How to Cold Smoke with a Big Chief Front Load Smoker

How to Cold Smoke with a Big Chief Front Load Smoker

Cold smoking is a technique used to add flavor and preserve food. The Big Chief Front Load Smoker is ideal for cold smoking as it is easy to use, modify, and budget-friendly. Here, we will guide you through how to use your Big Chief Front Load Smoker for cold smoking.

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Safety Notice for Cold-Smoking Meats

Cold-smoking meats require a specialized set of safety precautions. If you are cold-smoking meats, properly cure your meat before smoking and follow all food safety protocols. We only recommend cold-smoking spices, nuts, and cheese. More information can be found on the FDA website.

What You Will Need to Cold-Smoke

Before beginning the cold-smoking process, ensure you have all the necessary supplies. This includes:

Big Chief Front Load Smoker

-Smoke generator or smoke pellet tray

-Wood pellets or wood chips

The Big Chief Front Load Smoker is an electric smoker that operates on 120 volts and uses 500 watts. It’s small enough to fit in most spaces but large enough to smoke up a large amount of food, like a 40-pound salmon.

You can add a smoke generator to the Big Chief Front Load Smoker to produce the smoke needed for cold smoking. Typically, you will drill a small hole in the side of the smoker’s body as per the instructions. Also, a smoke pellet tray can work well, but you will need to watch the heat if you place it inside the smoker.

Pellets will be required to run the smoke generator and most smoke trays. Some smoke trays will work with woodchips or coarse sawdust, but the pellets tend to be more consistent. Always use food-safe wood such as hardwood, fruit wood, or nut wood for safety.

Of course, you will need your food of choice and a recipe to achieve your goal. We have plenty of articles and videos to help you with how-to recipes, and cheese is a personal favorite.

Assembling the Big Chief Front Load Smoker

Once you have all the supplies, unbox and assemble your Big Chief Front Load Smoker per the instructions included. The setup process is very short and should only take you ten minutes.

If you have chosen the cold smoke generator, the directions will instruct you to drill holes in the side of your smoker and install a mounting bracket. Another option is to purchase a 24-inch long tube to direct the smoke into the chamber.

Extra assembly will not be necessary if you have elected to use a smoke pellet tray. However, you will want to switch the bottom rack and the drip tray pan to provide a good place to put the pellet tray.

Finally, when setting up a smoker, always consider a fire-safe location. I prefer smoking in a driveway, stone patio, or even a bbq fire-safe matt even when cold-smoking.

Generating Smoke Without Heat

When cold smoking, heat is always the biggest concern. The Big Chief Front Load Smoker will run around 165 degrees when you use its element for smoking. That temperature is great for jerky or fish like rainbow trout but would melt cheese within an hour.

Smoke Generator

Smoke Generator

The most reliable way to introduce cold smoke to a smoker, or grill, is with a smoke generator and a long pipe. A Smokehouse Products smoke generator is simple to use.

Start by ensuring the device is free of debris like ashes or unburned pellets. Fill the smoke generator to half of the pellet capacity because they do not work well when overfilled. Turn on the smoke generator and wait two or three minutes for the smoke to pump out.

Fill the smoke generator to half

Carefully position the smoke generator, so the smoke fills your smoker. I prefer to use an aluminum tube that is 24 inches long to route the smoke directly to the bottom center of the smoker.

Using the tube to insert the smoke in the middle of the smoker provides more even smoking. Also, the tube will dissipate heat, guaranteeing a nice cold smoke. Finally, using a tube allows for avoiding drilling holes or mounting anything to the smoker, and the tube can be inserted through the chip pan handle hole.

A smoke generator will require a lot of attention for a long smoke. Every 15 minutes, check that it is pumping out smoke; the pellets tend to burn on the igniter side. Typically, a twist of the knob on top will even out the pellets and restart the smoke.

When the pellets are burnt up, you will need to add more. Always turn off the smoke generator before opening it. Again, only add half the maximum capacity to avoid overloading the smoke generator.

Smoke Pellet Tray or Tube

Smoke Pellet Tray or Tube

Over a long smoke, a pellet tray or pellet tube can be a better option, and this is my go-to choice. The main reason I prefer a pellet tray is the eight-hour smoke production. The only downside is the heat the smoke pellet trays generate. Also, you need to have a good oxygen source, or the tray will stop smoking.

A pellet tray is simple to use. First, fill the tray with the desired amount of pellets, about 2/3 for most six-hour smokes. When unsure, overfill the tray when you have time to check on your food and underfill it if you are going to set it and forget it.

small piece of haystack fire starter

A blow torch or brulee torch is an excellent way to light the smoke tray, but a small piece of haystack fire starter also works well. The tray has a small hole in the side to light with the torch or to light the haystack lighter.

brulee torch is an excellent way to light the smoke tray

Let the pellet tray burn for 15 to 20 minutes, so it is going well before placing it in the smoker. Place the smoking tray as low as possible in the smoker without placing it on a flat surface and near the wood chip door to provide oxygen.

smoking tray as low as possible

Above the pellet tray you will need something to even out the heat, the drip pan tray will work well, or a sheet of tin foil. Some people like to add ice pans or ice blocks to their smokers to reduce the temperature.

I prefer to start my smoker late at night to take advantage of the cool air when I use a smoke pellet tray. Keep in mind overnight smoking falls under the “underload the pellet tray” rule. It is better to have mild-smoked food than bitter-smoked food.

Tips and Tricks for Cold Smoke With a Big Chief Front Load Smoker

Start your smoke ahead – Start your smoke ahead of time so you can monitor your performance before adding food. Sometimes relighting the pellet tray may be required, or clearing a clogged tube.

Wood choiceChoose a wood pellet that is on the stronger side. Cold-smoking food requires a slightly stronger wood than hot smoking.

Dry pellets or wood – Wet wood or pellets will not burn properly and will create steam before creating smoke. Store your wood products indoors; if needed, you can dry your wood in an oven under 450 degrees F. If pellets get wet, they will expand and need to be disposed of.

Airflow – Ensure the Big Chief smoker is sealed correctly, but don’t block the vent so fresh smoke will flow freely through the chamber. The Big Chief Smoker has the perfect amount of exit vents for any type of smoking.

Heat control

Heat control – The key to cold smoking is controlling the heat. You want to maintain a temperature as low as possible. The ideal temperature for cheese and most seasonings is between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Monitor the Smoke – Keep an eye on how much smoke your Big Chief is generating and how consistent it is. If the smoke slows or thins out, you might have a jam in the smoke generator of your smoke pellet tray may have gone out.

Keep the lid closed – This will help ensure you get a good smoke flavor into your food. If you open and close the smoker frequently, the smoke will escape reducing the smoky flavor and increasing the overall smoke time.

Check your food – It is essential to check on your food periodically, especially the first time you cold-smoke with the Big Chief Front Load Smoker. Without opening the smoker too often, you should check on your food at the halfway mark and a few times near the end of the smoking process.

Clean your smoker – cold smoking will not kill bacteria, making it essential to keep your smoker clean. Focus on cleaning loose debris, the inner top, and food racks. Also, consider running a hot smoke after each cold smoke to reseason and dry out any moisture from the smoking chamber.


Cold smoking with a Big Chief Front Load Smoker is easy to do. With a bit of practice, you can make delicious smoked food. Just remember to keep the temperature low, monitor how much smoke comes out, and ensure your smoker is clean and sealed tight.

Also, when doing meats, like fish, always start with fully cured meat to ensure a safe final product. If you follow these tips and tricks, your smoked food will always be a success! Enjoy!

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[…] The only downside to taking this smoker on the go is the need for electricity. However, the element is only 450 watts, so a 600-watt generator will easily power your Big Chief or you can use it as a cold smoke generator. […]

How to Cold Smoke Cheese - Pioneer Smoke House - February 19, 2023

[…] Use a smoke thermometer to keep the temperature of your grill at a constant, low. The smoker’s temperature should be kept well below 90˚F. […]

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