When we talk about using our smokers and grills, we immediately think about meat (and vegetables sometimes). However, we are limiting our smokers if that’s all we ever use it for, because you can smoke cheese, too.
Cheese is one of the most beloved foods in the world. It’s a vital component in a lot of our favorite leftover brisket recipes. If you’ve ever come across recipes on the internet calling for smoked cheese or even seen it in stores, you may have wondered if you could do it at home. You can make smoked cheese on your own grill with the proper knowledge.
Why would I smoke cheese?
Before we get into how to smoke cheese, it’s a good idea to explain why you would want to smoke cheese. We all love the flavors of different cheeses, but we also love barbecue and smoky flavors. Smoking the cheese enhances the flavor, adding nuttiness and smokiness. You do need to pay attention to the temperature because cheese must be cold smoked.
What is cold smoking?
Cold smoking is the process of adding smoky flavors to food without using enough heat to cook the food. That makes perfect sense for smoking cheese. For cold smoking, you want to keep your grill or smoker under 90°F so you don’t end up with a mess of melty cheese in your grill.
When is a good time to smoke cheese?
Temperature management is a key part of smoking cheese. If your grill is out in the direct sunlight and it’s reading around 100°F from the sun alone, it’s not a good day to cold smoke cheese. Colder days like during the early spring, late fall, and winter are best. You can also try to smoke early in the morning or later at night as well. Under 60°F is ideal so you aren’t increasing the chances of your cheese melting.
How Long should you cold smoke cheese?
There are a couple factors that define how long you can smoke cheese for, such as the type of cheese, the hardness of the cheese and how much smoke flavor you want in the cheese. For soft cheeses we recommend cold smoking for approximately 1 hour total and hard cheeses can smoke for 2 hours. We feel this is a good rule of thumb. Ultimately it is up to you and your palate to decide how much smoke is enough.
What cheeses are best for smoking?
Just like we evaluate cuts of meat for smoking, we need to evaluate different cheeses. You want a cheese that is hard or semi-hard that can hold up to the smoky flavors from burning wood. A soft cheese not only can absorb too much smoke, but it will also be more likely to melt in your grill, ruining both your cheese and your grill grates.
Cheddar is one of the most common cheeses to smoke, and you don’t have to go with just a normal sharp cheddar. If you have a favorite cheddar that already has some extra ingredients, such as peppers, you can smoke it to add even more flavor. Speaking of peppers, grabbing a block of pepper jack to smoke is a good move. Other common cheeses include gouda, provolone, parmesan, and hard mozzarella.
You also want to make sure that you’re using a good-sized block of cheese. You want to maximize the surface of the cheese to absorb as much smoke flavor without making the blocks too small. Keeping your cheese blocks in as uniform a size as possible will also help with managing the smoking times.
What wood should I smoke cheese with?
The most common types of wood to smoke cheese with thankfully coincide with common types of wood for smoking meat. However, since you are cold smoking cheese, you need to keep your grill at a very low temperature. So rather than using logs or even chunks, you want to use chips or even wood pellets. Chips will burn a bit faster while pellets may not generate the same level of flavor, so you will need to do some testing to figure out what works best for you.
You want to balance your wood choices with your cheese. If you are only looking for a subtle smoky flavor, going with a fruitwood like apple or cherry is a great option. Oak, pecan, or hickory bring a much stronger flavor, so be aware when using them. Some even say they can bring a bacon-like smokiness to cheeses, so cheddar is a great option for stronger-flavored wood smoke.
Do I need any additional equipment for cold-smoking cheese?
You may be intimidated by the thought of keeping your smoker or grill under 90°F for any length of time while still producing smoke. Here are some options that can help you produce smoke at low temperatures.
1. Gas Grill with Smoker Box or Tube
Using a smoker box or tube can be a huge help since you are looking to smoke the cheese, not cook it. These allow you to put wood chips or pellets in them and slowly release smoke throughout the grill without generating much heat.
2. Charcoal Grill With Wood Chips
If you don’t want to use a smoker box or tube, you can use a charcoal grill set to indirect heat with just enough charcoal briquettes lit to generate smoke from the wood chips. Then you will use an aluminum pan full of ice underneath your cheese to help keep the temperature in the correct temperature range. Just keep as much distance between the lit charcoal and the ice pan as possible. Melting your ice quickly will not do the trick.
I would also recommend trying to use the Slow N Sear with your charcoal grill. Put a couple lit coals in the coal basket and fill the water tank with cold icy water. This can help keep temps down across the charcoal grill.
You also want to keep an accurate eye on the temperature of your grill at the grate. While you may usually monitor the temperature at the built-in thermometer, you don’t want to take any chances. If you have a trusty probe thermometer, use it. If you are in the market for a new one, take a look at our roundup of some of the best grill thermometers on the market.
3. Electric Smokers
Yes I said it. Electric smokers can work well with cheese. An electric smoker is a glorified electric oven with an ability to make some smoke. These are great at producing very low temps and are typically in a vertical format.
What about smoked cream cheese?
We’ve talked about the different types of cheese you can smoke, but there was no mention of cream cheese. The process for smoking cream cheese is completely different from other types of cheese. If you’ve got a pork butt or brisket in your smoker with the temps running around 225°F, you can add a block of cream cheese seasoned with your favorite BBQ rub and let it go for up to two hours to just bathe in the smoke. If you’re looking for the recipe for smoked cream cheese or other great appetizers, check out our roundup of the best BBQ appetizers.
How to cold-smoke cheese, step by step
- Allow your cheese to come up to room temperature. Wipe off any excess moisture that forms on the cheese to help develop the best rind when it smokes.
- Set up your grill or smoker for cold smoking. If you are using a smoker tube or box, load it with your preferred wood chips or pellets then light it. If you are simply going indirect, light five to six charcoal briquettes to one side of your grill, then cover with wood chips once they catch. Place an aluminum pan filled with ice under where you will place the cheese. Use a probe thermometer to monitor the temperature at the grates to ensure the smoker stays under 90°F.
- Place your blocks of cheese as far away from the heat source as possible.
- Turn the blocks of cheese every 15 minutes to half an hour to ensure that you are getting maximum smoke exposure on all sides.
- For softer cheeses, remove them from the grill after half an hour to an hour. For harder cheeses, monitor the cheeses and remove them after two hours or so. The longer the cheeses remain on the grill, the stronger the flavor development will be. Softer cheeses will take on the smoke flavor more quickly, so you need to be careful to not over-smoke them.
- Wrap the cheeses individually in parchment or food-grade butcher paper, then place them in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours.
- After the rest in the fridge, you want to vacuum seal the cheeses individually or place them in freezer bags and squeeze out all the air. Place them in your fridge or freezer for 1-2 weeks to let the flavors mellow and penetrate the cheese fully.
- Once the cheeses have rested, pull them out and enjoy. You can top burgers, enjoy them sliced as appetizers with crackers, or put them into dishes like macaroni and cheese.