The Return of the Smokehouse : Smoking Your Own Meats

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Smoke your own meat, build your own smokehouse

Although there are a few remaining smokehouses to be seen nestled among old gray outbuildings alongside rural roads, most have vanished from the American countryside. Before the advent of refrigeration, and for quite a while afterwards, they were a fixture on every farm where pigs were raised.

In the fall of the year, on a cold day to prevent spoilage, enough pork to last the winter would be prepared for smoking. These rustic little buildings with aromatic smoke seeping out of the cracks, emanated the smell of bacon, spices, and the type of wood the owner preferred to use for smoking the meat.

This would continue until most of the moisture was removed which prevented the meat from spoiling.It is said that smells trigger memories. If you've ever entered a smokehouse full of sausages, hams and shoulders, and of course sides of bacon, you will know this is true. Many of us remember going with our grandparents to “fetch some fresh bacon” for breakfast and long for that taste once again.


A nostalgic reminder of good things to eat.   Old smokehouse in the swamps of Georgia.
A nostalgic reminder of good things to eat. Old smokehouse in the swamps of Georgia.

Smokehouses of the Smoky Mountains

Rustic smokehouse-Tennessee
Rustic smokehouse-Tennessee | Source
Another vintage smokehouse.  Once vital to survival in the Appalachians.
Another vintage smokehouse. Once vital to survival in the Appalachians. | Source

Back to Our Beginnings

The taste of real smoked pork is unforgettable. What is labeled as smoked meat today cannot compare to the old way of smoking meats..

Artificial smoke flavor, along with other chemicals, are injected or soaked into the meat to try to mimic the taste and look of real smoked pork. There are some real smokehouse products available but still, it’s not the same.

Recent concerns about food safety and the desire for authentic smoked meats has caused a resurgence of interest in traditional smokehouses,

Old methods of curing and smoking pork, and sometimes beef and fish, are being used to rediscover the unique taste our grandparents enjoyed all year long.

The once endangered little shed is starting to make a comeback in many rural areas. The pleasant aroma of wood smoke is once again stirring memories throughout the countryside.

Why smoke your own meats?

The reasons for this sudden interest in having one’s own smokehouse are many. In areas of the south a recent influx of wild hogs has suddenly provided an inexpensive supply of pork to hunters and landowners alike. Deer hunters have discovered the delicious taste of venison sausage and how easy it is to make it themselves.

Even farmers are once again processing their own pork for the dinner table because of the high prices charged at local abattoirs. There are extra charges for smoking sausage, hams, and bacon from most processing facilities with the "old familiar" taste missing somehow.

But whatever the reason, a smokehouse is relatively easy to construct even for less-than -professional carpenters. The basic concept of a smokehouse is simple. A dry enclosed area with hooks or racks to hold the intended meat until the majority of water is removed from the meat.

Smokehouses with character?

Using the "outhouse" style of smokehouse construction is popular in rural settings
Using the "outhouse" style of smokehouse construction is popular in rural settings

Smokehouse Building Materials

Hardwood smoke not only flavors the meat, but removes excess moisture while protecting it from insects as it cures. The size smokehouse you need depends on the amount of meat you intend to cure. For most, a small two-holer outhouse size will do the trick.

The type of wood or other material you plan to use will dictate some facets of the construction. It is recommended that the fire box be located outside of the structure if possible. Many of the old smokehouses had a dirt or clay floor on which to build a small smoky fire.

This lowered the chance of the smokehouse burning down. Others used a small brick or stone hearth with the flue exhausting into the interior of the smokehouse. Today, some use a propane or electric heat source combined with wood chips to provide the smoke needed for the curing process.

Some commercial deer processors use old refrigerated trucks such as those ice cream or milk was delivered in. The insulated coolers are perfect for converting into large smokehouses. These are mainly used for smoking sausage links made from venison and pork.

One of the best sausage makers in this area of southern Georgia uses peach wood to smoke his wonderful links with. The wood comes from local orchards when they prune the trees annually. These sausages are so good many hunters have the whole deer processed in this manner.

In some parts of the country wild hogs are becoming a nuisance to homeowners and agricultural business owners. Some hunters many not have room in their freezers to store all of the meat these animals provide, so smoking part of it may be an option to be considered instead of freezing it..

Wild pork is especially suited for smoking as a preservation technique. In many areas of the south wild hogs are there for the taking by industrious and adventuresome hunters. Because of their destructiveness to crops and property, hunters bag them with the blessings of the landowner.

A Rare Reminder of Our Past

A classic smokehouse
A classic smokehouse

The curing and smoking process

Before smoking the meat it is important to use a curing method consisting mainly of covering the meat with salt until the meat is rid of a lot of the water contained in it. Other spices such as black and red pepper, sugar and molasses, or even oregano may be used to flavor the meat. There were many preferences among the “old timers” with some being passed down through the years. Covering the meat with salt is the most important part though. So you must choose your own method for this step. There are books available which give greater details on some of the old favorite methods.

Once the meat has been salt cured for a few days it is time for it to be placed into the smokehouse to finish the curing process. Hooks and straps are used for hanging the hams and shoulders. Slabs of bacon can be hung in the same manner. Horizontal poles hold links of sausages wrapped around them in loops. The manner in which these hooks and racks are used is not important as long as the smoke can reach the surface of the meat.

The type of wood used to smoke the meat is usually one of availability in the area. Hickory seems to be the favorite but down here in Georgia many favor pecan. Most of the oak woods will do a decent job as will other hardwoods. Pine or other conifers will not do as they leave a pitch taste and soot covering on the meat. Peach or apple wood gives a pleasant taste and smell to the meat. Again, old timers had their own favorites which varied from farm to farm.

So if you are a hunter with a hankering to smoke your own meat, or if you are just an ordinary person who likes the taste of real smoked meat, then build your own smoke house. Learn how the old timer’s produced such wonderful tasting hams and sausages. The process is easier than you may think and you will savor the results. Smoke ’em if ya got ’em.

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Comments 50 comments

Montana Farm Girl profile image

Montana Farm Girl 7 years ago from Northwestern Montana

Loved your hub....very informative!!! There are many people here in Montana who use smokehouses or do their smoking the good ol' fashioned way... Had a pig roast Saturday night....oh my, nothing like it!!!!! I'm still learning all the in's and out's, but when someone offers smoked meat of any kind, I sure know it's going to be good!!!!!!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 7 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks for the comments Montana Farm Girl, the's nothing better than a "pig picking" as we call it down here in Georgia.


flread45 profile image

flread45 7 years ago from Montana

I do a lot of smoking myself,and love the flavors from different woods.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 7 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hello firead45, thank you for reading my smokehouse article. We seem to have a lot in common with our interest in the outdoors.


kiwi gal profile image

kiwi gal 6 years ago

Great hub. Still use the old smoking methods here in New Zealand. Fish, venison along with pork. We use the smoker for eels which are plentiful in this country.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks Kiwi gal. Never tried smoked eel though! Looks too much like SNAKE!


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

I remember my Papa's smokehouse in Irwinville. It always smelled heavenly! Thanks for the memories.


dragonbear profile image

dragonbear 6 years ago from Essex UK

Great hub! We have commercial smokehouses here in the UK, some traditional ones, especially in Scotland. Others on the East coast for herrings especially. It's a great taste. Thanks for an interesting hub!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Me too, Holle. The sides of bacon with the hams and sausage hanging was an accomplishment for our ancestors. They ate well in the country, even if money was not in great supply. Thanks Holle!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Many of the smokehouse's in this area were built by settlers of Scottish descent. My grandparents from both sides were Scotch-Irish. Thanks for the comments, dragonbear!


Michael Shane profile image

Michael Shane 6 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

I have actually been thinking about doing this...Thanks!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Smokehouses are becoming more popular these days as real smoked meats are harder to find, not to mention the additives used in the quick cure commercial processes. Thanks Michael!


LegendaryHero 6 years ago

Very informative, I love smoked meat. One day I would like to build my own smokehouse.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks LH! The smokehouse is indeed coming back as it's getting harder to find real smoked meats.


LegendaryHero 6 years ago

No problem. Have you built your own smokehouse?


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

I have built several, but not one for me yet! I plan to build my own this fall. I already have the materials, just need the time.


Origin profile image

Origin 6 years ago from Minneapolis

I love the smell of smokehouses, but it's been such a long time since I've been near one. On top of that, I love the meat! Great hub, it was fun to read!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Yes Origin, the smell of a smokehouse is something you never forget. And the taste of real smoked meats can't be imitated by modern means.

Thanks for reading!


Lamme profile image

Lamme 6 years ago

wow, this brings back a lot of memories. I love real smoked foods. Driving along the north shore of Lake Superior, there used to be a lot of small smoke shops where you could pick up a freshly smoked fish. Absolutely delicious!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

It's true, Lamme! Memories and smells enhance each other!

Thanks for the comments and nostalgia!


Oldtimes 6 years ago

Very good info.

So much of the old ways are forgotton.The movement to become more independent and sustainable would be alot easier if we could relearn what was once a way of life for our great grandparents. I've talked to the older generation who still remember the smokehouse as the home essential. It was always full of food even when not smoking meat. It was a place to store canned vegetables and dried peas etc..


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Not forgotten yet, Oldtimes! I can still smell the bacon, hams, and sausage, which hung in both of grandparents smokehouses. And many folks are relearning how to produce these wonderful, tasty, meats.

You are right about using the smokehouse in the off season for storing pickles and canned vegetables. My father said they would always make several hundred gallons of cane syrup to last them through the winter.

They would also butcher 8 or 9 hogs for the same purpose. They didn't have much money but they sure ate well. Thanks for reading and reminding me of how they used the smokehouse other times of the year.

Cheers!

Randy Godwin


Eileen 6 years ago

Do I remember correctly that the hams and bacon were put into a large wooden barrel, then covered with salted water. The water had enough salt in it to float a raw egg in it's shell?

Thanks for an answer


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hello Eileen! Yes, some used this process while others just packed the meat in dry salt until most of the water was removed. The process used depended on the person who was doing the curing.

Many had their own secret way of curing and smoking the meats. And the spices used varied from person to person with some mixtures being handed down through the generations.

Thanks for your time!


Towerclon profile image

Towerclon 6 years ago from Pa

I can still remember going to the smokehouse and getting up on a bucket too take a bite of my Grandfathers suger cured bacon, he said the mice were at his meat. I still read the Fox Fire books on the old ways of doing things.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 6 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Good memories, Towercion! I have some of the same! Thanks!


applejack2 profile image

applejack2 5 years ago from Mandaue City, Cebu Philippines

I remember when i was a smallboy my dad curing meat in salt peter, i helped him put the meat in the barrels and cover it with salt. It was good, but that was a long time ago, It was good.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Good memories, Applejack! Thanks for stopping by!

Randy


dusy7969 profile image

dusy7969 5 years ago from San Diego, California

nice hub.I've talked to the older generation who still remember the smokehouse as the home essential. It was always full of food even when not smoking meat.I like this hub.Thanks a lot for this informative sharing.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

I AM one of the "older" generation, dusy! LOL! And yes, the smokehouse was always full of good food!

Thanks for stopping by!

Randy


laine harrison profile image

laine harrison 5 years ago

oh, i miss the smokehouse of my dad! very informative hub.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Me too, Laine! Both of my grandfathers kept their smokehouses full of hams and sides of bacon and sausages all through the winter. And ah the difference in the meats we have today.

Thanks for stopping by!

Randy


Antha 12 profile image

Antha 12 5 years ago

My husband and I are working towards being self sustaining, so we grow our own food now. We just built a smoke house and I am soo tickled that my granddad took the time to teach me all his secrets. I'm so glad I found this site though!!! Anyone have a good recipe on smoking rabbit?


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hi Antha, good for you guys growing your own food and learning to be self sufficient. I've never tried smoking rabbit meat but I suppose it can be done like msost other meats.

Thanks for stopping by and for your input on this subject.

Randy Godwin


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

It's embarrassing to me, Randy, but .....I dunno how to clean something as large as a deer or a pig.

I'm positive that that and then curing or smoking such meats will become something that we ever poorer American men must know how to do.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Ha! Believe me Wesman, if you get real hungry you will figure it out. Actually, cleaning the animals are basically the same as with a smaller animal, but a pig is not skinned like most other animals. They must be scalded shortly after being killed and scraped clean of all hair before butchering.

Yes, there is quite a bit of interest in relearning this once necessary process along with smoking the meats and other preservative steps.

Thanks for your time and comments as always.

Randy


eye say profile image

eye say 5 years ago from Canada

very informative, a good read


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks for taking a look and for the input, Eye Say!

Randy


Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 4 years ago from Germany

Very informative hub. I enjoyed reading it. Smoked fish, ham, salami and others are still popular here in Germany. This food is very delicious. Thanks for sharing.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Wow! Makes my mouth water, Thelma! I think German and Swiss immigrants were instrumental in teaching the earliest settlers in America the meat smoking process. We are eternally grateful too!

Thanks for reading and for your input on this article.

Randy


KEVIN 2 years ago

I'm in Kauai, we have plenty of wild pigs, goat, ducks and geese, In Texas I used Pecan wood, would Macadamia nut wood do well, or even Mango, that has a good Peach taste. Any other Hawaiian woods to suggest. Kiave is popular here, and is a lot like Mesquite, so far my favorite is young Guava wood.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hello Kevin, and thanks for reading my article. I use pecan wood also as we have lots of it here in southern Georgia. I also use peach wood when I can get it adds it a good taste to smoked meats.

As I'm not familiar with Hawaiian woods I fear to suggest any of them for use as smoking meats. I do feel the mango wood would work fine though. Guava wood seems as if it would be a good choice also. Thanks for the question and the comments.

Randy


ron g 2 years ago

Thank you for this Randy. You and others here answered my questios without me asking.

Ron Goodwin

Northwest Arkansas


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Glad you found the article useful, Ron. Thanks for stopping by. :)

Randy


chef-de-jour profile image

chef-de-jour 16 months ago from Wakefield, West Yorkshire,UK

Fascinating read, thank you. I was in Scotland recently, on the east coast in the town of Arbroath. They traditionally catch and smoke young haddock and call them smokies, curing them over oak chips in huge barrels. This fish is so tasty, I'd never tasted such succulent fish before! Little wonder they sell so many.

I buy smoked sausage and ham whenever I can, love the flavours absorbed. I guess there's no comparison with the real thing. Some great history in this article.

Votes and shared up.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 16 months ago from High desert of Nevada.

OMGosh! My mouth is watering for those great old hams and bacon my Dad and Grandpa smoked when we were kids. Wonderful hub, Randy and some great photos.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 16 months ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hi Andrew, glad you enjoyed this article. I have smoked salmon and lots of mullet as we catch so many of the latter on the east coast. Both are very tasty and I assume other types of fish could be also be smoked. I've never tried smoked haddock but you made my mouth water just thinking about them.

Yes, it's very difficult to find authentic smoked meats these days but there are still a few places nearby who their stuff. Thanks again for reading and the nice comments, Andrew. :)


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 16 months ago from Southern Georgia Author

Yo Phyllis! I've always said if one ever enters a smokehouse filled with cured meat, they never forget the smell. And it tastes better than it smells in my experience. This is one part of the "good ole days" I really do miss.

Thanks as always for your input on my hubs, Phyllis. :)


moonlake profile image

moonlake 16 months ago from America

We loved smoked turkey and had a friend that use to smoke a turkey for us on Christmas. Voted up.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 16 months ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hey Moonlake, good to hear from you. :) I still smoke a turkey occasionally as it makes such great sandwiches from the leftovers. But fried turkey is still my favorite if it's prepared well. Thanks for stopping by and for the up!!

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