We look at the portable smokers and the options available.
It is believed that the smoking of food dates back to the time of primitive cavemen. As caves or simple huts lacked chimneys, these dwellings could become very smoky. The primitive men would often hang meat up to dry, and it is presumed that at some point they became aware that meat that was stored in smoky areas acquired a different flavour and was better preserved than meat that simply dried out.
Over time this process was combined with pre-curing the food in salt or salty brines, resulting in a remarkably effective preservation process that was adapted or developed independently by numerous cultures around the world. Until the modern era, smoking was of a more “heavy duty” nature as the main goal was to preserve the food. Large quantities of salt were used in the curing process and smoking times were quite long, sometimes involving days of exposure.
Although refinements in technique and advancements in technology have made smoking much easier, the basic steps involved remain essentially the same today as they were hundreds if not thousands of years ago. Today, the smoked fish you buy in the bigger supermarkets is generally smoked in large commercial ovens. Some of the smaller fish shops still smoke their own fish in the traditional way and some of the fishermen have also become more than adept at the art, curing and slow smoking for several hours to produce a long lasting and flavoursome treat!
However, slow smoking has become a bit of a lost art due to the time it takes to cure and then smoke the fish. Over the years the small portable fish smoker (or hot smoker as it is known) has become increasingly more popular as it is a simple, quick way to smoke fish. The only drawback is that it won’t outlast the cold smoke method, but it tastes just as good! Realistically though, few of us have the time, patience and luck to catch enough big fish to warrant going to all the trouble of cold smoking fish and this is where a portable hot smoker really comes into its own. Fish smoked this way can be eaten within half an hour! Portable smokers are a must for all sea food lovers, although don’t stop just with seafood – chicken, red meats and vegetables can be smoked as well! The small size, portability and ease of use of portable smokers make them very versatile.
Big Is Not Always Best With Portable Smokers
Portable smokers come in a range of sizes but big is not always best, as you need to think about where you will keep it (home, on the boat or both) as once it has been used it will always retain a certain amount of “smoky” smell.
Portable smokers are available at any good outdoors shop and even most fishing tackle shops stock them. The simplest and least expensive ones consist of just a small stainless steel box containing a wire mesh rack. Underneath the rack sits the sawdust and underneath the box sits a small dish. Into this dish goes the methylated spirits fuel to heat the sawdust. Simple portable smokers like these are fine for smoking a few fillets of fish. If smoking whole fish or quantities of fillets, then you may need to utilise a larger portable smoker. These are usually box shaped, and of various sizes, but can be large enough to accommodate a few layers of smoking racks. The sawdust goes in the bottom as with the smaller units, but the heat source is a little more sophisticated; usually natural gas provided by way of a gas cylinder, the same type of cylinder used for your barbecue.
If you are interested in more advanced smoking technology than the simple meths burner then you should take a look at the wide range of bbq/smokers offered by Traeger. Traeger, which use wood pellets are built to give you the ultimate all-in-one outdoor cooking experience and can be used as a grill, BBQ, smoker, or a wood-fired convection oven.
The Traeger Wood Pellet Grill is simple and safe to operate. When a Traeger is turned on, the igniter rod is activated, the auger begins to feed pellets into the firepot, and the draft induction fan feeds air into the firepot. Traegers require standard household electric current which powers the igniter rod, auger motor and draft induction fan. The Traegers are uniquely portable for that outdoor camping trip. Because it only draws 50 watts of power when operating (less than a light bulb) it allows the user to run the Traeger with a 12 volt inverter. Great for that camp site with no electricity!
The draft induction fan and auger in the Traeger operate continuously, as long as the Traeger is turned on and offers an effective system of heat distribution that allows you to cook evenly enough to grill or smoke the most delicate fish. As the hot, smoky air circulates around the cooking chamber, it surrounds your food with heat, cooking it evenly on all sides, both top and bottom. This even heating means that you achieve perfectly cooked food every time, with no flare-ups, no burnt food and no hassles.
Bradley is another very popular and established brand in the smoking market, specialising in electric digital and no digital smokers. They are self-contained, clean burning portable smokers that require little attendance and come a wide variety of sizes from counter top to six rack units for serious smoking.
The original Bradley Smoker for example has features like stainless steel interior, 4 removable racks, and simple to use temperature controls. With the new Digital Food Smokers the temperature, time, and smoke are now completely controllable so you can decide how much smoke you want, how long your food is going to be smoked for, and at what temperature.
Bradley also now offer a cold smoke adaptor that fits onto all Bradley Smoker models. The Bradley Cold Smoke adaptor attaches between the smoke tower and the generator with a flexible aluminum tube that allows the smoke to cool down before it reaches your food, enabling you to do a true cold smoke.
The Right Chips For Your Portable Smoker
Traditionally, fish would be split and brined overnight but as this is a quick, hot smoke, fresh fish can be simply split and have rubbed into the flesh a 50/50 mix of salt and raw [brown] sugar. Add some sea salt or herb salt, maybe a little soy sauce or golden syrup or honey and chili if desired and then put in the smoker.
Once you have your fish, it is important to choose the correct woodchips or sawdust if you are using a traditional style smoker. This is quite important as the smell of the smoke will permeate through your fish, giving it that unique smoky flavour. There are many different types of woodchips suitable for smoking. In New Zealand, sawdust from the native manuka (tea tree) is commonly used for hot smoking fish. In Iceland, dried sheep dung is used to cold-smoke fish, lamb, mutton, and whale. As long as there are no contaminants in the woodchips, it should be ok. Woodchips for smoking can usually be purchased from the same retailers that sell portable smokers.
The rest is very simple. Place the fish on the racks inside your smoker, close the lid and light the heat source. The time to cook will depend on how much fish you have in the smoker. Whole fish will take longer than fillets – anywhere from five minutes to half an hour in the smoker should do. From the back yard to the beach – a portable smoker is a great asset and will give you a whole new outlook on what are often thought of as less desirable species, such as kahawai and trevally, both of which I rate well above the common old snapper when smoked.