Best methods for smoking sausages and meats.
ButcherSA explores the age-old techniques of smoking and cooking sausages and meat and the equipment making it possible.
Smoking sausages and meats such as ham and bacon imparts flavour, develops cured colour and helps preserve the product.
Hot smoking is used when the product is to be partially or completely cooked such as is the case with emulsion-type sausages like wieners. The smoke is added to the product during the cooking cycle. The rate at which the smoke deposits on the meat product is affected by relative humidity and temperature in the smokehouse.
High-temperature smoking normally shortens the time of smoking, but processing in a smokehouse that is too hot induces weight loss and rupture of cellulose casings, while processing in a smokehouse that is too cold hardens the casings. A temperature of between 100ºC and 107 ºC is ideal.
If the relative humidity is too high, hot steam is created in the smokehouse and natural casings will break down. If the humidity is too low an excessive weight loss and shrivelled appearance of the product occurs. A relative humidity of 35% to 45% is best for most products.
Cold smoking is basically a drying process and is employed in the case of salami and pepperoni. Other products like cured bacon and fresh sausage may be cold smoked for the added flavour it provides. Cold smoking is usually done at temperatures below 43ºC and product readiness, depending on the colour, flavour and dryness desired, may take 15 to 24 hours, or as long as three days.
Smoke composition also depends on factors such as the type and quality of the wood. Resinous woods impart an unpleasant flavour to meat and soft woods produce a large amount of soot that colours the product. Soft woods are only used if special flavour effects are desired. Because of their low resin content, hardwoods (oak, beech, maple, birch, cedar, hickory, walnut) are most commonly used to generate smoke.
Different woods produce different amounts and density of smoke, and mixtures of hardwood sawdusts are generally considered to give the best smoke composition. As forced air circulation and damp conditions are necessary to control the burning process and composition of smoke, sawdust, especially if green, is often wetted down.
The properly designed meat smoker must:
• Generate both hot and cold smoke;
• Be able to achieve and maintain desired temperatures; and
• Be able to cook the product to the required inside meat temperature, most often 67°C to72°C.
Smoking only partially cooks the meat, and cooking or scalding of products follows immediately after smoking. There are many methods of cooking: by immersion in a cooking vat, by hot showering in a smokehouse equipped with shower nozzles, by hot showering in separate hot water spray cabinets to which sausages are moved immediately after smoking, and by cooking by dry heat via raising the smokehouse temperature and giving only a final brief hot water shower.
The most commonly performed heat treatment is by hot water in large cooking vats. When applied to canned hams or ham sausages, it is called pasteurisation. Heat treatment by steam is applied in special steam cabinets and is used in particular when treatment in cooking vats is not desirable because of substantial losses of aroma and flavour of the products into the cooking water.
The temperature of water in cooking vats may be about 73°C to 76°C and if water sprays are used the temperature is about 80°C to 82°C. A final internal sausage temperature of 65°C is considered as minimum, but a temperature of 68°C is an optimum end-point temperature for providing a sufficient product shelf life and desired sensory characteristics.
Industrial smoking and cooking systems are available as complex room-size smokehouses or simple floor cabinets. Some units have either smoking or cooking features while others combine the two, in which case they are called smoker-cookers. They all have one thing in common, though: Their stainless steel construction provide excellent sanitary conditions and make for simple cleaning using mild detergent and warm water.
Choices include electric, gas, pellet, and wood-fired models. Some smokers have convection fans that move the air inside the smoker. Other models have rotating racks, which move the meat through the heat. Both styles decrease hot spots, so that every piece of meat is identically, evenly cooked – an extremely important feature when consistency of product is vital. Non-convection commercial meat smokers with fixed racks may create hot spots, producing overdone and underdone meat from the same batch.
Most commercial meat smokers are firmly sealed and minimally ventilated, which means that a small amount of wood smoke will go a long way in flavouring meat. Additionally, less ventilation means less evaporation-shrinkage of the meat. Double-wall insulated construction keeps the heat inside, which increases efficiency, reduces costs and provides safer operation.
Hassle-free automatic features allow you to run your business while the meat is smoking. Digital controllers maintain precise temperature control and timing, and many models shut off and go into a warm mode after the preset cooking time is completed.
When buying a commercial smoker, consult with a supplier that will be able to help you select the most efficient, user-friendly and affordable model suiting your business’s specific needs.