Cold smoking is an interesting cooking technique steeped in history and sometimes wrongly demonized as dangerous. While there are risks, cold smoking has been used for centuries to safely and deliciously preserve all sorts of food items.
After tasting some savory cold smoked fish, cheese, or bacon, you have probably thought about making some yourself.
It’s actually not that hard. You just need the right equipment and proper instruction.
So let’s get started!
Here’s a look at some of the best cold smokers you can get along with tips and instructions on how to use them.
5 Best Cold Smokers Reviewed
We chose the best options from different types of cold smokers available on the market. Choose one that best matches your budget and needs.
Best Cold Smoke Generator: Smoke Daddy Big Kahuna Cold Smoke Generator
The Big Kahuna is a self-contained smoke maker that is designed to be permanently attached to the side of your grill.
It can be mounted on pretty much anything and it outputs an amazing quantity of smoke. You can use it with a standard backyard gas grill or a smoker cabinet the size of a refrigerator!
- Fuel Type: Wood chips or chunks
- Weight: 5 lbs
- Build Material: Aluminum
- Dimensions: 3.5″ x 3.5″ x 12″ (W x D x H)
The 16-inch-tall cylinder fuel chamber holds up to 6 cups of wood, enough to last up to four hours without refilling. The typical fuel used is wood chips or even large wood chunks.
Additionally, the Big Kahuna can be reloaded easily in the middle of smoking, making recipes that require long smoking times more straightforward than ever.
The unit uses an electric air pump to force air over the smoldering wood chips and into the cooking chamber to ensure that the fuel burns smoothly.
The downside of this type of smoke generator is that it takes some effort to install.
For ease of use during the actual smoking, you pay the price in the installation and the setup. You must retrofit the unit to your grill — which might not work with every grill out there. You also may not want to drill large holes in a brand new grill.
Here is a great video that gives you an idea of how to install the Big Kahuna and how it actually works:
The great thing is that all of these parts go together to make the most incredible and versatile smoker on the market.
If you want to use it with a Kamado or other ceramic grill, just the Big Kahuna with a special adapter for the purpose.
What We Love
- Can be used with almost any grill or smoker
- Easy to use
- Great for both cold and hot smoking
- Produces a lot of smoke
- Can be refilled easily while smoking
- Made in the USA
What We Don’t
- Takes some effort to install
The Runner Up: Smokehouse Products Smoke Chief Cold Smoke Generator
The Smoke Chief is similar to the Big Kahuna but different in a few key aspects. Most importantly, it’s designed to be used on an existing hole in your grill.
- Fuel Type: Wood chips, chunks, or pellets
- Weight: 7 lbs
- Build Material: Stainless steel
- Dimensions: 9.5″ x 4″ x 12.1″ (W x D x H)
This smoke generator uses a small flexible tube. So if you’ve got an unused rotisserie spit mounting hole or another existing slot, this might be the perfect solution for those not wanting to drill in their beautiful barbecues.
That means you get a little bit less smoke than with the Big Kahuna, but still more than enough for most cold smoking applications.
The other unique feature of the Smoke Chief that is worth pointing out is that it is dual voltage. The actual smoker runs off a 12-volt cigarette lighter-style plug so that it could be powered from a car or RV system.
The smoke tube is quite small so it gets clogged easily and sometimes needs to be cleaned in the middle of smoking.
If you want to use it while camping, this is an excellent option. For home use, the unit comes with a converter that will run the unit off of regular 110-volt AC power.
What We Love
- Easy to operate
- Can be used without drilling a hole on your grill or smoker
- Dual voltage – 12V plug or 110V AC outlet
What We Don’t
- The smoke tube gets easily clogged
Best Cold Smoke Infuser Gun: Homia Birner Electric Smoking Gun Kit
A smoking gun is a good option if you’re looking to smoke small items like cheese or you want to do some serious experimentation.
This type of smoke infuser guns are also very popular with bartenders and mixologists who like to infuse cocktails with authentic smokiness.
- Fuel Type: Wood chips
- Weight: 2.9 lbs
- Build M.aterial: Stainless steel
- Dimensions: 17.48″ x 12.13″ x 5.08″ (W x D x H)
The gun is a simple handheld smoke producer that shoots the taste cloud out of a small tube. It uses an electric heating element powered by regular AA batteries to heat up the wood chips.
For longer smokings, a stand is included.
The nice thing about this kit is that it contains everything you need to start, including a smoking tray with a glass dome. The gun’s tube connects, and everything inside the dome gets smoked.
Cocktails? Check. Cheese? Check.
An entire cooked and assembled burger with all the toppings? Check!
Popcorn, pizza, or fish — pretty much anything you can fit under the dome will benefit from a blast.
What We Love
- Very easy and simple to use
- The kit includes everything you need
- Great for cocktails and small food items
What We Don’t
- Not suitable for smoking large food items for long time
Best Smoker Tube: LizzQ Premium 12-Inch Pellet Smoker Tube
Smoker tubes are popular with barbecue grilling as an easy way to add a smoke box to any grill.
The tube allows you to use wood pellets, which are widely available in a variety of wood types. It then slowly smolders the pellets in a controlled way and can be placed anywhere you want some smoke.
- Fuel Type: Wood pellets
- Weight: 8 oz
- Build M.aterial: 304 Stainless steel
- Dimensions: 12″ x 2″ x 2″ (W x D x H)
You can use the LizzQ smoker tube with your existing gas, charcoal, or electric grill as long as it has lid that keeps the smoke in.
Probably the best thing about a smoker tube is its dead-simple operation. There’s not much that can go wrong, and it’s just not very complicated.
Along with that comes a bargain price — you can get smoker tubes in all sorts of prices, have an assortment on hand, and still pay less than you would for a dedicated smoke machine or gun.
Since the tube isn’t powered in any way, you have to keep an eye on it to ensure it stays lit. But once it’s going and safely in your grill, they can keep burning for many hours.
What We Love
- Works with any grill
- Very affordable
- Can be used for cold and hot smoking
What We Don’t
- Takes some effort to get the smoker going
- Needs monitoring
Best Sawdust Smoker Tray: Realcook Cold Smoke Generator
Here’s an old-school solution to an old-school problem. The lowly sawdust tray is a simple apparatus that burns for a long time and makes a lot of smoke.
You can use it for both hot and cold smoking.
- Fuel Type: Sawdust
- Weight: 1.8 lbs
- Build M.aterial: Steel
- Dimensions: 19.5″ x 16.5″ x 2.5″ (W x D x H)
The Realcook sawdust smoker is nothing more than a well-designed mold in which you pack in as much dry sawdust as possible. You light off one end, and the tray keeps the flame moving like a slow fuse.
It’s like a sawdust version of the snake arrangements for charcoal grills.
You can find various shapes and sizes of these trays online. They all work equally well, but they also suffer from the same problems.
They can be hard to light at times, especially if your sawdust has any moisture in it. You should also note that quality sawdust isn’t the easiest thing to find. Many chefs like to make their own using grilling pellets.
The advantage of this method is that once you get it loaded with quality sawdust and lit properly, it can run for a long time. This smoker tray can go up to 24 hours of producing smoke without reloading it.
What We Love
- Simple and effective
- Very long smoking time
What We Don’t
- Can be hard to find high-quality saw dust
- Not quite hard to light it up
All About Cold Smoking
Cold smoking is a special technique that is different from other types of smoking or grilling in that it does not involve cooking the food. Instead, the smoke is added as both a flavorizer and a preservative.
Many cold smoked items, including cheeses and vegetables, do not need to be cooked at all. Others, like meats, are cured before the cold smoking process.
There is still a little bit of heat involved in cold smoking, but temperatures are usually kept around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 C).
Of course, this isn’t enough to cook anything, and it’s not enough to melt things like cheeses. But the beauty of the technique is that it warms things up enough to saturate them with all that smoky goodness.
When it comes to meat, however, this temperature range is well into the bacterial danger zone. You’ll need to be ultra-careful about handling the food and dealing with it during cold smoking.
First, make sure that all utensils and the cooking space are spotlessly clean. In addition, raw meats need extra preparation and monitoring.
It’s often recommended that beginners start with something safe and straightforward like cheese before diving into things like salmon or salami.
Many people also enjoy cold smoking meats that get cooked right before serving, like bacon. These carry a lower health risk since they will get cooked in the end.
You should note that the effects of improperly handled food under these conditions can lead to far more dangerous conditions than a sour stomach or mild food poisoning.
Indeed, the temperatures at which food sits for long periods make the perfect environment for the bacteria responsible for deadly illnesses like botulism and listeria. This isn’t to say that you can’t cold smoke safely in your backyard — it just means that you need to be aware of the risks to mitigate them.
Best Woods for Cold Smoking
Unlike hot smoking or grilling, the food will be subjected to the smoke for far longer with cold techniques. This means that you want to choose mellower and more subtle wood smokes that won’t overpower your food.
And don’t forget, the items typically cold-smoked are usually softer things that take flavors readily!
Fruitwoods are popular choices for cold smoking. Apple, maple, pear, cherry, or alder woods are some of the best options.
What Foods are Great for Cold Smoking?
Cold smoking is incredibly versatile. The list of things you can make is far longer than most people realize.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Cheeses: A delicious low-risk choice for anyone from beginners to pros. Popular options include cheddar, gouda, pepper jack, and mozzarella.
- Fish and Shellfish: There are many traditional seafood recipes you can try. Cold smoked salmon is one of my all time favorites!
- Bacon: Cold smoking bacon preserves the meat while adding some great flavors but it takes at least 8 hours.
- Chicken: Introduce some new tang to your chicken dishes by cold smoking the meat before cooking it.
- Tofu: Great option especially for vegans and vegetarians. Tofu doesn’t have much flavor to begin with but marinating and cold smoking it changes this completely.
In addition to the popular options above, you can try cold smoking almost anything from sausages, nuts, and vegetables to hard-boiled eggs and garlic cloves.
How to Choose the Right Type of Cold Smoker?
Since cold smoking requires so little heat, there are many different ways that you can set up a smoker in your backyard or garage.
Cold smoking has a long tradition. It has likely been used in combination with brining and curing since the paleolithic era.
For example, Inuits of the Pacific Northwest have cold smoked fish for generations as a preservation technique to get them through the long winters. In addition, farmers often had smokehouses where they could preserve foods for the same purposes.
So it should be evident that you don’t need to invest heavily in state-of-the-art equipment for something that people have been doing since the stone age.
Instead, most cold smoking products are items you can use in conjunction with your backyard grill or hot smoking cabinet.
Cold Smoke Generators and Attachment Kits
Smoke generators and attachments are used in conjunction with your existing grill.
They are small cylinders that you mount on the side of your grill or smoker. You then fill the cylinder with your smoking wood and ignite it. The smoke is pumped into the main cooking area of your grill.
The biggest plus to these smoke generators is that you can reload them without opening the grill or smoker. Since you might be cold smoking your food for quite a while, this is a great benefit.
They can also be used for any type of smoking — they just pump a lot of smoke over your food. If you are grilling, it’s one of the best ways to up the flavor power on a gas grill for all sorts of cooking.
The pitfall of this design, however, is that they often require modifying your grill. You’ll have to drill several holes in your barbecue, which will be difficult on some models.
You also might not want to drill holes in your precious grill that cost a few thousand dollars to attach a smoker worth a few hundred dollars. It’s a tough commitment when you haven’t tried the smoker yet.
Depending on the size of the smoke generator, it may burn wood chunks, chips, or pellets — all of which are readily available online or from hardware and grill stores.
Smoker tubes are slow-burning chambers built to hold and control the burn of your smoking wood.
They’re add-on accessories for any type of smoking — whether hot, warm, or cold. You can also use them in any type of grill to add additional flavor.
Most tube smokers use hardwood pellets — the same types that are sold for pellet grills. Since the burning of the pellets does not produce much heat, this is an easy way to add smoke to any environment.
Just fill up the tube, ignite it and place it inside your existing grill with the food.
The size of the tube dictates how long it can burn. Most tubes are about a foot long and can go as much as 5 or 6 hours, but you can find longer options that can last longer.
In addition, they are used more often as hot smokers or for extra flavor while grilling, so shorter tubes are easier to come by.
Sawdust Smoker Trays
A sawdust smoker tray is exactly what it sounds like. It is filled with hardwood dust, which is designed to burn very slowly. The disadvantage is that quality sawdust is harder to find than other fuels.
These trays can produce smoke for a very long time, making them perfect for longer cold smoking recipes.
Smoke guns are electric devices that inject cold smoke. They’re very popular with bartenders mixing the latest smoked cocktails.
Guns use wood chips — but tiny chips that are better described as shavings. These are specialized tools that you can use to smoke a wide variety of food items. They aren’t designed to fill an entire grill or cabinet, though.