Smoking has been used as a way of preserving and flavouring food for many thousands of years. Our ancestors discovered, probably by serendipity, that foods exposed to smoke lasted longer before spoiling. Smoking processes and methods have been passed down through generations and are still very much in use today around the world. In some countries, these time honoured techniques form part of the essential yearly ritual of preserving fish and meat, especially in autumn to provide protein over the winter when hunting proves less bountiful.
In Medieval Europe, when an animal was slaughtered (often pigs) much of the meat was smoked for preservation. Many smallholdings had dedicated smoke houses where the meat was smoked and stored. The less affluent hung their meat high up on the edges or their hearth or fireplace at night. Ashes were placed over the embers to extinguish any flames which produced an ideal Smoky environment in which to preserve their fish or game.
Although many of us are lucky enough to have refrigeration, food smoking today is still very popular due to the fantastic flavour it imparts (if done properly). Alaska, Canada, North America, Greenland, Iceland Scandinavia, Siberia Northern Russia, Northern and Eastern Europe still practice the art of food smoking which forms part of their every day diets. Ham, bacon, sausage, salami, kippers (smoked herring), smoked salmon, smoked trout are all good examples.
Food smoking is gaining in popularity around the globe as ease of access to food smoking technology has meant it's available to those of us that have less time and space to use the old methods. However, we smoke to add flavour and tenderize food these days, rather than to preserve it.