Can You Smoke Food in the Winter?
Smoked fish and meats is something we associate more with the summer, when we are barbecuing and spending more time outside in the garden. Smoked food is something which can be enjoyed at any time of year, and what could be better than some home smoked salmon for breakfast on Christmas morning? If you want to get outside and smoke food over the winter months, there are several factors which are important to bear in mind.
Getting the Equipment
Because so many of us think of smoking food as a summer time activity, the colder months can be a great time to pick up smokers, wood chips and tools at bargain basement prices as the retailers clear out their summer stock to make way for other ranges. If you miss the boat with getting a smoker in the stores, online retailers keep stocks throughout the year but may have a less extensive range between autumn and Easter. Shop around and do some research to make sure you have everything you need before you get started. Get onto some specialist foodie or smoking websites and ask experts on their forums about what sort of things they would recommend for a beginner.
Obviously one of the main differences between a warm summer’s afternoon and a cold morning in January is the temperature. It is not uncommon for the temperature to be 20C or even 25C different between winter and summer and this has to be taken into account when smoking food. In cold weather, your smoker will take longer to reach the best temperature for smoke, and will lose heat far more quickly than it will in the winter. Some experts recommend insulating your smoker to protect it from icy winds, but it is sometimes a matter of trial and error to find the best temperature at any time of the year. As a general rule, in winter you will need more fuel to get the smoker up to the right temperature, and to keep it at this temperature while cooking. Around twice as much fuel could be required compared with the summer.
Most home smokers use wood chips to fire their smoker, and there is a wide range of different chips on the market. There is no right or wrong fuel to use, and the choice mainly comes down to a matter of personal preference. Cherry wood, beech, apple, chestnut and hickory are all popular smoking fuels, so experiment with some different flavours to see which combinations you like. There are several websites which will point you in the right direction if you are struggling to know where to start. Remember that you are going to have to store all of this fuel somewhere, so buy small quantities of chips until you get a better idea of exactly what you are going to use.
Rain or snow falling on your smoker draws heat away from the food inside, so it is a good idea to build some sort of little shelter to protect it from sudden showers. This shelter doesn’t have to be anything fancy; a few planks laid across a couple of bricks might be enough to provide a way of keeping the rain off. Just remember to leave enough room for the air to circulate and for there not to be any risk of anything catching fire as the temperature of the smoker starts to rise. It goes without saying that you should never be tempted to smoke food inside, however cold it is outside, and that smokers should be closely watched while the food is inside and the fire is lit.
Meat and Fish
The most commonly smoked items are meats and fish. Smoking not only adds flavour but also helps to preserve the food and stops it going off. Smoked salmon or trout is popular at any time of year, but especially at Christmas when people are looking for unusual gifts to send to foodie friends and family. Turkey is also idea for smoking, so if you have overestimated just how much turkey you are going to need to feed the family, carve off a leg or portion before roasting it in the oven and make something a little different for your New Year’s party.