Cold Smoking
With Soldering Irons



Introduction

There's an old saying that there's more than one way to skin a cat. When it comes to cold smoking, that is certainly true. Over the years, we have seen (and built) a number of different setups for cold smoking with kamado-style cookers including a paint can, briquettes, dryer vent hoses, tubes, mazes, you name it. Using a tin can and a soldering iron has been around for years, and many years ago we bought an array of soldering irons in preparation for writing this article. Sadly, it has taken all this time to finally get around to it. But nevermind. Let's take a look at this homespun method of generating smoke for cold smoking.


The Can

Behold, the humble everyday #300 15.5-ounce tin can. This one was used for garbanzo beans. Needless to say, the can will be used to hold the wood pellets, sawdust or whatever type of wood you wish to use.

To prepare the can for smoking, we first removed the label. Then we simply used a punch to punch a hole in the bottom of one side. This is where the soldering iron will be inserted. We also used a pair of tongue and groove pliers (also known as Channellocks®) to crimp around the top edge and crimp any sharp edges sticking out. Needless to say, you can use any sort of pliers to do this.

And since you never know what the manufacturer has used to coat the inside of the can, we decided to play it safe and put the can into a 600°F cooker for 2 hours to burn off any such lining. (We combined this "sterilization" procedure with a "clean burn" and killed two birds with one stone.)

So there we have it. A tin can all ready to hold our smoking fuel that will also hold the soldering iron in place. Of course, feel free to use whatever size can fits your needs and fits your cooker. You might want to use a tuna can, for example, if you need a shorter can. Whatever you choose, the principle is the same. Next, let's take a look at the array of soldering irons we collected for this project.


The Soldering Irons

Soldering irons are a good choice for generating a steady and controlled heat for making smoke. They are cheap and easy to find on the internet or at a local Radio Shack if you have one.

Out of an abundance of caution, we'll suggest that you use a new soldering iron. An old soldering iron may have lead on it from whatever solder it was used with. Soldering irons are cheap, so it might be best to spring for a new one rather than use the one you inherited from your father that he used to build HeathKit projects back in the 50's and 60's.

We will be using an array of soldering irons of different wattages in order to test the amount of smoke produced and decide on the best wattage for cold smoking. All were purchased either from a local Radio Shack store or online from the RadioShack.com website (yes, they still exist!). The following table shows you the wattages we have and the corresponding Radio Shack catalog number:

Radio Shack
Catalog Number
Wattage
6402070 25W
6402055 15/30W
6402071 40W
6400216 60W


It is also worth noting that Radio Shack sells a 20/30/40/50W selectable wattage soldering iron, Catalog Number 6400094. If you want to experiment with different wattages yourself and see the resulting smoke produced, this might be a good choice. Otherwise, we'll see what results we get from our various soldering irons and see which one seems to be the best choice.


What Wattage Is Best

What we are going to do is use our four soldering irons to test the smoke produced by 15W, 25W, 40W and 60W irons. Four cans will be set up side by side, each with a soldering iron inserted into the hole in the side, and each filled with an identical amount of smoking pellets. The four soldering irons will be turned on together so we can see the smoke generated at various time intervals.

Four cans lined up with four soldering irons. Left to right, 15W, 25W, 40W and 60W.


And here is the result after 15 minutes:

Four cans lined up with four soldering irons. Left to right, 15W, 25W, 40W and 60W.

There was no smoke whatsoever produced by the 15W soldering iron. You can just barely make out a wisp of smoke from the 25W iron. So, clearly the choice lies between the 40W and 60W soldering irons. The difference was noticeable and if you compare the two cans to the amount of smoke produced by other methods, we think you will find that the 60W iron is the one to choose.


Pellets, Chips or Dust

The next choice you need to make is what fuel to use to generate your smoke. The three obvious choices, it would seem, are wood pellets, wood chips and wood sawdust. So our next test was to use our 60W soldering iron with a can of each to see what happens. Here are photos of the three fuels being heated in a can with the soldering iron:

Wood pellets

Sawdust

Wood chips


The wood chips created the most smoke, followed by the pellets and then the sawdust. However, that's not the end of the story as far as the sawdust goes. If you look carefully at the photo above, the smoke seems to be coming out of the hole through which the soldering iron enters the can. Here's a side view that makes it more obvious:


Obviously, air and smoke simply cannot penetrate up through the sawdust and escape out the top of the can. And after we left things going for several more minutes, this is what resulted:


Smoke production halted altogether. So, from this we conclude that we'd prefer using chips, but pellets would be a good second choice. However, we wouldn't use sawdust. Sawdust is best suited for use in smoking mazes and tubes.


Using With A Kamado-Style Cooker

So, now that we have selected our soldering iron wattage and fuel, here's how we used the soldering iron and can of wood chips to make smoke in our large Big Green Egg cooker:

Insert the soldering iron through your lower vent.


Insert the soldering iron through the hole in your can.


Fill the can with your fuel of choice.


Heat Production

So, the next and final question is how much heat is generated and therefore what temperature can you maintain in your cooker when using a soldering iron to create cold smoke. We tested using both the 40W and 60W soldering irons, and found that the temperature in our large Big Green Egg slowly climbed to about 35°F above the outside temperature. What this means is that if the outside temperature is above 45°F or so, you will need to add a tray of ice beneath any cheese you are smoking.


Final Notes and Observations

Soldering irons and tin cans make a good method of producing smoke for cold smoking. You have a controlled heat source that will produce consistent smoke. A few things we will point out:

  1. The soldering iron will increase the temperature inside your cooker by around 35°F above the outside temperature. You need to take this into account in deciding whether or not you need an ice tray in the cooker.
  2. Even though you are just creating smoldering wood at relatively low temperatures, you still need to use the vents on your cooker to control the airflow. We found that if we left the top and bottom vents open and inserted the soldering iron, there was enough airflow to cause the wood chips or pellets to eventually ignite. This of course will stop smoke production and cause a temperature spike in your cooker.
  3. If you don't have or want to use a tin can, some folks have been known to use a couple layers of heavy duty aluminum foil to hold pellets or chips and wrap them around the soldering iron for a quick smoke.


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