Smoking Guide: How to Cold Smoke Food

cold smoked meat and cheese platter
To cold smoke food, the meat must first undergo the curing process to remove moisture and prevent microbial growth. Cold smoking is smoking food at a low temperature below 85°F (30°C) for several hours or days, depending on what you wish to smoke. It is a great way to add flavor and preserve food for an extended time.

If you’ve smoked beef brisket, pork ribs, or chicken, then you’re already familiar with hot smoking, which is smoking food between 225°F and 275°F over the course of several hours. Most hot smoked food is eaten immediately.

The cold smoking technique is used to preserve food with the hope of extending its shelf life while improving the taste and quality of food by infusing it with a unique smoky flavor. Unlike hot smoking, cold smoking does not cook food.

What is Cold Smoking?

Cold smoking is a method of smoking food without cooking it. This is typically done at low temperatures below 85°F (30°C).

Cold smoking is a fantastic way to add a unique smoke flavor to your food. It helps to preserve food using smoke. This typically requires a minimal amount of heat. The smoke comes from a different smoking chamber similar to traditional smokehouses.

Since this cooking method does not cook the food, it’s essential to brine or cure it to prevent decay. This is particularly important if you want to store the food for an extended period. 

Some foods like lox can also be cold smoked, but they have a distinguishable salty flavor because of the brining the food undergoes before being cold smoked.

The cold-smoking process is about infusing flavor into the food and extending its shelf life. 

This process requires specialized equipment, knowledge, and patience. Cold smoking takes time, but when correctly done, it’s worth the wait.

What Equipment Do You Need for Cold Smoking?

The first equipment you’ll need to cold-smoke food is a cold smoker like a Bradley smoker with a cold-smoking attachment, which is fully programmable and offers temperature control abilities. You can also transform a regular pellet grill or electric smoker into a DIY cold smoker using a cold smoke generator.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a pellet smoker or an offset smoker. As long as the machine can generate heat and smoke, you can use it to cold-smoke food.

No matter which device you pick, cold smoking requires a grill with sufficient airflow to ensure the smoke is constantly circulating without increasing the temperature.

Besides a smoker, you also will need a thermometer, a heat gun, and butcher paper. You’ll also require a smoke tube for loading with wood pellets to produce smoke and a fuel source. Choose only hardwoods since softwoods would infuse a flavor not ideal for most foods.

How to Cold Smoke Food?

To use a cold smoker or a cold smoke generator alongside a smoker not built for cold smoking, follow these directions: 

  • Pick a cold day: Cold weather will help you maintain low temperatures during the smoking process. 
  • Clean your grill: Clean and heat the grill to 350°F for around 15 minutes. Then allow it to cool completely. 
  • Set up the smoke generator: Follow the manufacturer’s directions and install it on your cooker. If you’re using a smoker tube, load it with wood pellets and put it inside. 
  • Install the vents in the firebox: These are designed to regulate airflow. Over time, you’ll be able to achieve the right airflow to help maintain low heat with full smoke. 
  • Let the food come to room temperature. Allowing the food to come to room temperature reduces the time it takes to cold smoke.
  • Place your food inside: Once your smoker is ready, place the food inside to begin the cold-smoking process.
  • Make sure to use two thermometers: One is for your smoking device and the other one for food to ensure both are at the correct temperature.
  • Remove the food from the smoker once it is ready: Remember you’re not cooking your food. Follow your recipe closely if you’re a beginner and do not significantly adjust the smoking time or temperature.

What Types of Food Can You Cold Smoke?

Not all types of food are ideal for cold smoking. Cold smoking any kind of food can be dangerous since bacteria can rapidly grow on food that has not been properly cooked. That’s why meat and meat products should be cured before smoking. 

Apart from cold-smoking meat, several other foods are suitable for cold smoking. 

Here are some low-risk foods you can cold smoke to add an incredible smoky flavor to them and increase their shelf life: 

  • Cold smoked meat: Allow between 1 to 30 days to cold smoke various cured meats.
  • Cold-smoked cheese: You can achieve delicious cold-smoked cheese in 2 to 4 hours. Wrap the smoked cheese in plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge after smoking. This will give the flavors time to develop.
  • Cold-smoked salmon: Cold-smoking salmon takes about 6 to 24 hours.
  • Cold-smoked salt: Layer any salt on a pan lined with butcher paper and put in the cold smoker for 30-40 minutes for enhanced flavor.
  • Cold-smoked nuts: You can cold-smoke any kind of nuts. Simply rub them in butter or oil before cold smoking them for two hours.
  • Cold-smoked bacon: Bacon is usually cured before cold smoking to lower the risk of bacteria and then left in the cold smoker for 2 to 3 weeks.

Always ensure that fish, poultry, and any meat products are cured before cold smoked to lower the risk of bacteria growth and parasites. Fish products like salmon can be a source of food botulism, so be sure to cure the meat before cold smoking it.

Time Chart Guide for Cold Smoking

The time it will take to cold smoke various foods will vary depending on the kind of food you’re smoking.

Here’s a guideline for the amount of time it will take to cold smoke different types of foods:

ProductCold Smoking Time
Bacon2 to 3 weeks
Cheese2 to 4 hours
Nuts2 hours
Salmon6 to 24 hours
Salt30-40 minutes
Sausages2 to 3 hours
Veggies15 mins to 4 hours

Cold smoking takes time, so it requires patience. Cold smoking takes so long because there’s no cooking involved. It’s all about drying out the food slowly.

Benefits of Cold Smoking

The best part about the cold-smoking method is that you can achieve wonderful smoky flavor over a prolonged period without heating or cooking the food.

  • Cold smoking enhances the flavor of your food and infuses a fantastic aroma into it.
  • It helps preserve the fat on various meat products, thereby increasing their shelf life.
  • You can cold smoke any food and then cook it later.
  • Curing food before cold smoking also helps keep the food for an extended period without refrigeration.

Cold Smoking vs Hot Smoking

The difference between cold and hot smoking is that cold smoking requires low temperatures while hot smoking uses high temperatures. Cold smoking helps to preserve food while hot smoking heats and cooks it.  

You must maintain low temperatures below 90 degrees Fahrenheit when cold-smoking food. Meat and meat products must be cured before smoking, which can take several days. 

When hot smoking food, the temperatures can be between 190°F and 300°F. Hot smoking cooks and smokes food at the same time.

Cold smoking is riskier than hot smoking. The risk of food botulism in cold smoking is high because of a lack of oxygen. 

Before cold-smoking meat, curing is necessary. Conversely, you can hot-smoke meat without curing it first.

Best Wood Chips for Cold Smoking

Cold smoking infuses great BBQ smoke flavor into food. Therefore, the best wood chips for cold smoking are milder varieties, so they don’t overpower the flavor of the food being smoked.

  • Cherry wood and apple wood infuse mild, fruity smoke flavor into the food. 
  • Maple imparts a mild, sweet flavor while alder has a subtle sweet flavor.
  • Hickory imparts a sweet yet strong smoke flavor that’s more intense than apple wood and cherry wood, but milder than mesquite. 

What is the Danger Zone and How to Avoid It?

Since foods are kept in the temperature danger zone (40-140°F), bacterial growth can occur while cold-smoking. For that reason, cold smoking is suitable for only those meats that have been cured or salted. 

Cold smoking requires preparation, precision, and patience. If you want to try cold smoking, here are a few safety tips to keep in mind: 

  • Follow expert advice and recipes accordingly. 
  • Buy high-quality meat or meat products.
  • Always cure the meat before cold smoking it.
  • Cold smoking should be done at temperatures below 85°F, so consider cold smoking food when the ambient temperature is low.
  • Use cold smoking alongside other cooking methods because cold smoking doesn’t cook food.

How to Store Cold Smoked Food

Cold smoked food can be kept in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks.

You can also freeze it for up to 3 months. For the best results, freeze your cold smoked food in an air-tight container, or use plastic wrap to avoid dryness. 

Do not store cold-smoked meat with raw meat products. 


At heart, Patrick is a passionate cook, adventurous eater, recipe writer, and bargain hunter. He aims to provide creative ideas on how to how to cook amazing food with everyday ingredients in a hassle-free manner.When not writing or standing over a grill, Patrick enjoys traveling and exploring nature in all its beauty.

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