Operation Cold Smoke – Update #1 – Make up your damned mind Biggles !!!

For the last 10 years I’ve dreamed about making a cold smoker. Bacon, ham, sausage, pork chops, fish & chile peppers oh my! Cold smoking ain’t quite as straight forward as hot smoking, plus the equipment is different. This coupled with being dead lazy, I’m only now taking the project on.
The cold smoking thing all came together when Salvage sent me a link to a Cold Smoke Generator on ebay, I bought it that moment. The wheels spun and I posted last week about making a cold smoker out of a 55 gallon drum. I thought I had it made, but I was wrong. The drum was “lined”, that means it’s bad for food related craft projects. The protective coating keeps organic solvents from attacking the steel, good for them, bad for us. You want an unlined, clean, steel drum for such things and this was not it. And then? Creepy E took the week off so it was going to be 9 days before the new drum could be ordered. I have an attention span of a gnat and I needed satisfaction, needed it like now.
I figured I could use my hot smoker and talked to Salvage about it. Sure, not a problem, but you have to be very careful about Ptomaine and Botulism. See, with a hot smoker you got fats/juices all over the darned place and they’re generally cleaned up by a good hot fire. But cold smoking rarely goes above 120 degrees F. This means whatever nasties are there, they incubate. Here’s what he has to say on the subject.
Ptomaine is the enemy you can smell. Botulism is the real culprit in this realm. It wants 3 things, the spores, absence of Oxygen, and temperatures between 70 deg and 140 deg F. You are building the Botulism incubator. Hmmmm It is odorless and tasteless. The good thing is that Botulism and Ptomaine do not get along at all. So, if it smells rotten it will only make you very sick. If it smells good it can kill you dead. Heat botulism to 265 deg F and the organism dies, but the poison remains and you still die. So the moral here is to never grow Botulism. Like genital warts, you have to catch it from somewhere.
Saturday morning’s ToDo List:
Clean up a few grates, drill a hole for the generator and find some smokable food stuffs.

Early Saturday morning found me at my place of employment bead blasting a few of my smoker’s grates to get the grease/bits off. Cleaning each and every angle on those things was quite tedious, I got it done though.
Between errands, and a few other things I didn’t get back home until the afternoon. I needed to sit and rest a bit, the smoker would have to wait until I was ready. Besides, Salvage and I were still firing off emails to each other discussing what I should smoke first. Something fishy? It sounded the easiest and quickest way, but fish needs to be brined first. Or something along those lines, so I headed off to see Omar about a load of jalapenos, simple yet easy.
Time marches on. I finally mustered up enough umph to drill a hole in my smoker and install the generator, it had to be a 5/8″ hole. Yeah well, it turns out the bit I borrowed was dulled, stripped to the bone and pretty useless. It’d have to wait until Sunday, I could go buy me a new bit. Time for the internet, oh joy of joys.
Damned that internet, damned that craigslist.
Picture the Biggles perched at his computer, in a dark room, pouring through Craigslist. Fingers twitching, mouth opening, closing, lick those lips. Yeah, that’s right I was at the General section searching for the word, “smoker”.
I found a professional, old, fridge sized rig in Berkeley and it was still available. I made an appointment to go pick it up first thing Sunday morning. What have I done now. Third time’s the charm? The last time I did this I wound up with a 2100 pound rig that I never did have the time to restore. I gave it to Omar and it’ll be moving to El Salvador here pretty soon.
As you can see, it’s got all the racks in there and is pretty much ready to go. Again, the racks will need to be cleaned, but their all stainless steel, so should clean up quite easily.
Wanna see that badass smoke generator?
Salvage pointed me to this rig on ebay, the seller’s username is fiddler252. That’s the best I can do at the moment, no other contact information is available. Here’s the scoop, listen carefully. It’s a smoke generator, all is does is slowly pump smoke in to your smoker. It’s made from solid machined aluminum with a cap on the bottom and a cap on the top. You fill it with little compressed wood squiggles or dust or really small chips. Light from the bottom with a propane torch for about 40 seconds. Install the lower cap and attach the supplied air pump. Then put the top cap on and the smoke begins to flow in to your chamber.
Last night I finally got my 5/8″ hole drilled, installed the unit and took it for a test run around the neighborhood. The little s.o.b. works like a charm and apparently only needs to be filled every 12 hours! Not bad for only a hunnerd bucks.
The downside? My smoker ain’t tuned, yet. At first the smoke only pooled, then poured out the bottom, too many holes. Good thing I have two little boys, with socks. Or they had socks anyways, heh.
My Leatherman made quick work of a few of those socks and was able to plug the 13 holes with ease. At this point the smoker filled with smoke, just as it should. Very little escaping from the top, Salvage says this is how it’s supposed to be. Not like my hot smoker with a steady waft of blue smoke hitting the neighborhood. Here’s my fancy exhaust dampening system.
Um, it’s a plate, sitting on the hole.
Of course I installed a remote temp gauge, and it read about 58 degrees. That’s not hot enough, am going for a cold smoke between 90 and 120 degrees F. A dual burner electric hotplate sitting on the bottom raised the heat a bit. I think I got it up to about 76 degrees in about 45 minutes. Not sure if that’s going to fly or not, I’m going to say NOT.
Okay, so where are we now? On the 3rd attempt, we’ve got a box with a door and some racks. We’ve got the smoke generator installed and working properly. It looks as though the smoker itself only needs some fine tuning and we’re good to go. What’s next?
I need to clean the racks, bring the smoker up to temp in a reasonable amount of time and be able to maintain that temperature for as long as I want to (up to about 48 hours). Once I bring the temperature up, need to fire up the generator and see how all the air & heat flow, make appropriate adjustments. Once I can do all this, I’ll be ready to cold smoke something, anything!
We’re getting there.
ps – This post was supposed to go up early last week. But it turns out the browser I was using was getting more and more incompatible with my blogging software. It came to a head last week and wasn’t able to post, nearly at all. In fact, it was removing large amounts of text, this post had to be rewritten 3 times before I figured out what was going on. I’ve switched to Firefox, removed Opera and we’re on our way!

19 thoughts on “Operation Cold Smoke – Update #1 – Make up your damned mind Biggles !!!

  1. What’s the diff between cold and hot smoking in flavor – will it be worth all this hassle? Can’t wait to read the next installment of this Rube Goldberg device!

  2. Why do you need the fancy smoke generator? If you’re putting a hotplate into the smoker can’t you just put the wood chips on the hotplate for the smoke…?

  3. Hey,
    All great questions. Hot smokers work between 200and 250, or so. This is the traditional method for BBQ.
    Cold smoking is done at 90 to 120 for cured or brined meats, bacon, ham, fish, sausage or pastrami.
    I have done cold smoking with using a pan on a hotplate, easy. But most cold smoking is done for 48 hours and reloading that pan every 2 hours, 24 hours a day gets old really fast. In fact, the last time I did it swore never to do it again. The smoke generator allows me to load once every 12 hours, so you can see, now, why I opted for such a device.

  4. You are kinda of getting scary with words like boutulism and Ptomaine. That is the reason you use nitrates. Are you getting scared now. You need to cure food with nitrates and salt to make sure you do not create those nasty’s at such a low smoking temperature. Nitrates are a natural substance and they will not kill you unless you smoke them in a Bong. Hah!

  5. What Chilebrowne said about nitrates.
    A cold smoker with an internal hot plate has a hard time both generating smoke and staying in the right temperature range on a warm day. With mine I can ony cold smoke if it is 50 F or less outside, else I have too warm a smoke.
    Cold smoked foods aren’t cooked is one big difference from a hot smoker. Smoked salmon is usually cold smoked.

  6. This is a very ignorant question, but why can’t you refrigerate the unit to below forty degrees, fill it with smoke and not worry about the harmful bugs growing? Would the smoke not penetrate to properly cure the meat?

  7. Oo! Oo! Oo! Oo! Can I? Master Biggles, Can I answer???
    Living in the tropics raises this question often. With Ambient tempuratures in excess of 100 deg F, curing is sometimes necessary to hold products at room temps. Chilling the air and smoke is a common practice in places that never have a “killing season”. Either very cold ambient temps ( a relative thing I guess), or a chilled cabinet are needed to do cheeses right.
    One major function of the smoking process is drying the product, lowering the water content to retard spoilage. Cold air doesnt remove moisture nearly as fast as warm air. And smoke molecules dont penetrate cold fat nearly as quickly as soft warm fat. So its about speed as much as anything.I guess it might better be termed ‘lukewarm’ smoking.
    Sorry Biggles buddy, couldnt restrain myself……..

  8. Sorry about that, my site redesign has majorly stalled, sigh.
    Thank you! Yeah, caught that. Neat, eh?
    drbiggles at cyberbilly dot com

  9. Hello,
    Tried to post yesterday – didn’t work.
    just wondering are you still using the smoke generator? Do you have any food picks? I picked up a book on skoking Salmon and want to try a cold smoke but do not have a setup yet. When I hot smoke, I use meat temp as my gauge. How do you judge cold smoking time, is it just trial and error?
    Thank you,

  10. Hi Anthony,
    I still have everything, but my life has changed a lot over the last few years and my time for such things has really shrunk. So, my direct skill with the cold smoker hasn’t gone anywhere.
    That being said, generally speaking, the stuff you cold-smoke is cured/brined. Bacon, ham, fish, that kind of stuff. This means it’s really already cooked and you’re just adding smoke flavor. Take care!

  11. I am trying to find one of those smoke generators but have had no luck can you get me some contact info. for that guy who makes them

  12. Hey Mattick,
    It’s in the post up there. If you go to ebay and search specifically for a seller, fiddler252, you’ll see he still has them for sale. Cheers!

  13. Hey Smokin’,
    YES, that’s it. When I bought mine, he didn’t have the website up yet. Thank you!
    Yeah, I dunno man. It’s made out of machined aluminum, the fit and finish is really nice. If I were to make one, … well just picture Homer Simpson’s attempt at the same.
    Thanks for stopping by!

  14. Hello !
    Congratulations on your smoker!
    Excuse my English because I’m using Google translator.
    I’m from Brazil and lover of smoked.
    Pretty interesting its smoke generator, would like more information about it.
    Would you send me some pictures inside so I can get an idea of how it is done, because unfortunately we do not have it here in Brazil to buy.
    Thank you for your attention!

  15. Nice setup there Doc!
    First time here and really enjoyed your escapades. I’m thinking of getting one of those smoke generators myself.
    Looking forward to your updates on this project. Take care!