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Jan 24, 2007 07:17 AM

Smoking: It's Not Unhealthy...

There's an article in todays New York Times about cooktop smoking which has alleviated some fears I had about smoking, but could not find scientific answers for (my thread on resulted in some funny, but not-quite-the-answer-I-was-looking-for responses).

As someone who recently purchased an electric smoking oven and has been turning out great briskets, beef ribs, salmon and black cod on a regular basis, I was concerned about the possibility of there being carcinogenic agents infiltrating my smoked foods.

The article in today's NYT gives me the go-ahead to eat home-smoked foods to my gut's content. To quote from Dana Bowen's piece:

"Smoking doesn’t generate the levels of carcinogenic chemicals that “are concentrated when there are fats and higher temperatures,” said Barry Swanson, professor of food science and nutrition at Washington State University. Other research has found that levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a hazardous component of smoke, are minimal if wood smolders (as it does in stovetop smoking), and doesn’t flame."

Here's the whole article. It includes some great recipes.

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  1. Comforting news. Do you use nitrates in the meats? I have heard that there is a higher incidence of stomach cancer in Newfoundland, and Japan. The former, a high intake of salt and nitrate/nitrite, and the latter salt only.

    I sometimes cure pork or beef with salt, sugar and potassium nitrate, and I find that current recipes use much less nitrate than older ones, such as Elizabeth Davids'.

    1. Jay, when they refer to home smoking, they are not talking about cured meats that contain nitrites. There continues to be a possible link between sodium nitrites and cancer.

      I do not cure my meats/fish before smoking, and I'd never use nitrites. The smoking I do is more like southern barbecue than corned/smoked meat, although true barbecue afficionados would never use an electric smoker.

      I really like my smoker - I just pop one or two ounces of chunk hardwood (usually hickory or apple) in the wood box at the bottom, put my raw food on one or more of the racks in the oven, shut the door, and set the temperature. There is no tending required.

      I let my briskets go for about 16 or 17 hours. At this point, they're "pullable."

      Check out to read more about the brand of smoker I have, and check out their forums. They're a riot to read.

      3 Replies
      1. re: FlavoursGal

        Ah FlavoursGal, I tried, and tried, and tried some more. I experimented with every compound I could find that was available to me as a consumer. And I concluded from the experience that a pastrami or smoked meat without nitrate simply - well, isn't one. I am fine with nitrate-free corned beef. It looks awful, but it seems to taste better without any nitrate in the cure.Corned beef also seems to work using things like vitamin C. But nitrate-free pastrami not only didn't look right (which is OK), it didn't taste right.

        BTW, I recall you had acquired an extra smoker at one point. Are you looking to unload it at a decent price? I've become dissatisfied with mine, but I'm not planning to spend over a thousand bucks for a smoker like your's. (One that is also too heavy to move around.)

        1. re: embee

          Sorry, embee. The extra smoker is now firmly esconced under the back porch at our country house (after 10 years in Toronto, I still can't say "cottage"), where it's put to good use on weekends.

          I'm sure to attract the local bears when they come out of hibernation.

        2. re: FlavoursGal

          I have heard about the dangers of nitrites converted from nitrates at high temperatures (above 400F) as in pan fried bacon. But nitrate in home cured ham or pastrami will not usually be heated that much. Not mine, at least. I don't think potassium nitrite is easily available to home curers, and commercial users are restricted to low levels, in conjunction with ascorbate or erythrobyte.

          Staedtlander cures without nitrates and slow smokes for several days; not having been there, I can't say what the hams look like or how they taste, but the reviews are exceptional.

          I'm limited to hot smoking (250F) with a horizontal barrel, and whatever hardwood I can scrounge. It would be really helpful if I learned the bark patterns of trees!