Enhancing Flavours With Cold Smoking

Smoked cheeses, vegetables and nuts can add extra nuance and flavour to a meal. And it doesn’t need a large, dedicated piece of equipment. It’s surprisingly easy to do with a Big Green Egg, standard covered BBQ or similar device.

Find out how to do cold smoking with a low-cost smoke generator. And a paint can.

Why Do Cold Smoking?

Cold smoking infuses food items with additional flavours without cooking them. It could be to smoke ingredients for cooking (e.g. vegetables) or food for direct consumption (e.g. cheeses). This is achieved by burning flavoured wood chips or dust in a closed environment such as a Big Green Egg or covered BBQ.

It could be tomatoes and aubergines for a vegetarian pizza, beans for a side dish (such as black bean coconut rice) or vegetables destined for a hearty winter soup. Smoked ingredients can make a meal just that little bit more interesting. And smoked cheeses, especially hard cheeses, can be fantastic. I’ve written a guide for smoking cheese at home.

Aubergine slices smoked with apple seasoning

Which smoke flavour to choose is down to personal preference and what the recipe calls for. Common examples include apple, cherry, hickory, alder and oak. There are more “out there” flavours such as Jack Daniels infused wood chips. I use apple for vegetables destined for pizza, works wonderfully with shredded mozzarella.

Where To Cold Smoke?

Outdoors … or, more accurately, in an open, very well ventilated space. It can be done under a garden parasol or table if it’s raining, but bottom line is that cold smoking will create a small amount of smoke that is better dispersed in the outside air.

The amount of smoke generated should be minimal. It won’t annoy your neighbours.

Smoke being generated using a Big Green Egg

Cold Smoking Set-ups

A common approach is to use two devices connected with a tube (e.g. tumble dryer outlet pipe, draining pipe). The first device uses heat to generate the smoke and the second takes the smoke in at the bottom. The smoke generator can be an old, cleaned paint can. The set-up can also be two large cardboard boxes linked by a rigid tube. This can be a lot of hassle.

I use a ProQ Cold Smoke Generator. This uses a tea light to burn wood dust very slowly to generate a small amount of smoke. It’s ideal for smoking in a Big Green Egg (I use this) or covered BBQ, such as a Weber. There needs to be minimal airflow through the Egg/BBQ, open top and bottom vents a tiny crack to keep the dust embers alive without generating significant heat.

The burner comes with some wood dust, once you’ve used that though you can get more from most BBQ dealers. I buy mine from Smokewood Shack in the UK.

The smoke generator will create a small amount of heat. The platesetter in a Big Green Egg can be used to deflect this from what is being smoked. In a BBQ you can put the items on a rack over a tray above the smoker.

ProQ smoke generator with wood dust and chips

The foodstuffs being smoked should be placed onto a surface that allows air (and therefore smoke) to flow freely though it, for example cooling racks. I personally use the following items as they are round and fit well inside a Big Green Egg to maximise surface area:

The holes are just right to support what is being smoked whilst at the same time allowing smoke to flow freely.

Aubergines smoking on a pizza baking pan with holes in the base

Cold Smoking With a Big Green Egg

I use our Big Green Egg (BGE) to cold smoke. The same effect can be achieved with a close-top BBQ or similar device. Whatever is used, ensure that there is a small amount of air passing through to keep the smoke dust glowing.

The smoke generator sits on the grate of the BGE. In this position air passes up through the bottom and out of the daisy wheel at the top, keeping the dust/chips glowing and smoking. Once set up, the smoking should take between 2-4 hours.

Smoke generator in the base of the Big Green Egg

With this in place, items for smoking can be added in layers. The picture below show a minimax being set up to smoke aubergine slices and tomatoes for a vegetarian pizza. The first layer sits on the fire box, with the fire ring separating it from the second layer.

Bottom layer of sliced aubergine ...
... and top layer of sliced heritage tomatoes

A large BGE and some supporting bricks gives more possibilities. I have smoked, on four different levels, paneer cheese, tomatoes, green vegetables and sliced aubergine. As there is no heat being generated, clean house bricks can be used to support the different levels. The picture below shows one of four levels of smoking that can be achieved with a larger BGE.

Tomatoes and aubergine in a Big Green Egg ready for smoking

Meat and Cold Smoking

I haven’t mentioned meat, and there’s a very good reason for this.

Cold smoking meats (and fish) must be approached with extreme caution.

Cold smoking normally has foodstuffs in warm, outside temperature and air conditions for a considerable length of time. For cheese and vegetables, that’s fine. Meat is a different matter. Would you leave meat outside for a few hours, even covered up? Nope. And not just because the local cats might steal it, it’s dangerous in terms of food hygiene.

Rather than go into detail here, read this article on amazingribs.com, it explains why cold smoking raw meat should be avoided. Cold smoking of cured meats and fish can be done, and is a subject worthy of its own (future) blog post.

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