Smoking as a food cooking method

Food safety needs to be front and center when smoking holiday meats.

The smoking of meat, fish, and poultry has become increasingly popular as a food preparation method. Historically, the smoking of meat dates back to when people first lived in caves. It was one of the first food preparation techniques.

Smoking is a method of cooking meat and other foods over a fire. Wood chips are added to the fire to give a smoky flavor to the food. Smoking is separate from drying. Smoking adds flavor to the meat, fish, and poultry, and provides a small food preservation effect. Frequently, hams, pork roasts, bacon, beef briskets, whole poultry, salmon, herring, and oysters are smoked. Hot smoking and liquid smoked will be discussed in this article.

Hot smoking is the process where meat is slowly cooked and smoked at the same time. In a smoker, the air temperature is increased and carefully controlled to raise the meat temperature to produce a fully-cooked food product. Frequently, meat, poultry, and fish are brined in a salt water solution to help the meat retain moisture during the smoking process.

The process of home hot smoking of meat poultry, and fish is done in a smoker. A smoker is an outdoor cooker designed for this purpose. It can also be done in a covered outdoor barbeque grill that has been adapted with a drip pan of water placed beneath the meat. The wood chips are put directly on the burning charcoal to create the smoke.

Liquid smoke is another way to add smoke flavor to fish and meat. There are two advantages to using liquid smoke. The first advantage is the amount of smoke flavor is completely controlled. The second advantage is the smoke flavor is immediate.

Since hot smoking is essentially a modified cooking technique, the primary food safety concern is the safe handling of meat, poultry, and fish. Michigan State University Extension recommends using only food grade contact surfaces for the utensils and smoker racks.

Only completely thawed meat, poultry, and fish should be smoked. The process of thawing the meat during the smoking process would allow the meat to be in the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. When marinating or brining the meat, this process should take place in the refrigerator. If partially cooked meat is to be smoked, the smoking needs to take place right after the cooking. Two thermometers need to be used during the smoking process. One thermometer measures the air temperature of the smoker. The other thermometer is used to monitor the food product temperature.

At the end of the smoking process, the meat and poultry should meet the same cooking temperatures as the traditional cooking methods. Beef and pork roasts must have a temperature of 145 Fahrenheit. Poultry needs to have a final temperature of 165 F, but hot-smoked fish must have a final temperature between 150 F to 160 F. This is higher than the traditional cooking temperature of 145 F.

The purpose of hot smoking is to slowly cook and add flavor to meat and poultry. Since smoking has only a partial food preservation effect, fully cooked products need to be handled just like freshly cooked meat. The final product needs to be served right away or refrigerated. To cool the meat quickly, large pieces need to be cut into smaller ones. The refrigerated smoked meat product has a refrigeration shelf life of three to four days. The freezer is the best option for long term storage of smoked meat, but the freezer shelf life is not as long as that of fresh cooked meat products.

To produce hot smoked fish requires brining, smoking, and cooking the fish to an internal temperature of 150 F for 30 minutes. To keep this food product it is necessary to refrigerate at a temperature below 38°F. It should be kept no longer than two weeks. For long-term storage, freeze the fish. The reason this is the best storage technique is because Clostridium botulinum Type E, which is found in fish, will still grow at refrigerator temperatures.

Smoking meat, fish, and poultry is one way to add flavor to the food product, but it has very little food preservation effect. To keep smoked meat, poultry, and fish safe, cook the meat product to recommended final temperatures to kill the foodborne illness pathogens.

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