As a barbecue pitmaster, I love smoking meats of all kinds. But as a restaurateur, I've learned that diners want more than just big hunks of meat. Luckily, smoky flavor translates well to many things-cheese, shellfish, fruit, nuts, olives, capers. If you know how to smoke meat, you'll find that the technique for smoking these ingredients is similar. Just follow the chart and instructions here to produce surprisingly delicious smoked snacks and accents to main dishes.
WOOD Different types of wood add distinct flavors and varying levels of smokiness. Maple and alder are mild and sweet. Apple, cherry, and peach are also mild and sweet but with fruity notes. Hickory adds a stronger flavor, which is great with foods like capers and nuts.
Adjust the amount of wood chips to control the level of smoke. Besides the type of wood, another factor that a ects the smokiness of the food is how many chips you use. Foods that absorb smoke more readily or that will smoke for a short time need fewer, while those with long cook times or barriers preventing absorption, like skins or shells, need more.
Soak the chips for about 30 minutes and then drain before using. Otherwise, they will burn rather than smolder and smoke.
TEMPERATURE Smoking is achieved over low, indirect heat. Just how low that heat should be depends on whether you want the food to cook (like scallops and oysters) or just soften slightly to absorb the smoke. If you're smoking a melty ingredient like cheese, the temperature should be only hot enough to ignite the wood chips. This is called cold-smoking.
For a charcoal grill, ignite a chimney starter full of lump charcoal and burn until the edges of the coals look ashy. Carefully spread the coals over half of the charcoal grate. (If you're cold-smoking, ignite half a chimney. Use three coals and leave the rest in the chimney set on bricks.) Close the lid to let the coals burn down to the desired temperature, monitoring with a probe thermometer stuck through the air vent if your grill doesn't have one built in. Scatter the wood chips on the coals.
For a gas grill, ignite one of the burners and close the lid. Let the grill heat up to the desired temperature, adjusting the burner setting as needed, and then add the wood chips. If your grill has a built-in smoker box, use it according to the manufacturer's instructions. If not, after-market smoker boxes are available, or you can wrap the soaked chips in a foil packet with lots of holes poked on top and place it directly on the lit burner, under the grate.
SURFACE Once the chips are smoking, put the food on the section of the grill that doesn't have coals or a lit burner under it. Items that are large enough not to fall through the grate can go directly on it. For smaller items, use a perforated grill pan to keep the food from falling through the grate while allowing smoke to circulate. For foods so small that they would fall through a perforated pan, use a metal pie plate.
TIME Cover the grill and smoke according to the instructions in the slideshow below.
How to Smoke Peaches, Tomatoes, Potatoes, and More
Try this method once with one of these foods and you'll see how easy it is. Just don't blame me if you take up smoking all the time.
Cherry or grape tomatoes: Smoke over 1/2 cup apple chips at 185ºF to 200ºFon a perforated grill panfor 5 minutes.Serve in egg salad; in a Bloody Mary; in salsa; in gazpacho.
Peaches, halved, pitted: Smoke over 1 cup apple, hickory, or peach chips at 200ºF to 215ºF on a grill grate for 20 minutes cut side up, 10 minutes cut side down. Servein a salad or salsa; to accompany pork, duck, or ham; drizzled with caramel sauce over ice cream.
Capers: Smokeover 1/2 cup apple or hickory chips at 210ºF to 225ºFon a metal pie platefor30 minutes. Serveas a garnish for bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon; in deviled eggs; tossed with roasted vegetables.
Hard-cooked eggs, peeled, left whole: Smoke over 1/2 cup apple or maple chips at 200ºF to 215ºFon a grill grate for 15 minutes.Serve in egg salad; for deviled eggs; in a Cobb or Niçoise salad.
Potatoes, medium to large, whole, unpeeled, rubbed with butter and salt: Smoke over 2 cups apple or hickory chips at 210ºF to 225ºF on a grill grate for 1 hour, then bake in a 325ºF oven until tender. Serve with grilled meat or fish; in a potato salad; as twice-baked potatoes; in soup.
Oysters, on the half shell: Smoke over 1 cup alder or apple chips at 235ºF to 250ºF on a grill grate for 18 minutes. Serve as an hors d'oeuvre with butter and lemon; in oyster stew; in a cream-cheese-based dip.
Hard cheese, such as Monterey Jack, Cheddar, or Gruyère: Smoke over 1 cup apple or cherry chips at 85ºF to 100ºF on a rack or perforated grill pan set over a pan of ice for 1-1/2 hours. Serve on sandwiches; in macaroni or cheese; in a fondue; in cheese sauce for broccoli or cauliflower.
Olives, green or black, unpitted: Smoke over 1 cup apple or maple chips at 200ºF to 215ºF on a perforated grill pan for 20 minutes. Serve stuffed with blue cheese or anchovies; in a martini; in puttanesca sauce; in tuna or chicken salad.
Sea scallops, patted dry: Smoke over 1 cup cherry and 1/2 cup apple chips at 285ºF to 300ºF on a grill grate for 5 minutes per side. Serve on bruschetta; in seafood salad; tossed with pasta; on a tomato or spinach salad; with a bacon beurre blanc.
Nuts, such as pecans or walnuts, whole, shelled: Smoke over 1 cup hickory chips at 210ºF to 225ºFon a metal pie platefor 2 hours. Serve on a cheese plate; tossed in vegetable dishes and salads; chopped to coat goat cheese for an hors d'oeuvre.