Food smoking is one of the most ancient methods of preserving food. It was common to smoke fish due to the quick rate of decay that the meat goes through. It's very common with indigenous tribes along the U.S. coast. Initially used to kill the harmful microbes that taint meat and other food, the use of smoke has expanded to also create unique flavor varieties depending on fuel and smoke application.
There are basically two camps to using smoke: hot smoking and cold smoking methods. Hot smoke cooking uses the heat and smoke together to cook and flavor the food at the same time. Hot smoking is usually around 170 degrees Fahrenheit and combines the heat from water steam that is in the wood with the general radiated heat from the incinerated material. The wood is often dampened a little to produce the copious amount of smoke that is needed. Additional cooking usually is needed to kill any remaining bacteria.
Cold smoking on the other hand, is smoking meat under a low heat. The smoke, in essence, will draw out the moisture in the meat, which is a facilitator to spoilage. The smoke needs to be separated from the heat source to cool, so when the smoke cools it can be directed onto the food so the drying can occur. Some common cold smoked meat is beef jerky and smoked ham. However, after the smoking of the meat is done there needs to be further curing such as brine injection or a cure mix, usually containing salts.
Wood Smokers for the Common Cooker
Beef jerky you buy at your local grocery store is usually from a huge warehouse of hanging meat set under a controlled climate system. However, there are some small smokers the average person can buy on the market to duplicate it. Both hot and cold smoking can be done by combination smokers for instance. For cold smoking they have an external smoke source, often referred to as a fire box that can control the smoke temperature. If one were to invest in a domestic smoke house system, you can usually get it small enough to be easily transported, like a small beverage fridge.
As mentioned before, the flavor can be altered by the type of wood that is used. Hickory wood and Apple wood are some wood flavors that can be used. It can vary by region too; Hickory is commonly used on the U.S. east coast, Alder is more popular in the Northwest.
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