Can You Cold Smoke Chicken?

Updated June 18, 2018

Brining and smoking foods aids in their preservation and makes them taste better. For home cooks, the challenge is to understand and diligently take the precautions to keep their smoked meats food-safe. There are two basic forms of smoked meats, hot-smoked and cold-smoked. Hot smoking cooks the meats as they smoke, while cold smoking leaves them flavourful but uncooked. Chicken is usually hot-smoked.

Preparing the Bird

As with any food to be preserved, start with the freshest and best quality chicken. Make a standard poultry brine with 0.227kg. of non-iodised salt for every gallon of water, as well as 0.113kg. of sugar and any other desired flavourings such as fresh herbs, peppercorns, garlic or onions. Adding 56.7grs. of Tinted Curing Mix, available from your butcher, per gallon of water will help to prevent spoilage and bacteria. Prepare enough brine to cover the bird and soak it for 24 to 36 hours. Drain and dry the chicken and leave it uncovered in the refrigerator overnight for the skin to dry before smoking.

Hot Smoking vs. Cold Smoking

As their names suggest, hot smoking and cold smoking differ primarily in the temperature used. Hot smoking generally takes place at temperatures of 85 to 107 degrees Celsius, slow roasting the food as it smokes. Cold smoking takes place at temperatures of 120 degrees or lower, with the combustion taking place in a chamber separate from the food. This means foods are in the food safety "danger zone" for the duration of the process so it can only be used with brined or cured meats. The meat will remain uncooked at the end of the process.

Cold-Smoking Chicken

If you do not own a smoker capable of cold smoking, you can improvise by venting the smoke from your smoker into a separate insulated box containing the food, sitting on a rack. A picnic cooler can easily be converted to a smoke chamber by drilling two holes, one near the bottom for the smoke to enter, and one near the top for it to exit. Smoke the chicken on its rack for six hours, maintaining a temperature of 120 degrees or below. Chill the chicken immediately and cook it to a food-safe temperature of 165 degrees or higher before serving.

Enhanced Cold Smoking

Commercial food manufacturers are able to safely cold smoke potentially dangerous foods such as fish and poultry in smokers that maintain a food-safe, refrigerator-like temperature. Constructing a similar arrangement at home can be done by a skilled handyman. Cut intake and outflow holes in a used refrigerator fitted with wire racks. Protect the edges with sheet metal or foil furnace-duct tape and use heatproof ducting to conduct smoke from your smoker to the refrigerator. Drill a hole and mount a thermometer to simplify temperature control.

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About the Author

Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.