Meats and Sausages
Hot smoking is the most common method of smoking. Continuous smoking at 105-140° F (41-60° C), 0.5-2 hours, 5-12% weight loss, heavy smoke. This is not recommended for large pieces of meat that are expected to be stored for a long time. Although it is the fastest method, there is not enough time for adequate smoke penetration. This results in higher moisture content, reducing the product’s shelf life. Hot smoking can be divided into three separate phases:
- Drying out the surface of the meat for 10-40 min at 112-130° F (45-55° C), some very light smoke is acceptable, although not necessary. Besides drying out the surface of the meat, the temperature speeds up nitrite curing. Keep in mind that the draft controls must be fully opened to eliminate any moisture residing inside of the smoker. Applying smoke at temperatures higher than 130-140° F (54-60° C) will prematurely dry out the casings on the surface of the meat and will create a barrier to smoke penetration.
- This is the proper smoking stage at 112-140° F (45-60° C) for 30-90 min, using medium to heavy smoke. The color becomes a light yellow to dark brown with a shade of red. In this state, the natural casings become strong and fit snugly on the sausages.
- Baking the sausage at 140-176° F (60-80° C) for about 10-20 min. Temperatures as high as 194° F (90° C) are permitted for a short period of time. Proteins are denatured in the outside layers of the product, but the inside remains raw with temperatures reaching only 104° F (40° C). Natural casings fit very snugly, become shiny, and develop a few wrinkles. This is a welcomed scenario; lots of smoked products are subsequently poached. Acting like a barrier, the drier and stronger casings prevent the loss of juices. This type of cooking (poaching) is more economical to baking (less weight loss).
If a smoker is used, the temperature in the last stages of the hot smoking process is increased to 167-194° F (75-90° C) until the inside of the meat reaches 154° F (68° C). This is the fastest and most common method of smoking. Because of a relatively short smoking time, hot smoked products should be kept in a refrigerator and consumed relatively quickly.
The above smoking times apply to a regular size sausage (32-26 mm) and smoking times for a thin meat stick or a large diameter sausage, have to be accordingly readjusted.
Cold smoking allows us total smoke penetration inside of the meat. Very little hardening of the outside surface of the meat or casing occurs and smoke penetrates the meat easily.
Hot smoking dries out the surface of the meat creating a barrier for smoke penetration.
Continuous smoking at 73-104° F (23-40° C), from 4-48 hours depending on the diameter of the meat, humidity 80%, and medium smoke. The weight loss varies between 2-10%, with the difference being largely dependent on the time spent smoking. The surface of the product becomes quite dry but the inside remains raw. Because of the warm smoke, the product receives more smoke in its outside layers. This dry second skin helps increase shelf life, as well as prevent the loss of its natural juices. The color ranges from yellow to brown and has a little shine due to some fat moving outwards.
Warm smoke temperatures lie within the The Danger Zone (40-140° F, 5-60° C), which is the range of temperatures where all bacteria grow very fast. We may say that most bacteria love temperatures close to our body temperature, which is 36.6° C (98.6° F). Optimum growing conditions for infamous Clostridium botulinum are 78-95° F, (26-35° C) but it will still grow at 45° C (113° F). At those temperatures the only protection we have is the sodium nitrite (Cure #1 or 2) which should be added to smoked meats. As explained later in the book, the reason for using cures (nitrite) is not only to eliminate the risk of food poisoning (Clostridium botulinum) but to obtain the desired color, achieve better flavor and prevent the rancidity of fats.
Smoked meats lose around 10% moisture during the smoking process. This depends on temperature, the length of smoking and humidity in the smokehouse. Eliminating moisture was important when the products were cold smoked for preservation purposes. Nowadays, the importance of preserving meats by dehydration plays the secondary role as losing moisture means decreasing weight that in turn leads to decreased profits. To prevent this loss, commercial manufacturers pump meats with water and recirculate moist air through the smokehouse. Ready made charcoal briquettes or electric heating elements produce no moisture and placing a water filled pan inside of the smoker is of some help. This method is very common when barbecuing or smoking meats in commercially produced little smokers. These are enclosed units that don’t receive a steady supply of air.
Fresh air contains moisture which cools sausage casings or the surface of the meat. When smoking with an open fire, lots of fresh air enters the smoker and keeps the meat from drying out. No matter how pretty a small factory unit may be, it will not be able to perform the same duty without a little help from a water pan. As water boils at sea level at the constant temperature of 212° F (100° C), placing a water filled pan inside of a small smoker will also help regulate temperature inside. Bear in mind that this is too high a temperature for smoking quality meats and sausages. In short, wet smoking is the type of smoking that employs a water dish placed inside of the smoker to increase humidity levels. Dampening wood chips into water one hour before smoking will produce a similar effect using any kind of smoker.
When using wood, it always has at least 20% moisture, even when perfectly dried on the outside. During the first stage of combustion this wood dries out and any remaining moisture evaporates with the smoke into the chamber. Once the wood has burned out, the remaining charcoal has no water left, and the only moisture the smokehouse gets is brought by the outside air. In dry climates known for little humidity the smoked product will benefit from extra moisture. Keep in mind that the surface of smoked meats or sausages must not be wet during the smoking process.
Summary of smoking methods
- The longer the smoking time, the bigger the loss of moisture, resulting in a higher proportion of salt. The product becomes drier and saltier, but achieves much longer shelf keeping qualities.
- A supply of fresh air is needed during smoking, which normally is controlled with a damper. Exiting smoke also needs a damper control otherwise tar and other unburned wood particles may start to accumulate, affecting the look and the taste of the product.
- The higher the smoke temperature the shorter the smoking time and the shorter its shelf life.
- The lower the smoke temperature, the better the smoke diffusion and the longest time of smoking.This directly leads to better taste and longer shelf life.
There is no steadfast rule that dictates exact temperature ranges for different types of smoking. Different books mention slightly different temperatures. A few degrees one way or the other should not create any problem as long as the hot smoking upper temperature limit is not crossed. Crossing this limit will significantly affect the look and the taste of the sausage.