DIY Cold Smoking in an Igloo (Snow Cave)
The story of our igloo cold smoker begins in Rome, when we were visiting the Pantheon. Awed by the gorgeous dome, I looked up at the oculus and had an idea: What if we made an igloo with an oculus and cold smoked foods in it? I honestly did not know much about cold smoking before embarking on this adventure, but thought a homemade igloo might be just the thing for keeping food quite cold while imparting it with delicious smoky flavors.
Some months later, we tried the idea while in Minnesota and, with some genius Krekelberg refinements to the setup, it worked beautifully. It’s now a family tradition anytime we are lucky enough to have enough snow for a 4 or 5 foot snow pile.
You can cold smoke any number of things: tofu, nuts, olives, cooked poultry, etc. The nice thing about the igloo is that it stays about as cold as a refrigerator on cold days, so as long as you use common sense and follow basic food safety rules, it’s a fun and delicious project.
Following is our recipe and method for cold smoked fish. The cold smoking setup section is applicable to any food you would like to try.
Step 1: Curing Your Fish
Cold Smoked Fish Recipe
Cure from Magnus Nilsson’s Fish Curing Recipe
- 2 ¼ lbs salmon fillet or other cold water fatty fish (such as black cod) with the skin on
- 4 Tbs kosher salt
- 4 Tbs sugar
- ~20 white peppercorns, coarsely crushed
- 1 bunch dill, stalks and fronds separated
- Prepared wood chips made for smoking
- Disposable aluminum pie pan
- Electric hot plate
- Wood or other props to keep your hot plate out of the snow
- Extension cord
- Bricks (eight or more)
- Oven or cake cooling rack
- Small igloo (snow cave)
- A piece of plywood
- A cold day
Remove pin bones from fish. Pat dry. Mix salt, sugar, white peppercorns and dill fronds together. Put fish in a large resealable plastic bag. Rub the salt & sugar mixture all over the fish. Seal bag, pressing air out before fully sealing the bag. Set on a tray, then set a few plates on top of the bag to weigh the fish down a little. Transfer to the refrigerator and cure for 24 hours (it can go a bit longer). Rinse the fish under cold running water to remove the cure mix. Let it rest in the refrigerator in a sealed container until ready to proceed with cold smoking (resting from 4 up to 24 hours is fine; time resting evens out the cure).
Step 2: Building Your Igloo
While the fish is curing and resting, build your igloo, AKA snow cave. Start by shoveling a bunch of fresh clean snow into a pile—you’ll want enough to create a four to five foot igloo. Your snow will need to be solidly packed so it doesn’t cave in on your beautiful food; if the snow is powdery, you will need to compact it in intervals as you go. If it’s a wet snow, it will likely do a fine job of compacting itself. After you’ve got a solid pile of packed snow four to five feet high, you can start carving out the inner space. Chuck uses a shovel and a plastic sled for sliding out each small batch of snow. Look at the photos to understand what you’re going for as far as size, shape, and configuration. Make sure there is a nice flattened area for your plywood door to close the space.
Now you need to add your oculus to draw the smoke through. Use a shovel handle to drill a three to four inch hole from the outside of the igloo, across from the door. It should be about 3 feet above the ground and angled downward toward the inside of your igloo.
Step 3: Cold Smoking Time!
Inside your igloo, stack an even number of bricks into two stacks to hold your oven rack about ⅔ of the way in and up in the igloo. Put your cured fish on the rack.
Outside the igloo, place enough wood chips in the pie pan to cover the bottom. Place chip pan on the electric hot plate (safely kept out of snow on some wood or other sturdy material) and turn it up to medium. Watch and wait for smoke to appear and adjust temperature to get a slow, steady stream of smoke. (It doesn’t need to be a dramatic amount—you don’t want to start a fire.) Place hot plate and pan inside the foyer of your igloo, then cover the opening with your piece of plywood. Check periodically that you have a nice amount of smoke and that all is well (though not so often that you lose all your smoke). Once it is definitely doing just fine, you can check less often.
Smoke fish for a total of six hours. When it is ready, place fish into a clean container or new resealable plastic bag and refrigerate immediately. It’s safest to eat your fish within a few days; you can freeze it in the unlikely event you haven’t eaten it all up by then.
Want more details on igloo cold smoking?
Check out this PDF of one of our earlier cold smoking adventures in Minnesota. This photo essay shows more detail, as well as some optional variations in the setup.
Step 4: Slice and Eat
Slice thinly at a 45 degree angle and serve on toast points or bagels with complementary garnishes such as cream cheese, fresh dill and thinly sliced onion—or incorporate into your favorite smoked fish dishes.
One last word: don’t throw away the gorgeous fish skin. You can lightly broil then julienne it for homemade Japanese-style rice bowls or salmon skin rolls.
Thank you to my husband, Chuck Krekelberg, for building the igloo and cold smoking the fish.
A shout out to the North Asheville Tailgate Market for having such a wonderful variety of foods from local farms and more—we purchased our salmon and black cod there, from Heidi & Steve of the Wild Salmon Co.
Safety note: Keep fish below 40 degrees at all points in the process. Don’t serve your home-cured and cold-smoked fish to anyone with a compromised immune system. Check with your local extension office for official safety tips. You are responsible for your and your fellow eaters safety!