There’s a real allure to gatherings around the grill, lingering over a casual meal with friends and enjoying summer’s freshest flavors. And then, there’s the smoke — that secret ingredient that touches each food that hits the grill grates, imparting a truly unique flavor. Used wisely, smoke can create unforgettable meals.
That’s the takeaway from Where There’s Smoke, a new cookbook from Chef Barton Seaver. “Cooking over a live fire is one of the only methods where heat becomes an ingredient in itself,” he says. “Smoke, like lemon juice or salt, keeps the interest factor of other flavors and brings out depth and character in food. It is one of the most beguiling, charismatic, downright sexy ingredients we have available to us. ”
Keep reading to learn Barton’s best tips for cooking with smoke, then try them out with his new recipes!
Wood matters. “The difference between applewood, pecan, maple and hickory is as different as Merlot and Chardonnay,” says Barton. “Each individual wood has its own unique application, just as wines pair best with certain foods. Here are a few of his suggestions for common woods to use with your favorite foods.
- Alder: This Pacific Northwest wood has a clean, cool scent and lingering sweetness. Use with seafood, especially salmon, and poultry.
- Apple: This popular tangry fruitwood imparts a sweet, ashy flavor. Use it with pork and poultry.
- Cherry: With a light flavor and big aroma, cherry wood gives color to foods. Mix it with other fruitwoods and pair with seafood, poultry and fatty pork.
- Hickory: The deep flavor of hickory coats the palate. Try it with hamburgers, fatty beef cuts and lean cuts like pork tenderloin.
- Maple: This classic choice balances bitter and sweet to perfection, with just a whisper of maple syrup flavor. Use it with seafood such as lobster or salmon, or with pork and beef.
- Mesquite: A Tex-Mex favorite, mesquite pairs well with foods flavored with chile peppers, cilantro and/or cumin.
- Oak: If you use only one kind of wood, this should be it. Use oak for long-smoking items; it has a mild flavor with a hint of vanilla that pairs well with all kinds of meat and many types of seafood.
Think beyond barbecue. Smoke doesn’t always have to mean hours of low, slow cooking. “Even a quick, easy Tuesday night dinner can use a little bit of smoky nuance, whether from smoked Spanish paprika or throwing wood chips onto a gas grill or charcoal fire,” says Barton.
Create healthful flavor. Unlike other ingredients, smoke can add interest and appeal without any extra calories and fat. “I use smoke in place of cream, butter or stock,” says Barton. “It provides a baseline appeal and richness of flavors without anything unnecessary.”