Cold Smoking Sausage And Fish: Don't Do It
"Most food scientists cannot recommend cold-smoking methods because of the inherent risks." The National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Can you say nova lox? Lebanon baloney? Kielbasa? Smoked chub or sable? All cold smoked.
Cold smoking is an old method where the food is not cooked by heat during the smoking process. The air temp around the food is usually below 140°F according to the FDA. It is usually done with one container for generating smoke, another for the food, and a pipe between the two, although there are some clever devices that produce smoke and very little heat that can be attached to grills and even home made smoke boxes.
Cold smoking cheese, tofu, and nuts at home are relatively low risk, but I do not recommend cold smoking meats at home, especially for beginners. The risk is too high, especially for children, elderly, pregnant, and immune compromised.
Yes, I know there are websites devoted to the subject, but I think many of these people are driving on bald tires, skating on thin ice, playing Russian roulette. To cold smoke meats you must have a bulletproof recipe from a pro, not a buddy at work or some guy named "smokindude", you must control the temperature of the smoker and the meat precisely, which means you must have top grade digital thermometers, you must use the precise amount of salt and/or preservatives, you must heat and cool it properly, and storage temp after cooking must be precise. Many people do it. I do not.
What is the risk? Among other pathogens, Clostridium botulinum, the botulism bug, the one that makes a neurotoxin that kills people, loves improperly produced sausage and smoked fish. In fact botulism comes from the Latin word botulus which means "sausage"! Listeria monocytogenes is another killer that loves home sausage makers.
Are you willing to risk killing your family?
The risk from ground meats is higher than any other products, and this means sausages. When animals are slaughtered, contamination from microbes in the gut is usually confined to exposed surfaces and surfaces in contact with contaminated knives, gloves, and tables. This contamination is killed almost instantly when heated in the process of cooking. But if the meat is ground, contamination is disrtibuted evenly through the meat, and the center may not get enough heat to pasteurize it.
With fish, there is the additional hazard of parasites, like tapeworm. They get into fish flesh, especially if there are mammals in or around their waters whose fecal matter can contaminate their environment. That means people, farm animals, whales, seals, and porpoises. A tapeworm in your intestines can grow to 30'! To get a sense for what you are up against, look at this page on the FDA website or read this article on cold smoking salmon from Colorado State University.
Listen to this quote from CSU about commercially produced cold smoked salmon: "It is risky for pregnant women, the frail elderly and others with compromised immune systems due to disease or medical therapy. Many countries, including the U.S., recommend these groups avoid cold smoked fish. The shelf life of smoked salmon is very short, one to two weeks in the refrigerator and about one month in the freezer. Storage time is another critical factor in the proliferation of L. monocytogenes."
Heat kills all these bacteria and pathogens. Freezing does not. Alcohol does not. Yes, salt will inhibit their growth, but salt does not kill them all, only those on the surface and just below. Meats left at temperatures between 40°F and 130°F are in "the danger zone", a range of temps within which microbes reproduce rapidly, sometimes doubling every 20 minutes. If you cook these products to internal temperatures below 130°F you are cooking at a temp that bacteria love. At 130°F the time it takes to pasteurize meat can be hours, and at 165°F the pasteurization time is down to seconds. Because the proper balance of tempeerature, salt, and preservatives is so delicate, I cannot recommend any cooking below 200°F minimum. For safety and taste, please use my meat temperature guide.
If you love cured smoked sausage, I recommend you buy it. Professional sausage makers should have the expertise and all the critical point variables under control. If you love nova lox, buy it. Or click here for my recipe for a divine hot smoked salmon that is perfectly safe. I also have recipes for bacon and pastrami which are cured and hot smoked, so they are safe.
Finally, if I have not scared you off, if you insist on going down the risky path of cold smoking, buy the book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman. It has superb recipes for making sausages and other cured meats. Follow his instructions carefully.
But don't come to me for help. I have decided that I will not offer recipes or advice on cold smoking on this website. I want you and your loved ones alive and cooking my safe recipes!
This page was revised 9/30/2013
About this website
AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, spareribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, barbecue sauces, rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best buying guide to barbecue smokers, grills, and accessories, edited by Meathead.
Advertising on this site
AmazingRibs.com is far the most popular barbecue website in the world and one of the 50 most popular food websites in the US according to comScore and Quantcast. Visitors and pageviews increase rapidly every year. Click here for analytics and advertising info.
| Weights, Measures, Conversions | Tips & Techniques | Recipes | Equipment Reviews | BBQ Culture & History |
| My Ingredients | BBQ Joints | About Us | Blog | Links | Newsletter | BBQ Tunes |
| Privacy Promise, Code of Ethics, Other Legal Terms | Advertising & Sponsorship Opportunities |