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Cooking Your Own Smoked Food

By: Anna Hinds BA (hons) - Updated: 23 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Cooking Smoked Food Smoking Food Wood

Cooking your own smoked food at home is easier than you may think. You can smoke food indoors or outdoors, experiment with different wood flavours, and add your own spice blends to create something completely unique. In parts of America, this is the ONLY way to barbecue. So why not get yourself a bag of oak chips and a joint of venison, and have yourself a South American shindig this summer!

Smoking for Flavour

Hardwoods, like oak, beech, hickory and maple, are normally used for smoked food. The meat, fish, or cheese is placed over smouldering wood chips so that the smoke penetrates it and deepens the flavour. These woods contain sugar molecules that produce a caramel flavour, although these molecules don’t typically penetrate much deeper than the surface. But they also contain antioxidant compounds, which help to preserve the food. Foods that are smoked for a long time – dry cured – are even better preserved, since they’re too dry to accommodate bacterial growth.

Equipment for Cooking Smoked Food

Building your own fire pit is a traditional method of smoking food. It’s more laborious than using a ready-made kit, of course! Essentially, you’re digging a pit in the ground that will be filled with hardwood. When it’s smouldering nicely, add a layer of ‘flavouring’ woodchips like oak, then suspend your food items from a hook in the underside of a cover (which could be a metal bin lid). In the deep South of America, smoked food is rubbed with spices before being put into the fire pit. The food can take hours to smoke fully, depending on its size.

Choosing and Using Woodchips

There are several British websites specialising in the American art of barbecuing. Look out for BBQ packs of wood chips, which are available from some supermarkets and larger shops or online smoked food specialists. You can choose from oak, maple, or unusual woods like cherry and plum. Discerning smokers can pick up different flavours from each. Whatever wood you choose, make sure that you soak it in water for an hour before throwing it onto the fire.

Cooking Smoked Food at Home

Once you’re hooked on smoked food, you’ll have to invest in a stovetop smoker. These stainless steel cookers sit on the hob, filled with a layer of woodchips, and you simply put your food onto a rack and cover with the lid. It’s safer than a firepit – provided it’s not left unattended – and you can use it over any heat source (simply to keep the wood gently smoking).

If you’d prefer to connect with nature while you’re smoking – the way they do it in the deep South – then try a BBQ smoker. It’s just like an ordinary kettle barbecue, but the lid has an airtight lock, and an exterior temperature gauge that enables you to keep a steady smoking temperature. It doesn’t cost much more than an ordinary family barbecue, and you can grill burgers as usual too.

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