This was a project we’d had on the back burner, so to speak, for months. Then we went on a smoking and curing course with Norfolk’s Marsh Pig Salami (more on that next week) and came home with lots of tasty things we’d made, including two slabs of home-cured bacon which we wanted to smoke.
We’d had a nearly-built cold smoker in the shed for months but now we had a deadline. It had to be completed by the time the bacon had finished curing. Cue a lot of banging and sawing from Him Outdoors as he put the finishing touches to what is a magnificently Heath Robinson contraption. But Reader, it works.
We had a leaky old rainwater barrel we wanted to re-purpose and we cobbled the rest together from bits and pieces we scavenged and scrounged. The only things we bought were a cheap metal dustbin, a chimney collar and some jubilee clips. The whole thing cost us (not counting the original cost of the barrel) about £40.
If you look online there are lots of tutorials on how to build a cold smoker. None of the ones we looked at was very useful, frankly, which is why I’ve gone into some detail on this post. If you’re building one at home, the received wisdom is that you need a smoke chamber, a smoke generator and a pipe which conducts the smoke between the two, cooling it en route. Cold smoking, of course, is different to hot smoking in that it only flavours the produce, it doesn’t cook it.
Now you can cold smoke in anything from a brick-built shed with a pile of sawdust on the floor, to a purpose-built machine costing thousands of pounds, or simply in an enclosed barbecue. You can even smoke in a cardboard box. Yes, really. Check it out on the useful Hot Smoked website. I’ve heard of cold smokers being built from anything from old filing cabinets to decommissioned fridges. Jackie at Marsh Pig Salami uses a metal coal bunker which she says is deep enough not to need a cooling pipe.
But we built ours the traditional way and it does help to be a fairly competent handyman/woman. Him Outdoors removed the top of the rainwater barrel and adapted it to create a removable lid, which included a smoke vent. We got lucky because a friend donated a fancy steel chimney top when he rebuilt his kitchen.
The next job was to insert rods from which to either hang the produce we wanted to smoke or to support racks where necessary. Normally you’d drill holes in the sides of the barrel and just slot them in but our barrel is a bit wibbly so Him Outdoors made wooden brackets for them to sit in.
Then he cut a hole in the side of the barrel near the bottom for the cooling pipe, which is a bit of chimney liner we had knocking about. It’s joined to the barrel by a strange and elusive bit of kit which is actually a roofing collar for a chimney flue – ask at your local hardware store. It cost about £12.
The other end of the pipe fits over the smoke generator, which is simply a metal dustbin with an incinerator lid. Him Outdoors cut a slot near the bottom of the bin and bolted on an adjustable vent to control air flow.
Inside the bin he fashioned a wire mesh column, about 15 cm in diameter and 60 cm high, to hold the sawdust. This was a useful tip from Curing and Smoking by Steven Lamb of River Cottage fame.
It means we can fill it up, light it, and it will smoke away happily with no further help from us for eight or nine hours.
The sawdust came from a friend who makes oak windows. You can use different types of hardwood but if you get it from a joiner as we did, make sure it doesn’t include pine, which contains toxic resins.
It’s also advisable not to use firelighters to light the sawdust as, or so I hear, you’ll never get rid of the flavour. We used an electric poker.
Our smoker looks worrying like a moonshine still (I expect a visit from the police any day now) but it works brilliantly. We smoked our bacon for eight hours then left it in the fridge for a couple of days to allow the smoky flavour to even out through the meat. It is delicious. I may have cut it a little too thickly but this is one of the best bacon butties I’ve eaten in ages.
Now we’ve got the hang of the basics we’re planning more ambitious smoking and curing projects. Watch this space. And if you’d like more technical detail on how we built our smoker, just drop me a line. Him Outdoors will be happy to oblige. 🙂
And the end result was tasty enough to warrant praise from James The Builder!
And there is no higher praise than that! 🙂
Inspiring and inspired! Need to get my Outdoor HIm out there!
Haha, yes, set him to work! It’s well worth the effort. Lx
Wow, that is seriously impressive. I love all and any smoked food so my mouth is watering at the thought of that bacon. Smoked cheese, smoked garlic, smoked sausage, mmmmmm…
Smoked cheese is one of the next things I want to have a go at. And sea salt. And ham, fish, pheasant, chicken ….
Quite simply, I am in awe. We had a smoke room in our house in France, as we lived in an ex-butcher’s shop. Oddly, it was sited in the attic,so we never put it to use. Yours looks much more accessible…. but an equal amount of work.
The credit should go to Him Outdoors, who did all the work. I just stood around making ‘helpful’ comments. It looks a bit bonkers but it works really well.
PS I’m pretty awed by you having had a smoke room in your attic. I suppose that at least the smell would drift up and out rather than percolating through the whole house.
But the dead beasts were stored in the adjacent room : there were 3 storeys. And in this room was a rack from which the meat was suspended. On the wires attaching it to the ceiling were a series of broken bottles – to deter rats and mice. You might like to have a glance:https://margaret21.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/the-butchery-business/
Wow, what an amazing house that must have been (although I could have lived without the bloodstains, personally). What a joy to have that that garden with all the fruit trees. Do you miss it?
Of course. But less than you might think. It was all Hard Work, capital H, capital W.
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Wow, Linda (& husband), perfect. Your smoker is really quite sightly, thanks for the inspiration & instructions. I always have the self-build smoker in one of the early River Cottage episodes on my mind and I always wondered how to make it look good as well – hello, chimney piece and shiny bin. Oh, when will get a garden to build one..
Thanks, Nicole. It’s eccentric but it works! We’re just about to embark on another smoke today.
Awww, serious smoker envy here. Happy smoking!
Thank you, experimenting with some cheese today in addition to the next batch of bacon.