Building a cold smoker

Cold smoker with third coat of wood stain
My newly completed cold smoker
My newly completed cold smoker before staining it

I was off work last week and as I was browsing an American BBQ forum I spotted a thread which was a load of photos of home made cold smokers, all different shapes and sizes. “I could do with one of those”, I thought. So off I went to the DIY shop, and bought a load of wood, screws, louvre vents, etc, and started sawing and screwing bits together.

I’ve never really done any woodworking before so there was some serious head-scratching and tea-drinking going on 🙂 I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out, especially the rounded corners on the doors and roof (that was a little nerve-racking cutting those out!) I just need to treat the plywood somehow now so that it doesn’t disintegrate in the beautiful British summer weather!

As luck would have it, I had a piece of maple-cured bacon (already with pellicle!) just begging for some applewood smoke, so I set it on the smoker whilst I went to a friend’s hog-roast (I know, poor me). It works really well. I got  a much better smoke on this in 6 hours than I ever did by using the old BBQ.

Anyway here’s some photos of the build…

EDIT: and here it is after 3 coats of wood stain:

Cold smoker with third coat of wood stain
Cold smoker with third coat of wood stain, and er, the handles on correctly.

Courgettes are growing

Baby patio courgettes
Baby patio courgettes
Baby patio courgettes

I’m quite excited. Should be able to harvest these in a week or two. Not only that, I can make lemon and ricotta stuffed courgette flowers! mmmmm.

lemon and ricotta stuffed courgette flowers
lemon and ricotta stuffed courgette flowers

Maybe I’ll have them for lunch instead of breakfast this time though – they were a bit rich for breakfast 🙂

Essential equipment

Or “how did I ever live without this stuff?”

A list of items I can’t live without, especially for home curing / charcuterie purposes.

1) Digital scales – accuracy is key when weighing out things like curing salt. Digital scales are not expensive and take the guesswork out of curing and brining meats. Your stomach will thank you. I recently replaced my old ones with these – they’re accurate to the gram. Also, your baking will improve if you’ve been using analogue scales for measuring ingredients. How anyone can cook using volume measurements (cups, etc) is beyond me.

2) Digital probe thermometer. I have one with a probe on a long metal wire, so that I can leave it sticking in meat with the oven door closed and then have the temperature display / alarm on the kitchen work surface. Indispensable for checking if poultry (for example) is properly cooked. It’s also very useful for checking whether your oven temperature gauge is lying to you – mine was way out!

3) Sharp knives – Make sure that your knives are sharp – it’s easier to screw up with a blunt knife, and they’re frustrating to use.  Honing steels and knife sharpeners are cheap. If you have expensive knives (I don’t, yet.) they might need specialist care, but all knives should be sharpened from time to time, and honed regularly.

4) Meat grinder / mincer / sausage stuffer. I have an electric mincer with a sausage making attachment. It wasn’t expensive and I find it suits my needs absolutely fine.

5) Bacon / meat slicer – not really essential, but it’s nice to slice bacon so that the slices are all exactly the same. It means that they all cook at the same time. You can spend a lot of money on these if you like, but I went for an entry level one, which works great for my purposes.

6) Vacuum sealer – I just bought one of these – works great so far. It means that I can get more into my freezer, and the food doesn’t get freezer burn.

I just realised that it looks like I’m pimping out Andrew James’ products. The truth is that I bought this stuff because it was the entry level stuff, and I’ve honestly had no issues with it yet. So there you go 🙂

7) proQ cold smoke generator – This thing is absolutely great. I can get over 12 hours’ smoke from a single dose of wood dust. Much easier than running ducting all over the place 🙂


Duck prosciutto

Duck prosciutto slices
Duck prosciutto
Duck prosciutto

The simplest home charcuterie project you can make. I urge you to try this. It doesn’t need any specialist curing chamber setup, and what’s more – it’s delicious!

You’ll need:

  • 2 large duck breasts (better still, you can buy a whole bird for a little more than the breasts, make stock with the carcass, and confit the legs)
  • Sea salt
  • A couple of bay leaves
  • white pepper
  • some cheesecloth (muslin) and butcher’s string
  • digital scales
  • a non-reactive, lidded container large enough to hold the breasts side by side without touching

Put some sea salt into the container so that it covers the bottom. Place the breasts on top of that, nestle them into the salt and make sure that they’re not touching. Press a bay leaf onto each one, then cover them completely with more sea salt. Put the lid on the container and put them in the fridge.

After 24 hours in the fridge, take them out and discard the salty brine that’s developed. They should be firm. Rinse the breasts under cold running water, and dry them with kitchen towel. Cover them with white pepper so that they have a nice dusting. Then take your muslin and wrap the breasts up tightly. Tie with butcher’s string so that you can hang them up. You’ll want to weigh them at this point using digital scales (a must have). Record the weight of each one and attach a label to the string with the weight on.

Then hang them up (ideally at about 70% relative humidity, and 12-15 degree C), until they’ve lost about 30% of their original weight. I hang mine in the cupboard under the stairs, above a bucket with some salty water in to add some humidity), but that’s not really necessary. Cool temperature is a must. Mine took nearly a week until they’d lost 30%.

That’s all there is to it!

Slice them as thinly as you can, and tuck in! I love to eat them on endive leaves, with thinly sliced pears and Gorgonzola. It’s sooo good.

Here they are after hanging for nearly a week

Duck prosciutto after hanging
Duck prosciutto after hanging
Duck prosciutto after hanging
Duck prosciutto after hanging

And here’s what they look like sliced. The fat just melts in your mouth!

Duck prosciutto slices
Duck prosciutto slices
Duck prosciutto slices
Duck prosciutto slices



Home cured bacon!

Home maple cured and smoked bacon
Home maple cured and smoked bacon
Home maple cured and smoked bacon

The first thing many people cure at home – and rightly so – is bacon. Just LOOK AT IT.

My first piece of bacon which I cured at home was straight out of Michael Rulhman and Brian Polcyn’s fantastic book – Charcuterie: The craft of salting, smoking and curing. I’ve adapted this recipe to my taste over time, as I prefer a sweeter cure on my bacon. Particularly a maple cure, with applewood smoke.

My current version:

  • A 1Kg decent piece of belly pork, (no ribs, and preferably with the skin on), trimmed so that the edges are nice and square.
  • Some of those “zippy” freezer bags – the large ones.
  • About  35gms basic dry cure  mix *
  • A good glug of maple syrup
  • About 2tbsp ground black pepper
  • About 10 juniper berries, crushed with the back of a knife

* I use a lot of this, so I make a large-ish batch up which means that I don’t have to measure it out each time. Accuracy is key when using curing salts so bigger is better in that respect too, less room for error.

Basic dry cure mix:

  • 450 grams sea salt (or any salt with no iodine anti-caking agent in)
  • 225 grams sugar
  • 50 grams cure #1 (also known as Prague powder 1 or pink salt) It’s 6.25% sodium nitrite and 93.75% salt, and prevents botulism. Strictly speaking you don’t need this in bacon even if it’s smoked, because it’ll get cooked before eating anyway. It also makes the bacon a nice pink colour too.

It’ll keep indefinitely in a Kilner jar.

Put the bacon and dry cure mix into the zippy bag, rub it all over the meat (get into all those nooks and crannies), add the rest of the ingredients, give it another mix, then pop it into the fridge for about a week, turning it over every other day so that all the meat gets an even  cure (this is technically called “overhauling”). You’ll notice that a brine is produced, this is what you want, and it’ll carry the flavours into the meat.

After about 5 days or so, feel the meat to see if it feels a bit firm, not hard. If it does, it’s cured. If not, leave it another day and check again.

Once it’s cured, take it out of the fridge and wash all the cure off the meat under the cold tap (I can never get all the pepper off, that doesn’t really matter). Discard the cure and dry the meat with paper towel.

Now you have options to finish it off:

  1. Put it (fat side up) onto a griddle pan in a baking tray and set the oven to 200F (about 93C) until it’s 150F in the middle (that takes about 1-1.5hrs)
  2. Hot smoke it until it reaches 150F in the middle
  3. Cold smoke it and then finish it in the oven, as #1

That’s it! You’ve got lovely bacon. mmmm, bacon. Slice a piece off and fry it up!

If it’s a little bit salty, you can blanch it which will remove some of that salt. I’ve found that the edges tend to be more salty than the middle.

Here’s what mine looked like after about 8 hours cold smoked over applewood chips, before the oven phase:

After the smoke phase
After the smoke phase
After the smoke phase - underside
After the smoke phase – underside

And here it is freshly out of the oven, once it’s hit 150F in the middle

Smoked and cooked
Smoked and cooked
Smoked and cooked
Smoked and cooked

Take the fat off, slice it up, and use any trimmings, etc for lardons. It freezes really well, especially if you have a vacuum sealer.

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