Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Eve 2017

It was a busy day here as we had a house repair that had to be done, and something we wanted to get done.  Since it's a holiday, I'll emphasize the "want to do". 

Regulars here know I'm a barbecue guy.  I currently own three smokers: two electric and one wood-fired.  For the last year, I've been using this one exclusively.  The wood-fired version, called a Char-Griller with a side box, is also capable of grilling, and can handle lots of food at once.  Something I've never done is the specialty called cold smoking.  This is the kind of smoking that used to be done with a separate smokehouse that sausages, whole hams, and other meats or fish would hang in while smoke from a separate building would be piped into the smoke house. 

Cold smoking, as the you'd think, is done with foods kept cold.  Two common examples are smoked cheeses and lox (different from regular, hot-smoked salmon), but people also add smoke flavoring to salt, crackers and other things this way.  All of the electric and wood fired smokers are hot smokers and the electric smokers typically produce smoke best when their chamber temperature is 200 or over.  A block of cheese would melt into a puddle at that temperature. 

So for Christmas, Mrs. Graybeard and I got ourselves an attachment for our electric smoker to allow us to experiment with cold smoking.  It's not apparent from the main picture at that Amazon ad that it's sized to fit right next to the digitally controlled smoker and plug right into its wood chip tray as you can see here.  Today was my day to try it out. 
That's the 30" digital smoker with the side cold smoking attachment.  (Yes, that's a Weber grill behind it.  What can I say?)  When you cold smoke cheese, my project for the first half of the day, the big electric is turned off, and the side box generates the smoke.  Since the smoke itself is going to be warm, it's common practice to put ice in the smoker under the cheese to keep it cold. 
Folks up north talk about cold smoking when the smoker is covered in snow, so I'm sure their chamber temperatures are lower than what I could get here.  With the smoke going, the temperature probe (hanging from top right) registered 65 to 70 degrees (70 F, not C).  The rule of thumb on this recipe is to smoke it for 2 hours and then let it rest for a few weeks in the refrigerator.  Many people vacuum pack the cheese or wax coat it (just kidding) and won't touch it for a year.  Since it's our first batch, we'll probably try some in a month. 
My other thing to try with the side smoker is some smoked salmon; hot-smoked, not cold-smoked lox.  This is done by brining the fish overnight before smoking it.  As you might imagine, that means soaking them in a saltwater solution.  While the cheese was in the smoker, I prepared the salmon, rinsing off the brine and then letting it dry in the room temperature air.  It went into the smoker and the electric smoker was set to a chamber temp of 100 for an hour and then 150 for another couple of hours until it finished (internal temperature of the salmon at 145).  So why not use the digital smoker itself?  While it can generate temperatures as low as 100, it won't generate smoke when the heating element is that low.  The only way to get enough smoke to flavor the salmon is to run the side smoker box to generate the smoke and just use the digital smoker as a low temperature oven. 
The three slabs of salmon fillets weighed a pound all together, and turned out great. 

I learned a bit about using the side smoker box today.  Another feature I'm hoping it can bring us is the ability to smoke long periods without as much baby sitting as the digital smoker requires.  One drawback to the digital smoker is that the chip load it can handle is small, and chips need to be replenished every 45 minutes to an hour.  The side box is supposed to be able to smoke for up six hours, which would be much more handy for a long duration smoke, like 16 hours for a Texas brisket.  To have brisket for dinner at 6PM means starting it at about midnight the night before and running the smoke until around 4 the next afternoon.  I hope to get this to work well enough to do that soon. 


  1. Looks delicious!

    Have a Happy New Year, my friend.

    I'm hanging out with the dog tonight, listening to the scanner and hearing what mischief other people are getting in to!

  2. LIVE NOW: New Year's Eve 2017 Fireworks and Celebrations From Around The World

  3. Happy New Year!
    I love smoked fish but they are hard to keep lit.
    Bada Bing

    I have an old Little Chief. Some good recipes in the manual. Here is the current manual.

    I think I have mentioned this book before but just in case...
    "How to Smoke Seafood" by Ted Dahlem
    He also wrote a book "How to Make and Mend Cast Nets". So you can catch the mullet for the smoker in the first book.

    1. I learned how to keep them lit. It's a trade secret, though. If I told you, the smoked fish mafia would get me.

      My first smoker, nearly 40 years ago, was Little Chief. Used to smoke Spanish mackerel, kings, whatever I caught. Too small for a lot of what I used to catch. I took a 25 year hiatus from fishing, though, and had forgotten lots of the details. I remembered the brine soak, but when I started looking around a couple of years ago, it was an overwhelming variety of wet brines, and dry brines. Lots of complexity. I remembered it being easy and looked up the manual online. They still have the easiest, quickest way to do it.

      I think the Little or the Big Chief is still the best thing to smoke fish. I see people using it for that all the time.

      I used to have both of those books. Come to think of it, I may still. Better take a look in some of those small places.

  4. Stupid question: Why smoke or cold smoke?
    I guess smoking imparts a flavor. I guess smoking will preserve to some extent. I have had some smoked salmon and it was OK, nothing I would walk across the street for but edible. I have had Southern/Texas barbecue and it was pretty good but I think that isn't "smoked" or if it is it is certainly cooked as well.

    1. It's primarily for the flavor.

      Most of the barbecue you'll get around the south and Texas is hot smoked, so it is cooked while it's smoked. The chamber temperature is around 225 to 250, which is quite a bit below the temperatures you'll use in an oven. I obviously don't know where you are, but pulled pork or brisket are very common barbecue meals, and they're both usually hot smoked.

      Barbecue almost never has barbecue sauce on it. It's rubbed with various seasonings, and what they sell in grocery stores as barbecue sauce is a finishing or dipping sauce. There's a wide variety, from thick, sugary, tomato based sauces common in Georgia to the Carolinas' vinegary or mustard-based sauces to Alabama's white sauce, which is mayonnaise based.

      Barbecue is low temperature and slow cooking, which is the opposite of grilling. If you tried brisket grilled instead of barbecued, you probably couldn't eat it. It's a very tough cut of meat and the "low and slow" cooking is what breaks down that toughness. Pork butts (which are actually shoulders) are the same way.

      Smoking adds flavor, but not much in the way of preservation. Preservation is why the brine process I mentioned is used.

      The most common cold smoked food that I imagine you would have tried is bacon. There are other deli meats that are slow smoked, too. Lox, smoked salmon, is cold smoked for a long time - I believe 24 hours or more.

    2. Thanks. That helps. The best barbecue I've had was in Texas but quite good and comparable in many Southern states. Best catfish I've ever had was in Georgia. Best Italian was in Boston's little Italy (La Famiglia). Best smoked Salmon was in Alaska.

      I thought smoking preserved the meat and I'm a little surprised it is the brine.

  5. My pork loin is done. And so are the black eye peas. And I have Shorty's BBQ sauce for the pork. :) don't know if the pork and black eye peas really bring good luck to Southerners on New Years Day but why take a chance.