Why Did We Smoke Meats With Cold Smoke

The main reason meats spoil is the moisture inside which becomes a playground for food spoiling bacteria. With enough moisture eliminated a point is reached when meats will last almost indefinitely in a cool and dry place and this is how we had solved a lack of refrigeration for thousand years. It was relatively easy to dry out meats in countries with steady prevailing winds and moderate temperatures such as Spain and Italy.

Those countries have been producing wonderful hams and sausages until today by air-drying meats for months at the time. Then a point was reached when meats were ready to eat although never submitted to any cooking and they would last for long time. In Nothern Europe the climate was harsh, cold and humid and ill suited for air drying of meat products. Our ancestors discovered that smoking meats with cold smoke became the best method to preserve meats for later use.

Even today in Germany and Poland about 60% of all meats sold for consumption are of the smoked variety. Thus we can say that cold smoking method originated in Northern Europe. The question will arise now why cold and not hot smoke is better suited to preserving meats.

No matter what kind of process (curing, smoking, cooking) a meat piece is submitted to, the action will always start from the outside towards the center. The skin, the fat or any hard surface will create a formidable obstacle to any process. Hot smoke will dry the meat too fast and the outside surface of the meat piece or sausage casing will start to harden. If too high smoke temperature is applied the meat will start to cook as well.

This hardened surface acts as a barrier to sucessful smoke penetration and the meat will be only flavored with smoke in its outside areas. The anti-bacterial properties of the smoke will not act on spoilage bacteria active inside and given time they will be multiplying inside. The meat will be protected in its outside layers only and will start to spoil in moist areas inside. On the other hand cold smoke having low temperature will not harden the surface of the meat and it will penetrate all areas of the meat what takes days and sometimes weeks in time.

Cold smoking is basically drying meat with cold smoke. After prolonged cold smoking meat will be hung in a cool dry area and will continue losing moisture reaching the point when it will be preserved and will not spoil anymore. Such a product though never submitted to cooking is perfectly safe to eat. All Polish and Russian meat technology books agree on the following temperatures: Cold smoke ? below 71 F (22 C), some books advocate going up to 77 F (25 C) Warm smoke ? 72 ? 104 F (22 ? 40 C) Hot smoke ? 105 ? 140 F (42 ? 60 C) Cold smoking is seldom performed today as it is labor intensive and meats are preserved by keeping them in a refrigerator or a freezer.

Hot smoking is the commonly used method and the process is accomplished in a matter of hours. Some products, notably salmon are still cold smoked as cold smoked meats offer better texture and have more pronounced smoky flavor. They can be sliced paper thin and will still remain in one piece. Bear in mind that if you live in a hot climate the only time you can produce cold smoke using a home made smoker is December, January and February and at night time. Some commercial smokehouses can generate hot or cold smoke and the temperature and humidity are easily controlled.

Adam Marianski has co-authored two books on meat smoking and making sausages. He runs the web site Wedliny Domowe where you can find more about making quality meats at home.

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