This summer has been a scorcher! If you’re like me, you have probably hunted down your lucky friends who have access to a pool. This inevitably leads to the tradition of firing up the grill to take part in our country’s favorite summer past time – barbecuing! For a change of pace (and flavor), I suggest incorporating smoke into your routine. Just a hint of smoke can enhance meats and other foods greatly. So take a stab at impressing you friends and family with this classic cooking technique. If you practice now you’ll be a pro in time for the holidays!
Smoking Then and Now
Prior to modern refrigeration, smoke was used to preserve meat and seafood. Today smokers are used by novice cooks and professional chefs, not so much to preserve food, but rather to impart that wonderful smokey flavor. It should be noted that most “smoked” foods are not smoked in the true sense of the word, but rather they are “cooked with smoke.” Wood chunks, chips or pellets are added to charcoal and the protein cooks fully in the heat while absorbing the desired smoke flavor. True (cold) smoking can take hours, days, or even weeks, depending on the size and thickness of the protein.
Smokers have become more mainstream and have worked their way into many backyards, typically taking a backseat to the reliable gas grill. eHow states that in 2009 57% of grills sold were gas, while 43% were charcoal. That being said, it’s hard to beat the flavor from a charcoal grill, but the convenience of a gas grill is definitely a benefit. Regardless of the type of grill you own, you are only a few minutes away from incorporating smoke into your meal without the expense of a separate smoking unit.
Simple Smoking with a Grill
There are a variety of methods to enhance your meal with smoke. The cheapest way to do this is to simply wrap some small wood chips (see our wood smoking chart below) in aluminum foil, poke a few holes in the top and add to the gas or charcoal grill. The chips will begin to smolder after a few minutes and the smoke will adhere to the food. Please note that using a smoking device in a gas grill will cause a slight buildup of soot, but don’t let this dissuade you! If you prefer to step up to the next level, you can purchase an inexpensive smoke box from any of your large hardware or outdoor living stores – many are less than $15. Over the course of the last 15 years, I graduated from smoker box to electric smokers to stand alone charcoal smokers (I currently own two well-used Weber smokers).
How to Smoke with a Gas Grill
Below are simple steps to apply smoke to your meal using a gas grill.
- First, wash your meat/poultry/seafood in cold water.
- Pat dry and apply salt, pepper and anything else for your desired flavor. Water acts as a barrier to the smoke, so drying the meat is important!
- Allow the meat to come to room temperature (10 to 15 minutes, possibly longer for red meat).
- While you are waiting, crank up all of the burners and place the foil smoking pack (with the wood chips inside) on the hot grill, close it and wait for it to start smoking.
- Once smoldering, turn one side burner off and use your tongs to move the smoking foil to the now unlit side.
- Lightly oil your grill and pat your protein dry again. Salt will cause moisture to leach out of the protein, so drying the food limits the chance that it will stick to the grill.
- Place your food on the grill and close the top.
- Cook the food as you normally would on the grill. The smoke will not speed up the cooking process.
|Apple||Produces a mild smoke that is great for chicken, duck, dove, cornish game hens and quail. This wood is commonly used to smoke bacon.|
|Alder||Traditionally used in the Pacific Northwest to smoke salmon. Imparts a mild smokiness that works well with most seafood. Try this wood when smoking scallops.|
|Cherry||Another mildly sweet smoke that enhances fish and poultry. If you are using a cold smoker, this wood is a good choice when smoking fruit (apples/pears) and cheeses.|
|Hickory||One of the most widely available and used woods. Perfect for ribs, pork butt and turkey breast. This wood may be used for any cuts of meat that require a long smoking time.|
|Maple||Excellent choice for hams, fish and poultry.|
|Mesquite||Produces a very strong smokiness. Prolonged use of this wood may ruin food, so it is best used for items that cook quickly, such chicken breasts, ribeye/strip steaks and flank steak. Try using this wood in a smoker box while grilling.|
|Pecan||A great choice for fish and poultry, especially trout.|
|Oak||Another excellent choice for items that require a long smoking time. Perfect for large cuts of beef, such as brisket or prime rib.|
Important Smoking Rules!
- Wood that has been chemically treated, painted, stained, etc.
- Wood purposed for industrial or commercial use (pallets, siding, flooring, construction site scraps, etc.)
- Pine or other conifers (the sap may ruin the food and/or make you sick).
There are many types of fantastic woods available for smoking including peach, pear, apricot, nectarine, hazelnut, grape and even coffee. Experiment with them all and most importantly, have fun doing it!