There are few things more delicious than a prime piece of smoked meat or a side of smoked vegetables, but did you know that not all smoking is the same? Cold smoking and hot smoking are equally popular, but sometimes, it’s best to opt for one method over the other. Below, we break down what you need to know about cold smoke and hot smoke, and the advantages and disadvantages around a cold smoker vs hot smoker.
Note: most links in this article are Amazon.com Affiliate links, see Affiliate Disclosure, thank you.
What is cold smoking?
Cold smoking is a means of adding flavor to your food without cooking it through. The food is cooked at a low temperature over wood smoke to impart a rich, deep flavor. You can cold smoke at home by setting up a cold smoker, which is basically a small, food-filled chamber through which you pump in smoke.
Advantages of cold smoke
The great thing about a cold smoker is that you can develop the food’s flavor without over-cooking it. This makes the process especially suited to foods you don’t need to cook, such as cheese and vegetables.
Cold smoke can also be used to preserve food, the way our ancestors did – try it for yourself, and you’ll discover that there’s something beautifully primal about the whole cold smoke process.
When you cold smoke food, you can store it and cook it off later, so you can smoke batches of meat rather than a single cut.
Disadvantages of cold smoke
Since cold-smoking food doesn’t cook it, you need to cook the meat or the fish later to avoid food poisoning. Moreover, although cold smoking food improves the flavor and adds a beautiful aroma to it, the process can sometimes dry the meat out, and so you need to cure it fully with salt first.
Another issue is that cold smoking takes a long time. The process can take days, rather than hours. If you’re cooking a family BBQ in a hurry, cold-smoked food may not be on the menu.
Finally, working a cold smoker is harder to master than a hot smoker, and so it takes longer to learn the process. This shouldn’t put you off, though – cold smoked food is utterly delicious.
We do not recommend that you cold smoke meat but if you plan on doing so here is a link to the FDA Cold Smoking Fish PDF.
Click here to check out our article on How to cold smoke cheese with a Masterbuilt smoker.
What is hot smoking?
With hot smoking, you cook the food and impart flavor all at the same time. So, essentially, you’re cooking the food in a smoky environment, albeit you’re still cooking it slower than you would on, for example, a traditional grill. At home, you can use a stove-top smoker or BBQ smoker too hot smoke food. Just like cold smoking, hot smoking gives food a phenomenally rich, intense flavor.
Advantages of hot smoke
What’s great about hot smoke is that the food shouldn’t need any further cooking once you’re done. It’s a more convenient way to cook meats, especially when you’re cooking for a large group of people at a BBQ. It’s also nice and easy to cut.
Furthermore, you don’t need to fully cure the food with salt before cooking. It’s also less likely to dry out because you’re not cooking it for so long.
If you’re new to smoking food, hot smoking is definitely easier to learn.
Disadvantages of hot smoke
The main issue with hot smoke, or using a hot smoker, is that you need to keep a close eye on the cooking food, and it can be a time-consuming process.
Because you’re cooking with smoke, there’s a risk that you’ll lose some of the food’s nutrients. This is less likely during cold smoking because the food isn’t exposed to such high temperatures.
Moreover, because it’s a much faster process than cold smoking, there’s a greater risk that you’ll contaminate the flavoring and lose some of that distinctive smoky taste and aroma.
Click here to check out our article How to Smoke a Brisket in a Masterbuilt Smoker.
There’s no doubt that smoking food makes it taste and smell better, but getting it right is a skill on its own. The great news is that you can get started on food smoking at home without investing in too much fancy equipment, and you can experiment with different wood types to create unique flavors. However you choose to smoke your food, here’s another tip – you can add even more depth and flavor by seasoning it with spices, herbs, and sugar before smoking.
Click here to check out our article Ten top dry rubs for smoking beef.