Smoking has been used as a means of preserving and flavouring food, particularly meat and fish, for thousands of years. These days, few people smoke their own ingredients at home and instead buy ready smoked products (mackerel, salmon, and bacon are the most common), however the process is incredibly easy and accessible.
We’re going to share a few different smoking techniques with you over the course of a small series of articles, ranging from the simplest DIY hot-smoking techniques, through to larger scale cold-smoking which can be more involved or require some additional equipment. Hot smoking (which we’ll cover in this article) is a method of medium temperature cooking using smoke, whereas cold smoking is a drying process at a lower temperature that flavours the ingredients but doesn’t cook them. We cover some of these techniques in our Better Barbecuing course, or keep your eye out for specialist smoking courses and feasts with our friends from Pro-Q.
If you want to experiment with hot smoking fish fillets, garlic, cheese or other smaller items, then a home-made biscuit tin smoker is a great place to start. You can buy a special hot smoker, but the principle is exactly the same.
Biscuit Tin Smoker Materials and Ingredients
- An old metal sweet, biscuit or cake tin, or a metal bread bin
- A wire cooling rack or wire mesh
- A pair of pliers
- Hacksaw (optional)
- A drill with a metal drill bit or a screwdriver/centre-punch and hammer
- Piece of scrap wood
- Wood chips (hardwood such as apple, cherry, beech, or oak – not softwood)
- Salt flakes or coarse salt for curing
How To Make A Biscuit Tin Smoker
If your wire rack doesn’t fit inside the tin, then use a hacksaw to cut it down to slightly larger than the tin and then with your pliers bend the cut ends down to make legs. You rack should sit about 10cm or so off the bottom of the tin.
Take the lid of your tin and make a couple of holes in it. To do this, place the scrap wood underneath and then either drill two holes or punch them in with the screwdriver and hammer.
Place a layer of woodchips or shavings in the base of the tin, a centimeter or so deep, and then set your rack in place.
Hot Smoking Method
To prepare fish or meat for smoking, you need to cure it using salt, to draw out the moisture. Sprinkle a layer of salt flakes, or very coarse salt (fine salt is too aggressive and will leave an overly salty flavour) on a plate, then lay your fillet on top and sprinkle another layer over the top. You can create a curing mix with brown sugar, or citrus zest and spices added if you wish. Place it in the fridge and leave it. For a fillet of mackerel that is quite thin then five to ten minutes will do, but a thicker piece of meat might require an hour. You want a pellicle to form, which is a slightly sticky surface. Once cured, rinse the fillet quickly under cold running water to remove the salt and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Place your biscuit tin onto your barbecue or gas burner (be aware, if you are doing this inside over a gas hob your kitchen will get very smoky, and likely set off your smoke alarm so be sure to open all the windows and doors) and heat until the wood chips start to smoulder. Place your mackerel fillets, or whatever it is that you’re smoking, on the rack and place the lid on securely. Turn the heat down or move the tin slightly to a lower heat are of your barbecue, and leave it to do its thing! If you are hot smoking mackerel then check it after ten minutes – if the flesh is opaque and flakey, then it’s done! Thicker cuts of fish or meat will take longer, depending upon how thick it is.
Once you’ve made your biscuit tin smoker it will last you for ages. Every time you fire up your barbecue or fire pit, or take a bucket barbecue to the beach, you can take your hot smoker with you as well and smoke fish for yourself and your family or friends. If you’re a fisherman or angler then you can cook your catch right there and then, and enjoy freshly caught and smoked fish with thinly sliced and buttered brown bread, and a squeeze of lemon juice, or make mackerel pate by flaking the fish and mixing it with crème fraiche.
A Guide to Different Wood Chips For Smoking
- Apple – Mild and fruity flavour – amazing if you can get hold of some!
- Oak – a classic and heavier flavour, it is usually used for smoking meat or game but it goes really well with salmon, although you need to be careful not to overdo it.
- Beech – a subtle smoke flavour – beech is a great all-round option
- Alder – a classic option for smoked salmon, alder produces a delicate and slightly sweet flavour.