Home Smoking: Choosing A Food Smoker

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.

Camerons Gourmet Mini Smoker 7" x 11"

The Cameron Gourmet Mini Smoker, Cameron Gourmet Smoker and ProQ Frontier Elite are hot smokers. 


ProQ Cold Smoke Generator

The Sage by Heston Smoking GunProQ cold smoke generator and Bradley Smoker Cold Smoking Adaptor are cold smokers.


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 best?

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:

 

What is the best indoor hot smoker?


Camerons Gourmet Mini Smoker 7" x 11"

The two-person version of the Camerons stovetop smoker - perfect for smoking a couple of fillets of salmon (see photos below), four boned chicken thighs, one large duck breast, or a couple of medium steaks.


Camerons Stovetop Smoker 11" x 15"

    The original stovetop smoker! It'll take a side of salmon, a couple of whole trout, and even fit in your dishwasher afterwards for an extra easy clean.


    See the Camerons indoor hot smokers in use

    Both the smaller Camerons Gourmet Mini Smoker and the larger Cameron Stovetop Smoker will sit on any type of hob indoors, or can be used outdoors on a BBQ. These images show the Camerons Gourmet Mini Smoker.

    Wood chips are placed in the base...

     ... 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:

    Buy the Cameron Gourmet Mini Smoker - perfect for 2-3 people or for kitchens with not much storage space. Or choose the Camerons Stovetop Smoker, which is twice the size.


    How do I choose an outdoor hot smoker?

    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 range includes the compact ProQ Ranger Elite, the ProQ Frontier Elite and its big brother, the ProQ 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.

    The latest Bradley Smart Smoker gives you the ultimate control, as you can set the temperature and cooking times on your mobile phone!

    See more about cooking with a hot smoker in our articles 10 Top Tips from the Experts for American BBQ and Hot Smoking: Getting Started With American BBQ


    What is the best outdoor hot smoker? 


    ProQ Ranger Elite BBQ Smoker

    The ProQ Ranger Elite is the smallest in the ProQ family of hot smokers. It's the perfect size for getting started with smoking outdoors, and is great for a family of four with a small back garden.  


    ProQ Frontier Elite 3in1 BBQ Smoker

    The ProQ Frontier Elite is the most popular BBQ smoker that we sell. It's a good size for cooking for a family, but also is large enough to host parties for 10-20 people, serving slow-cooked ribs. 


    ProQ Excel 20 Elite BBQ Smoker

    The ProQ Excel 20 Elite is the daddy in the ProQ range - it can cook a staggering 65 lbs of meat, and is the choice for BBQ Competition enthusiasts. With its red PVC detailing it's a beauty in any backyard.


    Original Bradley Smoker

    If you are a fan of hot-smoked flavours, but don't want to be lighting fires, or arranging coals, then the Original Bradley Smoker is for you. Developed in Canada by game hunters and fishermen, this is an outdoor oven, with a special system to dispense wooden pellets that smoulder to bring consistent and repeatable smoky flavours to your food.


    Bradley Digital Smoker 4 Rack

    This is just the same size as the Original Bradley Smoker, but higher tech. You can set the time and temperature using a digital display rather than a dial.


    Bradley Digital Smoker 6 Rack

    More suited to restaurant use - and a favourite with many restarateurs including Mark Hix - this is the largest in the Bradley smoker family. As with the Digital 4-Rack Smoker, you can set the time and temperature using the digital display.


    Bradley Smart Smoker

    Traditional smoking techniques meet the online age with this impressive new release from Bradley Smokers. You can monitor and control your smoking progress directly from your iPhone. 


    Read more about choosing the right size of smoker for you in our article "What size smoker do I need?".

      What is the best indoor cold smoker?


      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.


      How do I use an outdoor cold smoker?

      My favourite use for a cold smoker is for making smoked salmon - a huge treat throughout Autumn and Winter, and a real showstopper on a Boxing Day platter.

      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.

      The ProQ Cold Smoke Generator in Action

      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.


      What is the best outdoor cold smoker?


      ProQ Cold Smoke Generator

      The ProQ Cold Smoke Generator - pictured in action above - is at its best when smoking whole sides of salmon. But you can also use it to smoke butter, cheese, eggs, bacon, vegetables and even garlic.


      ProQ Artisan Cold Smoke Generator

      If you're smoking for more people, the larger ProQ Artisan Cold Smoke Generator is better for larger smoking chambers. It works beautifully inside the ProQ Excel 20 Elite, using that smoker bbq as the cold smoking chamber. 

      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. 


      Bradley Smoker Cold Smoking Adaptor

      Alternatively you can 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.


      Buy the ProQ Cold Smoke Generator and the ProQ Eco Smoker cold-smoking chamber, or the Bradley Cold Smoking Adapter now.


      See the full range of Food Smokers & BBQ cookware, sets and accessories here. Or read all our BBQ how-to guides, recipes and top tips on the Bureau of Taste blog here



      19 comments

      • Thanx for your reply~!

        Deb Graner on

      • Kippers are not hot smoked which is why they must be cooked prior to eating. Arbroath smokies which are mackerel rather than herring are hot smoked which is why they look a bit like shoe leather and should be borne in mind when reheating for serving. At a Borders hotel we were served smokies cooked like they were kippers for breakfast and they were indeed like shoe leather.

        I have warmed smokies at home as well as cold flaking them for salads many times at home. Despite having eaten Samoan raw fish I would not do that with an uncooked kipper which again I have cooked many of, both whole and filleted.

        Peter on

      • Arbroath Smokies are actually haddock not mackerel. Both are of course excellent smoked though!

        Keith on

      • I’m not familiar with kippered salmon – but I guess it would be hot smoked, similar to kippers. I’m afraid we don’t currently ship outside Europe. Apologies for that.

        nicola on

      • Are you familiar with kippered salmon? I have tried to research it, but am not certain if it’s hot or cold smoked. We have it shipped to kentucky from delis on the east coast of the US & it is of course expensive to ship.
        How much are your smokers in dollars, please?

        Deb Graner on

      • Both the ProQ cold smoker and the Polyscience Smoking Gun cold smoke foods. The Polyscience Smoking Gun is hand-held, and designed for use indoors. It gives out shorter bursts of smoke, that can be precisely directed using the nozzle. For example you can direct smoke into a plastic bag with trout fillets, seal, and leave them in fridge for 30 mins before cooking for a delicate smoky edge. Or you can use the Smoking Gun to fill cocktail glasses with smoke and turn them upside down to hold the flavour, before righting them and mixing a cocktail – for example a smoke infused old-fashioned. Similarly it is great at the table to wow guests – fill a cloche with smoke over a dish, for a guest to lift and inhale the aromas.

        The ProQ cold smoke generator should be used outdoors, and for much longer smoking periods, and hence a more intense flavour – and for larger pieces of food. Although it can cold-smoke cheeses in 15 mins or so, you would leave a whole side of salmon for 6 hours, home-cured chorizo for 10 hours or more, and a large piece of venison for days.

        I’d say the Polyscience Smoking Gun is for the experimental gastronomic chef or mixologist; the ProQ cold smoke generator is more of an artisanal tool, to be used alongside other crafts such as salting, curing & charcuterie. However, both can be used together to great ends. Many restaurants will smoke e.g. salmon or meat using the ProQ, and then using the Polyscience Smoking Gun in the kitchen during service to fill a cloche with smoke, for tableside theatre.

        Hope that helps!

        nicola on

      • What about the hand-held smoker you have? How would that fit into the purchasing decision of an occasional smoker like me? I’m looking to do some home cold smoking and am not sure what would work best.

        Alex on

      • Yes! Someone told me pickled onions are delicious in a smoker – although you’d need to dry the outsides first. We’ve smoked cheddar cheese and stilton – short periods of time can be great for those, perhaps only 30-60 minutes for a light aroma. I hear nuts are also good, although I haven’t tried. Just put a few in, and see how you enjoy them after 1,2,3,5,10 hours! Let me know.

        nicola on

      • Could you cold smoke products such as nuts as well as meat and fish?

        How long do you generally need to smoke food for?

        Thanks!

        Georgia on

      • hi keith you wont go wrong with the cold smoke generator clever bit of kit just keep an eye on temperature as anything above 20C will start say melting cheese or in the bacteria range for meat fish. it will generate about 5C above ambient temperature

        graham on

      • Smoked foods and fish in particular are wonderful things to eat. I’m hoping to build a small ( and I mean very small) brick built smokehouse in my tiny city garden early next year and I should think the Pro Q Cold Smoke Generator will be most suited.
        Sorry Peter, but to put the record straight Arbroath Smokies are not smoked Mackerel. Smoked Mackerel are Smoked Mackerel.
        Arbroath Smokies are salt cured and hot smoked whole split Haddock and delicious eaten straight out the bag.
        I also looking forward to cold smoking my home cured bacon.
        Enjoy your smoked foods this Christmas folks however you come by it….

        Keith Jager on

      • The Cameron hot smoker cooks food whilst it smokes, so you don’t need to brine / salt any food before using it as long as you make sure the food is cooked through before eating. This is unlike cold smoking, where the salt is important in preserving the food. We usually hot smoke salmon and trout in the Cameron smoker without brining it first. We’ve also hot smoked ribs without brining, but instead using a salt/sugar based BBQ rub for flavour. It you enjoyed the firm texture and saltiness of the salmon after brining, perhaps just reduce the quantity of sugar used?

        The question of whether you should brine meat more generally before cooking is a far broader topic – it can improve both flavour and texture, whether for BBQ, frying or roasting. The Modernist Cuisine or Food52 websites should have more information.

        nicola on

      • Used the Cameron stovetop smoker yesterday for salmon and although I was very impressed with the flavour and texture I was wondering if there is an alternative to sugar/salt brine that I used as I found the salmon was a bit too sweet. I did kind of forgot it in the brine for almost more than a day :/ Also, would one use a brine for barbecue ribs? If the meat reacts like the salmon did nit sure if there will be any left for the cooking :)

        Maria on

      • Ones with a funnel on the top may well encourage birds / pests in depending on where you’re doing the smoking! I’d be more confident with a use a normal metal bin with a few holes drilled in the sides near the top, or with the the lid wedged ajar. Either way, you will still probably need to drill some holes near the base as well to help the air flow.

        nicola on

      • Amazing, did my first smoked salmon with the dustbin as Nicola recommended above and made blinis with red caviar with champagne, heaven forbid, it was so delicious far better than what you get in posh hotels. Anyone who attempts this, do try this as it is so simple apart from using the wife’s tweezers to take out bones that she went ballistic!!

        Bryn Williams on

      • As you mentioned using dustbin for smoking, what sort of dustbin are you referring to, normal one or the ones with a funnel on top to let the excess smoke out?

        Bryn Williams on

      • You just need one of these to pop in your dustbin (plus a box of matches) and you’re good to go! It comes with some chips too http://www.souschef.co.uk/proq-cold-smoke-generator.html

        nicola on

      • I want to give my husband for Xmas the basics for smoking stuff – meats, fish cheeses, bacon etc – in the garden. I dont want to spend more than £50. I can buy a dustbin locally but need to buy the smoking kit on-line in time for the festives.Give me a list and I’ll get it! Thanx JJ.

        julia southan on

      • l andoved reading all the info very informative . ive just come home with load of mackerel and nice medium size pollock .Two hours from swimming in the sea to lying freezing in my freezer ready for use .

        Donald Morrison on

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