Smoking Meat At Home: Make Your Meat Last Longer And Taste Better

Seb Lee

Disclosure: this website is able to stay online because sometimes we earn commission
when you click on links and buy the products mentioned in our guides. Learn more.

The art of smoking meat at home for long term preservation is a tradition that has been around for centuries but is not as widely used today as it used to be. In this guide, we lift the veil on the various methods you can use at home to make your meat last longer and taste better.

Smoking Meat At Home For Long Term Preservation Featured

The lost art of home smoking isn’t the first thing you think about when you think about preserving your meat for the long term.

Whether you live in a rural area where you can purchase locally raised and butchered meat or you reside in an urban setting where access to fresh meat is limited, the art of smoking meat at home remains one of the most cost-efficient ways to preserve meat.

It’s simple too; once you know how it’s done.

That’s why, in your quest to become more self sufficient in food, there are few skills more desirable than smoking meat for long term preservation. Let’s take a deeper look.

What is Smoking Meat?

The earliest known method of preserving meat was smoking it. Food that is preserved by smoking is called smoked meat.

When meat is smoked, it is exposed to smoke from smouldering wood, which is not as hot as an open flame. The type of wood you use to burn and create smoke from effects the flavour of the meat being preserved. Hardwoods like alder, apple, cedar, cherry and hickory are the most common types used for smoking, but you can use others to create your own distinct flavoiurs.

Just don’t use softwood like conifers or highly resinous trees (or any wood that has been treated with paint etc.) as these can contain toxins that can be dangerous.

The smoke contains water-soluble chemicals that, when absorbed by the meat, inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause spoilage.

As a result, smoked meat is able to be stored for extended periods of time without spoiling.

Smoking is an excellent way to preserve meat because it does not require much additional processing after the meat has been butchered.

There are two types of smoking: cold smoking, which generally occurs below 90 °F (32 °C) and has more preservative value and hot smoking which generally occurs above 160 °F (71 °C).

Cold Smoking

The primary reason for cold smoking is to preserve food.

In cold smoking, food is hung in an enclosed space whilst smoke from an external source is vented through the enclosure for around 12- 48 hours depending on the type of meat being smoked. The temperature of the enclosure is kept between 20-25°C, and the fire producing the smoke is kept away from the food.

For better preservation, food is cured before cold smoking, usually with salt and dry air. The curing process draws out moisture which helps the smoke to better penetrate the food for preservation.

Hot Smoking

The primary reason for hot smoking is to both cook and smoke the food at the same time. It is for this reason that hot smoked food does not keep as long as cold smoked food.

In hot smoking, the smoking enclosure is kept at a high temperature (relative to cold smoking) of around 150c. The result is a longer, slower cook, with succulent, smoke flavoured meat literally dropping off the bone in tender, juicy strips.

Hot smoking imparts a smokier flavour than cold smoking, and will be affected by the cooking time.

Different Types of Smoked Meats

The general rule of thumb is that the larger the cut of meat, the longer it will take to smoke.

There are a few different kinds of smoked meat you’ll be familiar with:

  • Jerky: Meat is sliced very thin, then either dried or smoked.
  • Smoked ham: A fully cooked ham that has been smoked with wood smoke.
  • Smoked pork: A fully cooked pork loin or ham that has been smoked with wood smoke.
  • Smoked fish: Any fish that has been smoked with wood smoke.
  • Smoked cheese: A variety of cheeses that have been smoked with wood smoke.

The Importance of Smoking Meat

Smoking meat is an ancient method of food preservation that predates modern refrigeration.

It was used extensively by the early settlers of the Americas and documented extensively in Nicholas Cresswell’s journal recording the period between 1774 – 1779 when Cresswell explored colonial America in search of adventure.

“All hands are employed in curing our buffalo meat which is done in a peculiar manner; the meat is first cut from the bone in thin slices like beef steaks then four sticks are stuck in the ground in a square form.

Small sticks are laid on these to form a gridiron about 4 feet off the ground. The meat is laid on this and a slow fire is put under it and it is turned until it is done.

It answers very well where salt is not be had and will keep a long time if it is secured from the wet.

Nicholas Cresswell, The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell 1774 – 1779

Because the smoking process kills harmful bacteria and dries out the meat, smoked foods will last a long time without spoiling. The smoking process also adds a delicious flavour to the meat, making smoking an excellent way to preserve meat whilst improving the flavour too.

It is important to remember though that smoking meat to preserve it in this way may not meet current food safety standards.

Is Smoking Meat Safe?

Without even looking into the latest food safety guidelines, we can say with great certainty that smoking meat is completely safe. Why? Because our ancestors did it for thousands of years before food safety guidelines were even a thing.

Some accounts suggest the method dates as far back as the Palaeolithic era (that’s the Old Stone Age, in my language) and why wouldn’t it? We’ve been around for a lot longer than we’re taught, it seems.

Furthermore, recent studies have gone on to discover that smoke particles are antibacterial, which adds to the forgotten truth that smoking meat for preservation is completely safe.

Much like the process of water bath canning, smoking meat at home for preservation has been somewhat hidden by mainstream commentary. It’s difficult to pinpoint when this erasing of tradition began in exchange for more safety, but a good guess would be around 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation to establish the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA or the Department).

I will add here though that the traditional methods of cold smoking meat do not meet current food safety standards and you should have a thorough understanding of how to kill off bacteria when you smoke your meat before you begin.

Salt curing is the safest way to do this.

Centralised policy plus the advancement in technology caused all the old methods of preserving foods to become displaced by ‘better and safer’ practices over the next century.

It is a pattern that can be found in almost all regulated industries yet the truth remains; your ancestors used smoking for thousands of years to preserve their meat safely.

Can you smoke meat at home?

Smoking meat at home is easy and can be very rewarding and quite addictive. Especially when you realise that you’ll hardly ever (maybe never) have to throw out fresh meat again.

There are many different ways to smoke meat, including using a smoker, a smoker made from a kettle or stockpot, a smoker grid that rests atop an open fire or even an outdoor grill.

We’ll take a look at each method now to help you get started smoking meat at home.

Using An Electric Home Smoker

A smoker is a specially designed oven, often with a controlled source of heat, that uses smoke to cure, cook and/or preserve food.

There are a few different types of smokers available, but most of them have one thing in common: they make use of a smoky environment to produce a unique flavour in food.

Many smokers are also able to be used as grills, roasters, and even bake ovens, meaning that they are very versatile pieces of equipment that can be used year-round.

For electric home smokers like the Char Broil below, the process is straightforward,

Method:

  1. Hang your meat on the racks
  2. Set your time and temperature
  3. Fill up your wood chip box with the type of wood chip you want to smoke with.
  4. Close and leave until cooked to time.
Char Broil Electric Home Smoker with open door and 4 racks of meat inside.
Char Broil Electric Home Smoker

The Char Broil is typical of a home electric smoker. This particular model has 725-square inches of internal cooking space spread across 4 adjustable smoking racks.

The digital thermometer allows you to easily smoke a wide variety of meats for preservation via hot or cold smoking methods.

Hang your meat on the rack, set your smoke and temperature and leave to smoke while you get down to the vegetable garden.

Kettle or Stockpot Smoker

A kettle smoker is perfect for indoor home smoking. They are available for any stove type.

Kettle smoking is suitable if you don’t plan on smoking a lot of meat for preservation, but perhaps want to smoke some meat in the hot smoking method for relatively quick eating.

Whilst you can use a kettle smoker to smoke meat for long term storage, you won’t get a lot of meat into it and it will use up quite a lot of energy in the process.

If you plan on smoking meat for preservation, I’d recommend you use one of the other methods, preferably the home smoker or smoker grid methods.

Process-wise, it is very similar to the home smoking method described above.

Method:

  1. Add your woodchips to the bottom of the kettle
  2. Place your grill over them.
  3. Add water depending on whether or not you want a dry smoking or wet smoking finish.
  4. Add your meat.
  5. Cover and cook for appropriate time and preparation.

Something like the Nordic Ware Kettle Smoker below is a popular choice if you’re just getting started with home smoking.

Nordic Ware red kettle smoker with lid on and temperature gauge.
Nordic Ware Kettle Smoker

The Nordic Ware Stovetop Kettle Smoker can be used in any kind of household, either indoor or outdoor.

It will work on indoor gas, electric, ceramic and induction burners or outdoor grills making it exceptionally versatile for almost any emergency situation.

Traditional Smoking Grill Rack

Sticking very closely to tradition, a smoking rack could be a simple wooden rack placed over an open fire that you make from fallen branches to imitate the original method of the Arawakan Indians.

English Explorer, John White painted an example of the method when he travelled to the West Indies to help build the Roanoke settlement.

2 Arawakan Indians smoking fish over a wooden smoking rack made with fallen branches.

You can build your own wooden smoking rack by cutting some green, non-toxic branches to create the stakes and rack like that shown in the image above.

Method:

  1. Cut four branches to be used as stakes, roughly the same size in length with a side branch at the end.
  2. Carve a point on the non-branching end and use a heavy log to drive these into the ground, about 25cm deep.
  3. Rest two sturdy branches across the stakes and create a rack with sticks perpendicular to the stakes.
  4. Keep a steady fire with low flames under the rack to smoke your meats as required.
  5. Adjust the temperature of the smoke by using higher or lower stakes as required (higher stakes for cold smoking and lower stakes for hot smoking).

That’s it, the perfect, low-tech method for smoking meat at home – just like your ancestors did.

This video from Coalcracker Bushcraft does an excellent job of showing you how to do it properly.

Outdoor Combination BBQ & Grill

This is the method you are probably most familiar with. It’s basically a BBQ grill with a smoke rack built in.

The method is pretty much the same as the other methods mentioned above; with you placing your meat on a smoking rack and then smoking to your ideal recipe.

Smoking meat at home with a BBQ is an excellent option because BBQs can be multi-fuel, they are not grid-dependant and offer excellent cooking and smoking control.

They often have more space than the other methods too, allowing you to smoke more meat in less time by making more efficient use of the resources available.

The Char Griller below is an excellent example of a charcoal grill that can be used to smoke meat at home.

Char Griller Outlaw Smoker BBQ Grill

The Char Griller has an option to attach an offset smoker box to the side which turns the entire grill into a smoker.

This gives you a total of 725 square inches of primary smoking space and 225 square inches in the warming rack giving you more space than any of the other options listed.

Being an exterior charcoal grill, you can move this around wherever it is needed – even indoors if the need arises.

A bargain in today’s climate at current prices.

Smoke House

The most labour and capital intensive method for home smoking is to build your own smoke house.

A smoke house doesn’t need to be massive and isn’t that difficult to build even if you don’t have a lot of DIY expertise.

Jennifer from Morning Chores’ How To Build a Smokehouse for $20 is a fantastic resource to get you going.

Once built, the process of smoking meat is no different to the other methods described above but the added advantage of a dedicated smoke house is that it will be more efficient because it won’t require as many woodchips and the smoke will be directed in a manner with very little waste.

Of course, it will be bigger than the other methods mentioned above too, which makes it more attractive for smoking more meat at home with the intent of preserving it for the long term.

You don’t need something this big, but here’s the dream…

Renae Zackar and her new smokehouse built from local woods. View story.

How To Prepare Meat For Smoking At Home For Long Term Storage

To smoke meat for long term preservation, there are a few ground rules you should adhere to to ensure your smoked meat preserves well.

  1. Be sure to trim off as much fat as you can from your meat. Fat prevents the smoke from penetrating the meat. It also contains a lot of moisture which will prolong the curing period. Excessive moisture encourages the growth of bacteria that will speed up the spoiling process. Keep your meat lean.
  2. There shouldn’t be any bones in your meat.
  3. Make sure your meat has been thoroughly washed before cutting.
  4. Cut the meat to size based on what you’re trying to achieve.
  5. Cure your meat.

How To Cure Meat For Home Smoking

Your ancestors used smoking as a method of preserving meat when access to salt was limited or non-existent.

It is possible to smoke meat without curing it with salt but salt curing process adds months to the shelf life if done correctly.

We wrote a more detailed guide about salting for food preservation over here but in summary, after you have prepared your cuts of meat you can sprinkle with rock salt to preserve them.

To salt cure, you need to cover your meat with salt and then hang in a dry environment for a couple of weeks.

When your meat has lost 30% of it’s pre-salted weight, it is ready to eat or smoke.

You can now smoke your meat to add that extra flavour and extend the shelf life to at least 3 months.

Equipment Needed for Smoking Meat at Home

Smoking meat at home doesn’t require an expensive smoker or grill, but the right tools will help make the process easier.

There are a few tools that you will need to smoke meat at home, including

  • Smoker: This can be as simple as an aluminium pan with a rack inside or as complicated as a custom-built smoke house.
  • Aluminium foil: This is used for wrapping the meat after it has been smoked.
  • Thermometer: This is used to keep track of the internal temperature of the meat.
  • Rub: This is a mixture of spices that is used to flavour the meat before it is smoked.
  • Smouldering wood chips: These are used in a smoker to create smoke.

Extra Tips for Smoking Meat at Home

  • Precisely measure your wood chips and smoke time, as this will affect the flavour of the meat.
  • Use a meat thermometer to ensure meat safety.
  • Cook bacon prior to smoking it as it is less likely to catch on fire during the smoking process.
  • Be careful not to over smoke meat, as it will give it a strong and bitter taste.
10 fish hanging on hooks in a cold smoker, surrounded by smoke.

Final Thoughts On Smoking Meat At Home For Long Term Preservation

Smoking meat at home is an excellent, low tech method to preserve it for long-term use.

There are many ways to do it without access to the main power grids which makes it a very important skill to learn for a time in the future when it may need to be taught again.

Even if you never need to smoke your own meat; you should add it to your repertoire of things you need to pass on to the generations that follow.

We’re only here for a short time in this form; we’d be unwise not to learn from our past and forget the lessons of it’s teachings.

If my content helps in any way and you’d like to say thanks, please consider buying me a coffee 🙏

Seb Lee
Author
Seb Lee
Hello, you beautiful living being! I'm Seb; and I'm striving to become self-sufficient by the end of 2025. I started bournebright to bring together a community of likeminded souls looking to do the same.

Leave a Comment