Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Several years ago, I previously highlighted several smoking devices that I currently use, ranging from both vertical and horizontal wood and charcoal, to a smaller bullet and an electric wood-pellet smoker. However, you don’t need to spend extra hard-earned dollars if you already have a kettle grill – the type of charcoal grill that has a domed cover. To smoke your food, you simply either purchase a charcoal basket or make a basket with aluminum foil that keeps the coals (and heat) on one side of the grill and place the food on the opposite side of the grill so it isn’t over the direct heat of the coals. If the cover does have an adjustable vent, you want the vent over the food so that the smoke flows over. Short of smoking a full beef brisket, most foods can be smoked in this manner.
You can create your own pastrami in your kettle grill with this set-up. Doesn’t pastrami usually take weeks to create? I mean, Katz’s Delicatessen brines their beef brisket for two to four weeks before any heat is applied. However, you have the neighborhood supermarket at your disposal, and they sell bagged corned beef. Whether the delicatessen’s end product is a corned beef or pastrami sandwich, both are brined or “corned” so for you to create pastrami, you have to drain the corned beef, pat it dry then apply a liberal coating of crushed black pepper, garlic and coriander then smoke it in your kettle grill for several hours (six to eight hours). Pastrami served at the better delicatessens also boil and/or steam the pastrami before service but I find that smoking it for several hours produces very tender meat.
Low Tech Smoking
There are “low tech” smoking devices that you can use in your home kitchen without any of the fuss of outdoor cooking. A device that we inherited from my father-in-law is simply a 9-inch by 13-inch pan that contains a rack within the pan and a cover that slides over the top. You add wood shavings on the bottom then place the food on the rack, which sits about half an inch above the wood shavings then cover the top. You can then either cook it on your stovetop or oven on low heat – the heated wood shavings produce smoke, which is trapped and will therefore smoke your food. My brother had this exact set-up, which he used to smoke salmon on the stovetop when he lived in San Francisco. I’ll admit that I never used our pan smoker since I already have multiple outdoor smokers and mainly because smoke will invariably escape from the pan. Our Whirlpool oven vent also creates little smoke “vornadoes” without actually removing smoke or vapors, and I’m pretty sure I’ll set off the smoke detector in the process. However, Demeyere also makes a Resto stovetop smoker with a cover that fits tighter than the 9-inch by 13-inch smoking pan so none of the smoke escapes from the pan and it’s available on Amazon.
There is another low-tech smoking device I found on Amazon that I use. It consists of a double layer of thick aluminum foil with wood sawdust between the two layers. Currently, I’m only using them to smoke-roast baby or fingerling potatoes though the bag is 11-inch by 19-inch so it can accommodate quite a bit of food. You probably can roast a 2-to-3-pound splayed chicken in the bag. Both mesquite and hickory smoker bags are available – the mesquite produces a slightly smokier flavor in baby potatoes. And though there is a pronounced smoke aroma that emanates from the oven, I haven’t visualized any smoke exiting the oven.
No Smoker Needed
If you prefer not having to purchase a smoker or if the time involved smoking just isn’t enticing, there are products out there that have already taken care of the smoking aspect without adding extra prep time to your culinary creation.
– Smoked Salt
Google “smoked salt” and you’ll find a wide range of smoked salt products available through mail order. During the virtual Made in Hawaii Festival in 2020, I found both a kiawe (mesquite) smoked and guava wood-smoked sea salt. These salts are used as a finishing salt sprinkle on your dish before service or in a vinaigrette or lighter sauce which gives the dish a light smoked flavor – smoke should also just be another flavor, not the dominant flavoring agent. If you add smoked salt to a pot of chili, the smoky qualities will be muted by all of the other ingredients.
– Smoked Paprika
I always have at least one bottle of smoked paprika in my spice rack, which I use in dips and spreads, sauces, barbecue rubs, savory baked goods and even in Bloody Marys. However, learn from my mistake and purchase smaller bottles unless you flavor your smoked paprika with food (I flavor my fresh cilantro with food). Any dried product whether pasta, grains or spices all do contain “critters” that remain in suspended animation. Given enough time and enough moisture, they eventually will hatch – that’s why that box of pasta – even if left sealed in a plastic container – may eventually “sprout” these critters if you forget to consume the produce in due time.
– Smoked Peppercorn
Again, just do a web search and you’ll find many products listed available through mail order. Like smoked salt, you primarily use these as finishing agents as ground smoked black pepper on your bowl of chili and rice retains the stronger smoky qualities than if you cracked the black pepper while still cooking your chili. And it’s also great in a Bloody Mary.
– Smoked Olive Oil
You can find smoked olive oil on Amazon though you can purchase it right in the 50th state at the Island Olive Oil Company. Like the smoked salts and peppercorns, the smoked oil is used as a finishing agent the way you would use an artisanal olive oil in a vinaigrette or to top a plate of pasta.
Finally, smoking isn’t limited to just foods that you may consume but also to beverages that are sipped. For several years now, Williams-Sonoma has sold two models of Crafthouse cocktail smoker that include the smoking chamber and a battery-operated smoking gun to smoke your adult libations. Browsing the internet also produces a wide range of both smoking guns and smoking cloche and chambers to hold either your cocktail or food. And you know that I HAD to purchase one of these smoking guns to create smoke infused Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Vieux Carre and dark rum-based cocktails. I also purchased a plexiglass cloche that can accommodate a salad plate that I use to briefly smoke sliced sashimi right before serving. There are also smoking devices that cover cocktail glasses to infuse a single cocktail so you too can “smoke two cocktails in the morning…”
Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet.”