Camp fire on the lake shore

How To Use A Smoker And Why Do I Need One?

Infuse your BBQ food with that authentic, outdoor, woody flavour

Invest in a smoker to sit alongside your barbecue and enhance your food for that outdoor, camp-fire, woody cooking experience. If you love the smokey flavour of fish, meat and cheeses then why not do your own at home. Indigenous peoples have been smoking food for centuries and it is one of the earliest forms of preserving fish. There are two methods of smoking; hot and cold, with the hot smoke being a lot safer than the cold smoke. Hot smoking is carried out over the smouldering fuel whereas with cold smoking the smoke is produced in a unit besides the cooking chamber and the smoke piped into the food area; so if you decide to go down this route you will need a specialised unit. There are quite a few barbecuing pros out there who don’t advocate doing cold smoking at home as the risk of food poisoning is quite high due to the low temperatures required for the smoke.

hot smoked salmon with pesto cooked on the Traeger Pro 22

Hot smoked salmon with pesto cooked on the Traeger Pro 22

Fatty or oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel or herring are best for smoking as they absorb more of the smoke. Choose cuts of meat which have fat marbled through them as this is where the flavour and moisture will come from. Don’t use a sauce until about 20 minutes before the end as they have a high sugar content and will burn and become bitter, instead flavour the meat with a dry rub, just rub a little oil into the meat first so the dry ingredients will stick.

Make sure the fish have enough spaced to enable the smoke to penetrate all the surface area. Click here to read the blog ‘Get that authentic barbecue smokiness with flavoured wood chips, chunks and pellets’.

Cold smoking

If you cold smoke meat or fish, with the exception of salmon, it must also be cooked, as this method only flavours the food. Listeria monocytogenes is present in a lot of fish but not in enough quantities to cause us any harm, but in the smoker it will reach dangerous levels when kept at its optimum temperature for breeding over a long period. The general consensus is don’t smoke meat as the risks are too great; the exception to this is bacon, provided you like it well cooked. As the smoking is done at a relatively low temperature the bacteria which could be present in the food will multiply rapidly and over a long smoke this could rise to a lethal level.

The temperatures required for a cold smoke are usually less than 38 – 49C (100 – 120F) and bacteria thrives at temperatures below 60C (140F). The temperature and the salting must be controlled precisely so a reliable digital thermometer is essential. This cold smoking process can take up to 48 hours, depending upon the size of the food being cooked.

Fish will smoke better if it is cured with salt as this drives out the moisture leaving firmer flesh with a stronger flavour. To do this just lay out the fish, skin side down, in a metal tray and either cover with a brine or dry salt mixture. Make brine by adding 113g (4oz) of salt and 113g (4oz) brown sugar to 1.3ltr (2pts) cold water; if you want another layer of flavour try adding herbs, spices or wine. For the dry curing just cover with the 50/50 sea salt/brown sugar mixture. Make sure the fish is completely submerged and leave for 8 – 12 hours if the fish is over 2.5cm (1”) thick or 6 – 8 hours if it is thinner. Remove from the salt, rinse in cold water and then dry.

The fish should feel firm when it is completely smoked. Leave to cool before storing in the fridge; cool to 10C (50F) in under 3 hours otherwise bacteria will still be multiplying.  

Weber Smokey Mountain smoker

Weber Smokey Mountain smoker

Hot smoking

This method not only smokes the food but also cooks it so is a much safer method, and you don’t need specialised equipment. Hot smoking is done at temperatures exceeding 88C (190F) which is far in excess of the temperature at which bacteria is killed. Hot smoking can take from an hour to a day. Make sure the temperature is not too high as this can make fish a bit dry and tough. The Weber Smoky Mountain is an ideal smoker as there is plenty of space for your food and a tray underneath.

Place a foil drip tray underneath the meat to catch any juices for use in your gravy or as a baste; keep some water in the tray to keep the meat or fish moist. Keep water in the tray throughout the cook and always use boiling water to top up. If you want a bit more flavour add herbs and spices to the water or else substitute with wine, fruit juice or stock. Don’t keep checking as this only reduces the temperature resulting in the food taking longer to smoke. The Traeger Wood Pellet Grills come with 2 built in probes to insert into your meat which is an excellent way to monitor temperatures. The new Traeger Timberline holds an enormous amount of food and can be controlled by an app on your smartphone so you don’t even need to go outside to check.

Traeger Timberline wood pellet smoker

Traeger Timberline 850

For more information on all things BBQ just get in touch with our expert team in The Barbecue Shop here in store.

Angela Slater
Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas