Cold Smoking Vs. Hot Smoking: What Are The Major Differences?

Nick Durante
by Nick Durante

Smoked meats, seafood, vegetables, and even cheese are staples of barbecue and cuisine in general. Enthusiasts have split down the middle when it comes to the best way to smoke meats, especially when it comes to temperature. So, what is better: cold smoking or hot smoking?

Hot smoking has fewer health risks than cold smoking because the higher temperatures eliminate certain bacteria. Cold smoking is safe if you sanitize the food and keep the temperature between 68 and 86 degrees. The main risk of cold-smoking food is that the temperature isn’t high enough to eliminate all of the harmful bacteria that can lead to botulism.

Cold smoking isn’t always dangerous, especially if you take the proper precautions and store it safely. Throw away your cold smoked meat if it has been in the freezer for longer than 3 months or else it will go bad. Follow along as we explore the differences between cold smoking and hot smoking and what precautions you need to take.

Cold Smoking

Cold smoking is when you smoke your food at a low temperature to slowly give the meat flavor. It’s only considered cold smoking if the temperature stays below 100 degrees. The process is quick and only takes a few minutes to avoid reaching a higher temperature.

Cold smoking has become more popular in recent years as an alternative to traditional hot smoking. Some barbecue purists are understandably apprehensive, but they are both great options. You can still achieve a delicious and smoky flavor with cold smoking.

The results are typically subtler than with hot smoking where the flavor is much more pronounced. Cold smoking is a common way to cook meat and vegetables, but it hasn’t caught on as much as traditional smoking.

Hot Smoking

Hot smoking is the traditional way to smoke meats like brisket and barbecue ribs. This popular way to prepare food outside is a staple of barbecue in countless cultures and countries. The ideal temperature for hot smoking is between 190 and 300 degrees to cook the meat to perfection.

Anything lower and you run the risk of coming too close to cold smoking your meat. Seasoned smokers set the fire to different temperatures based on what meat they are preparing. For example, it is ideal to smoke beef at 250 degrees so that it is neither undercooked nor dry.

Fatty fish can handle anywhere between 200 and 250 degrees for hot smoking. It takes some experimentation based on your taste, experience, and which smoker you have. Everything from fuel source to the meat that you cook can determine your hot smoking temperature.

What is the Purpose of Cold-Smoking?

The purpose of cold smoking is to add flavor to your food without bringing the temperature too high. High temperatures can bring out extreme flavors in food that lack the subtlety of cold smoking. Enthusiasts cold smoke everything from beef and cheese to chicken and fish.

Some enthusiasts believe that hot smoking is too abrasive and runs the flavor of the meat and cheese. The low temperature of cold smoking meat allows the smoke to stay within the food for the best possible flavor. Hot smoking is delicious as well, but it can sometimes take away from the taste of the smoke.

Cold Smoking Temperature

The most common cold smoking temperature is between 68 and 86 degrees. This may sound too low, but that’s the point of the process to allow for the purest, smokiest flavor. Some people will cold smoke their food as high as 100 degrees, but anything higher is no longer considered cold smoking.

Never cold smoke your meat below 68 degrees, however, or it will be unfit to consume in most cases. This could cause an array of potential health risks such as food poisoning, especially if you cold smoke meat and fish. Anything below 40 degrees is particularly dangerous and can cause major health risks, and, in extreme cases, even death.

Can you Cold Smoke Raw Meat?

You cannot safely cold smoke raw meat because the temperature is too low. None of the bacteria in the meat that is harmful to humans would die and it wouldn’t be edible. You need to cure the meat before you can cold smoke it or else it will be risky to eat and you may experience food poisoning.

Prepare the raw meat with salt and store it in a refrigerator for 24 hours to cure it. You only need to cure ground meat for 12 hours before you cold smoke it, however. Raw meat is unsuitable for cold smoking and you should avoid it at all costs.

Is Cold-Smoking Healthy?

Cold smoking is healthy under the right circumstances, but it is more dangerous than hot smoking meat. The main concern when it comes to cold smoking is that there is a high potential for dangerous bacteria. This can cause extreme stomach problems that are uncomfortable and potentially life-threatening.

Botulism is the biggest risk associated with cold smoking, and it is something that you need to consider. This dangerous type of food poisoning comes from food that is either undercooked, poorly stored, or unsterilized. You can get botulism from meat, fish, fruit, and the majority of vegetables.

The risk of botulism is lowered when you cook food at a proper, high temperature. You aren’t guaranteed to get food poisoning from cold smoking, and many people have no problems at all. However, you need to exercise caution when cold smoking to ensure that the food is healthy and properly sterilized before you eat it.

How Long Does Cold Smoked Meat Last?

Cold smoked meat only lasts for 4 days when you store it in your refrigerator. Throw away your cold smoked meat, fish, and cheese on the 5th day to avoid problems, or sooner if something seems wrong. The best option is to store your cold smoked meat in the freezer if you want it to last much longer.

Store it in the freezer so that your cold smoked meat lasts for as long as 3 months. Foodborne illnesses cause between 2,000 and 4,000 deaths per year in the United States alone, so it’s not worth it to push the envelope. Pay attention to how the meat smells before you consume it even if it is within the reasonable time to consume it.

Hot Smoking Food Preservation

Hot smoking makes food preservation easy because it lowers the risk of harmful bacteria in meat, cheese, and seafood. This will only work if you sanitize the food beforehand and properly store it at a healthy temperature. You need to store your meat at between 28 and 32 degrees if you hot smoke it or else you will undo the benefits of the process.

Never leave your hot smoked meat exposed for longer than an hour if it is 90 degrees or hotter in the room. Otherwise, the meat will spoil and it is unfit for consumption without dangerous, and even deadly consequences. Luckily, hot smoking is a great first step when it comes to food preservation because it can kill dangerous microbes.

The smoke itself can also work to preserve the food because it contains alcohol and formaldehyde in most cases. Hot smoking is only the first step, however, and you need to store the food as quickly as possible if you don’t eat it right away. This is much safer than cold smoking which has little to no food preservation benefits because of the lack of heat.

Should You Soak Wood Chips Before Smoking?

You don’t need to soak wood chips before smoking, but it is worth it for many enthusiasts. Soak your wood chips if you want to slowly smoke your meat for the ultimate flavor. The longer you smoke your meat, the more tender and flavorful it will be.

This is ideal for passionate smokers that want to bring out the purest wood taste from the chips. You can use anything from oak, hickory, and maple to mesquite when you smoke meat. Don’t overdo it or it will take too long for the water to reach boiling temperature.

Simply soak the wood chips for 30 minutes so that they are moist enough to create extra smoke and for longer. You can soak wood chips in water, whiskey, wine, and even beer to add the most flavor to your food. Never smoke meat with redwood, pine, elm, sycamore, and cypress tree wood chips or it will taint the flavor of whatever you cook.

Summing it Up

Hot smoking is more common and popular than cold smoking because it is much safer. Cold smoking refers to smoking meat, fish, and cheese at temperatures between 68 and 86 degrees. Some people prefer cold smoking because you can taste the smoke in the food more prominently than hot smoking.

Hot smoking is the safest option because it is much easier to preserve your meat and avoid foodborne illnesses. You can hot smoke your food between 190 and 300 degrees to eliminate harmful bacteria in the meat. Cold smoked meat doesn’t last long and will only stay good for 4 days in the refrigerator before you need to dispose of it.

Many people avoid cold smoking because of the health risks associated with it. Never keep cold smoked meat in your freezer for longer than 3 months or it is likely to spoil. Both options are great, but you need to exercise caution when it comes to cold smoking to mitigate the risks that are less common with hot smoking.

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Nick Durante
Nick Durante

Nick Durante is a professional writer with a primary focus on home improvement. When he is not writing about home improvement or taking on projects around the house, he likes to read and create art. He is always looking towards the newest trends in home improvement.

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