Friday, October 15, 2010

Fall To-Do list: Cold-Smoking

Being a gardener, I always have a long fall 'To-Do' list to get the garden ready for winter. However this year there is an additional 'list' of food-type things I've been wanting to try. Now that the weather is cooler, I plan to try some cold-smoked meats and vegetables.... and maybe even some cheese. I'm starting with a beef tongue for pastrami here, and I'll get to other food items in later posts.

Cold-smoking, if you are not familiar with it, is smoking a food (meats usually, or cheese, nuts, jalapeños, etc.) at a very low temperature (around 60ºF) so the item acquires a smoky flavor but does not 'cook'. (It is very different from grilling with smoke, which cooks with a smoky flavor.) The fire box, which gets damp woodchips put on the fire coals to make smoke, is usually several feet away from the container holding the food, and the smoke is piped upward at an angle to it. This allows the smoke to cool in the fall air temperatures around it as it passes through the pipe, and the food gets the smoke without the heat.

After smoking, the food (esp. bacon) may be frozen, refrigerated and/or a portion cooked to eat immediately. However, before smoking, most foods must be 'cured', usually in a brine with a tad of preservative. Common meat preservatives contain small amounts of nitrates (nitrates are regulated by the government)... and that used to worry me. We've all heard to cut-down or totally avoid nitrates/nitrites, but it turns out we get most of them in our vegetables... about 65mg of the average 73mg we ingest daily!

I will do an in-depth post soon about nitrates in vegetables, and ways to cut down on them, but for now since I'm posting about cold-smoking, I'll just say there are ways to eliminate most nitrate hazards, such as taking Vitamin C on a daily basis. 

BTW, bacon sold as "Nitrate or Nitrite-Free" usually has celery juice added as a preservative... check the label. Celery juice often has more nitrates than the amount of nitrates in regulated meat-preservatives!

My hold-up on cold-smoking before now has been money for construction of a smoking chamber, and of course, warm summer temperatures. Recently, though, I found several different ideas for making temporary, inexpensive cold-smokers (one made out of cardboard boxes!) so now I'm ready to attempt the process.

My first food to try is a beef tongue to make pastrami. (Pastrami is just corned beef that has been cold-smoked.) Today the tongue goes into a brine for 10 days in the refrigerator. This brine is Fergus Henderson's ratio of 2 cups sugar to 2-1/4 cups salt dissolved in 2 quarts of water. I added 12 peppercorns, 12 juniper berries and 5 whole dried allspice berries, brought it all to a boil so the liquid gets permeated with the spices, and then cooled it. There are many recipes for spices in corning beef, and over time I'll try many. For my first one, I wanted 'simple'.

The 'cure' (brine) also has 4 teaspoons of DQ Curing Salt, aka Prague Powder #1 or Insta-Cure, per 5 pounds of meat added, which helps prevent botulism. The sodium nitrite concentration in the curing salt is 6.25%, and my beef tongue weighs just 1.91 pounds. I weighed 4 teaspoons of the DQ and it came to 20 grams, or 4 grams per pound. So I added a tad under 8 grams to my brine.

The DQ Curing Salt is pink so it doesn't get confused with regular salt

Tongue Floating in Brine

Tongue submerged with a weight

Ready to refrigerate

Now the tongue in brine gets refrigerated for 10 days, and will get turned every day to assure full penetration of the cure.

Photo Courtesy of wiselywoven's photostream

I also have some jalapeños just now ripening from green to red, and then they will be smoke-dried to become chilpotle peppers. I'll post that when I actually do it...

I DO have a small pork belly to cure and smoke for bacon too, but I'm a little hesitant until I see how the tongue turns out. When the tongue is fully cured and ready to smoke, I'll post pictures of making my temporary smoker... and actual smoking of the tongue for pastrami!

Update 10/19: Part 2 will post on October 29, so watch for it!


  1. Thanks, Darius, for going where most of us fear yet to tread. Very interesting . . . keep us posted!

  2. Thanks! The corned tongue comes out of the fridge today, then boiled so I can remove the skin. I plan to smoke it (and the peppers) tomorrow unless it's windy.


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