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What is Smoked Meat?

By Robert Ferguson
Updated May 16, 2024
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Using smoke to cook or preserve certain types of meat and fish produces what is called smoked meat. The practice of using smoke as a method to cook or preserve meat has been around for centuries. To produce the smoke, various types of hardwoods or certain plants are allowed to smolder in a smokehouse, grill or meat smoker. The smoke produced by these hardwoods cooks, preserves and adds a unique flavor to the meat.

There are several types of methods used to prepare meats, poultry and fish when using smoke. The cold smoking method adds smoke flavor to meats without fully cooking them. The smoked meat is then fully cooked by baking, roasting, or grilling.

Hot smoking adds the smoked flavor and fully cooks the meat using a combination of heat and smoke. The smoked meat is then ready for the table or simply reheated later. Hams and ham hocks are a good example of hot smoked meat that is intended for reheating.

Smoke roasting uses a combination of smoke and an oven to cook the meats. Hardwood chips are placed in a pan in the bottom of the oven. The smoldering chips produce the smoked meat flavor while the oven bakes or roasts the meat until fully cooked.

Various fuels are used to heat the hardwood chips, with the most common being charcoal or propane. Types of hardwoods used for making smoked meat are oak, hickory and maple, just to name a few. The chips are typically soaked in water to prevent them from catching on fire during the smoking process.

Some common types of meat smokers are vertical smokers, box smokers and commercial smokehouses. Vertical smokers have a fire in the bottom that heats the hardwood chips that smoke the meat on racks above. Box smokers typically have what is called a two-box method, where the fires are separated from the food. The smoke and heat are diverted to an adjacent box that houses the meat. Commercial smokehouses are large buildings where meat is smoked and packaged for resale.

Popular types of red meat suitable for smoking are ribs, hams and roasts. Poultry products that are typically smoked include chicken and turkey. It is also common to smoke some types of fish. Smoked meat is popular throughout the world and different cultures smoke all kinds of meat and fish, as well as vegetables and cheeses.

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Discussion Comments
By clintflint — On Oct 17, 2014

@pleonasm - People consume smoked and processed meat all the time without realizing it though. They don't think about the fact that pepperoni requires quite a bit of processing, or that a smoked chicken sandwich might taste good, but isn't as good for you as roasted chicken.

Processed meat is in everything these days. I think it's probably much better to have wood-smoked salmon once a week than to have tins of smoked salmon on your salad every day.

I know that's not a fair comparison, but I think most people who use smoked meat recipes deliberately probably eat a lot fewer carcinogens than people who just eat a lot of processed food in general.

By pleonasm — On Oct 16, 2014

@Ana1234 - Smoked meats can be delicious but it's important to keep them as an occasional treat rather than to have them regularly. There's been quite a bit of research lately that shows that they are linked to all kinds of cancer and heart disease risks, much more so than consuming non-smoked meats.

I don't know if the risk is increased with eating smoked salmon, since salmon is supposed to be one of those foods that decrease disease risk by quite a bit, but it's probably still better not to eat smoked salmon all that often.

By Ana1234 — On Oct 15, 2014

My mother and I had this tradition when we were living in a town with a great farmer's market, where we would go in the morning and get some cold smoked salmon and chicken from the people selling it there, some fruits and vegetables and fresh bread and have our own little picnic next to a lake on the weekend.

The smoked meat was usually so delicious and tender that we didn't need a spread or anything other than our fingers to eat it on the bread.

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