How To

Smoking: How to smoke meat and fish at home

Smoking adds a rich layer of flavour, increasing the umami effect and making foods more savoury. It's commonly used with fish, meats and occasionally vegetables, and is easy enough to do at home.

Cold smoking vs. Hot smoking

Smoke is made of many things, some of which inhibit the growth of microbes, and others that retard oxidisation of fat. This is what makes it a preservative, usually in combination with salt.

Cold smoking is done at temperatures no higher than 29°C (85°F), which doesn’t actually cook food; however, it is usually salted/cured first.

Hot smoking, on the other hand, actually cooks food. Fish is generally smoked between 82°C and 93°C (180°F-200°F) and meat 115°C (240°F).

It is even possible to combine methods. Cold smoked foods are usually left for 24 hours for flavours to develop, where as hot-smoked foods can be eaten immediately.

Try smoking your own French-style bacon at home with this recipe from Women’s Weekly’s Made From Scratch cookbook.

Salting before you smoke

Salting is the first step in smoking. its purpose is two fold: to partially dry the food and hence remove some of the moisture that microbes might be attracted to, and to season. Even for cold smoking where temperatures are low, this first process of salting, either directly with a layer of dry salt or immersed in brine, will change the texture of the meat or fish, making it firmer.

The quantity of dry salt or the concentration of salt in the brine required is higher for cold smoking as the smoking temperature is low and the item isn’t actually cooked. Some sugar can be added to the dry salt mixture or brine, to soften the saltiness, along with any spices or herbs. After salting, food is briefly rinsed and allowed to dry before smoking.

In the cold-smoking process, food is placed far from the heat source so it smokes long and slow. Conversely, with hot-smoking, the smoke source is positioned closer to the food.


Why not try this asparagus and smoked chicken salad? It’s wonderfully light, fresh and flavoursome.

Wok smoker

An old wok works well as an improvised smoker. Line the wok with foil, place the wood chips on the base, then place a rack or trivet in the base to elevate the food, place the food on top, ensuring there’s space in between for the smoke to circulate. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and put the extractor fan on. Once smoke is produced, you can reduce the heat to low for the rest of the cooking time.

If you want to smoke something like chicken breasts or fillets of fish using the wok method, it is best to smoke in the wok for 8 minutes then to finish off the cooking in a frying pan. That way you won’t overwhelm the meat, and you will get a crisp exterior with the direct heat of pan-frying.

Smoking chips and wood

Hard woods such as hickory, oak, maple and mesquite are all good choices. To ensure that the wood hasn’t been treated with chemicals, it is best to buy woods specifically sold for smoking (usually found in barbecue shops).

This delicious garlic and rosemary smoked lamb recipe uses smoking chips to get this rich flavour.

Other ingredients for smoking

Smoking doesn’t just have to be wood, you can use herbs or, for tea smoking, a combination of tea, brown sugar and rice.

You can use a smoker box to hold the wood chips and follow your barbecue instructions, Or ad-lib with a disposable pie tin.

Either way, the food to be smoked is added once the chips start to smoke, either directly on the grill grates or in a separate container, and is cooked with the lid down.

For charcoal barbecues, lumps of smoking wood are added directly to the coals. We’ve used the hot-smoke method as it’s easier to control in a domestic situation.


Gas barbecues are a comfortable compromise between convenience and flavour; they heat quickly and require little in the way of cleaning. Charcoal barbecues are very hands-on, needing more attention and a little more patience, however, they offer a greater reward in the flavour stakes with a genuine barbecue and smoke taste.

Cooking methods

Barbecuing is often referred to as indirect and direct cooking. Simply put, the direct cooking method involves food coming into direct contact with the grill grate or flat plate; this method suits fast cooking – thin cuts of meat and fish – and is usually done without a cover.

Indirect heat mimics the conditions of an oven, creating all-round heat; it suits larger pieces of food.

The original article and recipes from The Australian Women’s Weekly’s ‘Made From Scratch’ Cookbook, available where all good books are sold and online for $49.95.

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