How to Smoke Food


Smoking is one of the most common processes to cook food. It is also a primitive and ancient method of ensuring that the meat would be safe from pests, good for storage, and utterly delicious. It even helps in giving food a more irresistible color.

There is a straightforward way to explain how to smoke food. You just have to expose the food to a burning object, preferably wood. However, there are still more to learn if you want 100 percent success in smoking meat as well as other ingredients for certain dishes and beverages.

Types of Smoking Food

The three known types of smoking food are hot, cold, and smoke roasting. They differ when it comes to techniques, processes, and results.

  • Hot Smoking

    This smoking style requires a controlled environment to expose the food to heat and smoke. However, you need to hang the food first for quite some time so it can develop a special skin called pellicle. A pellicle is composed of proteins that are excellent in absorbing the flavor of smoke.

    As for the temperature, hot smoking needs 52 to 80 degrees Celsius (126 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit). This range is enough to ensure that the food is totally cooked, full of flavor, and moist. On the other hand, extremely hot temperature damages the food by splitting and/or shrinking it.

    When it comes to the advantages of hot smoking, the food is safe for consumption even if you will not cook it again. Hot smoking completely cooks the food inside and out. It is usually done for super-thick meat such as ham.

  • Cold Smoking

    The usual temperatures for this smoking process are within the range of 20 to 30 degrees Celsius (68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit). The main purpose of cold smoking is to make simple food even better for different cooking methods such as sauteing, roasting, steaming, grilling, and baking. Meat is obviously not cooked with cold smoking; however, it successfully gains that tasty smoked flavor and moist texture. But, that can only happen if you also hang it before the process so the pellicle will gradually develop. This type of smoking is perfect for steak, scallops, salmon, pork chops, beef, and chicken breasts.

    Waiting for long hours just to give food a better quality for cooking is such a dedication. That’s why you need to cook a finished product of cold smoking in the best way possible like using high-performance tools and equipment. Check our take on the most ideal yet affordable roasting pans and outdoor grills.

  • Smoke Roasting

    Also called barbecuing, smoke roasting combines two cooking methods: smoking and either baking or roasting. It requires using equipment such as conventional ovens, traditional or electric smokers, barbecue pits, and smoke roasters. If you will use a conventional oven for smoking, fill a pan with hardwood chips and put it inside during the process. Regarding smokers, they should be able to reach temperatures above 82 degrees Celsius (180 degrees Fahrenheit).

Aromatics for Smoking Food

To have a more mouthwatering aroma for your food, use aromatics while smoking. Examples are cinnamon sticks, fruit peel, grapevine cuttings, rosemary, and bay leaves. In fact, aromatics with a high amount of oil give an even stronger taste for the food. Just remember to soak stems and branches first because they burn fast.

Some people use herbs as aromatics, but that is not effective at all times. The effectiveness of herbal aromatics actually relies on the smoking style.

  • Hot Smoking

    Herbs work well with hot smoking. This smoking method only takes a minimal amount of time, perfect for the herbs to successfully work their way into the food. The best way to include herbs is by tossing them into the coals.

  • Cold Smoking

    Now, this is where you must avoid herbs. Cold smoking takes time to finish because it focuses on dehydrating and preserving the food perfectly. Unfortunately, herbs cannot produce their distinct smoke for a long time. However, you can toss another batch from time to time as maintenance. The downside of that alternative has something to do with money since herbs can be expensive, especially dried ones. Be careful though; some green herbs can be toxic when they gradually burn.

Wood vs. Food

Burning the wrong type of wood for a certain food may result in a boxing match inside your mouth. Some wood types are just not fit for all kinds of food. To avoid that dilemma, learn the right pairings by being familiar with some common types of wood.

  • Alder

    This wood type produces a delicate, sweet smoke. It is perfect for people who prefer the mild smoky flavor. It is best paired with pork, poultry, vegetables, and fish especially salmon. Specifically, western red alder wood has distinct sugars resulting to a unique flavors. It is a favorite addition for barbecuing seafood. It is great to use as chips, chunks or logs.

  • Hickory

    Alder is in perfect contrast with the hickory wood. Hickory has a stronger smoke, giving the food a more intense smoky taste for a fuller meal. That’s why it is perfect for pork, game, ribs, and brisket. It is a popular choice for barbecue restaurants because of its memorable flavor.

    Another way to give the meat a more irresistible taste for barbecue is by covering it with the right kind of BBQ rub.

  • Oak

    To better understand oak wood’s role in smoking food, let’s discuss the two types: white and red. Both white oak and red oak are used for cooking and grilling. They have differences though. White oak is ideal for longer use since it lasts for a long time despite burning. It is highly recommended for smoking food using a smoker.

    On the other hand, red oak is more suitable for faster cooking. It is excellent for ribs, game, and red meat because of its heavy flavor.

How to Smoke Food

Finally, it is time to learn the specifics on how to smoke food. Smoke roasting is the most common smoking method used by home cooks, so let’s focus on that.

Low heat is ideal because the wood needs to smolder, not burn. Smoldering wood lasts longer, successfully giving the food a smoky taste.

Another way to increase the time for smoking is by soaking wood and aromatics in the water before spreading them all over the coals. It may be unnecessary for some people, but it is a common method. One hour of immersion is recommended for wood chunks and chips while aromatic twigs need 30 minutes. Do not let the wood and aromatics touch the fire while they are still dripping wet. Remove excess water by shaking it off.

While smoking, cover the equipment to let smoke penetrate the entire food. Check the food and temperature every hour so you can adjust the heat if it gets too hot.


Smoking food is already part of human instinct to ensure safe consumption. Nowadays though, people focus more on how smoking gives food a more intense flavor and aroma. Hot and cold smoking are two methods that focus on preservation of meat. Meanwhile, smoke roasting is a common thing in households because it is easier and faster to accomplish. Going further, aromatics and wood help in boosting the food’s aroma. You just need to know how to pair the food with a specific type. See, learning how to smoke food is easy enough. Attention to details such as temperature is key to a more delicious result.

For more specific ideas about smoking food, learn how to smoke oysters!