Cold smoking is more commonly used for salmon and oily fish, but you can cold smoke chicken. However, cold smoking doesn't cook the chicken. This means that without the right equipment, you have a greater risk of food poisoning. Some food agencies warn against cold smoking altogether. Nonetheless, if you brine chicken before smoking and thoroughly cook it afterward, it will be safe to eat.
Smoking the Cold Way
Cold smoking means smoking fish, poultry or meat without cooking. While hot smoking reaches temperatures of 200 degrees Fahrenheit or more, cold smoking happens below 85 F, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Not only is this not hot enough to cook chicken properly, it also keeps the food in the "danger zone" -- the temperature range of between 40 and 140 F where bacteria and microbes grow most rapidly.
Bring in the Brine
Because cold smoking doesn't prevent bacterial growth, brine chicken before smoking. This involves mixing 6 parts water with 1 part salt in a large bowl. Add flavorful ingredients such as star anise, brown sugar and citrus zest. Put the chicken pieces into the bowl and weigh them down with a small plate. Leave for at least 4 hours, or overnight. The salt water not only makes the chicken moist during smoking, but acts as a preservative, slowing down some bacterial growth.
If you're cold smoking chicken at home, use a proper cold smoker. Patched-together smokers, or smokers made from items such as oil drums, can increase the risk of food poisoning or chemical contamination. If you have a cold smoker, add 6 fully lit pieces of charcoal to the sawdust tray. Put the chicken on the smoker rack and close the vents. Check the smoker temperature, trying to keep it to around 85 F. Smoke for 6 to 12 hours.
Cooking and Chicken Safety
Once smoked, the chicken is not ready to eat. You must cook chicken to an internal temperature of at least 165 F, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. Check with a cooking thermometer. Around 20 to 25 minutes in an oven set to 350 F is usually enough. The National Center for Home Food Preservation does not recommend cold smoking at home because of the risk of food-borne illness. Pregnant women, young children, elderly people and anyone with gastrointestinal problems should avoid cold-smoked chicken.
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Based near London, U.K., Peter Mitchell has been a journalist and copywriter for over eight years. Credits include stories for "The Guardian" and the BBC. Mitchell is an experienced player and coach for basketball and soccer teams, and has written articles on nutrition, health and fitness. He has a First Class Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) from Bristol University.