Smoking is a cooking process of flavouring, preserving or cooking food by allowing smoke from smouldering, burning materials such as wood to penetrate it. Different cultures and cuisines use different types of wood. The North Americans use a variety of oak, pecan, alder, maple, mesquite and hickory. However, fruitwood trees are also used, these can include cherry, plum and apple. It depends on the food that is being smoked.
In Europe, it is traditional to use alder however oak and beech are both used. The Chinese have used tea smoking for centuries. Some other interesting types of smoking fuel include sawdust from manuka in New Zealand, corn cobs in North America, peat to make Scotch whiskey and dried sheep’s poo in Iceland to cold-smoke lamb, fish, whale and mutton.
In the past farms would have a small structure called the “smokehouse”, this is where foodstuff could be smoked and then stored in a temperature and smoke-controlled location. Smoking is now done in backyards and factories around the world.
There are four ways in which smoking can be achieved; hot smoking, cold smoking, warm smoking and liquid smoke. All are used to either add flavour or increase shelf life. These methods will be discussed in detail below
Cold smoking uses smoke from wood at an ultra-low heat (from 12–22°C) to flavour and preserve it rather than cook it. Traditionally cold smoking is done in a smoker, it usually has a separate vessel for producing the smoke.
This method does take great precision as the meat does need to sit for an extended period without heat to kill off any bacteria. The food also must be salted, fermented or cured before the smoking process to ensure all moisture is removed, this prevents bacteria to thrive. Cold smoked salmon is a great example of using cold smoke to preserve food.
Although not used very often warm smoking exposes foods to smoke temperatures of 26–41 °C (77–104 °F). This is only used for a very small number of recipes.
Hot smoking is a method of cooking in which food is exposed to heat and smoke in a controlled setting. The temperature at which hot smoking happens is between 52 to 80 °C (126 to 176 °F). When food is cooked within this temperature it produces food that is moist, flavourful and bacteria is cooked off. If the temperature gets above 185 °F (85 °C), you will find that the foods will shrink considerably. You will find that smoking does reduce your yield as both the fat and moisture is cooked off. If you’re looking for a wood that it adds delicious flavour and moisture to your food try applewood.
Food that is hot smoked is safe to be eaten straight away, you can also reheat it or further cook it. Some examples of food that is smoked that can be eaten without further heating is ham hock and ham on the bone.
Liquid smoke can be artificially or naturally produced. It was originally invented by Everest H Wright who discovered it as an adolescent. He saw black liquid dripping from pipes, he realised this occurred when cold air came into contact with smoke. After some experimentation, he found that if he condensed hot smoke from a roaring fire a liquid that was smoke flavoured would be formed. This liquid can be used to flavour any meat or vegetable and can be very handy if you don’t have time to smoke.
Smoke roasting is a process in which the features of both roasting and smoking are used. This method of cooking is also something referred to as pit roasting, pit baking or barbecuing. There are multiple ways this method can be achieved, using a closed wood fire oven, barbecue pit, smoker or smoke roast that can reach at least 121 °C (250 °F). An oven can also be used by placing a small pan of hardwood chips in the bottom of the oven, these chips will eventually smoulder and create a smoke bath.