Tag Archives: cold-smoking

A Snowy Sunday

We woke up Sunday morning to a dreary sky, cool temperatures and giant snowflakes streaming down.  After a trip to church, we hunkered down for a relaxing day around home. All three kids were under one roof, with our older two home on a long weekend break from West Point.  We had our usual Sunday brunch of crepes and homemade sausage and Jesse fired up the smokehouse in the afternoon to do some cold-smoking.
fallsnow

As the day went on, the snow eventually turned to a slushy mix that coated the ground.
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Jesse cold-smoked some cheese and almonds for snacking and some pork chops for dinner.  (You can see my earlier post on cold-smoking almonds and cheese here.)  As usual, everything turned out delicious. Yum!!

fallsnow2With temperatures only reaching into the 40’s, we had the fireplace going to cozy up the house.  We did not go anywhere all day.  What a treat for all of us.

And just like that…the weekend was over and we had to return the kids to the airport early this morning for their trip back to New York and West Point.  Winter is definitely on its way though…and although it is my least favorite season, the silver lining is that it also means that more breaks from school are on the way… along with some more cozy family time.  I sure can’t complain about that. 🙂

Lynell

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Cold-Smoking: Pork Ribs

I finally found time a few weeks back to fire up the smoke-house for some cold-smoking as the weather warmed up above freezing during the day.  Unless you are buying hogs by the 1/2 or 1/4, you will typically buy pork ribs from your grocer or butcher that are frozen. Since we have plenty of freezer space and a vacuum sealer, I like to smoke several racks of ribs so that we can pull them out of the freezer for a rib dinner whenever we are in the mood.

I start thawing the ribs two days before I’m going to run the smoker. One day to thaw, and another day (or at least overnight) to let them dry. After the ribs are thawed, I dry them off with paper towels and then liberally coat them with a dry rub. There are several good rubs available on the market; I like Famous Dave’s or Rendezvous (from Memphis), or you can mix up your own concoction.

ribs

Make sure to coat both sides and all the edges with the dry rub so that the seasoning can do its magic.ribs2

After the ribs are dry rubbed, separate them on cookie sheets so that they can dry in the refrigerator for 1 day or at least overnight. The reason to let them dry is that wet meats tend to allow the soot from the smoke adhere to the meat.

You can see that spring had not yet arrived (it still hasn’t), but with day time temps in the 20’s the heat from the smoker will keep the meat from freezing in the smokehouse. Frozen meat does not absorb smoke very well.

ribs3

After finally getting the firebox dug out from the snow, I was ready to start the fire. My favorite wood for smoking any kind of pork is white oak, although red oak is a close second. If I have some apple wood available, I will add a few sticks of apple to layer in some sweetness from the fruit wood.ribs4

I had enough space in the smokehouse to add in a chicken that I had brined in salt, sugar, and rosemary. If you haven’t yet tried brining your chickens and turkeys, I highly recommend it!

You can see the smoke starting to draft up through the floor of the smokehouse.

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Now that a good draft has started, I close the door and add a little more wood about once an hour. Depending on how smokey you like your ribs, you can smoke them from 2-6 hours. I like mine right at 4 hours.ribs6

This smokehouse is so easy and fun to use, but just to make sure everything goes right, I like to open a couple of beers and keep a close eye on it.ribs7

The last step of the process is to vacuum seal the ribs to ensure freshness for up to one year. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, you can also wrap the ribs in a good butcher paper, but you will probably want to cook them within a few months.

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A few tips on cooking ribs. The key is to cook them low and slow. Coat them with a little barbecue sauce and place them in a cake pan covered tightly with tin foil, or you can wrap them individually with tin foil to seal in the juices. I like to cook them at about 220 F for about 4 hours, or just until they are ready to fall of the bone. Then I like to finish them off for a few minutes under the broiler in the oven or on the grill to give them a nice caramelized flavor, but don’t overdo this last step because it is easy to dry them out too much.

And the most important tip?  Enjoy with a nice full-bodied beer or a hearty glass of red wine!

Jesse

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Cold-Smoking: Almonds and Cheese

Time has gotten away from me and I have not posted anything for a while.  I had started this post shortly after my last post on the cold-smoked pork chops and am finally getting around to finishing it up.

So, anyhow, along with those garlic sage pork chops that we smoked a few weeks ago, we also threw some almonds and a block of sharp cheddar cheese in the smokehouse.  We have tried smoking both in the past, but were disappointed with the overpowering smoke flavor.


This time around we smoked the cheese for about 1.5 hours and the almonds for about 2.5 hours.  Once again, the cheese was still too smokey and overwhelming for my taste.  I think we will cut back to an hour next time and see if that does the trick.

The almonds, however, turned out just perfect!  Unlike commercially “smoked” nuts that are commonly flavored with liquid smoke, the smokey flavor of these almonds was fresh and subtle.  You can see in the picture that we put them in a wire strainer basket to allow the smoke to circulate around the almonds.

After cold-smoking, we followed the recipe below to finish the flavoring process.

Spicy Smoked Almonds

  • 1 pound unblanched raw smoked almonds
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1/4 t. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 t. garlic powder
  • 1 T. kosher salt finely ground (coarse salt doesn’t stick to the almonds very well)
  • 2 t. chili powder
  • 1 t. fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 deg F.

Combine the olive oil and seasonings, then mix in the almonds until they are well coated. Spread them evenly on a cookie sheet (one with sides works best).

Bake the coated almonds for 15 minutes stirring them a couple of times to roast them evenly. Remove them from the oven and let them cool on the cookie sheet.

When cool they should look dry and coated with the seasonings, and they are ready to serve with no chemical smoke flavoring!

We enjoyed snacking on them while sipping a robust red wine. Give them a try some time and enjoy!

Lynell

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Cold-Smoking: Garlic and Sage Pork Chops

Cold temperatures and some much-needed spare time over the holidays provided the perfect opportunity to fire up the smokehouse and do some cold-smoking.  We decided to do some pork chops and turned to our favorite smoking resource for a brine recipe:  Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

Roughly following the recipe for the Garlic-Sage-Brined Pork Chops, we mixed up the following brine:

  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 c. kosher salt
  • 3/4 c. packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 T. fresh sage leaves (we used ground sage and only about 3 T.)
  • 2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
  • 1 T. fresh ground black pepper

After mixing up the brine to dissolve all the ingredients, we placed 6 thick bone-in pork chops in a gallon Ziploc bag and put them in a cooler in the garage to soak overnight.

In the morning, we put the brined pork chops on the steel rack in the smokehouse and let them sit for a few hours to dry.

Jesse eventually fired up the firebox and smoked the chops for about 5 hours with apple wood. The smell was mouth-watering.

The chops were grilled on New Year’s Eve in 15 deg F weather. As usual with a finely cold-smoked meat product, the meat was pink all the way through the chop from the smoking, the brining kept the chops moist and flavorful, and a side dish of sauerkraut or applesauce were great complements. A cold Blue Moon beer was the finishing touch to a great meal. If only Jesse’s little brother would have sent us a nice hand-crafted box of chocolate truffles (www.intriguechocolates.com) for Christmas, the meal would have been perfect!

Happy New Year!

Lynell

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Making Sausage: A Family Tradition

My husband and I have hung out for a long time:  we dated for 8 years and have been married for 20 years.  Early on in our relationship, he introduced me to his family’s mostly-annual tradition of making German sausage.  I do not remember the year I was first invited to join in the tradition, but I do remember being amazed, and maybe even a little shocked by the process.  Although I too was a farm kid, I had never thought about how the sausage that I ate was actually made.

The event took place at his parent’s house and I managed to avoid participating up until it was time to weigh and package the newly ground sausage.  Someone handed me a big stainless steel bowl of fresh sausage and instructed me to start weighing and packaging the sausage in one-pound packages.  Being a teenager, and new to the family besides, I felt like I had no other choice than to roll up my sleeves, wash my hands in bleach water, and get started.

The sausage-making tradition has continued through the years, taking place in different locations and with different combinations of family members in attendance.  The equipment has been upgraded, the recipe is always being altered/improved, and the process continues to be refined.  Over the past several years, we have hosted the event at our home on the day after Thanksgiving.  We choose this weekend because people are free for the holiday weekend and the temperatures are typically cold enough that we do not have to worry about keeping the meat cold throughout the process.

Although I am unsure how far back this family tradition dates, I know it goes back at least to my husband’s childhood when they used to make sausage at his grandma and grandpa’s farm.  The recipe is of German origin, but has been changed over the years based on available ingredients and in response to discussions about possible improvements.  One thing has remained the same however, this family knows how to make good sausage.

Cleaning and Setting Up

We hosted this family event at our house again this year.  The preparation process is a long one and requires completely cleaning out our garage, mopping the floors with bleach water, hauling equipment in from various storage locations, and setting everything up.  We place clean plastic on all the tables and wipe them down with bleach water.  Cutting boards, knives and containers are also washed.  We do all this prep work on Thanksgiving evening, so it helps us work off that big turkey dinner.

Mixing the Spices

In addition to the cleaning and setting up, another important preparation that we do the night before is to mix the spices.  My mother-in-law purchases all the spices, mostly in bulk, and works with our three kids to measure them out into pint jars.  Each jar is enough spices to season 30 pounds of sausage.  The kids stand in a line and she gives them the measurement and they pass each ingredient down the line, placing the correct amount in the jars in front of them.

My mother-in-law is in charge of the recipe so I don’t know the exact ingredients, but the spices at least include various amounts of salt, black pepper, sage, coriander, summer savory, all-spice, fennel seed, cayenne pepper, sugar and clove oil.

Sectioning and Cutting

In the morning of sausage-making day, someone goes to the locker to pick up the hogs.  This year we ordered 2 whole hogs, each with a hanging weight of around 220 pounds.  Our oldest son and an uncle both got a deer during hunting season this year, so we purchased an extra 30 pounds of pork trimmings to mix with the venison to make sausage.

Once people start to arrive, the cutting begins.  The hogs are cut into sections and the people cutting are given sections from both the front and rear quarter for cutting.  The idea is to get a good blend of the different cuts of the hog, mixing together both the premium and more standard meat.  The meat is cut off the bone into cubes or chunks for grinding.  We had three tables set up for cutting.

Whole Hog Sausage

Sausage is commonly made from the scraps and least desirable cuts of the hog.  In contrast, the sausage we make is a “whole hog” sausage, which means that it includes all parts of the hog, including the premium cuts: ham, tenderloin, shoulder, etc.

Grinding

As the meat is cut off the bone, the chunks of meat from each table are moved over to the grinding area.  A few years ago, the family purchased a 1.5 horsepower commercial grinder to improve the process.  It has been a great addition to the sausage-making equipment.

The ground pork is put into a tub and weighed.  The batches of sausage we make consist of 24 pounds of ground pork mixed with 6 pounds of ground beef.  Once there are 24 pounds of ground pork ready for processing, the mixing begins.

Mixing

Each 30 pound batch of sausage is seasoned with one of those pint jars of spices mixed the night before.  A quart of ice water is also added to the mixture to add moisture and to help distribute the spices.

The mixing is done by hand, usually by two brave people.  The sausage is really, really cold and the spices make your skin itch and burn.  There are discussions about purchasing a hand-crank mixer for next year to improve this part of the process.

Bulk Sausage

After the sausage goes through the mixing process, it is ready to be packaged as bulk sausage or eaten.  We always try out the freshly made sausage for lunch.  It’s always really yummy, even though the spices have not had a chance to fully set.

The grand total for the pork sausage this year was around 300 pounds – 10 of the 30 pound batches.  Of that 300 pounds of sausage, we wrapped about 120 pounds into 1 pound packages of bulk sausage.

Link Sausage

The remaining bulk sausage is processed into links.  I find this part of the process…ummm…interesting.  Mostly because of the use of hog intestines.

The vessel for stuffing the sausage is hog casings, the intestines of the hog.  They are removed during the butchering process, rinsed and packed in salt.  We purchase the casings from the meat locker where we get the hogs.  My daughter and mother-in-law have the job each year of giving these casings another rinse before they are used.

In the first several years of my exposure to the sausage-making tradition, I truly found this part of the process disgusting.  Just the idea of it.  I had a hard time eating the link sausage because of it and would often peel off the casing.  Over time, I have gotten over it and I just try not to think about it too much.  🙂

Stuffing

After the casings are double-rinsed for good measure, they are put on the stuffer.  With one person turning the crank and the other holding the casings, the bulk sausage is stuffed into the casings.

The sausage links are then weighed for record-keeping and to help figure out the amount available for distribution to all the workers.  The total link pork sausage processed this year was 200 pounds.

Venison Sausage

Once all the pork is ground up and mixed, the crew starts cutting up any venison that we have for the year.  This year we had about 60 pounds of venison.  The venison sausage is also mixed in 30 pound batches, with 20 pounds of venison and 10 pounds of pork trimmings.  The rest of the process is the same as the pork, even the spices used.  We make all of the venison into link sausage.

Smoking

The last step in processing the link sausage is cold-smoking.  This family tradition of making sausage is the primary reason Jesse decided to build our smokehouse.  Interestingly, my post on building our smokehouse is the primary search term that brings people to my blog.  If you are interested in building a smokehouse, check out the post here.

The 300 pounds of link sausage is carried tub-by-tub out to the smokehouse and placed on racks for drying.

The sausage is hung in the smokehouse to dry overnight to form a pellicle.  The pellicle refers to the tacky surface that develops when food is dried and to which the smoke sticks, thereby adding the desired smokey flavor.


Early the next morning, Jesse fired up the smokehouse to start the cold-smoking process.  The art of cold-smoking is to keep the meat below 70 degrees F to inhibit bacteria growth and to not cook the meat.  (Refer to this post about building our smokehouse for more information on how our smokehouse works).

Wrapping

After about 5 hours of gentle cold-smoking, the link sausage is finally finished and ready for wrapping.  A work crew assembles once more to cut the links into 1 pound servings for packaging in freezer paper.

We divide the sausage between the various individuals and families according to their preference ratios of bulk versus link.

The grand totals of sausage processed for 2010:

120 pounds of bulk pork sausage

200 pounds of link pork sausage

90 pounds of venison sausage

So, after a few long days of hard work and good company we are done making sausage for the year.  In addition to the great family memories we create each year through this tradition, we get to enjoy some amazing sausage over the next 12 months.

Does anyone else make sausage as part of a family tradition?  Please share your stories in the comments!

Lynell

 

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Building a smokehouse…

As a farm kid, I grew up with a smokehouse right outside the house in the front yard.  It was a small brick structure without any door.  My parents called it a smokehouse, but it was never used to smoke anything.  The sole purpose of the “smokehouse” was to burn things…garbage, boxes, etc.  Eventually they removed the smokehouse from the front yard to construct a fence.

Jesse started talking about building a smokehouse soon after we bought the farm.  He finally turned his vision into a reality last summer.  After a lot of research and sketches, he came up with a design.

Smokehouse Design Sketch

Jesse already had a barrel smoker for hot-smoking or cook-smoking, but what he really wanted was a cold-smoker to be able to smoke pork sausage in the tradition that his grandfather used to do on the farm. There are also several other cold smoke products that are absolutely delicious: salmon, hams, cheese, nuts, and various sausages.

Cold-Smoking

The art of cold-smoking is to keep the meat or fish below 70 degrees F to inhibit bacteria growth and to not cook the meat product. For instance, if you would like smoked venison sausage, but don’t want to eat the complete deer all at once (who would….?), then cold-smoking will impart the desired smoke flavor and will also retain the fat inside the sausage so that it doesn’t become dry and hard. Toss cold-smoked venison sausage into the freezer until you are ready to cook it for another tasty meal.

Another example that we have become very fond of is cold-smoking 5 to 10 racks of baby back pork ribs, wrapping them in freezer paper and tossing them into the freezer. Take them out of the freezer later and bake them in the oven for a couple of hours and you have some of the best ribs ever!

Construction

The concrete slab was poured in the spring.  Our boys learned about mixing, pouring, and finishing cement. The 5 gallon bucket in the middle of the slab is where the smoke will enter the smokehouse. The slab is what is called a “floating” slab. There is no frost footings below the slab, it is simply framed to have a 10 x 10 inch “curb” around the outside of the slab and the rest of the slab is 4 inches thick. There is also reinforcing rebar in the curb and criss-crossed across the slab. I don’t think it is going anywhere, and after one winter of freezing and thawing, there are no signs of cracking or shifting.

Jesse’s uncle, a mason by profession, came over to help in building the smokehouse.  His skills amazed us as he tossed just the right amount of the mud in just the right place.

Jesse did a great job supervising….

Jesse designed the smokehouse to have glass block windows to allow in natural light.  Laying the glass block was the most time-consuming part of the block laying process and the expertise of Jesse’s uncle was definitely necessary to get the glass blocks set just right.  Our son worked on smoothing the joints between the blocks.

After the blocks were cured, Jesse and our son went to work building roof trusses, sheeting the roof, and laying shingles. Jesse decided to build the trusses so that the rafters could be used for hanging meat, so they are about 6 ft. high.

There are vents covered with window screen in the peak at each end of the smokehouse for draft. Jesse had built elaborate hinged doors for adjusting the draft level if needed. However, the correct draft position turned out to be full open.

Firebox

The firebox for a cold smokehouse is located away from the smokehouse to allow the smoke to cool before entering the smokehouse. The smoke from our firebox increases the temperature in the smokehouse a mere 5 to 10 deg F. This allows Jesse to safely cold smoke on days as warm as 60 degrees, but he prefers to have the outside temperature around 30 – 40 degrees.

The tricky part for the firebox is that in order to have adequate draft for the smoke to enter the smokehouse, the firebox should be located about 10 – 12 inches below the smokehouse floor and 8 – 10 feet from the center hole in the smokehouse. So the only logical way to build this operation is to locate the smokehouse on a hill or slope with enough fall to allow access to the firebox.

The firebox can be made from concrete and firebrick with a sliding steel door, but Jesse chose to use an actual home fireplace insert that someone had discarded into a road ditch. With the air intake vent controls on the fireplace he figured that he could control the fire for smoking to just the right levels (and it works perfect). He dug a hole into the side of the hill for the fireplace, and left enough room for about 2 – 3 inches of sewer rock around the fireplace to assist in water drainage around the fireplace. With the heavy gauge steel, the fireplace insert should last longer than our lifetime before it rusts out (it weighed about 5oo lbs. and had to be moved into place by a tractor).

Jesse used 8 inch chimney pipe to connect the firebox to the 5 gallon bucket in the floor of the smokehouse. Obviously you want to install the pipe before you pour the concrete floor. The reason he chose the 8 inch metal chimney pipe was that the firebox had an 8 inch exit, and he needed something that would withstand the heat near the firebox. He says that he would NOT recommend using PVC or other plastic pipe as it may melt or out-gas if heated.

And here is our lovely little smokehouse in action…..

Maybe a bit over-sized for your casual home smoking, but it works GREAT!

Lynell

More on Building a Smokehouse

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