Wed 30 Jan 2019
Read other related stories: Cooking With Wood , General Smoking Information
Exploring this Smokehouse in New Jersey
I had an opportunity to visit an original smokehouse in Hopewell, NJ that is beyond impressive. Knowing that this structure likely dates to the late 1700’s, I was most impressed with how the structure maintained itself over the years and how functional it remained.
Let me provide a brief history on these fascinating structures as well as share some images of the Hopewell, NJ structure.
A Necessity to Farm Life
If you were a farm in New Jersey like many New England states, a smokehouse was a necessity. Pigs were commonly raised during the 17th century and butchered in the month of December in order to be able to slaughter and preserve the meat through use of a smokehouse also called smoak house or meat house.
From earliest times, a smokehouse was a small enclosed shelter, where a fire could be kept smoldering for weeks, which slowly released its smoke to the hanging meat that was hung to keep it safe from vermin and thieves.
Smoke has long been known to contain compounds that act as preservatives. Phenol and other phenolic compounds in wood smoke are both antioxidants which slow rancidification of animal fats, and antimicrobials, which slow bacterial growth. Antimicrobials in wood smoke include formaldehyde, acetic acid, and other organic acids, which give wood smoke a low pH.
Although the process of smoking the meat could take days of preparation, generally the fresh cuts of meat were packed in tubs of coarse salt for about six weeks while the salt drew most of the water from the flesh. Then the salted meats were hung in the smokehouse that contained a small fire which smoldered for one to two weeks. The result was dried, long-lasting, smoke-flavored meat that would age in the same smokehouse for up to two years before being consumed.
The Hopewell Smokehouse
With its original mortar and stone, this Hopewell, NJ smokehouse is a real gem!
Estimated to date in the late 1700’s, this was used for both storing and smoking meats, as evidence by the original steel hanging system. You can clearly see the venting chamber which acts as the outtake while circular holes present air intake. These were so well made that despite minor ground shifting, they are still as strong as ever.
This structure contains stacks of original bricks which were found in the house and subsequently moved to this location. The house still contains the original, super large stone fireplace that served as the wood fire cooking area and heat generator for the home.
Without question, these early smokehouses are an opportunity to view just what living was like before refrigeration and other luxuries of our current society. I’m constantly keeping me eyes toward the fields and yards of historic areas in search of these hidden gems that started us on our hunger for smoked foods.
Is there a historic smokehouse near you? Leave us a comment to share your views. Bringing you informative recipes, techniques, and the science beyond the fire, smoke, and flavor. That’s SmokinLicious®!