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


  1. Not to make your head bigger than it already might be (kidding of course), but this is brilliant and if you do this with some of girlichef's cheese recipes, then you have really began to create something... I did this with cheese and tomatoes recently...just have no time to post it yet... I want a REAL smoker! Not my stove top and makeshift grill :(

  2. This is very interesting Chris. I can't wait to show my husband. I might be able to persuade him to make us a cold smoker.

  3. I've done hot smoking, and have wanted for years to try cold smoked- but never have. Good post on subject, you went where this man has never gone before!

  4. UH-OH he's got his power tools out! I knew absolutely nothing about cold smoking until reading this and have also never pictured anyone smoking their own cheese and almonds. Fabulous post. And LOL about those sea monkeys.

  5. oooooh WOW. can't wait to try this at home!

  6. Oh yum! I can just see some of those wrapped up for Christmas gifts! I've never even thought about cold smoking, but sure sounds delicious!

    I just found myself humming the tune from the video yesterday, LOL! I'm the type that starts singing little tunes without even realizing it - people always look at me a little funny when I sing without realizing it, can you imagine me signing that one out loud!

  7. what if i just want a grilled cheese?

    i wish i had a backyard

  8. I love this! Your knife skills are great and as for the smoked almonds we buy a pound at the farmers market each week and they are DELICIOUS!!!

  9. Never heard of cold smoking, but I'll bet my hubby will be all over it when I show him your post.

    Your food photos are awesome!

  10. This is so interesting. I've never cold smoked anything before. I can't wait to see what else you do with this.

  11. I don't know if I'm that ambitious or not...but it's way freakin' cool...(and I have a total weakness for MacGyver)! I totally want some of the finished product, though. Cheenga, LOL!

  12. A man with tools and a man experimenting, I must go fan myself..

    I mentioned you on my blog tonight, btw.

  13. Cheese....the new lincoln log? the last time I played with tin cans, I think I was trying to make a phone

  14. Great post Chris. I may try this to make some Christmas gifts.

  15. Salt, Chris, you need to do hickory and cherry smoked salts, several pounds of each. Then send it to me.

    Nice job on the cheese.

  16. Nicley done - you would make MacGyver proud. The almonds are calling my name.

  17. Oh my freakin' heck Chris!!!! I think I could even do this...I was destined to do this.

    I have to ask, from a gy's point of view...Not me, but if your wife took your soldering gun and did this would you be angry or should she just go buy one and leave his alone? I'm just asking....

    1. don't ever take yr guys tools......go get one of yr own, otherwise he's not gonna have the tools to fix all those other things that you want fixed.

  18. Great jenga reference. And MacGuyver? Magnafique! You just need to grow a mullet.

    The cheese looks so good (both pre-and-post smoke). Thank you for explaining cold-smoking. I've heard to references to it this week and now I know what is going on.

  19. Having no soldering iron, I used a small habachi had for warming food. I loaded four charcoal brickets into it and placed plum twigs in the can. It worked out pretty well, but I placed the cheese too near the heat, so it melted a bit. Simply placing the cheese off to the side should prevent this. Without a habachi I suppose one could use a larger can than the one that holds the twigs. Great tip, thanks

  20. Cool post. I have been smoking cheese for years with two briquettes and some wet chips. Problem is, you really have to watch the heat. This should fix that problem! Sweet! As fo the mellowing process, there is a way to speed it up a bit. Fill a spray bottle with half water and half cheap vodka. When you remove the cheese from the smoker, wear nitrile (rubber) gloves. Spray your hands and the gloves down with the vodka water to sanitize and let them air dry. Now you can handle th cheese with no fear of contamination. Prepare a dinner plate with the "sanitizer" too. Now remove the cheese from the smoker to the clean plate and cover with plastic wrap. Leave the cheese at room temperature for 24 hrs. Wrap and refrigerate. The 24 hrs on the counter at room temp allows the oils in the cheese to flow and distribute the smoky goodness throughout the cheese. This dilutes and diffuses the edgy flavor of new smoke and transfers the flavor deep into the cheese. I've done this for years, it works. By the way smoked cheese done this way will keep insanely long. Once I found an unopened block of smoked cheese in the fridge after a year. No mold, smelled awesome, tasted great. Is that weird?

  21. I just made this in under a half hour using an old iron, tonight's can from Sloppy Joes (dinner). Burned it with my MAPP Gas torch on the inside for a minute or two and then put it together. I disassembled the iron and drilled holes in the bottom of the can so I can mount the screws from the inside of the can and attached it to the iron. Loaded it with dry wood chips and after about 7 minutes I got my first wisp of smoke. I needed a cold-smoke option to finish off a slab of bacon I started in a cure a couple days ago. Superb find! A larger can and hotter iron could produce a longer burn, I'm sure there's a dozen variations on this theme. Great stuff and Thank You!

  22. This will come in handy with the smoker i am building from an old refrigerator. Need a big smoker for all the venison sausage I plan on making.

  23. here is an alternative to making a cold smoker see link below. I often add a pan of ice to the smoker while doing cheese to help keep the temp down.


Comments are moderated and won't appear immediately.