I am looking for a smoker that will cold smoke (under 100F) for cheese and seafood. Do any of the electric smokers allow you to smoke at such low temperatures? Or are there any brands out there that do this explicitly? I do not want to spend a fortune as I won't use it more than a dozentimes a year.
You might check out Allied Kenco or Sausagemania.com for parts and resources to do your own cold smoking. Not sure if either will turn up a pre-packaged smoker, though.
The SmokinTex electric smoker (see thread on Electric Smokers) allows a limited amount of cold smoking with a cold plate. It's a heavy double-walled steel plate which you insert between the heating element at the bottom and the shelves above.
The idea is you get the smoke going, immediately insert the plate with a bowl of ice on top, turn the smoker off and put the food to be smoked in the top part of the smoker. We've done cheese, shrimp, scallops and octopus in it. None of these smokes for very long, perhaps 30 minutes max. There are instructions for cold-smoking salmon which I haven't tried so in theory it is possible.
A company called Luhr-Jensen makes a line of small, inexpensive electric cold smokers: Big Chief, Little Chief, Mini Chief. They are pretty much what you're asking for. The company also sells bags of various kinds of sawdust to use, if you don't have a local source of hardwood chips or sawdust.
Bi-Mart, for example, has them for sale.
While the chief series are good starter devices (I started smoking with a little chief over 25 years ago) they do not cold smoke unless you are doing so in winter and the outside temp is about freezing.
The problem with most cheap electric devices is that you cannot control the temp separately from the smoke. Especially with these element-at-the-bottom devices, the element needs to get hot enough to smoke the wood in the pan, which pretty much means that the surrounding area is going to heat up to well above 100 - typically it's closer to the 225-250 where standard hot smoking is done. They are not insulated, which means that if the surrounding temp is low enough, the BTU leakage will keep the smoking temp low enough for some cold smoking applications - but don't count on that happening all the time.
Cold Smoking requires a separate chamber for generating the smoke. Actually, that's the best solution for all smoking, hot or cold. But it's especially necessary for cold smoking.
I also have had the Bradley mentioned below. It's a step above the Luhr Jensens in that it has separate elements for the smoke generator and the box itself. The box is better insulated, and because the smoke element is so much smaller than the units that use a pan, it doesn't generate that much heat. It's definitely a better choice than the Luhr Jensens. But it's still far from perfect. 1) you have to buy their wood disks and you can't use anything else; 2) it's still a one-box solution and hard to regulate heat in the lower ranges. It works well if you are shooting for the 225-250 range, but keeping it at 100 or below requires that the element stays off most of the time, so it's really at the lower end of it's control range. I've stopped using mine because 1) it broke and they won't sell me a $1.50 Chinese feed motor - but would like me to buy the entire assembly for $85, (and if you go to their forum, a lot of people are having the same problem) and 2) I've moved on to an offset box wood burner with gas that I made from a couple of other smoker units.
The only problem with the cooler full of ice is that my impression is that cold smoking times tend to be kinda long. That's my recollection for hams, etc. I have a sausage book somewhere that has a drawing for a smokehouse built with the fire set off a ways with an underground duct to the main building. The distance and earth cool the smoke to the right temp.
I have posted this before, but there was an exchange of comments that eventually led to the moderators taking it all off. So let me just say that I am not recommending this to anyone, nor am I claiming that it is a good thing to do or certainly the only way to do things. I’ve been smoking at home for over 25 years, and this is just what I ended up doing over time – it pretty much, sorta, kinda works for me – I’m sure there are better ways to do things. I am a glutton for punishment, a really lousy self-proclaimed handyman, and a person that bitterly complains about all the maintenance pain I inflict on myself, and then continues to do things that will bring more maintenance headaches... I think it’s called insanity.
I have combined 3 products.
Outdoors Grill Co. 34" Smoky Mountain Gas Smoker:
The Bradley smoke generator (not the cabinet just the generator):
A Char Griller offset firebox:
An extended stack is mounted on top for better control and rain resistance:
The intent was to create a flexible arrangement where I could use electric, gas, and wood, as needed. I wanted to extend my smoking times without having to constantly attend to the needs of the box, and I wanted to be able to do a range of somewhat cold for seafood and some fish to full-blown 12-hours worth of brisket or pork butt. In between, I wanted to do a whole lot of yakibuta (char sue), ribs, other items that take an intermediate amount of time with varying temperature and smoke requirements.
As I said in the previous post, the Bradley is gone – I haven’t really missed it yet – but I might, and I will buy another unit if I do. I still have a stock of the wood disks I spent real money on. I have a piece of plate steel that I can mount on the hole when I remove the Bradley.
The SMGS has two large port intakes on the sides. I have cut them out and mounted the Bradley mounting panel on the left side – the Bradley smoke generator hooks up to that panel as it does to the Bradley box itself. I have mounted (pop-riveted) a lip, as those used for laundry dryer outlet hoses) on the right side. I popped a piece on the left of the firebox with the same lip, and I connect the two with a short flexible outlet hose and large hose clamps. This was meant to become more permanent – I was going to create a decent base for the firebox. This hasn’t happened yet – I have it on some bricks. That’s why there are no pictures – it really is a rube Goldberg setup – I would say, “for now”, and that I’m improving it, but it is the way it is and has been for over a year, and I’ve used it dozens of times and have not done anything to clean it up – so as I say to my wife – don’t hold your breath.
The SMGS is open at the bottom with a big gas burner mounted. I have made a 15x15” panel that fits over the burner that close off the bottom when it’s not in use.
So how is this monster used?
For scallops, stuffed jalapenos, mussels, small fishes like trout, (I never did smoke cheese), I would put everything on the top rack on a piece of screen, and use the Bradley. Close off the bottom, open the top wide, and let the Bradley do the work. Since it broke, I have been using wood, with no gas. With the Bradley, I sometimes didn’t have enough heat and had to finish off on the weber. With the wood, I usually have too much heat, even with the incoming damper closed almost off – but it works out ok. There’s a decent amount of smoke on the product and it’s not too dry. Now with the colder weather, it will probably be even better.
For big time smoke (pastrami, bbq brisket, pulled pork shoulder or butt), I use wood and gas. I start the fire (I use a chimney right in the smoker with the door open and let the gas grill light up the real wood charcoal), then dump the lit charcoal in the box and put on a piece or two of wood. Open up the dampers all the way. Turn on the gas set low to medium – and once the wood is going and the meat is on, adjust the temp between the gas and the dampers so it’s cooking at 250 or so. This will last all day - for more, I just throw another log on.
Salmon (hot-smoked), ribs, yakibuta, all fall in between – about 4 hours at 200-225. I would still use both wood and gas, just with the gas at a lower setting. There are items that you have to get creative with - like duck breasts. But there is always the option of finishing items off on the Weber (e.g.- to crisp up the skin).
The comment about cold smoking hams, below, is very interesting. My own schwarzwald schinken! I will be giving this a lot of thought and research. A quick look in Ruhlman and Poleyn’s Charcuterie reveals very little. It says that most hams and sausages are air dried, with smoking used more, proportionately, as you go north. They say that some cover their hams with lard to keep it moist, but there is no specific recipe. Maybe I’ll go visit the folks at Karl’s Sausage Haus in Saugus to ask them how they make theirs.