Whilst I am a great believer in using locally produced meat from independent suppliers I’m also aware that many people don’t have the income to do this.
I hope to show with this project that you can still make some great products despite this. Many are cheaper than buying them from the supermarket. Yes, the quality may be better with meat produced to higher standards but good products can be made using meat produced on an industrial scale.
This is the piece of meat I bought from a local supermarket that sells pork produced in Britain. It’s around a kilogram of pork loin and cost £4.26 as it was discounted to £4 per kg.
That still may seem like a lot of money to some but the meat it makes can be used instead of cured ham, fried as bacon or be cut into thick slices to use as pork steaks/bacon chops – all of which would be more expensive to buy.
In Germany, it’s called Kasseler and is usually cured with the bones still in; it’s served as bacon chops. Some online references talk of it being smoked, cooked and then stored in brine which seems an odd way of going about things! However the few recipes I can find all make it in the normal way.
It was only 8 years ago that I wrote a post forecasting that barbecue would be the next big food craze to hit the UK. Amazingly, not only was I correct but the craze seems to have now filtered down to home cooks. TV chefs feature US-style barbecue in their programmes and pulled pork and brisket feature on both restaurant and home BBQers menus. Back then, I wrote:
Wasn’t it George Bernard Shaw that said: “England and America are two countries divided by a common language”? Barbecue, abbreviated to BBQ, really goes to prove this.
What we know as Barbecue or bbq is generally referred to as grill or grillin’ in the US. Their BBQ is a method of cooking meats for a long time at low temperatures. It often includes smoking the meat for part of the cooking time. Times of 10 or 20 hours are not unusual in this type of cooking.
BBQ guys take their hobby seriously and hold competitions where the prize-money can be 1000’s of dollars. Although on the face of it the same as hot smoking, the temperatures are usually higher.
I can see this type of cooking being ‘the next big thing’ in the UK. We’ve already seen slow-cooked meats increasing in popularity with slow-cooked pork belly featuring on virtually every menu you see nowadays! Pulled pork, a classic BBQ standard, is featuring more and more in blogs and among the celebrity chef circuit. We’ve also seen a move towards better quality in burger joints and vans and an increase in general in the quality of street-food. This, accompanied by a number of TV programmes featuring US BBQ joints, such as Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, makes me think that this’ll be the next culinary craze… …Oh, and also look out for the currently trendy use of brioche buns to be upstaged by buns cooked like pretzels.
I’ll write further about the options currently available in UK for both smoking, grilling and BBQ shortly.
I did write another post that explained the differences between the types of smoking and barbecue and the available equipment at that time. The post has been reposted here.
Wow, how things have moved on. There’s equipment available now that we could only dream of then – unless you could make it yourself or had very deep pockets that is.
It can still be an expensive game but it doesn’t have to be. There’s far more equipment available across a range of prices and also more advice and support is available for people building their own equipment – not least because of social media groups on Facebook and the like.
It’s great that so many more people are now cooking quality meals using barbecues. Yes, there are many who have just replaced a plate full of cheap meat products with a plate full of expensive meat products and yes, there’s still an element of the UK equivalent of ‘redneck’ in attitudes to non-meat-eaters on some online groups. But there are also more and more people using barbecues, in whatever form, to cook balanced meals whether meat or vegetable-based.
I have to say that although I’ve had a smoker that could produce barbecued food for years, it’s only in the past couple or three years that I’ve cooked more barbeque and grilled food – since I bought a covered BBQ grill (Weber) and my nephew built me an Ugly Drum Smoker. I hope to write more of these in future posts. I’m by no means an expert but hopefully have a head start as I know a good number of people who are, including a very good friend from North Carolina who is my go-to for advice on traditional US-style barbecue.
I hope to post some traditional recipes, along with some alternative ideas over the next few months.
I’ve written before about cold smoking food and there’s even a full review of the smoker that I use – it’s simplicity itself to use. However, I realise that there can be a tendency to worry or even panic the first time you smoke something like a salmon. Questions like, should I brine or dry cure it? What brine or cure should I use? What strength should it be? How long should I cure it for? So, here’s a breakdown of what I did with the salmon I smoked for Christmas.
I bought a side of salmon, ready filleted, from the local trade wholesaler, Makro. It’s a ‘bog standard’ farmed salmon, nothing fancy, most supermarkets have similar fish on promotion around Christmas. If you can only get a whole fish you’ll need to fillet it. The filleting-fish.com website has excellent instructions and a video tutorial on how to do this. I will say, it’s a lot easier with a good filleting knife. I use a very good and very reasonably priced Victorinox. My salmon fillet weighed 1160gm. I decided to dry cure it rather than put it into a brine; it’s a lot simpler this way.
I started the salmon by covering a plastic food grade tray with salt, placing the salmon skin side down on top of it and covering the salmon with 200gm of salt. You can add all sorts of fancy things, sugar, whisky, beetroot, all sorts of stuff, but I prefer to keep mine simple.
The salt I used was medium sea salt. Ordinary table salt’s fine if you can’t get anything better but try to use one without any additives. Anyway, it shouldn’t be difficult to get some decent salt. Maldon Sea Salt’s fantastic and widely available from most supermarkets.
The salmon was put into the salt for 10 hours. Then I rinsed it and put it to dry on a cake cooling rack in the fridge with a tray below it to catch any drips. It weighed 1080gm at this stage.
14 hours later I put it in to smoke. Why 14 hours? No reason, other than that was how long it was between me putting it into the fridge and getting up the next day!
It smoked from 1 pm on 15th December ’till half past midnight on the 16th. It was getting very cold then, down to freezing, so I brought it in and put it in the fridge overnight.
The next morning, when the weather had warmed up a bit, I smoked it for 11 hours more then put it back in the fridge again.
On the 17th (are you keeping up?) I put it in to smoke at half-past eleven. Unbeknownst to me, the smoker went out. I guess from the amount of sawdust that it had used it had burned for about an hour.
I re-lit it and it smoked for 7 hours more before I returned 5the salmon, yet again, to the fridge. It weighed 1040gm at this time. Why am I telling you all of this? Well, it illustrates that you can smoke in stages, in fact, many would recommend it. Also, the odd setback like the smoker going out isn’t a problem.
I’ve left it to dry for 3 days in the fridge as it hadn’t lost much weight during curing and smoking. It’s now been vacuum packed ready for Christmas Day.
The target weight loss when smoking dry-cured salmon is around 15% with about half from the curing and half from the smoking. You’ll recall that the salmon started at 1160gms. It now weighs 1001gms, only 13.7% less with some 3.4% of this from the final drying period. It seems to be a common problem for home-smokers. Extra time salting or smoking leads to the salmon being too salty or too smokey. I smoked the salmon for over 30 hours! I purposely don’t let the smoke hang around in the curing chamber so that I can smoke for longer without the salmon being over-smoked. Many people using the same equipment only smoke salmon for about 12 hours; they get even less weight loss. Why worry? Well the weight loss, and salting, are the only protection that the salmon has. We don’t want to poison people! Why don’t we home smokers get the same losses as the ‘big boys’? I don’t know. I wonder whether it’s something to do with the age of the product we’re smoking? Some commercial boys virtually have the salmon swimming into their factories. Our’s has been gutted, travelled all over the country for days, and then sat on a fish counter. It must have lost a fair amount of weight before we even get our hands on it Or, is it because of the ambient temperature: less than 5°C? Temperatures around 20°C to 25°C would be better; perhaps someone could move Christmas to a more clement time of year!
One thing I do know though – it’s superb, and less than a quarter of the price of shop-bought.
Well, the weather finally performed as forecast and I got to test the ProQ™ Eco Smoker sent to me by Ian from ProQ™ .
The smoker arrived promptly and safely packaged.
It comprises a cardboard box with a further cardboard liner that strengthens it and forms the shelf supports, three metal wire shelves and two metal drip trays – one with handles.
Assembly is self-explanatory with instructions on the box and a video tutorial online.
The drip tray prevents nasty surprises!
A test batch of cheese and garlic is put into the box.
Fill the smoker with dust ensuring that the dust is not above the internal divides.
Light the smoker using a nightlight.
After a couple of minutes, it will start smoking, remove the night-light and place the smoke generator on the metal tray in the bottom of the box.
The box has a vent in the top to ensure a steady throughput of smoke.
After 8 hours.
This type of smoking uses only a trickle of smoke, this ensures that your food isn’t bitter. You can just see the smoke in this photo, there’s so little your neighbours won’t even know you are smoking food.
After 8 hours the food is taking on some colour.
After 11 hours the smoke generator was still going strong…
…but it’s 2 am and time for bed for me! The smoked food was wrapped well and put into the fridge overnight. The next day the colour has darkened slightly. I like to leave cold smoked food for a couple of days for the flavours to permeate the food.
So how’s it turned out? Well, it’s all as I expected really. The cheese is fine with just the right amount of smokiness. It’s a great way to add value to cheap cheese. It’s unbelievable, the difference between a rubbery Edam – only fit for erasing spelling mistakes, and its smoked counterpart.
At £30+ the generator may look expensive, but considering its ease of use and the length of time it burns – plus its economical use of dust – it pays for itself in no time at all. A couple of sides of smoked salmon will not only recoup your outlay but make you a lot of friends in the process! I guess that it’s only guys who’ve spent hours in the cold and rain tending other methods of producing cold smoke that really appreciate how brilliant this little gizmo is; take it from me it’s superb; you don’t even want to consider an alternative.
As to the Eco-smoker, well the obvious comment would be: “That’s a lot of money for a cardboard box!”. However, I know from experience that finding something suitable for use isn’t as easy as it seems at face value. There’s no doubt that given a suitable undercover space for storage and use, it will last for ages. Yes, undoubtedly you will want something more permanent in the longer term but this well thought out turnkey solution makes a great alternative in the short to medium term.
It will also be great for the hunting/shooting/fishing fraternity who may wish to have a portable smoking solution or anyone with too little space for a more permanent smoker. In my case, it will allow me to cold smoke food at the same time as I am using my purpose-built smoker for hot smoking – an advantage as I make batches of different types of products at once – some for hot smoking and some for cold.
All in all, what a great Christmas present for the foodie in your life.
The Eco-smoker and Cold Smoke Generator are available at various prices from ProQ™ and their stockists.
Update: Soon after I wrote this a friend bought a ProQ smoker and I gave him the Eco smoker box. I know for a fact that he was still using it last year to smoke salmon. That’s over 10 years of use. Amazing.
In 2012, when I wrote this, people were only just starting to realise that smoking meat didn’t need to be the preserve of the expert and that there was an alternative to barbecues that consisted of burnt sausages and dried up burgers.
This post is completely out of date. I leave it here for the sake of posterity:
In a previous post, I said I’d give further details of the options for smoking, grilling and barbecuing food. My health and other factors have delayed this, but here goes…
…Let’s start cold and get hotter!
So to cold smoking. What’s that? It’s a method of smoking food at temperatures below 30°C/86°F (approx) so that it is still uncooked. It’s the method that produces smoked salmon that when thinly sliced and nicely presented sells for silly money. The cold process also allows items that would otherwise melt, such as cheese and butter, to be smoked. Surely, I can’t do that? Well here’s news for you: you can. In fact, it’s easy; all you need is one of these cold smoke generators. With this, you can smoke fish, meat, cheese, eggs, even salt, the list’s as big as your imagination. Just find a suitable container: a cardboard box, old fridge, barrel, large bucket etc and you’re away. You can even buy a ready-made cardboard smoker – it may seem expensive and hardly durable but the one I road-tested in 2010 is still being used regularly by a friend of mine.
There are many other methods of cold smoking; I’ve tried many of them. None are as cheap, easy, and produce smoke for as long without intervention as this.
As to the cold smoking process, this normally involves brining, dry salting or curing the meat/fish and then smoking it for anything from 12 hours up to 7 – 10 days for large hams. With items such as fish that are salted rather than cured, it is necessary to achieve a certain weight loss to make the product safer. Further details of the smoking process (for salmon) can be found in my A Tale of Cold Smoked Salmon post or in this advice from the Torry Research Station
(Note: The Cold smoke generator and accessories may be cheaper from a ProQ stockist rather than direct.)
There are three main types of hot smoking and with all of them you end up with a fully cooked, ready-to-eat, product. They differ only in the temperature and the length of time for which the food is smoked.
Traditional Hot Smoking
To call it hot smoking is really a bit of a red-herring, it’s not exactly hot. It works at temperatures in a band between 41°C/105°F and 80°C/176°F (although smoke will usually be applied only up to about 60°C/140°F). That’s right at the bottom end of domestic oven temperatures. The reason for using such low temperatures is to allow items such as sausage and luncheon meats to be smoked without the fat in them melting. Think fat around the meat in a tin of corned beef and you’ll see why we want to avoid this.
Cabinet smokers using gas or electricity as a heat source are the easiest to control at these temperatures over the comparatively long time that hot smoking takes.
Regrettably, the UK is way behind the USA in manufacturing smokers specifically for this purpose. The main one seen regularly is the Bradley Smoker, a great machine if you don’t mind the cost of the special wood pellets that it uses. Cabinet smokers are also available from Outdoor Cook and The Garden Gift Shop. I have not seen or used either of these, so you purchase at your own risk. Periodically, this type of smoker appears on eBay, usually from the US or Germany. The postage for US ones is often more than the cost of the smoker!
Many people will choose to make their own hot smoker. Mine is effectively a metal box sat above a gas ring. I made it this way to avoid having the gas supply inside the box with the inherent dangers involved if the flame goes out. If you choose to use gas, please take advice from a qualified gas engineer before doing anything. Electricity appears to be the safest method to use, subject to wiring by a qualified electrician but gas does give a moister atmosphere which is desirable. Either heat source will require a box to contain the food, usually a metal one although quite a number of the US members at the sausagemaking.org forum have made them successfully in wood. If possible, it’s good for the smoke chamber to be insulated to save on energy.
This is my hot smoker/bbq, note that the gas burner is segregated from the smoker by a steel plate and that, apart from supports for the burner, the base of the box has been removed. The smoker is effectively just a big metal box sitting on a burner!
When making sausage or luncheon meat using this type of smoking it is advisable to use curing salts to protect the meat during the long period that it is in the temperature danger zone. A typical smoked sausage would be placed in the smoker at 50°C/122°F for about an hour without smoke until the casings are dry. Smoke is then applied as the temperature is raised to 75°C/167°F over a period of 3 – 4 hours. The product is then cooked at 75°C – 80°C/167°F – 180°F (Temperatures as high as 90°C/194°F are acceptable, but only for a short period of time). It’s cooked until it reaches an internal temperature of 67°C/153°F and then held at this temperature for 10 minutes. Alternatively, it can be cooked to an alternative safe temperature. The sausage is then cooled as quickly as possible using a water spray/bath and subsequently refrigerated.
In my previous post I explained that there is a difference between what we know as BBQ and what the Americans know as BBQ. In this section, when I talk of BBQ I’m referring to US style BBQ – long and slow cooking with smoke for some of the time. For this we need a covered BBQ that is capable of holding quite a low temperature for a long period of time – may be up to 20 hours – even a chicken will take 4 – 6 hours to cook. Here we’re looking at temperatures higher than hot smoking, but still right at the lower end of those in a domestic oven. Between 90°C/194°F and 150°C/300°F, with most of the cooking taking place between 105°C/221°F and 125°C/257°F. We’ve already looked at cabinet smokers, these are fine at holding these temperatures but many BBQers frown on the use of anything other than wood and charcoal. A number of companies make BBQ’s that maintain these low temperatures over long periods of time. Needless to say, they are far more readily available in the US where hobbyists will spend $1000’s on their ‘BBQ pit’. Have a look here and you’ll see what I mean.
There are two main types available, bullet and offset – you can see both types here. In the UK you’ll find products (In rough order of lowest cost) from Brinkman, Pro Q, Weber, and a number of others.
An option is to make your own. The cheapest and easiest to make is called a UDS (Upright or Ugly Drum Smoker – depending on your point of view!). There are details of how to build one on The Smoke Ring forum.
In this style of BBQ the meat is sometimes brined usually a dry rub is applied and then it is cooked very slowly, with or without, smoke. It produces succulent meat and is usually served with a bbq sauce – whole shoulder joints of pork, whole chicken, briskets, all those cheaper cuts that would be like leather cooked at high temperature are fantastic cooked like this. Side dishes such as bbq beans will be cooked at the same time.
I’m a novice in this type of cooking so for further information please see the fantastic US website amazingribs.com where every aspect is covered.
Tabletop/Biscuit tin Smokers
Now anyone can do this! Imagine the scenario, you’ve been given a trout by a local fisherman who has kindly filleted it for you (Yeah, I bet!). You’d like it smoked but don’t have any fancy equipment, but you have got some BBQ wood dust/chips. Easy, just line your wok with a double layer of ‘tinfoil’ put some wood chips on it, create a stand for the fish to sit on – a round cake rack or a couple of chop-sticks with a plate balanced on them – put the fish on it, stuff the lid on and put it on the heat. Open every door and window and try and get rid of the smell for a week ‘cos a little bit of smoke goes a long way! It’s OK for TV chefs to do; they don’t have to live with the smell and the mess afterwards!
So what are the options?
There are any number of commercially available stovetop smokers, probably the best known and most widely available is from Camerons; there are many others of a similar design. Some include a spirit burner, others don’t. To be honest, it’s so simple to make your own with a biscuit or sweet tin or even a couple of roasting tins that spending £50 on one seems wasteful. You could, of course, use the wok method described earlier – but maybe it’s best done outside! It’s cheap and simple and produces great food. Go on, what’s stopping you?
Typically, fish is the chosen food for these types of smokers, but that’s not to say that other things can’t be used. A quick brine/salt certainly helps and then it’s smoked with a handful of wood dust/chips. About 20 – 30 minutes is usually enough to cook thin fillets.
Grilling (UK – Barbecue)
Basically, cooking food on a (usually) uncovered barbecue. At its best superb: at its worst, you get someone who cooks once a year trying to prove that food is carbon-based by turning it into charcoal! If you’re in the former category, invite me around. Joking aside, you don’t need me to tell you what’s available out there to cook on – there’s equipment to suit every price range. If you think your’s is big, check out The Johnsonville Big Taste Grill.
And, last but by no means least, the great sausagemaking.org forum where you’ll find members with a wealth of smoking, curing, and bbq experience.