Newbie here, introduced myself where I should and here is my second post.
I've done fair bit of hot-smokin' with me weber kettle but my ultimate goal was to get into making my own sausages. My problem (?) is that I live in a coastal subtropical climate (similiar to Florida) and keeping max temp at 80 deg proved to be a challenge. Sure, we have a periods of year with temperatures below 60, but I'd like to be able to cold smoke year round.
I've build a rig with fireplace away by means of 5m long 10" stainless steel pipe, but after couple of hours of burning chips, the rig got hotter and hotter. Lots of fiddling to keep it cool, overnight smokes were out of question, let alone 3-4 day sessions. Anyway, long story short, I've googled "cold smoke", browsed several sites and then I discovered this A-Maze-N smoker (I'll use AMS abbreviation). That grabbed my attention, read the british thing comparison to AMS thread here and I was sold. Contacted Todd, who in turn put me on his Oz rep (Andrea at Misty Gully) and just before Christmas I was owner of 6x8 AMS plus couple of bags of dust.
The smoker built quality is really good, I'd expect it to deliver many, many happy hours. So, lets go down to business:
Caught few bonitos (Sarda Australis) on my last fishing trip. Good opportunity to do my first AMS cold smoking. Cured three remaining fish with 80% brine for 3 hours and then dried them on cloth rack blowing two opposite fans until pellicle formed. Loaded AMS (2 legs only) with apple wood dust on hang the fish in my Hark smoker. Lit up AMS and put it on the bottom rack. Got thin blue smoke going, but I’ve got a burn at ~1 inch per 3 hours. That didn’t feel like I’m getting the right amount of smoke, so I’ve stopped it. I’ve microwaved the new load of apple dust for around 1min on high – gotta be careful not to overdo it, the dust was getting really hot.
Reloaded AMS again, but this time I filled it to 75% height, no patting down, just poured dust in. This time the burn was much better at ~2 inches per hour. So I’ve made mental note to zap the dust in microwave no matter how dry the dust looks or feels.
Drying fish for 1 hour, 81 deg ambient temp
Finished product – after 14 hours of cold smoke at ~86 deg.
What I’ve noticed, that despite limited fill of AMS I’ve still got a thin layer of un-burnt dust on the bottom. I’ve suspected that it could be due to lack of bottom draft (all smoking was done with top vent fully open). So I’ve removed the bottom shroud that covers the gas burner and also cut 4 inch hole on the bottom cover.
I’m not using Hark with gas anyway, the minimum temp on lowest gas flow setting I can achieve is 208 deg, which is way above my temp range. For hot smoking I still prefer my weber kettle fired with charcoal and chunks of hickory or oak chips. I use Hark basically as good sized cold smoker enclosure. If I need to go to 120-200deg range for final quick blast of thick oak smoke (gives me nice brown colour) I use a single plate 750W electric hot plate.
The next smoke was to try some cheese and sausage (chorizo, and some supermarket 'smoked speck') that could’ve benefitted from extra smoke. Again, used apple wood, m-wave dried prior to fill, filled to 75% depth. Filled two opposite legs and lit AMS on both sides. Smoke was very nice, thin, blue, but good quantity. Got around 6 hours of cold smoke out of it, cheese turning up with very nice light brown colour. Cheese is currently resting, vacuum sealed, in fridge. I’ll get to it very soon.
The third (big) smokin' session was delayed by three very hot days (100 in shade), obviously keeping max 80 in non-insulated smoker was unrealistic without truckload of ice blocks.
On Christmas Eve I picked up my order of around 4 pounds of pork belly from my friendly butcher. Cured it with fairly standard cure (#1 - 6.25% nitrite, salt, maple syrup, lots of freshly grated garlic, white pepper, no onions). Vacuum sealed it (ziplock bags leaked too much) and put it in fridge. Because meat was only 1/2inch thick (I prefer 1 inch or thicker, but should’ve ordered back fat nor belly) I was about to leave it for 4 days to cure. Then I was hit with these 3 extra hot days, so it was curing for 7 days. I was worried a lot that it’ll be too salty, but it turned out OK.
On the much cooler day (~75 average) I washed the cure off and dried the meat ~1 hour, 74 deg ambient temp:
Then into Hark, fully loaded AMS with mw zapped hickory dust and lit it up on both sides. 3 hours later:
I think this session lasted around 9 hours, I was happy with smoke quantity and overall I was very pleased how well AMS performed so far.
Next I’ve loaded AMS again and lit it on one side only and set it up for overnight smoking session (that also involved securing door latch with wire to make it dog proof – both of them were salivating and constantly cruising around the smoker – can’t blame them though – I was salivating as well. The big dog is 120 pounds and could probably rip the latch off the door I he wanted).
Following morning I anxiously checked out the status. All looking good, getting the right colour:
Few things to note: There was light rain overnight, but the smoker was well covered with the pergola. There are obvious signs of condensation. That might explain the amount of burned dust after 14 hours. In theory it shouldn’t last more than 10 hours. The dust must’ve got damp and burned slower. Next time I’ll lit AMS on both sides even for overnight smoke and fill it to the top. I should get 8 hours easily. I wanted to keep smoke going for no other reason than to keep critters out. There were quite few flies buzzing around and marching up and down the smoker, but they won’t fly into a smoke filled space (I hope).
Anyway, took another 4 hours to finish the burn and I decided that would be enough of cold smoke, colour was looking right. Time for the last step – zap it with thick oak smoke for that extra colour and hint of oak flavour.
German Oak chips plus few chunks of hickory wood leftovers loaded into Hark chip tray and placed on top of electric hotplate. Left it smoking for 1 hour maintaining temp at constant 120 deg. The original recipe called for this operation (at 140 deg for hour) right at the beginning of smoking. That doesn’t sound right to me. I know that meat takes smoke best at the beginning of smoking process, but on the other hand this (almost hot smoke) process will also create a very thin dried layer and will prevent cold smoke to penetrate thru the meat properly. To me it may negate whole cold smoking deal. Anyway I may be wrong, but I’ll do it that way next time as well.
And as the saying goes the proof is in the pudding:
Finished product. Smells fantastic, tastes heavenly. Very, very happy about how it turned out.
And one more, with my own produce (apart from garlic). Homemade sauerkraut, pickles, tomatoes from my veggie patch and also smoked piece of cheddar.
So what can I say at the end? A-Maze-N smoker brought home the bacon, so to say, truly amazing gadget and a must for cold smoking enthusiasts. Best sixty bucks spend in 2010. Happy camper now.
Cheers from Downunder,