How to build a hot smoker
Many foods can be smoked, and it is a great way to prepare fresh mackerel which are so plentiful in the summer. Cold-smoking involves smoking fish for many hours at a low temperature, and this preserves the food. Traditional smoked salmon you buy in a shop is cold smoked. Hot smoking cooks rather than preserves fish as it is smoked at a higher temperature for a much shorter time, so hot smoked fish must either be refrigerated and eaten within a few days, or frozen.
You can buy a hot smoker from the better tackle shops, but expect to pay £50 to £100 for what is really only a tin box. Here is how you can make one very simply, that works just as well. You will need
- 2 or 3 clean empty short tins, such as those that contained tuna or salmon
- A deep plain metal roasting tin (Tesco sell a Value one for 68p!)
- A flat metal baking sheet large enough to cover it (or buy another Tesco pan and invert it, securing with four bulldog clips around the edge)
- A shallow grill rack that fits inside the roasting tin
- 5 ordinary house bricks
You will also need some methylated spirits, matches, hardwood sawdust (smoke dust, available cheaply from the same shops that sell smokers), and something to cook! Fish taste much better if soaked in seasoned brine for 30 minutes or so beforehand, then dried with a paper towel. See the recipes page for a good brine recipe.
You need to do this outside, so find a sheltered place preferably with a paving slab you can use as your base.
- Place four bricks in a square to support the roasting tin
- Place two tablespoons of sawdust in the bottom of the roasting tin
- Place the grill rack over the sawdust
- Put your fish or meat on the grill rack, skin side down if they are fillets
- Place the baking sheet over baking tray to act as a lid, and weight down with the fifth brick.
- Half fill the empty cans with meths. Depending on the size of the roasting tin, you may need two or three.
- Put the cans under the roasting tin, and light them.
- Cook for approximately 20 minutes or whatever your recipe advises. If the lighted meths runs out too soon, refill and relight with care. Make sure there is no chance the bottle of meths could ignite while you are refilling.
- Allow to cool…then eat!
A word on sawdust: this makes a big difference to the taste of the smoked food. Avoid pine sawdust, or sawdust contaminated with paint or preservatives. It is worth paying for smoke dust – only £2 or £3 – it will last for many smokings and you can get oak, hickory, maple or other flavoured sawdust that would be difficult to find from any other source. You can buy sawdust for smoking from a tackle shop that stocks smokers, or specialist barbeque shops.