The method of smoking foods goes back to the time when primitive cavemen societies would bring in their hunt for the day and process them by cleaning it up and prepare it prior to cooking it. However, there were certain times that these cave dwelling hunters would have a substantial amount of meat left over that it usually gets spoiled, eventually going to waste. They soon discovered that smoking meat would preserve their food and would enable them to store it for prolonged periods of time, enabling them to stock up their food supply during the lean seasons when hunting game was difficult. Other than that, smoking meat gave a peculiar, yet savory flavor that was quite different from ordinary cooked methods that it soon became a daily activity amongst primitive tribesmen.
Smoking method predates all earlier forms of food preservation techniques, even that of salting meats, as it was still an undiscovered mineral during that time (salt). Later on, as primitive cave dwelling communities started to move out into the open plains, they soon started to construct makeshift huts. During this period, they have already made improvements on their methods of smoking, in addition to curing it with salt, either brining it in salty water which extracted almost all residue of animal oil and blood or just plain salting it. Curing meats with salt prior to smoking them not only improved the way how meat was preserved, but also made smoked meat more flavorful due to the salt that was absorbed into the meat. As the rest of the world started to thrive, it is apparent that there are countless of cultures around the world who have similar methods of curing and smoking meats as a way to preserve and augment the flavor of meat.
Smoking and curing meats is a method that is still very much practiced today in almost every part of the world. During the early years before the dawn of modern transport, smoking was much conducted on an almost industrial scale as it’s main purpose was to preserve meat for commercial public consumption. Mass quantities of salt were used for curing prior to smoking them, often spanning days on end, exposing meat that were stored in “smoke houses” that resembled a kiln. Weeks passed by before they would finally take the meats out as to ensure that it does not contain any amount of substantial moisture that could cause the growth of unwanted bacteria which could cause spoilage. This could be the reason why smoked meats such as ham have such a dry texture to their meat.
As time passed by, the dawn of modern transportation saw a decline of these “smoke houses” as food supplies, particularly meat, was essentially and conveniently transported from farm to market, making it possible for people to avail meat and cook it on the same day. Smoke houses were now remnants of a bygone era where in the preservation of meats was considered essentially important. Despite the disappearance of this age old industry, there are still some who maintained operating these smoke houses but in a smaller scale, usually confined to small rural communities and backyards. By now, smoking meats was more of a way to add flavor rather than a way of preserving meat which was it’s original intention. Today, smoking is not just confined to meats such as pork of beef, but it is also applicable to almost any king of animal protein such as veal, chicken or cook fish and even fruits and vegetables for that matter.t
First, not everything can be smoked as you would usually try to apply, in pertaining to one particular kind of meat, since each type of meat has different characteristics and consistencies and may require different methods of smoking techniques and curing time which will affect the outcome of the end result, particularly it’s texture, but more importantly, it’s flavor as well. There are 3 basic smoking methods that are appropriately applied to certain type of meat products which can enhance their flavor depending on what you intend to cook them with. The following methods are the most basic smoking techniques that are used in enhancing the flavor of the foods that you want to cook using these simple methods.
To give you a brief description of this method, cold smoking does not cook your meats as it’s main intention is to add a smoked flavor on the meat that you will be using another method, in short, cold smoking is giving your meats a rich smoked flavor prior to actually cooking it. The basic principle of cold smoking involves letting your meats hang out to dry in a well ventilated area. It is required that you should let it develop a thin membrane of “pellicle“(pellicle is a membrane that develops on top of the meat’s surface which is caused by the excretion of the proteins that are drawn out while the meat is being dried in the open air). Pellicle is an essential part in the method of cold smoking, as this is where the smoked flavor and aroma of the wood adheres and clings to the texture of the meat which gives it’s flavor.
Cold smoking requires that meat is hung out in a well ventilated area indoors and outdoors and should not be left unattended too long. You have to make sure that an ample amount of pellicle has developed all over the meat prior to subjecting it to cold smoking. Cold smoking is done in a controlled environment which requires you to attain a temperature of between 20 to 30 degrees Celsius or 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit respectively. Cold smoking will put flavor on your meats while maintaining it’s moisture inside without loosing the essential juices and nutrients. After the process of cold smoking is finished, you can now add your smoked flavored meat to any type of foods that you want to cook, as it will greatly enhance it’s overall flavor and aroma. Some type of meat proteins are well suited for cold smoking, which include chicken breast, lean beef, pork chops, salmon scallops and steak.
Hot smoking is a method that is quite similar to cold smoking which their differences may only vary in regards to the temperature that is used in attaining the proper results. The method of letting pellicle develop on the meat through way of ventilated drying is also needed in order for the meat to absorb the smoked aroma of the wood. Hot smoking is considered as the original method in preserving meats, which is still very much in use up to this day. Meats that have undergone hot smoking are often reheated or recooked just for the sole purpose of not having to eat a cold preparation, other than that, hot smoked meat is essentially very safe to eat as for the example of ham and ham hocks. Ham’s are generally fully cooked once they have gone through the process of hot smoking.
Hot smoking is effectively done within the temperature ranges of between 52 to 82 degrees Celsius or about 126 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking your meat within this temperature range will assure you that it will be fully cooked and still retain it’s moisture and flavor without compromising it’s end quality. If in any case that you forgot to monitor your temperature that it should exceed 185 degrees Fahrenheit or 85 degrees Celsius, you may end up with an almost dry smoked product that would have already lost a substantial amount of juices which will reduce it’s yield, as the fats and moisture inside the meat would have been nearly gone. Always make sure that you keep an eye out for the temperature as having an “over cooked” meat does not have much an appeal, both in appearance and in flavor.
Smoke Roasting or Smoke Baking
Both terms apply similarly to the method of cooking your meat using a combination of both smoking and roasting. The most common term that implies the method of smoke roasting is oftentimes referred to as “barbecuing”, in which meat is skewered most of the time or laid down on a rack and cooked in an open pit flame. It could also be undertaken using a closed wood burning brick oven or a roaster or even in a conventional oven which will have to attain a temperature range of about 250 degrees Fahrenheit or 121 degrees Celsius. Smoke roasting is a bit similar to cold smoking and hot smoking with the addition of an extra ingredient which comes in the form of aromatic hardwood chips.
This method is done by placing a substantial amount of aromatic hardwood chips on the bottom part of the oven, just underneath of where the source of the heats which is used to cook the meat. The close proximity of the aromatic hardwood chips to the heat source will make the wood chips to smolder, causing it to release it’s aroma which will eventually fill up the compartment with smoke which is termed as creating a “smoke bath”. Be aware that excessive smoke can produce high levels of carbon monoxide which can cause smoke poisoning and it is advised that you should conduct this sort of endeavor in well ventilated areas, which inhibits the buildup of toxic gases.
How to Achieve that Smoky Flavor
Basically, the real secret in getting the best results from smoking your meats is in the wood chips that you use. These wood chips are mostly derived from hardwoods which can be found all over the north American continent and in some parts of Europe as well. Hardwood chips are a very important part in achieving that particular smoked flavor and there are a lot of types of hardwood chips that you can use in unison or in combination. Hardwoods are made up of 3 components, namely cellulose, nitrocellulose and lignin. Cellulose and hemicellulose comprises the basic material of the wood while lignin is what bonds the structure of the wood together. Other softwoods such as pine and fir can produce unfavorable tasting smoke residue that it is not used for this sort of smoking method, because it has a substantial quantity of resins that reacts with heat, oftentimes creating an irritating and toxic smell.
Cellulose and hemicellulose contain aggregate sugar molecules that when subjected to fire, excrete carbonyl which produces a sweet, fruity and flowery aroma and at the same time, render a caramelized color to the cooked meat. Lignin also produces a smoky, spicy and sweeter scent like that of vanilla which is produced by a compound called guaiacol. Guaiacol is solely responsible for producing that smoky taste in cooked meats while a compound called syringol is the one that gives cooked meats it’s smoky aroma. Other compounds of wood contain small amounts of protein which give meats a certain roasted flavor.
Besides being purely a means to preserve cooked meat, smoking also induces certain compounds into meat that acts out as natural preservatives. One good example of such compounds is phenol, which also can produce antioxidants that slows down the rancidity of oils which is commonly found in animal fats. Phenol also produces an antibacterial action that kills most of the bacteria inside and outside of the meat, which slows down the development of bacteria, prolonging the storage life of meat. Different species of trees usually have different amounts of compounds and various species of woods or a combination of several types would produce a variation of different flavors that enhances the smoked meat’s taste and aroma.
Another thing that is important to consider is the temperature in which these hardwood chips are used in accordance to the required methods. A very hot temperature may destroy the flavor molecules and render your meat unpleasant and less flavorful. The average burning temperature of wood is about 570 to 750 degrees Fahrenheit or 299 and 399 degrees Celsius respectively. An ideal smoking environment requires temperatures which are much lower than this to enable you to smoke your meats properly without burning them. Woods that contain a substantial amount of lignin, tend to burn hotter that usual and may require you to control the air inside the oven as to not increase the temperature, which explains why most smoking ovens have air controls built into them. One old method of controlling highly combustible woods is by soaking them in water prior to using them in the oven, which slows down their burning at a much controlled rate which is coined with the term “slow burning”.