Smoking Foods at Home
Smoking is a great way to expand your cooking repertoire and add a new level of interest and depth to your menus. In this post, I will cover the basic equipment used in smoking, the types and intensities of popular wood varieties and share on a few of my smoking recipes. Once the basic principals of smoking are understood and you get a little practice under your belt, experiment with other meats and vegetables and create your own rubs and sauces.
In Maine, we have an abundance of fresh seafood that lends itself well to smoking. Scallops, mussels and other types of shellfish transform into luscious nuggets of flavor when exposed to a light smoking from mild woods.
Smoking Seafood – Scallops, Shrimp, Trout and Mussels
Smaller foods require a fine mesh rack to support them. I use a small cooling rack that fits inside the smoker and has a fine square grate. Smoke these items with 2 Tablespoons of mild cherry chips and use the spice rub of your choice, or just salt and pepper for a more neutral flavor.
- Scallops – remove the side muscle from the sea scallops and season with kosher salt and ground white pepper. Smoke for about 15 minutes (depending upon size of scallop) or until firm.
- Shrimp – remove the shells and vein from large (16-20) shrimp and season with kosher salt and ground white pepper. Smoke for about 15 minutes.
- Trout – place boneless trout fillets skin side down on a lightly oiled rack. Squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over each trout fillet and season with kosher salt and ground white pepper. Smoke for 12-15 minutes.
- Mussels – clean and de-beard the mussels. Place hinge side down on the smoking rack and smoke for 12-15 minutes or until the shells are open and the mussels are cooked through.
Meats like pork and chicken are more traditional “smoker fare” and benefit from longer smoking times and exposure to more assertive woods such as hickory and mesquite.
Smoking Sausage, Pork Tenderloin, Chicken Meat and Vegetables
Smoking foods imparts great flavor into foods, however, the texture from roasting, searing or grilling is lacking. I prefer to finish meats like sausages, pork tenderloin and chicken in a hot grill pan to add that charred texture and flavor. If you don’t have a grill pan, simply sear the meat in a hot small sauté pan. Season the meats with kosher salt and black pepper or a flavorful rub from the list below.
- Raw Italian Sausage (hot or mild) – smoke 15 minutes and finish in grill pan
- Pork Tenderloin – smoke 30 minutes and finish in grill pan
- Chicken Breast – smoke 20 minutes and finish in grill pan
- Chicken Thighs – smoke 15 minutes and finish in grill pan
- Portabella Mushrooms – smoke 10 minutes and finish in grill pan
Equipment –I love my small stovetop smoker by “Camerons” (the brand name) which is widely available and very efficient. There are many types of backyard smokers (Traeger, Green Eggs, etc..) which also work very well if you decide to upgrade to a larger model but the Camerons smoker is an inexpensive ($60) investment and works very well.
Heat – Gas and electric stoves work well for the stovetop smoker, while flat-topped stoves are a little tricky and the manufacturer has some warnings about their use. A medium heat is ideal for smoking, getting the heat inside the smoker to between 350 and 375 degrees.
Wood – Stovetop smokers use very finely shaved woods (available from the manufacturer) while other smokers use anything from small chips up to very large chunks. Several types of wood are used for smoking foods. Various types of wood will impart different levels of smoke intensity to the food, some being milder while others are much more assertive. Fruit woods are not going to impart a “fruity” flavor, just a milder flavor than a hickory wood. Here is a basic chart of wood intensities:
Rubs and Sauces
Rubs – meats that are not cured or brined should be rubbed with various spice blends before smoking to add another dimension to their flavor. I feature several spice blends in my cookbook that lend themselves perfectly to the task at hand.
- Rosemary steak rub (grind finely in a spice grinder) cookbook 2, page 252
- Caribbean dry spice mix (grind finely in a spice grinder) cookbook I, page 169
- Cajun spice mix (use as is) cookbook 2, page 252
- Cumin spice mix (use as is) cookbook 2, page 128
- Fennel spice mix (use as is) cookbook 2, page 59
Sauces – sweet, fruity and acidic sauces match very well with smoked foods. Salsas are terrific with smoked foods (several listed below from my cookbook) and of course barbecue sauces are natural for smoked foods. I have also included a recipe for a thick smoked tomato sauce or confit and a homemade barbecue sauce.
- Mango-Cilantro Salsa – cookbook I, page 89
- Pineapple-Avocado Salsa – cookbook I, page 179
- Smoked Tomato Confit – cookbook 2, page 286
- Homemade BBQ Sauce – cookbook 2, page 28
Smoked Food Recipes
Smoking cheese is a rather delicate matter since too much heat will melt the cheese. Use a delicate wood like apple so it doesn’t over power the cheese. Semi-soft cheeses such as mozzarella, gouda and cheddars all take on the smoke flavor well. Start this recipe with a cold smoker. Place the cheese on a lightly oiled rack and smoke for 10 minutes with 2 Tablespoons apple chips. Remove the pan from the heat, leaving the cover in place and allow the smoke to be exposed to the cheese for another 10 minutes off the heat.
Sesame Smoked Nuts
All types of nuts will work in this recipe, but almonds work especially well. Toss a few cups of nuts with a teaspoon of sesame oil and a Tablespoon of the sesame spice mixture (recipe below). Smoke for about 15 minutes with 2 Tablespoons of hickory or mesquite chips. Serve warm.
Sesame Spice Mixture
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 2 Tablespoons white sesame seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
Place the kosher salt in a spice grinder with the sesame seeds and cayenne. Blend until well ground, about 1 minute. Mix together with the powdered sugar.