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No smoke without fire

Barbecues and smokers go hand in hand. Kate Hamilton looks at the best way to get that smoked flavour all year round…

 Kate Hamilton   Winter 2021

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As winter approaches you could be forgiven for retreating inside and reverting to cooking in the good old oven. But if you just love the flavour of BBQ, then smoking could be the answer to that flame-grilled taste whatever the weather.

“Food smoking isn’t weather dependent and can be carried out all year round,” explains Alyson Murray director of Hot Smoked. “Because it’s enclosed, you can set it up and leave it even on a cold, rainy or even snowy day. It’s a bit like an outdoor slow cooker. Hot smoked Christmas Day turkey is a thing. That said, working with the elements can be important, so positioning vents away from the prevailing wind on a blustery day will help your temperature control or moving your smoker out of direct sunlight on a hot day will prevent unwanted heat build up for cold smoking.”

Smokers and smoking isn’t new, but today’s more hi-tech smokers have been steadily developing over the last 20 years and the lines between smokers and BBQs have blurred. Before that, many people built their own smokers for cold smoking or used a more low-tech stainless steel tray-style smoker for a quick, uncomplicated hot smoke.

“When we first began selling the shiny new breed of smokers we still got questions every day on how to build

your own smoker and it seemed like a pre-requisite badge of honour to begin a hobby in smoking,” continues Murray.

“I remember my first visit to River Cottage when I traded a wonderful new shiny ProQ smoker for a place on a course, but years later they were still proudly using their barrel and chimney construction. But new developments mean that buying the latest off the shelf models is by far the easier route. Someone else has painstakingly engineered the ventilation, heat control and smoke production methods essential to the process.”

And smoking is all about the process. Smokers are most commonly charcoal barbecues that cook food at low temperatures over a prolonged period. Using charcoal or wood as the primary source of fuel and using different varieties of wood chips gives the food a distinct smoky flavour that is hard to beat using other types of barbecues. Smokers come in all shapes and sizes but typically look like an old steam engine with a funnel, elongated cook-box and an off-set chamber.

“Smoked and BBQ tastes are very different, but both taste amazing and different in their flavours; you could say they go hand in hand as they are all types of outdoor cooking,” says Martin Carnaby, Country Manager UK & Ireland, at Broil King. “Smoked food, however, really does stand out and packs intense flavours. There is a wide range of smoking woods so the taste can be scaled up or down based on your preference.”

Smoking food is what’s called an indirect way of cooking, so the food is cooked away from the heat slowly over a period of time.

“This method is called low and slow – low heat and slowly over time,” adds Carnaby. “Smoking meat over a long period can infuse great smoky flavours and really tenderise the meat, enabling you to pull or slice very easily, also creating a wonderful outer known as a ‘bark’.”

Most, if not all food benefits from smoking; however, there are considerations that need to be made.

 

 

“Consider the type of food you are preparing,” warns Tara Quick, co-founder and CEO of Charlie Oven. “The last thing you want to do is only taste the smoke, so treat the smoking process carefully in relation to the food; so for something like scallops, go gently, so as to not overpower the delicious, sweet flesh. The unexpected superstars of smoking are seafood, like lobsters and mussels, as well as broccoli and cauliflower as the added smokiness adds a new depth of flavour.”

Experimenting with smoking is one of the fun benefits, seeing what you can infuse with flavour and how different additions to your smoker can make subtle changes to the results.

“Smoking can transform the most standard cuts of meat into something spectacular,” comments Gavin Moss of Barbecue Shack. “That ‘falling apart’, ‘melt-in-the-mouth’ feeling of success when you’ve smoked overnight or throughout the day is the feel-good benefit to smoking. You really feel like you have achieved something.”

Barbecue Shack recommends practising with a few smaller cuts when you first

start out.

“Don’t rush and be prepared to do very little for a good few hours!” adds Moss. “You can also gently smoke fish, salmon, kippers and mackerel – or even whole cheeses and garlic. Smoking is about experimenting, trying different things, and separate ways of infusing flavour. The best part is that you don’t need expensive kit to get started.”

Often the use of charcoal alone is sufficient to add flavour, and heavy woods like oak can overpower the taste of the food. ProQ Barbecues & Smokers specialises in charcoal BBQ Smokers, and feels that they’re really best suited to beginners who want to cook over a live fire.

“Our BBQ Smokers have great temperature control and are really versatile, allowing you to cook in many different ways,” explains the company’s Ty McKend. “I’d say the main benefit is the process – it’s something I find relaxing, tending a fire and cooking amazing food for friends and family, it’s a really rewarding hobby.

The results are fantastic, the flavour is incomparable to anything you can buy and it’s really easy to pick up. Not to mention how cheap it is to cold smoke your own cheese or salmon.”

As for cold smoking, bacon, salmon or trout and chorizo are the popular foods, but there’s also a myriad of other foods that benefit from a subtle infusion of cold smoke, particularly ingredients such as garlic, chillies, salts, oils, butter and nuts and seeds. And these are much easier than fresh meat or fish, as no curing is involved.

“Cold smoking is definitely a more wintery hobby, the cool ambient temperatures mean you can be confident that your food doesn’t get too warm, especially things like salmon, butter and cheese,” adds McKend. “I also know a lot of people that cook their Christmas turkey and ham on the BBQ (myself included), and it seems to be more popular than ever.”

Smoking is one of the original food preservation methods and was probably the most commonly used method for preserving meat, before the advent of refrigeration.

“Smoking meat requires a constant supply of quality smoke, with wood pellets that create a desirable taste and a long smoking time to allow the meat to be properly penetrated by the smoke,” says Jo McDonald, country manager, UK and Ireland, Traeger Grills. “You can smoke whatever you like. Traditionally larger cuts of meats, such as ribs and brisket are best suited to smoking, but if you explore the Traeger App you will find a wide variety of foods that can be smoked. The Smoke created from the pellets just adds a sweetness and enhances all the flavours.”

Although a Traeger grill infuses everything you cook on it, with a delicious smoky taste, you would not describe it as just a smoker, as this is only one of six different cooking methods you can adopt on a Traeger.  With such a wide range of temperature, from 75–260°C, users can braise, bake, grill, BBQ and roast, allowing you to cook food to perfection, with the great added wood fired flavour from using all natural wood pellets.

Weber also has a range of  smokers.

“Our Smokey Mountain Cooker is an upright charcoal water smoker, ideal for low and slow cooks,” explains Emily Thompson. “Our SmokeFire pellet barbecue gives you the full flavour of wood-fired cooking, while the SmokeFire operates as both a low and slow smoker as well as searingly hot grill. We also have in the range a kamado smoker called the Summit Kamado, which allows you to smoke for long periods of time using charcoal but it can also be set up for high temperature cooking.”

Historically, smoking is something us Brits have been doing for centuries. Smoking domestically,, however as part of a barbecue offering is more of a recent thing.

“Smoking and barbecuing both have their roots in outdoor wood-fired cooking,” concludes Thompson. “If you go back far enough it’s hard to untangle these two methods that seem to have been adopted in so many cultures worldwide.”

Recipe tip from Traeger chef, Sam Wanstall

Autumn Roasted Tomato soup

To create a gorgeous warm and soothing winter soup, Sam Wanstall recently smoked red peppers and tomatoes on his Traeger grill for three hours on a low heat, before switching the grill up to a high heat to char the skins. He then added his veggies to vegetable stock, added seasoning, and then pulsed in a food mixer or liquidiser to make the most delicious and nutritious tomato soup.

 


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