gives a different smoky flavour to the product, but it also preserves it for a good while. I believe that many of people do it, but I had quite a few of friends asking me how I do it my way, so here I am to give you a tutorial to cold smoking :).

It is called cold smoking when you cure and smoke foods in a cold smoker up to 90°F. 

It’s always great to do some experiments to have unique tests. Cold smoking is obviously quite different from hot smoking because no heat is involved. Besides, people use cold smoked products for several months without putting them in a refrigerator. Isn’t it great?

I wanted to try cold smoking since the day I had learned about it. I’ve learned a lot about this unique smoking process and my post reveals everything you need to learn about it. So, continue reading to learn how to use a cold smoker flawlessly! 


How cold smoking is different from regular smoking?

Smoked food fans are quite familiar with the hot smoking process. Cold smoking is pretty different due to the process. 

First, you need to cure the meat properly to restrain bacterial growth and extract moisture. Expose that cured meat to smoke to add a unique smoky flavour and make the meat more delicious. 

Unlike hot smoking, cold smoked meat may take hours or days to get ready. It completely depends on the product you want to smoke.  

The temperature in your cold smoker should not go beyond 90°F otherwise it will affect food quality and destroy the taste.  Heat is not involved in this process and I would recommend avoiding recipes that suggest the use of heat. 

The meat or other foods are stored in an unheated chamber. You need to produce and pump smoke from another chamber through a tube. That smoke chamber should be far enough to not affect the temperature of the cold chamber. 

you need to cure the meat properly to restrain bacterial growth and extract moisture.

People have been consuming smoked products for many ages, so this is not something new. People used to build a special smokehouse in their farms to prepare delicious smoked foods. Cold smoking was popular in cold climate countries and it has gained popularity once again. 

Hot and cold smoking difference

The cold smoking technique is quite useful when it comes to preserving foods or improving their shelf-life. Hot smoking involves the use of smoke and heat to produce delicious meats and foods for lunch or dinner. 

You have to strictly maintain the temperature below 90°F when using a cold smoker to smoke meals. The meat should be perfectly cured and it may take several days to smoke the meat. 
Temperature can be 190°F to 300°F when hot smoking the meat. Hot smoking is done to cook and smoke meats at the same time. It takes just a few minutes to hot smoke meats. 

Most people use sodium nitrate to treat meats when using the cold smoking technique. It plays the main role in preserving the smoked for several months without using the refrigerator. 
No sodium nitrate or other chemical is used during the hot smoking process. This technique is used mainly to add the smoky flavour to the food and not to preserve it. 

Hot smoking is not considered as risky as cold smoking can be. The risk of botulism is always there due to the lack of oxygen. Cold smoked meat can be ideal for bacterial growth and that may affect food quality. 
There is no such risk with hot smoking. You have to marinate meats, but the meat isn’t kept in cold storage for several days! 

You cannot cold smoke the meat without curing whereas hot smoking doesn’t require curing. 

Does time of the year influence cold smoking?

I don’t know when other people do it, but winter time definitely brought me the best results. Collect brisket, ribs, and other types of meats that you love to hot smoke. Professionals use this technique to produce hard-cooked eggs, Virginia ham, and Nova Scotia-style salmon, even cheese!

As mentioned a few times in this post, the temperature under the smoking chamber should not go beyond 90°F. It will be perfect if the temperature remains between 65°F and 85°F. Not all foods require several days to cold smoke the food. Certain foods require proper curing to reduce the smoking time. 

How to setup cold smoker device?

The regular combustion methods of producing smoke do not work when you are cold smoking. You need an external firebox to pump smoke into the cold smoking chamber. To achieve this, You can use a tube or pipe to deliver the smoke. 

You might be thinking that hot smoke will increase the temperature inside the cold chamber. Well, that won’t happen because the smoke will cool down as it will travel through a long pipe. You should use a firebox with a vent to dissipate excess heat and keep the temperature under control. 

The smoking chamber is a completely separate container and it should not be anywhere near the firebox! Keep it at least 5-6 feet away from the smoke-producing chamber to keep it cold. 

You should install some racks in the smoking chamber to utilize the available space in the best possible way. There should be some vents to remove excess smoke and let the cold air get inside the chamber. 

Whether you got a wooden barrel or a plastic cooler, both can work to prepare a perfect cold smoker chamber. 

Many users choose to place ice blocks at the bottom of the smoke chamber to keep the temperature low. You can try this trick when the external temperature is too high. You won’t need ice blocks during the winter season. 


Tips on cold smoking the right way

Do not place the fire chamber anywhere near the cold chamber!

The foods you want to cold smoke should not be anywhere near the heat source. Whether you are burning coal, wood, or some other fuel to produce smoke, set up the fire chamber 5-10 feet away. 

Connect the bottom of the smoke chamber with the top of the fire chamber. Use a long pipe or tube to supply the smoke inside the cold chamber. Thus, hot smoke will cool down before reaching the cold chamber and temperature will remain low inside the cold chamber. 

Suppose you place the fire source near the cold chamber, the temperature will easily go beyond 90°F. It will affect your food and then you will have to buy fresh meat to try cold smoking again! 

A handheld smoker will add some fun to the process

Since demands are pretty high for smoked foods, smart people are trying to make it a simpler and space-saving process. Handheld smokers became quite popular due to American TV shows. Most anchors call these devices smoking guns because of their look. 

You can easily buy this product online. Many lightweight and affordable models are available on the internet. These handheld smokers are pretty useful when you do not have enough space to place the firebox and cold chamber at a distance. 

The smoke gun will produce enough smoke to fill the entire cold chamber with smoke. Control the temperature inside the chamber to keep the food in an ideal condition. 

Check available options in cold smokers

How about buying a machine designed to cold smoke foods conveniently? Companies, such as Masterbuilt and Bradley produce adapters and aftermarket kits to turn a regular electric smoker into a cold smoker. 

Buy the kit to turn your regular smoker into a cold smoker. It is a perfect solution for users living in an apartment and willing to enjoy meats with a delicious smoky flavor! 

Check the latest cold smoke generators

Smoke generators are devices designed specifically to produce smoke for food items. These devices use wood chips, chunks, or pellets as fuel to produce more smoke. Small size handheld smoke generators can produce smoke for up to 3 hours. Larger units will provide a much longer supply of smoke. 

I’m recommending such devices as a better alternative to burning coal or other fuel in your backyard. You won’t cause any kind of discomfort to your neighbor and cold smoke your food flawlessly. 

Try some expert recipes

Are you planning to try the same old barbeque recipe to cold smoke your meat? Think again because some recipes can severely affect the quality of the meat. Choose a recipe designed by an expert to keep the food healthy and avoid food poisoning. 


Choose top-quality meat for the recipe

You have to buy top-quality meat if you want to cold smoke it. Do not buy old and frozen meat from the market because it may get decayed easily. Suppose you got old fish, it may get infected with parasites and eating such a fish can be quite risky for your health. 

Go to the local fish market or meat market to buy fresh meat. Consider meats produced from healthy animals to reduce the risk of health issues. Thus, the cured meat will last several months once the cold smoking procedure is completed. 

Try cold smoking with salt

Cold smoking alone isn’t enough to cure the meat. That’s why experts recommend curing the meat before putting it inside a cold chamber. Even the National Center for Home Food recommends salting before preservation. Therefore, you can combine salting and cold smoking to cure the meat perfectly. 

Prepare the meat before eating it!

You cannot consume raw meat from the cold smoke chamber. First, you need to cure, then cold smoke, and then you have to cook it before serving. I found that the cold-smoked meat should be heated at 160°F before serving. Thus, the risk of food allergies reduces to almost zero and the consumer experiences no health issues. 

You should cook the meat right after the cold smoking process to maintain its taste and quality. Do not keep it inside a refrigerator for several days otherwise it may lose the smoky flavour and quality you expect!

Safety tips during cold smoking

Since cold smoking is not considered a completely safe method, you need to be extra careful when following the process. Follow the below-given safety tips to avoid the reduction in food quality. 

  • Meat should be properly cured and cold smoking requires time. Be patient and follow the right recipe to get perfectly smoked meat. 
  • You have to constantly monitor the temperature inside a cold smoking chamber. Do not let it go above 90°F otherwise, it will destroy your meat. 
  • Hot smoke cools easily when the external temperature is low during the winter season. It may not happen during warm days and you need to find a way of cooling smoke tubes and pipes to keep the smoke temperature low. 
  • The food might taste bitter if you use fresh wood or chunks to produce smoke. Coal smoke doesn’t cause bitterness of the meat. 
  • White smoke is perfect for cold smoking and black smoke may affect the quality of your food. 
  • I used to wonder cold smoking doesn’t require fire, but it was just a misconception. You cannot produce smoke without fire and cold smokers use a firebox or handheld smoke producers to supply the smoke. 
  • Cold smoking only adds the flavour of smoke to uncooked foods, such as meat, cheese, etc. This technique is not used to cook the food because it doesn’t increase the internal temperature of the meat. 

Get the cold-smoked meat out and cook it before you eat it. That smoky flavour will last forever and you can add some more spices to enhance the overall taste of the food. 

Tips and trick to improve your cold smoking game

Choose any food or any recipe you like to prepare delicious cuisines at home with cold smoking. The following tips will ensure you get a perfect flavour and experience no health risks. 

Always use fresh products!

Pre-packed ingredients and meats may contain some chemicals that may reduce the quality of the food over time. Cold smoking is a time-consuming process and remaining bacteria can easily thrive inside the meat. 

Go to the local butcher shop and buy fresh meat. Clean it perfectly, cure it, and then cold smoke the meat to maintain the best taste and quality. Follow the same process when buying fish or plant-based foods. 

Do not cold smoke the meat without curing it!

Whether you love seafood or regular meats, curing is important to maintain the quality and the taste. Curing allows you to add some flavours to the meat when it is stored in cold storage for several days or months. 

Suppose you smoke the meat without curing it, its bacteria will grow at a much faster rate. Those bacteria will start decaying the meat and you won’t be able to eat it. Since you are investing a lot of time and money, cure the meat to improve its shelf-life and taste. 

You can learn the curing process online and try it before cold smoking the meat. Do not cure more than 2-3 days otherwise, the meat will taste too salty! 

Dry the meat!

Even though the meat is completely cured, it is yet not ready for cold smoking. You have to dry the meat before cold smoking because the moisture inside the meat will promote bacterial growth. 

Pick the right fuel!

You got two options in fuel when it comes to cold smoking the meat. Coal is a great choice because it burns longer and produces a lot of smoke. However, cold smoke is much hotter and it will easily increase the temperature beyond 90°F. 

Wooden chips on the other hand produce a lot of smoke and the heat remains under control. The type of wood you use as the fuel also decides the final flavor of the meat. To get a more subtle smoky flavor, you should use cherry, apple, or maple woods. You can read more on different wood characteristics reading my article about 5 best wood for smoking brisket.

Avoid the use of woods covered with mould because it will severely affect the quality of the food. Besides, treated wood will also severely affect the meat quality. That’s why choosing the right fuel is quite important! 

Monitor the temperature!

The temperature inside the cold temperature can easily go beyond the safe limit. Therefore, it is quite important to constantly monitor the temperature inside the cold chamber. It should be below 85-90°F and you will need a digital thermometer to monitor the temperature. 

Yes, it can be tough to ensure the temperature is low. You have to add the smoke every day until the procedure is completed. The temperature may raise due to external factors and then you may need to add ice blocks to reduce the temperature! 


Best products for cold smoking


Cold smoked beef tastes extremely great. Cut lean beef into fine slices and then dry it as soon as possible. Marinade the beef and then dry it before cold smoking. Put it inside the refrigerator and then put it inside the cold smoker. 

Now, connect the cold smoker to the firebox or smoke generator. Pump the smoke inside the cold chamber and do not open the chamber to inspect the beef. Constantly monitor the temperature and keep the chamber closed until the process is finished. 


Flawlessly cold-smoked cheese can add a unique flavour to burgers, pizza, appetizers, and other foods. The constant fluctuation in external temperature can severely affect the quality of the cheese. Therefore, you should cold smoke it only when the outer temperature is low.  

The morning or the nighttime is the best to smoke the cheese. First, you should place an ice block inside the smoke chamber and then place a foil pan on the ice block. Now, put the cheese on the ice block and then close the chamber. 

Introduce the smoke produced through a smoke generator or firebox in the smoke chamber. Keep the temperature low and then take the smoked cheese out. Now, use the smoked cheese to prepare delicious cuisines! 


Salmon can taste extremely delicious when you cold smoke it properly. Carefully remove pin bones from the fish and apply sugar, salt, and other ingredients to the meat. Let its red liquid pour out and then place the fish inside your refrigerator. 

Remove the drained liquid out of the fish container and then apply the cure mix. Massage the fish perfectly with cure mix and then refrigerate it for 4-5 hours. Now, cover the fish with a dry paper towel and then leave it at room temperature for an hour. 

Connect the smoke chamber to the smoke generator or firebox. Place the cured salmon fish inside the smoke chamber and then start pumping the smoke. Remove it once cold smoking is done and then prepare the fish for your meal. 


Begin the process by dry curing bacon with brine. Let it cure and then rinse it properly. Now, use a paper towel to pat dry the meat and then hang it for drying at room temperature. 

You will need a rack to cold smoke bacon. So, place a rack inside the smoke chamber and then place the cured bacon inside the cold chamber. Connect the smoke generator, pump the smoke, and let it cold smoke for the next 24 hours. Remove bacon and then prepare your favorite recipe. 

You can also cold smoke bacon for several days. It totally depends on how long you want to smoke the meat preparing the dish! 

Final thoughts:

Cold smoking is emerging as a great alternative to hot smoking. Even though such foods aren’t considered quite healthy, you can produce some extremely delicious meals for occasional events. 

Get the right equipment, follow the right technique, and you can enjoy perfectly smoked foods throughout the year. Make sure the meat is perfectly cured and the temperature inside the smoke chamber doesn’t cross the safe limit. Thus, you will always have delicious foods to serve at home! 

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