Who doesn't love meat cooked low and slow and flavored with a hint of smoke? Who also doesn't love buying another kitchen gadget to keep around the house (especially if you live in a small place or an apartment without any outdoor space)? A smoker is a fun cooking tool to have if you have room to store one and money to buy it, but you don't need to buy a smoker to get an excellent smoke taste with your food.
If you've got a grill, you've got a way to smoke food. If you don't have a grill, well, you've still got a way to smoke food. We'll walk you through both methods.
The key to using either a grill or your kitchen's oven for the smoking process is still heat, time, and wood, specifically low temperatures, slow cooking and the right wood. It's best to use wood chips, shavings, or small wood chunks, since larger blocks of wood will have trouble getting to a smoke point. Always pre-soak the wood and have a way to keep the meat above it.
Smoke Meat How To: Grill Style
Smoking meat is best done outside, a fact that has less to do with the equipment you need and more to do with available ventilation. If you have a grill, it's easy to turn it into a smoker.
A small kettle charcoal grill works beautifully as a smoker. Make a bag out of aluminum foil to hold your wood chips (lay one sheet of foil flat, put the pre-soaked wood chips on the foil, lay another sheet of foil on top, and twist the ends together) and poke a few holes in the foil to let out the smoke.
Because you want to cook the food over indirect heat, keep the hot coals on one side of the grill (and use about half of what you normally would to keep the temperature under 300° F) and the meat on the other. You can also use this process on a gas grill -- just don't use the burners directly under the meat. Keep the lid tightly closed except when checking the temperature with a meat thermometer so that all the smoky goodness will infuse your food instead of escaping into your backyard.
Smoke Meat How To: Oven Style
Okay, the most important thing to remember is ventilation. Personally, I don't think it's a good idea to take the batteries out of your smoke detector while cooking (What if you forget to put them back in? Did we learn nothing from that tragic "This Is Us" fire?). So if you're going to smoke food inside, make sure you can open windows or doors when you need to in order to ventilate the smoke.
You need to create an enclosed container for the food and wood chips in your oven. There are two ways to do that. The first is take a roasting pan (the large kind with a lip that you might use to roast a turkey or make pot roast in) and place the pre-soaked wood chips on the bottom. Place a grill or roasting rack in the pan and put the food on that rack to keep it above the wood. Take aluminum foil and create a tent around the meat and roasting pan to contain the smoke. Cook low and slow (check here for the right cooking times).
The second way uses a cast iron dutch oven and a metal steamer baskets. Make an aluminum foil bag for the bottom of the dutch oven (just like you would for a kettle grill), then poke a few holes in a disposable pie plate and place it upside down over the wood chips. Alternatively, if you have a round rack that fits in your dutch oven, you can use it instead of the pie plate. Put your food in the steamer and cover it with an aluminum foil tent, then place the lid on the ditch oven.
Get the dutch oven hot enough for the wood chips to start smoking then remove it from the heat source. If you keep the heat on, your wood will burn up too fast and create a bitter smoke. You may also want to add more wood shavings or chips to the pot halfway through. The best cuts for this method are smaller pieces of meat that don't need a long cook time; you may also want to finish cooking meat like chicken and pork in the oven to ensure it's reached a safe internal temperature.
Smoke Meat How To: Cheat Style
Authentic is what we all strive for, but look, sometimes authenticity is overrated in the drive to get dinner on the table. There is nothing wrong with using a few hacks to add a smoky flavor to your food without all the time and process of actually smoking it.
The easiest way to give your food a bit of smoky taste is to use seasoning. Smoked paprika brings a lovely depth of smoky taste to your food and cumin is another spice with a deep smoky flavor. Smoked salt or a smoked seasoning blend is another way to add a hint of smoke to whatever you're cooking.
You can also use liquid smoke. Sure, that's "cheating" but we're good with that. Liquid smoke is an all natural product: It's basically smoke that's been collected and condensed. Different brands use a slightly different process, but they all use real wood smoke as the basis of the product.
Adding bacon or another smoked meat to your dish brings in that smoky flavor. You can also add another ingredient with smoky flavor to your marinade or sauce, like molasses or a dark beer. There's even a tea with a naturally smoky taste you can use to add depth and smoky flavor, especially to vegetarian dishes. Lapsang souchong tea leaves are dried over a pinewood fire; simply grind up the tea leaves and add a little to a spice rub or directly to your dish.
Infusing your food with smoke flavor isn't difficult. The cooking process remains the same whatever method you use. Just remember to keep the food off direct heat, use good wood chips, and use whatever flavor help you need to get a good result.