Smoking (cooking)

Smoking is the process of flavoring, cooking, or preserving food by exposing it to the smoke from burning or smoldering plant materials, most often wood. Meats and fish are the most common smoked foods, though cheeses, vegetables, and ingredients used to make beverages such as whisky,[1] smoked beer, and lapsang souchong tea are also smoked. In Europe, alder is the traditional smoking wood, but oak is more often used now, and beech to a lesser extent. In North America, hickory, mesquite, oak, pecan, alder, maple, and fruit-tree woods, such as apple, cherry, and plum, are commonly used for smoking. Other fuels besides wood can also be employed, sometimes with the addition of flavoring ingredients. Chinese tea-smoking uses a mixture of uncooked rice, sugar, and tea, heated at the base of a wok. Some North American ham and bacon makers smoke their products over burning corncobs. Peat is burned to dry and smoke the barley malt used to make whisky and some beers. In New Zealand, sawdust from the native manuka (tea tree) is commonly used for hot smoking fish. In Iceland, dried sheep dung is used to cold-smoke fish, lamb, mutton, and whale. Historically, farms in the Western world included a small building termed the smokehouse, where meats could be smoked and stored. This was generally well-separated from other buildings both because of the fire danger and because of the smoke emanations. It is believed that the smoking of food dates back to the time of primitive cavemen.[2][3] As caves or simple huts lacked chimneys, these dwellings could become very smoky. The primitive men would often hang meat up to dry, and it is presumed that at some point they became aware that meat that was stored in smoky areas acquired a different flavor and was better preserved than meat that simply dried out. Over time this process was combined with pre-curing the food in salt or salty brines, resulting in a remarkably effective preservation process that was adapted or developed independently by numerous cultures around the world.[4] Until the modern era, smoking was of a more "heavy duty" nature as the main goal was to preserve the food. Large quantities of salt were used in the curing process and smoking times were quite long, sometimes involving days of exposure.[2] The advent of modern transportation made it easier to transport food products over long distances and the need for the time and material intensive heavy salting and smoking declined. Smoking came to be seen more as way to flavor than to preserve food. In 1939 a device called the Torry Kiln was invented at the Torry Research Station in Scotland. The kiln allowed for uniform mass-smoking and is considered the prototype for all modern large-scale commercial smokers. Although refinements in technique and advancements in technology have made smoking much easier, the basic steps involved remain essentially the same today as they were hundreds if not thousands of years ago.[2] "Little Chief" home smoker and racks with hot smoked Pacific halibut Cold smoking can be used as a flavor enhancer for items such as chicken breasts, beef, pork chops, salmon, scallops, and steak. The item can be cold smoked for just long enough to give some flavor. Some cold smoked foods are baked, grilled, roasted, or sauteed before eating. Smokehouse temperatures for cold smoking are typically done between 20 to 30 C (68 to 86 F).[5] In this temperature range, foods take on a smoked flavor, but remain relatively moist. Cold smoking does not cook foods. Meats should be fully cured before cold smoking.[5] Hot smoking exposes the foods to smoke and heat in a controlled environment. Although foods that have been hot smoked are often reheated or cooked, they are typically safe to eat without further cooking. Hams and ham hocks are fully cooked once they are properly smoked. Hot smoking occurs within the range of 52 to 80 C (126 to 176 F).[5] Within this temperature range, foods are fully cooked, moist, and flavorful. If the smoker is allowed to get hotter than 185 F (85 C), the foods will shrink excessively, buckle, or even split. Smoking at high temperatures also reduces yield, as both moisture and fat are "cooked" away. Smoke roasting or smoke baking refers to any process that has the attributes of smoking combined with either roasting or baking. This smoking method is sometimes referred to as "barbecuing", "pit baking", or "pit roasting". It may be done in a smoke roaster, closed wood-fired masonry oven or barbecue pit, any smoker that can reach above 250 F (121 C), or in a conventional oven by placing a pan filled with hardwood chips on the floor of the oven so the chips smolder and produce a smokebath. However, this should only be done in a well-ventilated area to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.