Technique: How to Cold-Coal Smoke Food

Moving on……with hope!

Great techniques are a gift…that don’t stop giving, whether it is tea-smoking or cold-brewing.

Small columns of smoke

Today’s nifty ‘smoking’ tip comes from Indian Chef Reza Muhammad who created a delicious Spiced Smoked Salmon recipe – but not the smoked salmon you are used to!

He uses heated coals, ghee and spices to  create intense, refined smoky flavours without sweating near a barbeque stand – coal, wood-fired or gas!

Technique: Heated coals are at the centre of this dish, combined with whole spices and topped with ghee (clarified butter) to create ‘rich’ smoke. The dish is tightly covered with foil and left to ‘cold-smoke’  for 4 – 6 hours

Application: Varied. You can smoke everything from water, to salt, rice, meats and vegetables. And yes, Chef David Chang of Momofuku has recipes that involve smoked water! Marvel….as do I. True his recipe uses water and liquid smoke….but the same thing can be had with this!

Results: Refined, smooth, smoky flavor

Level: Easy

Why I like it: The flavor is exquisite, and the rounded, smooth ‘smokiness’ reminds me of the smooth brew that is ‘cold-coffee’. Plus it is simple to accomplish – anyone can do it – no heavy duty equipment, no kitchen science brain, just simple directions and great results.

Superhot coals

I’ve tried it in two recipes with excellent results – a maple-glazed ham and the traditional ‘Suya’ recipe, suya being the equivalent of grilled kebabs. Except this time, I got the same exquisite smoky flavor without going anywhere near a grill!

From Chef Reza himself: He holds out a piece of Franschhoek salmon trout for me to taste. “I’ve ‘Reza-rised’ it. It took six hours.” A sublime deep smoky  vour emerges through the gingery-garlickymustardy- chilli-honey marinade. “Does it tickle your fancy, my dear?”

He happily describes the process: “After marinating you put the salmon in a roasting pan with a space in the centre where you place a little foil basket with two red-hot pieces of charcoal.

Sprinkle them with ghee and spices. NOT oil. Oil gives a petrol taste. Cover with foil and leave overnight. You can smoke vegetables like that too. They do a lot of smoking in Rajasthan.”,

My recipe: Cold-Smoked, Maple-Glazed Ham

Makes 6 cold-smoked slices

2 tablespoons maple syrup 
1/2 teaspoon microplaned lemon zest
1 – 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ancho chile powder, or to taste 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black peppercorns, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon chopped cilantro leaves
6 slices of cooked ham

Cold-Smoking Ingredients

2 – 3 pieces of charcoal
8 green cardamom pods
6-8 whole black peppercorns 
6 cloves
1 tablespoon Ghee, clarified butter


Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, except the ham, to make the glaze. Set out a large shallow oven-proof dish or roasting tin to hold the ham in a single layer. Brush the glaze on both sides of each slice, repeating till all six slices are done and the glaze is used up.


Arrange the slices of ham in a single layer leaving room in the centre for a small bowl. Then make a small bowl out of foil, large enough to contain the charcoal pieces.


Heat the charcoal over a gas burner until red hot.


While the coals are burning, cut two pieces of foil, large enough to cover the tray or dish holding the ham. Once hot, transfer the coals into the small foil bowl then place the bowl in the centre of the tray.


Sprinkle the cardamom, black peppercorns and cloves onto the hot coals then pour the ghee over it – it will smoke…a lot. As soon as it starts to smoke, cover the tin tightly with the cut up pieces of foil to trap the smoke.


Set in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours, or overnight. The coals will die out, leaving behind their fragrance. You’ll be thankful they did….


Serve as part of a main course with rice or potatoes or use in sandwiches, pizza toppings, salads

Potato and Pesto Pizza with smoked ham

For the Suya recipe, I pretty much followed the same directions as above


I made up the spice mix and coated the chicken strips.

I  placed the chicken strips on soaked wooden sticks and placed them in a bowl.

I then repeated the ‘smoking steps’ and left the strips to marinade overnight.


The following day, I baked off the sticks at 180 degrees centigrade in a preheated oven for about 12 minutes.

They emerged tender, smoky and absolutely delicious.

They were served with my favourite Mango salad, some plain basmati rice and a delicious tomato sauce, also from Chef Reza.


Would you use this technique? Where would you use it?

Have you come across it before?

[wpurp-searchable-recipe]Technique: How to Cold-Coal Smoke Food – – – [/wpurp-searchable-recipe]



  1. Hi
    Plz guide me if I can use onion .. burning it on stove like coal , for smoky flavor in food … and then when its burnt , putting some butter on it for smoke. Will it do for me? Coal is not available here in small quantities.

  2. I generally love smoked food. There is something about it that reminds me of foods from the village. Grandma cooking in village kitchens oven fire wood is quite memorable . So this rather simple technic with no hastle of filling the house with smoke is definitely going to be used frequently in my foods. Thanks for sharing .

  3. I’m definitely going to try this soon. Will post pics when I do. Your blog never ceases to amaze me. Soooo much amazing content. God bless you

  4. Hello M. Butterfly. I did in fact see this episode with Reza on TV. And loved your guts in doing it. I would love to do with with chicken, like u have. Enjoy your to NY and I hope you’ll have time to do a bit of photography and food for us while you’re there.xxxxx

  5. What a delightful discovery and beautiful technique: entirely other-worldly and yet so self-evident–now that you’ve explained it, of course. From Rajasthan, too, ha! I’ve so long associated smoking with Western preserving techniques, not once did I think of the desert cuisine just to my north. I’ll investigate more, try myself, and be sure to keep you appraised of my results. Right now I’m just happy being thrilled at the simplicity of it all.

  6. What a wonderful little technique, I’ll have to store this for future use (no time now…). I hope to catch up on all your posts soon.

  7. Wow! This smoking technique is entirely new to me! I tend to be a traditional stove and oven type cook. But as a Girl Scout I cooked with many differing types of heat sources. Although I have not thought to try these techniques indoors. A thought provoking post! As always, I find inspiration in your lovely blog:)

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