Smoked food is simply delicious.
Recently I’ve been learning how to do it at home and discovered an awesome technique called cold smoking. That means adding extra smoky flavour to food, without actually cooking it. This is great for smoked cheese, garlic, olives, salmon. It’s done by burning wood chips at a very low temperature, avoiding heating up the food. There are a few ways to do this, but the simplest I have found is the rather… err… rustic, “soldering iron in a baked bean tin” method. Yep, crude but easy and effective. Here’s a picture of what I made.
This device can be placed in any BBQ or other non flammable, food-safe container with a lid and enough room for the food. Please don’t use a soldering iron that has been used before! Solder fumes and food are not a good combo, so buy a new one!
What kind of woodchips to smoke with?
It’s important to realise that just any old wood won’t do, although there’s plenty that will. Certain woods like pine for instance produce an unsuitability harsh smoke, others may be poisonous. The wood chips should be from a reliable source and fresh. You wouldn’t want to use any that could have been chemically treated for use in the garden for instance. Many hardware and barbecue retailers sell packets of wood chips, prepared specifically for the purpose of smoking. Common wood varieties include mesquite, oak and fruit woods such as Apple.
To recap, you will need:
- A soldering iron (New, not used!) The soldering iron I used is a cheap, switchable 30/50
watt home brand one from Bunnings. It cost about $30.
- A cleaned out bean tin
- A BBQ with a lid
- Suitable woodchips
- Food to smoke
Once you have everything ready, soak the wood chips in water for at least half an hour. This will stop them burning too quickly and harshly. You will only need a large handful or two.
While the chips are soaking, get the bean can ready. It will almost certainly have some kind of chemical lining that won’t be good for you when burnt. Use a camping stove/blow torch or build a small fire and burn the can until it won’t smoke or steam any more. Careful not to breathe in any fumes! Give it a really good wash out afterwards.
Next drill a hole in the side near the bottom, just large enough to fit the end of the iron through. once the iron is in place, fill the can about 3 quarters full of wood chippings and put the can in the furthest part of the BBQ from where the food will be. Try to position the handle of the iron so that it is lower than the tip to avoid melting it.
Plug in the soldering iron and turn it on. I like to use the higher wattage setting to get things going, and turn it down again before smoking. I have found that smoking at the higher wattage produces a harsher smoke and can warm the food too much. Once the chips starts to smoke, put the food on the rack. Position it so that there is some space between each piece, to allow the smoke to circulate. Put the lid on and close any air vents. Let it smoke for at least two hours, topping up the wood chips if needed.
Right out of the smoker, cheese kind of has an ashy flavour, reminiscent of cigarette butts. Not good! It’s best to wrap the cheese up and put it in the fridge for at least 2 weeks before eating. This will allow the smoky taste to mellow and mature into something amazing.
Here are some cheeses I smoked, they were pretty delicious! I also did garlic bulbs, olives, cashews, avocados and chillies. It all tasted amazing!
This is a pretty good method of cold smoking. Doing it now with some Spanish Mackerel that I caught a couple of days ago and it is tasting pretty good. Should work with cheese as well. I’m using an old antique 75 watt soldering iron that I found in my garage with a large coffee can and some moistened alder wood chips. It is good weather now for this; breezy out of the north, 67 degrees, and smoker is in the shade. Using an old BBQ we were about to throw away. Thanks for the post. I came across this when I googled “DIY cold smoker” and looked up the images.
Hey, just read your article. Did you have to do anything with the garlic like you did with the cheese? Like leaving it for 2 weeks before use?
With the garlic, I pealed back some of the outer skin around the top to allow the smoke to reach the cloves better. Once it’s done I store it in the fridge. I find it’s good to eat much quicker than the cheese, but letting it mellow for a few days certainly improves it.