Smoking and Cooking Cabinets
How smoking of foods has evolved
Although seen as an ancient art, the ability to preserve, cook and enhance the flavour of meat is of great importance to the modern food industry. To create a product with distinct flavours and differentiate your brand could also be a saving grace in torrid times!
Modern smoking and cooking cabinets offer the meat industry the opportunity to create value added produce from a variety of meat cuts and of course a wide and varied selection of sausages and polonies.
Smoking techniques were traditionally used for preservation and colour development of processed meat products over the years. With the advent of refrigeration this aspect was more easily resolved; however demand for the unique flavours of smoked produce has never waned. The original methods of smoking were, and are still to this day, regarded as a somewhat dirty business, which non-the less requires specific skills and experience. The right wood has to be sourced, prepared and brought to the correct temperature and smoke levels before the meat comes into the equation.
This process can still be found in small meat processing plants where automation and equipment costs will not bring a favourable return on investment, and of course those operations which in recognition of traditional methods, produce a niche product for the connoisseur and gourmet food lover.
Through modern technology, the days of these crude wood burning smoke houses and smoke rooms are as stated largely a thing of the past. While there are mini units available for the home enthusiast, the smallest professional smoking unit weighs in at around 72kgs which is suitable for smaller butcheries. These increase by size and application all the way up to the walk-in smoking and processing rooms of the industrial meat processor.
Although certain products are distinctly different through ‘smoke’ colour and flavour-sustaining properties, all would enjoy some kind of shelf life enhancing advantage, as the bacteria and fungus effects of smoke depends on the temperature and smoke density achieved during the production process.
These characteristics and functional properties are achieved by the smoke compound categories – aldehydes, acids and phenols. These compounds’ activities are triggered at different stages and temperatures of the smoke process. Acids result in protein coagulation, aldehydes interact with the proteins to form a web or net stabilizing the product. Studies have shown that the phenols are responsible for the ‘smoke’ flavour properties, aroma and taste, which become more prominent as the smoke density increases.
The control of the humidity, airflow, temperature and smoke density is therefore critical and one must be cautious in choosing the first available smokehouse on offer.
The retail and butchery industries in South Africa are greatly dependent on the availability of value added smoke products, and other traditionally smoked processed products; which are produced by some of the larger meat processors. The marketing of good brands have mostly been limited to retail stores and not as successful through the local independent butcher industry.
Liquid smoke, a process that helped bring the art of smoking meat into the 20th century. Produced from natural wood sawdust, this ‘modern miracle’ is available in aqueous, dry, oil based and brine soluble versions. Whether atomizing or showering with liquid smoke, the pro
duct is designed to meet any processing needs.
Although versatile, liquid smoke also gave rise to concerns in the supply of poor products mainly due to unskilled distributers and users of these products – relating to the continued call for an affordable, smaller smokehouse for the independent minded butcher and retailer.
Looking more closely, there are two distinct types of smoking – cold smoking and hot smoking to be applied across the various options:
Is mostly employed on delicate meats like salmon where the meat should only acquire the smoke flavour and a change in colour without any change in texture or characteristic.
The process of cold smoking brings the meat into contact with the smoke after it has been cooled down between the smoke generation chamber and the cabinet. No heat exchange should be allowed at this stage. A downside to cold smoking is the fact that the product does not have the same stable characteristics and preservation qualities as its hot smoked counterpart.
A cold smoked product normally has a more salty taste as the curing brine is not cooked or evaporated. Smoking is carried out at low temperatures and the cabinet might also need to be refrigerated in warmer climates. Most cold smoked products, particularly meat, need further cooking or preparation before consumption.
Hot smoking is the most common form of smoking. During this process the meat is brought into contact with the smoke direct from the smoke generating chamber. Heat exchange from the smoke and elements located in the cabinet can smoke, grill, brown or affect a combination of the three on the meat.
Most modern smoking and cooking cabinets are extremely versatile and can create smoked, grilled, roasted and browned product. With a little experimentation many diverse products can be created and many interesting textures, tastes and flavours can be generated.
The hot smoking process is normally used on meats such as hams, kassler and the like and a huge variety of sausages. Hot smoking also changes the raw meat into a totally different product with distinct characteristics and tastes. Hams and other cold meats can be consumed without any further preparation whereas other products might need some heating or slight grilling or cooking.
Most meat products are cured or injected with brine or other preservative solutions before being smoked and the final product can have a shelf life of many months if stored in the correct temperature range and correct conditions.
As stated earlier in this article, relatively small and inexpensive options are made available to the butchery environments to assist in the production of consistent and high quality smoked products on site. The modern smoker has electronic timers and temperature controls and leaves little to chance. It ensures easy process and consistency management.
Many wood flavours are available and by blending different wood variants unique and distinct products can be manufactured to easily create differentiated product flavours and product lines. The common smoking cabinets are easily installed as single-phase power and a hole in the roof or wall for the chimney is all that is required to be up and running. The units are constructed from stainless steel and will give many years of service with proper application and regular maintenance. Stainless steel is robust, easy to clean and assists greatly in the maintenance of food safety.
For the larger enterprise a three-phase unit with greater capacity might be sufficient but specialised units that are customisable to any requirement are available for meat processing factories. These units are microprocessor controlled to ensure consistency in recipe and product and to ensure optimal productivity.
Large smoking units are incorporated into the production line in meat processing plants and make up an integral part of the production process. Most of these large units are remodular in design and can be customised or modified without great difficulty.
Specialised smoke generators are available that are also modular and can be moved and used as needed. Micro-processors that control this process have been designed using customer input and years of research and development to create units that can produce the desired result with ease for the operator.
A variety of units are available in the market place and most can be installed and operational within a matter of hours. Selecting the unit that is best suited to your needs should not be a tricky exercise and can be done on a relatively small budget. Speak to you local butchery equipment supplier for advice and a suitable unit for your needs.