Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fun With Cold Smoking MacGyver Style

It's that time of year where the temperature is dropping and you can start cold smoking foods. Cold smoking is not the same as "low and slow", it's "lower than low, but not as slow as slow". The point is you aren't using the smoke to cook the food, only to cure it.

Some people who have much more ambition than I (or you, or you, and yeah, you over there, more than you too) like J over at Cowgirls Country Life build their own cold smoking shacks. Then again she raises her own cattle, pork, and even shrimp.

Yes, shrimp. I can't even raise Sea Monkeys without getting the Humane Society and PETA called on me.

But anyway lot of folks over at the BBQ Brethren Forum have been having fun making cold smoke generators with cheap soldering irons so I thought I'd entertain myself today making one. All you need is a drill, a can, and a soldering iron. (Well, technically, some drill bits too.)
TIP:  It is getting harder and harder to find food cans without a BPA or other lining.  I burn mine in a hot fire to burn out the lining thoroughly. 

Drill a hole at one end of the can big enough for the soldering iron to fit into. Then drill about a dozen or so smaller holes along the side that will be the top.

Then fill the can with the wood chips of your choice. Then simply cap the end with aluminum foil several pieces thick.
TIP: Assuming this is a used soldering iron, REMOVE THE TIP. A lot of soldering wire contains lead and you don't want to be adding that to your food. Also, make sure there is no solder on the base itself. If in doubt, use a new, clean soldering iron.

Next, clean out your cooker. Remove the coals and ashes that might have residual flavors from your last meal in there. Besides, when's the last time you cleaned that puppy?

Put your rigged cold smoke generator....errrr, I mean your "thermally neutralized, precision controlled combustion device" at the bottom of your cooker.
I plugged the contraption in and in about 5 minutes, had a nice wispy smoke. Holy shiat! It works! It's ALIVE!!!

Now, smoke something. Cheese is easy.

When I worked in the Risk Management Department of a large grocery chain, the head of the test laboratory once mentioned to me that the biggest enemy to the lifespan of cheeses was bacteria from handling after it was opened. So wash your hands very well before opening the cheese, cutting the cheese, or handling the cheese. Also, scrub the living hell out of your grate or smoke the cheese on a sanitary surface. This will extend the useful life of your cheese.

Since this was an experiment, I used cheap block cheeses including swiss, mild chedder, colby jack, sharp cheddar, pepper jack, edam, and muenster cut into 1" x 1" pieces. Cheenga anyone?

I did the first half with hickory chips, which can be a strong smoke. I didn't want to waste the whole batch if it turned out badly.

Here's the weird thing. There's no internal temp you're shooting for. It's just a matter of dose and exposure, how much smoke for how long. The only general rules are to keep the cooker temp under 80 degrees (f) and smoke the cheese for 1 to 2 hours. I let the hickory batch go 1 hour 15 minutes. The temp shown is the temp of the air inside the cooker, not the temp of the cheese.

The MacSmoker 3000 raised the temp of the Egg about 10 degrees in one hour on a cool day with an ambient temperature of 55f.

With the second batch, I used cherry wood (stacked in the picture above), a much milder smoke. It was a very quick changeover. I unplugged the unit, waited about 10 minutes, dumped the hickory and added the cherry. This time, I also added some raw almonds that I had tossed in some butter, honey, raw sugar, and salt.

When you pull the cheese off, vacuum seal or tightly wrap and let it mellow out in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. It will be very strong at first and needs time to balance out.

  • This works WAY better than what we did last year using 3 or 4 pieces of lump and a handful of wood chips.
  • The cherry smoke was predictably milder than the hickory batch, based on the samples. Time will tell.
  • The almonds? They had the perfect smoky taste but not the texture so I popped them in a 400f oven for 10-15 minutes to crystallize the honey/sugar coating. FREAKING AWESOME.
  • The great thing about this is you don't have to have a smoker to use this. You could put the cold smoker in a grill or any container that will maintain a low, cool temp.

Cold Smoking on Foodista