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Hot Or Not: Cold Smoking vs. Hot Smoking

Smoked foods aren’t always cooked foods. Contrary to preconceived notions, sometimes, it’s just about imparting that wonderful smoke flavor into the food of choice. In this article, we’ll be talking about when to use which smoking method, as well as some rules to follow once you’ve decided to cold smoke your meats.

Cold Smoking

What’s on the menu?

First, we have to decide what it is we are smoking, and our end goals for the meal. For example, by and large, meats must be cooked. Therefore, a low smoker temperature of 90 degrees F (AKA cold smoking) won’t do if we need to prepare something like turkey, chicken or pork that must be cooked thoroughly. Even beef requires temperatures high enough to kill bacteria present in the meat. This gives us a starting point.

A word to the wise

That means that we are looking at fruits, vegetables, sometimes nuts, and cheese for cold smokes. In full disclosure, I do realize that there are many Pitmasters that smoke meats like salmon at low temperatures. However, I really can’t recommend cold smoking meats in large part due to the fickle nature of bacteria and disease. In my opinion, it’s better safe than sorry. Even most jerky producers “bake” their jerky no lower than 165 degrees F. if you are going to smoke your Fish, make sure to eat it that same day.

What can I cold smoke?

  • Fruits

    1. Peaches
    2. Bananas
    3. Apples
    4. Pears
    5. Cherries (and more)
  • Cheeses

    1. Swiss
    2. Colby
    3. Cheddar
    4. Gouda
    5. Havarti (and more)
  • Nuts

    1. Walnuts
    2. Almonds
    3. Pecans
    4. Cashews
    5. Peanuts (and more)
  • Vegetables

    1. Asparagus
    2. Squash
    3. Bell Peppers
    4. Tomatoes
    5. Onions (and more)
  • Liquids

    1. Honey
    2. Jams
    3. Salad Dressing
    4. Beverages

Remember, these are just some suggestions to get you started. Additionally, remember that each of these items will have different smoke times associated with them just like different meats will have different grilling times.

Transformation or Retention?

Ok so this one is an odd title, but it’s a simple idea. Do we want to cook the food or retain its original form? Fruits, nuts cheeses, and certain vegetables can be allowed to retain their original form. In other words, they won’t necessarily be cooked. They will simply have flavor added. For vegetables, this means that a cold smoke will add some flavor while producing a technically raw final product.

Something like smoked cauliflower would be great in a vegetable plate with some ranch dressing on the side. In this case, you would cold smoke the vegetable to retain it’s raw “crunch” and flavor as opposed to hot smoking it, which would cook the vegetable and deliver a different final product. Barbecue has only a few rules, so you can allow your recipe imagination run a little wild.

How do we keep it “cold”?

This is a great question. Remember that a cold smoke means 90-100 degrees or less. Generally, 85 degrees is the consensus for cold smoke. Smoke requires fire, and fire heats things. Here are some suggestions for keeping your food cool during a cold smoke:


  • Use a large 2 heat zone grill that allows you to control the temperature
  • Use a dedicated smoker with a side smoker box that allows you to control the temperature
  • Soak your wood chips in cold water
  • Place a tray filled with ice and water below the rack holding your food so the food stays cool


This will be especially important for smoking cheeses. If cheese gets too warm, it will obviously melt. This is counterproductive to the final product.

They do sell Cold Smoking Gadgets – such as a Cold Smoker Tube and Cold Smoking Gun which will impart a slight smokey Flavor to any Foods you can think of.

Final thoughts

When deciding to smoke your food, these tips will help you maintain proper food safety, as well as guide you to the best food to smoke for your goals. I hope this helped you! As always, my aim is to inform, illuminate, and inspire. Have a great day and happy smoking!




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