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.
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.