Smoked food will always delight a crowd. Whether you plan to make hot smoked salmon in just 15 minutes for canapés, a whole side of cold-smoked salmon for Christmas breakfast, or racks of hot-smoked American-style BBQ ribs for a New Year's Eve party, there is something primal about the fireside warmth and aroma in smoked foods.
We love cooking with smoke at Sous Chef - and Sous Chef Director Nicola frequently cooks with each of the food smokers we sell. Here she runs through what you need to think about when choosing a food smoker.
When you first start out, choosing a food smoker can be overwhelming. Why do I need a smoker? What is hot vs. cold smoke? Can I cook indoors or outdoors? What do they look like? What is the difference between food smokers? Here we answer each of those questions in turn.
What is the difference between hot and cold smoking?
There are two very different types of smoking:
- Hot smoking: Hot smokers cook food at around 150°C whilst smoking it. American-style pulled pork, ribs, pastrami and brisket are hot smoked - but for a very long time, to help keep them tender as they cook. Quicker foods to hot smoke include hot-smoked mackerel, hot-smoked salmon and thinly sliced smoked duck - all of which might only take 20-30 minutes to hot smoke.
- Cold smoking: Cold smoking surrounds the food with smoke, but never lets the temperature get above 32°C. This food remains 'raw', keeping the beautiful translucence of cold-smoked salmon. This method is also perfect for cold smoking foods that would melt when heated, for example butter or cheeses. Because the food isn't cooked, meat or fish should always be cured before it is smoked. For example, brining in a salt sugar solution, sometimes even with saltpetre (to kill bacteria); or packing tightly with curing salts for a couple of days in the fridge. Often food is cold smoked for flavour and to help preserve it, and then cooked at a later date - for example bacon.
Indoors or Outdoors? Quick or Slow?
Secondly - decide whether you will smoke foods indoors, or outside in the garden. Because a smoker releases smoke, indoor smokers tend to be used for shorter periods of time than outdoor smokers, and therefore are suitable for different types of food. Luckily smoking isn't too dependent on weather, and you can get good results with outdoor smokers, even in pouring rain. We've used the ProQ Frontier Hot Smoker to BBQ ribs in a downpour, with great results, although the cook was a little bedraggled. The ProQ cold smoke generator - when used with a robust metal chamber - is also fine in the rain.
Which food smoker is for you?
As we've mentioned above, choosing a food smoker depends on a number of things - but most importantly what you want to cook. This table should provide a useful summary, before we run through each of the smokers below in turn:
INDOORS: Hot smoking with the Camerons Smoker
... and covered with a metal drip tray. Then pop a little foil onto the drip tray (if you're not a keen washer-upper), insert the rack, and sit whatever is cooking on top.
Cover with a lid...
After 20-30 minutes, you'll have a perfect piece of hot-smoked salmon for dinner. Delicious flaked over pasta, mixed with crème fraîche for a canapé or served cold with a salad. See the gorgeous deep orange outside...
... and the lovely moist pale pink interior.
Boned chicken thighs are transformed from pale and pasty to deliciously smoky, and deep orange in colour in around 30 minutes on a very low heat on the hob.
... delicious sliced and tossed together with ribboned courgettes, sliced tomatoes and salad dressing for a quick and healthy week-night dinner.
Cheeses that are best cooked, such as halloumi, also work well in the Cameron Smoker:
OUTDOORS: Hot smoking with the ProQ Frontier
When we talk about American BBQ, we mean hot smoking – or cooking ‘low ‘n’ slow’ – anywhere from 1.5 to 24 hours of cooking over a low heat, in a smoke-filled chamber. The best known classics are whole hog BBQ, pulled pork shoulder or ‘butt’, and pork ribs. It’s a style of cooking that is about making tough cuts delicious, and less about detailed prep work than enjoying beers with family and friends.
The ProQ Elite range includes the compact Ranger Elite, the Frontier Elite and its big brother, the Excel 20 Elite. These vertical smokers also double up as traditional barbecues, and their modular design makes them extremely versatile. ProQ smokers work by burning wood chips over hot coals – the hot coals provide the heat necessary to cook your food, and the wood chips produce those wonderfully smoky flavours.
The Bradley Smoker range includes the Bradley Original and Digital Bradley Smokers. These sleek smokers from Canada make home smoking as easy as switching on a slow cooker. Their clever smoke generators burn Bradley’s unique wood chip bisquettes, and have an automatic feeding system so you don’t need to constantly monitor and top up the wood chips. They also have a separate heating element – this is inside the chamber, so it acts like an oven by maintaining a constant temperature that cooks your food.
INDOORS: Cold smoking with the Sage by Heston Smoking Gun
The Sage by Heston Smoking Gun is used in restaurant kitchens around the world. The gun produces short controlled bursts of smoke for a minute or so at a time, perfect for spectacular table-side theatre. Try serving food under a smoke-filled cloche, and as the cloche is whisked away diners will enjoy a cloud of aromatic smoke. The Smoking Gun can also be used to infuse a salmon or trout fillet with flavoured smoke, or by mixologists to flavour and infuse cocktails and liqueurs. And because the smoking gun can burn almost anything - herbs, wood chips, tea leaves - there is no limit to your creativity.
OUTDOORS: Cold-smoking with the ProQ cold smoke generator or the Bradley Cold Smoking Adapter
The ProQ Cold Smoke Generator is at its best when smoking whole sides of salmon. I cure a side of salmon in the fridge for 6-10 hours, covered in herbs, salts and spices. After rinsing it is patted dry and left uncovered overnight in the fridge (this helps the smoke adhere to the fish), before it is cold smoked for 6 hours. After a further night in the fridge to let the flavours mellow, you'll have the perfect cold smoked salmon - ready to slice for breakfast. And everyone is wowed by a whole side of salmon as a party centrepiece. All the more, it is certainly the most delicious salmon we've ever eaten. And when a 1kg side of salmon is £10-£12 from a supermarket, and cold smoked salmon is anywhere from £20-£40 a kilo, it's pretty darn good value. The cold smoke generator is simply lit with a candle.
It is then placed in the base of a smoking 'chamber', which will fill with smoke. The food either hangs above the smoke generator or can sit on a rack. For the smoking chamber, choose between a specially made housing (the ProQ Eco Smoker), the base of a Weber BBQ, or any other metal housing (such as a dustbin, oil drum, etc). The ProQ Frontier Elite Smoker (usually used for hot smoking), doubles up as an excellent smoking chamber for cold smoking.
The cured salmon is then rinsed, and patted dry, ready to smoke. Just hang or place on a rack in the smoking chamber and leave for 6 hours (the cold smoke generator can generate smoke for around 10 hours before it is refilled).
The salmon is best left overnight, finely sliced and ready to eat. Salmon perfection.
You can also use the Bradley Cold Smoking Adapter to convert your existing Bradley smoker into a cold smoking chamber – use the same great Bradley bisquettes for your choice of wood smoke, and use the same easy controls on the smoke generator for fuss-free cold smoked fish, bacon, cheese and even butter in your own back garden. Simply cure your fish or bacon beforehand as outlined above, pop on a rack or hang in the smoking chamber and switch on the smoke. Because the cold smoking adapter attaches on to your existing Bradley smoke generator, you can still get up to 9 hours of consistent cold smoke.