Humans have always needed to preserve food, but didn’t start tinkering with the concept of refrigeration until the 1750s. From modern-day Iran, where one can still see Persian yakhchāls dating back to 400 BC, to the 2,000-year-old ice cellar discovered in Qianyang county, China, there is evidence that people all over the world understood the power of using ice to keep their food from perishing. When it came to long voyages by land or sea, however, our ancient ancestors needed another way to stave off botulism.
Enter the smokehouse, a method used by everyone from the Indigenous people of what is now North America to Icelandic wayfarers to preserve meat and seafood. Today, we continue to smoke dishes not so much out of necessity, but because they’re delicious. From an 1872 smokehouse in a historic English fishing town that makes superb smoked haddock to one of the last surviving family-owned smokehouses on Chicago’s South Side, many of these places serve up a healthy dose of history alongside rich, smoke-tinged fare.