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Top Chef 101: What's the Difference Between Cold and Hot Smoking

What's the Difference Between Cold and Hot Smoking?
That rich mahogany color of smoked meat is quite a sight for connoisseurs and famished bellies. We unearth the difference between cold and hot smoking, a topic that intrigues food fanatics all across the world.
Sai Kardile
Last Updated: Apr 20, 2018
The art of smoking meat has a primeval touch to it. The open fire hearth in ancient huts provided copious smoke and heat, which the ancient man used for smoking of fish and meat.
You can't really enter the ring to settle the 'cold smoking vs. hot smoking' battle as both are equally popular and are used for different purposes. Firstly, through cold smoking, you are subjecting the meat to smoke to impart it a flavor, whereas with hot smoking, you are flavoring as well as cooking the meat simultaneously.

There's a certain reminiscent feeling about smoked meat. All those spur-of-the-moment backyard barbecue parties with loads of cousins, neighbors and friends, watching your father maneuver the meat with awe and devouring on roast pork chops! Heavenly and simply fun. Now is your time to shine and show your culinary expertise, so focus.

Smokers around the world make use of two popular techniques of smoking―hot smoking and cold smoking―to infuse tasty flavors to fish, meats, vegetables, cheese, beer, etc. Overzealous gourmets are smoking everything and anything they can put their hands on! Find out more about these smoking techniques below.
Cold Smoking Hot Smoking
Before putting the desired meat for smoking, air drying it is a requisite. This allows the meat to develop an adhesive skin or pellicle that helps to trap smoke, and hence, its flavor. Cold smoking technique requires patience and proficiency, an art similar to that of artisan cheese or winemaking. When a meat is treated to cold smoking, it is kept in a separate and unheated chamber and subjected to thin smoke through an external source so that the smoke suffuses the meat. Same goes for hot smoking, it is first let to develop pellicle and kept in the hot smoker. In this technique, the smoke generated from the aromatic woods, charcoal, gases, etc., easily permeates the meat as they are kept in direct contact with each other, unlike cold smoking. Since, the meat is subjected to direct heat, it naturally gets cooked.
It takes place in low temperatures, ideally between 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). It happens in the temperature range of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (73 degrees Celsius) to 185 degrees Fahrenheit (85 degrees Celsius).
Caveat: This temperature range is conducive to the growth of bacteria, hence the meat must be cured with sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite before subjecting it to cold smoking. However, experts around the world believe the temperature range between 275 degrees Fahrenheit (135 degrees Celsius) to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (149 degrees Celsius) to be most favorable (natural casings prevent loss of inner juices, making the meat meltingly tender and succulent).
It is a long process and can take place for several hours, days, weeks, and in some cases, even months. It is a faster smoking technique and can take between 1.5 hours to 3.5 hours, depending on the type of meat.
Common Items
Bacon, ham, salami or lox, summer sausage, smoked cheese, beef jerky, smoked sausage, etc., are prepared using cold smoking technique. Chicken, turkey leg, beef brisket, pork loins, pork butt (sliced and pulled), spare ribs, smoked corn, meat loaf, smoked potatoes, etc., are made using hot smoking technique.
Salmon can be treated to both cold and hot smoking techniques. While there are aficionados of both, cold smoked salmon is a lot juicier, dark pink, and soft, whereas hot smoked salmon is crispy, flaky, and light pink.
Things to Remember
Its prime purpose is to preserve the meat by removing its moisture, it still has a shelf life, and hence, needs to be refrigerated until it is used. Meats are mostly marinated and seasoned with honey, sugar, spices, etc., before hot smoking them to lend them flavor and aroma to the max and are usually consumed right off the bat. Think of summer!
Smoking requires right kind of wood as it greatly redounds to its texture, flavor, and aroma. Maple gives an ethereal and sweet taste to the meat and works well with other woods like apple and oak. Apple works best for ham and fish, and the smoke lends a mild and fruity taste to the meat. Hickory is known for its strong and pungent taste and produces a heavenly gustatory experience with red meat and ribs. Other commonly used wood for smoking are oak, cherry, alder, pecan, and mesquite.