Thursday, October 12, 2017

WOOD GRILLING AVOCADO

Add a great flavor to Avocados by grilling them!

Oh, the wonderful, healthy, creamy, flavorful avocado.  With more potassium than a banana and 18 amino acids for daily intake, you can’t go wrong with this single seed fruit.

Did you ever think to grill this fabulous fruit with a little wood to give it even more flavor?  We’ll show you just how easy it is to wood fire avocado on the gas grill using wood chunks for your smoke infusion.

Making It More Than A Grill

Regardless of the brand of gas grill you have, you can add wood chunks to the grill for wood fired flavor.  My grill has heat shields over the burners so I use that area to add one small wood chunk under the grill grate, directly on the heat shield.  No, you won’t damage your grill, as the wood combusts to ash and basically blows away.

One chunk is all it will take to get great flavor into the avocados.  I keep the burner that the wood chunk is located on set to medium as well as the burner next to that one on medium.  Since I have 4 burners, 2 are on and 2 are off.

Once the grill is to 300° F, this technique will take less than 20 minutes.

Simple Avocado Preparation

The only preparation needed for the avocados is to cut them in half and remove the seed.  The avocados are placed flesh side down on the grate only on the side with the burners off.  The heat captured within the grill will spread throughout the grilling area and cook the avocado while adding wood smoke vapor.  Note, it’s important that you don’t attempt to move the avocados for at least 10 minutes otherwise you will find the avocado flesh will stick to the grate and you’ll lose much of the fruit’s flesh.  Wait until some of the fat renders and chars making removal so simple.

Prep To Finish In Less Than 20 Minutes

In less than 20 minutes you will have wonderfully wood flavored, charred flesh avocados ready for your favorite recipes.  Think of using this fruit in smoothies, dips, on salads, as a creamy ingredient for sauces – remember, avocado can be used to substitute the amount of butter used in most recipes.  We will take some of our avocado and make a wood fired guacamole first.  Our recipe will post soon so stay tuned and don’t’ forget to send us your pics of wood fired avocado.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

PEACHES GO SMOKY FOR A FLAVORFUL GAZPACHO

Smoking/grilling with wood is a great way to enhance the flavor of peaches. Add as an ingredient in soup to add a special flavor touch on a hot summer day. Try our recipe!
One of the easiest techniques to do with fruit on a gas or charcoal grill is wood firing peaches.  Take advantage of the season with this fruit by bringing different flavors and textures for great recipe.  Why not start with my recipe for a summer gazpacho that will cool you off during the hot season.  It’s time to take advantage of the summer harvest with fresh peaches and yellow tomatoes for fabulous summer cuisine

Fresh Is Key

Peaches are one of those fruits that performs perfectly on the grill, whether you use charcoal or gas for the actual cooking process.  To start, purchase fresh, in season peaches.  Wash and pat dry.  Then pass a knife through the center until you just hit the peach pit and cut through the flesh in a circular motion.  Remember, the pit will stay in place.   Take your hands and grip each side of the peach turning your hands in opposite directions to open the peach.  This will result in the pit separating from the peach flesh of one half of the peach.  Take a spoon and gentle insert the side around the pit and loosen until the pit is released from the peach flesh.  You now have 2 equal sized peach halves.  You may do as many peaches as you like but know for the gazpacho recipe you will need at least 3-4 good sizes peaches.

Releasing Sweet Smoky Flavor

Once all the peaches are cut in half they are ready for the grill.  I am going to use my charcoal smoker for this recipe but you can easily use a gas grill with wood chunks as well.  Just see our posting on how to add wood chunks to the LP grill.

I’m going to set up an indirect method of cooking the peaches to keep them from getting too soft.  That means my hot coals will be in one half of the grill while I do the actual cooking of the peaches on the half without hot coals.  Keeping the lid on will ensure that the heat is collected in the grilling area for an even cook.

Flavor In No Time At All

I have the benefit of being able to use the SmokinLicious® charwood product which is a blend of charred and uncharred wood. It allows for a lot of smoke vapor. I place my peaches with the skin side down on the grate, keeping all the peach halves on the non-coal side of the grill.  I’ll let them cook for about 10 minutes and then rotate them so the flesh side is on the grate.  Once cook through, I will remove and place them on the skin side to cool.

Seasonal Fresh Ingredients

With the peaches wood fired and ready, it’s time to collect the other ingredients for the gazpacho:
  • 3 cups wood fired peaches
  • 3 medium yellow tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 medium sweet yellow pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium cucumber peeled and chopped – I’m using 3 mini cukes
  • ½ cup chopped sweet onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/3 cup lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon marinade for chicken
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon hot pepper sauce (optional)
  • Reserved chopped peaches, cucumber and yellow tomatoes for topping/garnish
  • You will also need a food processor or blender

Blending Your Way To Fabulous Flavor

Time to bring all the ingredients together starting with the wood fired peaches, yellow tomatoes, yellow pepper, cucumber, sweet onion and garlic.  Process all these items until thoroughly blended.  Now add the lime juice, vinegar, marinade, salt, sugar, and pepper sauce if you are including this.
Time to refrigerate for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.  You must wait for everything to blend and make the most fabulous gazpacho ever!

With the smoky tang of the wood fired peaches meeting up with the coolness of the tomatoes and cucumber, this gazpacho has just the right amount of tang, kick, and sweet to make this a summer favorite.  Once the soup has chilled, place in serving bowls and top with chopped smoked peach, cucumber, and tomato.  All the fabulous seasonal ingredients the season can offer in one bowl!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

IS HICKORY THE WOOD TO SMOKE & GRILL WITH?

The question is one of the most common we hear.  What is the most popular wood you sell? 
Initially, our response was that there wasn’t one hardwood that was dominating the order system. 

That certainly has changed over the course of the past few years.

Without question, Hickory has become the most requested hardwood.

Why Hickory?

I truly believe the catalyst for the popularity of hickory particularly for smoking foods, is television and YouTube.  Yes, all those cooking and food shows, and YouTube channels have catapulted grilling/smoking with wood and charcoal leaning toward Hickory.  As if Hickory is the only choice for “real” barbecue.

Some of the root of popularity of Hickory is the generational secrets of barbecue.  Hickory has been, for many decades, a commonly found hardwood in the traditional barbecue states who are credited with bringing barbecue to the limelight.  North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and then advancing west to such states as Tennessee, Missouri and Alabama.  Gradually, those who wanted to duplicate the smoke flavors of the south continued to request hickory.  The result: hickory has become one of the highest demand hardwoods in North America.

Is There a Holy Grail for Smoking Wood?

Without question, those known in the world of barbecue as major players have stimulated the belief that their choice in smoking wood is the key to their success and notoriety.  Here’s is the conflict: many fail to admit that there are many other factors that account for their success.  Although they may have made their mark by sticking with that one wood for the entire time they cooked and gained popularity, they also committed to specific equipment, fuel product say a specific brand of charcoal, meat supplier, whether they keep the bark on the wood or remove it, and brands or recipes for rubs/sauces/marinades.  ALL these items factor in to the overall success of a cooking event even in barbecue.

Life of the Tree is Key

I won’t get into the details about one brand of charcoal or briquette over another, or the influence of a wet or dry rub on the meat’s ability to absorb smoke vapor.  Those discussions will be for another day.  What I will stress is that the climate and soil of tree’s location is by far a key determinate in whether it will make a great smoking or grilling wood.  Specifically, the more balanced the pH level of the soil the tree’s roots are bound to and the amount of precipitation the tree is exposed to in a given year, directly affect how favorable the wood will be for smoking, grilling, and cooking in general.

I’m often told by new customers who had previous experience with hickory and found it to be too strong in flavor, producing too dark a coloring to the food’s exterior, and often producing a sooty appearance to both the food and equipment, that once they tried our wood, they had the exact opposite result.  Why?  The easiest answer is we simply have better growing conditions in the Northeast than other areas that grow Hickory trees.  Plus, we have access to the better species of this hardwood family.

More Choices Don’t Always Mean Better Outcome

With over 20 species of Hickory in North America, they are not all equal when it comes to cooking with them.  Many of these 20 species are known to produce bitter undertones when foods are exposed to their smoke vapor.  That means, poor results for the cook or Pitmaster who believes in hickory for their food production.

I like to compare hardwoods for cooking to extra virgin olive oil.  There are hundreds if not thousands of brands of olive oil available.  Yet, many producers marketing an extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) are using low grade oils in the production rather than meet the requirements for EVOO labeling.  Wood is similar.  There is no obligation to label where the wood comes from, how old it is, how it was processed, what species it is from, and if it is from the raw material of the timbered tree or a by-product or waste product of another use.  Just like olive oil producers using pomace or the olive residue left over from the traditional production of olive oil, hardwood can be a leftover as well and re-purposed into something it wasn’t initially intended for.

Blaze Your Own Trail

My hope is that I’ve stimulated some thinking into what makes for a great smoking wood, grilling wood, or cooking wood in general.  Instead of duplicating a celebrity figure or following a current fad, blaze your own trail into what pleases you and the people you are serving your amazing grilled and smoked foods from the wood fire to.  With so many factors affecting a food’s taste, appearance, and aroma, it’s time to simply experiment, keep a log, and find what pleases you.  It may turn out to be one hardwood that you feel is the wood or it could simply be the food that guides you.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

WHAT’S IN THE SMOKINLICIOUS® WOOD CHUNK BOX?

Our double filet box of pristine, NO BARK, hardwood chunks ready for the next customer!
These two questions have been quite common for the 12+ years we’ve been in business.  What does a cubic foot box of wood weigh?  How many pieces do you estimate are in a cubic foot box of wood?

Due to the regulations imposed by The National Conference on Weights and Measures -Uniform Regulation for the Method of Sale of Commodities, we cannot specify weight on a wood product, even though we are a cooking wood.  Instead, when asked about weight, we only provide an estimate clearly stating that wood is not sold by weight due to the variation in moisture level and density of the wood selected.

I can, however, tell you the details that a recent first-time customer posted to an online forum that had me elated!

The Specifics You’ve Asked About

This customer took a lot of time and effort to get to the details about our wood; the packaging and the weight not just of the carton, but of specific select pieces.  This customer purchased the Serious Smoker Double Filet Wood Chunk which is our cubic foot carton product with the smallest chunk sizing.  We offer an option to select up to 3 wood choices for this carton size, with this customer selecting our 3 most popular hardwoods: Hickory, Sugar Maple and Wild Cherry.
First, let’s look at this customer’s overall purchase.

It’s In The Numbers

The packaged hardwood weighed in a 32.5 lbs.  A total of 139 pieces of wood were packaged.  Of that total, 48 pieces were Wild Cherry, 44 pieces Sugar Maple, and 47 pieces Hickory.

Individual Weights

This customer owns equipment that references specific weight of wood needed to smoke optimally.  In this case, just 2-4 ounces of wood is ideal.

Although weights for each of the 139 pieces of wood were not obtained, a sufficient sampling was done.  Here is what was reported:

The lowest weight of a Wild Cherry chunk (remember, these are all double filet) was 1.5 ounces and the highest was 4.1 ounces.

The lowest weight of a Sugar Maple chunk was 2 ounces and the highest at 5.7 ounces.

The lowest weight of a Hickory chunk was 2.8 ounces and the highest at 6.4 ounces.

For this equipment user, there was an estimate that 139 pieces of hardwood would provide for some 100 smoking events!

What I loved the most about this report is that it correlates specifically to the density of these 3 hardwoods.  Hickory has the highest density of the 3 woods selected and this is reflected by the weight of the individual pieces sampled.  Sugar Maple would be next in density followed by the Wild Cherry, all proven with the reported weights.

What Did You Learn?

Unquestionably, there is a lot of wood chunk pieces in a cubic foot carton!  Which means, you want to ensure you can use that much wood in a reasonable amount of time to maximize the freshness factor and peak level for function as a smoking wood.  Individual pieces will vary in weight even if the dimensions of the pieces are relatively the same.  That is the nature of a water rich material – the water weight influences the overall piece weight.

We are indebted to this customer for taking the time to inform us all of his findings since by law, SmokinLicious® can’t offer this detail.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

ARE FRUIT WOOD TREES LIKE THE APPLE “SNOW WHITE” BIT INTO?

[Fruit trees are often sprayed with pesticide to maximize the fruit yield. Spraying of chemical on the bark may not be too good for using in barbecue?]
There is a fierce debate out there about the use of fruit wood trees, specifically apple and cherry varieties, for cooking purposes.  As a Company, we frequently get the same question – “Why don’t I see Apple wood as an option to purchase?” Here’s the short answer: We do not, and will not, produce our products from orchard-based woods.  Our reason is simple – we do not believe in smoking foods over woods that have been or have the potential to be sprayed or growth enhanced with chemicals.

Let’s review a fact about trees.  All trees produce prussic acid, better known as hydrogen cyanide.  We feel that humans can use woods produced in nature when they have been left alone, unburden by the human hand in trying to manage what sometimes is the normal cyclical pattern of nature.  In the areas in which we purchase the heartwood for our cooking wood production facility, the varieties of cherry (Prunus pensylvanica L.f.) we commonly deal with are: Northern Pin Cherry, Fire Cherry, Wild Red Cherry, and Pigeon Cherry.  Of course, predominately, we bring in Wild Red Cherry.  There are many different cherry tree varieties available throughout North America.  The main difference in these woods is that our forest trees, the type we manufacture, tend to be on the sweet-tart side versus the sour-bitter.  For the most part, hydrogen cyanide is found mainly in the leaves and seeds of the cherry tree.  Black Cherry bark is also commonly used in herbal cough remedies.

The dominate opinion is that when used in small quantities, the hydrogen cyanide is a moot issue. Now let’s talk about the smoking application of wood.  Cyanogenic compounds WOULD remain a factor for our production of cooking wood.  This is because we do not allow our gourmet woods to deplete their moisture content to a level that other wood product manufacturers may (what is commonly referred to as “seasoning of the wood”).  For ideal smoking of foods, wood needs to have a moisture level preferably at ~20%.  This results in the wood smoldering rather than burning at a rapid rate.  The resulting smoke from the plant material provides for that wonderful flavor.  Because smoking is done at low temperatures for longer periods of time, the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) found in wood molecules are not stimulated as they normally would be when cooking, say, a steak over a hot flame.  Thus, the health risk associated with PAH’s and smoked foods is not considered an issue.  The same can be said for ember cooking – using the heat of the residual coals to cook foods.

Our main concerns regarding woods used for wood fired cooking methods is to always ensure a bark-free product.  Bark does not hold moisture but rather is designed to rid the tree of wastes by absorbing them and locking them into this area.  In fact, this is the reason why bark-on woods burn so much faster than bark-free wood pieces.  This portion of the tree is responsible for temperature flare-ups, tainted smells, ‘spotty’ appearance of the food’s skin, creosote, and increase in the production of ash.  Additionally, once the temperature is increased during wood-fired cooking, heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, are created due to the reaction of the amino acids and creatine with the higher cooking temperature.

In a nutshell, a person is at greater risk of cyanide exposure in treated wood products for home construction than they are when consuming BBQ or other wood-fired foods. Knowing the source of the wood being used in the cooking application is vital to ensure that the necessary steps have been taken to prevent tree disease and pest infestation spread, as well as to ensure that the wood has not been exposed to any chemical/toxin treatments.

It is our hope, that one day soon, inspection of the wood products used by restaurants, caterers, BBQ competitors, and grocery stores who promote smoked and natural-wood fired foods, will occur as normally as food inspections.  After all, I think we all can agree that WHAT you cook the food over is just as important as what food you are cooking!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

ELECTRIC SMOKERS: WHEN IS A WOOD CHIP ‘DEAD’?

We discuss the Electric smoker and what the before chips and after chips! The chips should have full combustion for the proper smoke flavor.
Without question, electric smokers are by far the easiest smokers to manage as they require no charcoal lighting, no constant checking of the fuel supply, and usually no messy ash pan.  These are units that are designed to run on very little wood product, usually between 2-5 ounces because the actual ‘fuel’ is an electric coil.  No gas, charcoal, or pellet.

Are There Flavor Differences?

To answer the question of whether flavor differences exist between an electric unit and those that use combustible fuel sources, you need to weigh who the response is coming from.  For me, someone who has an electric unit (we need to have a good assortment of equipment to produce our recipes), I do indeed feel there are flavor differences.  Without the volatile gases that are produced with combustible items meaning wood and lump hardwood charcoal, there is less of a smoke flavor.  The trademark smoke ring on meats can also go missing with electric units.  Take this into consideration when deciding whether to purchase an electric unit.

The Small Wood Appetite

Electric smokers are very specific when it comes to the quantity of wood to use.  Most manufacturers will provide a measurement level in ounces that you need to adhere to.  If you should have an electric unit that does not include the reference to wood quantity but does have a wood tray, be sure not to overfill that tray.  Most units use between 2-5 ounces of wood product to start.  You may have to replenish the wood 1-2 more times depending on what your smoking.  Larger cuts of meat, plan on enough wood to fill the wood tray three times.

Solid Black Wood Chips

You followed the directions and placed the referenced amount of wood chip product in the unit but when the cooking time was finished, you looked at the chip tray and found most of the wood chips still in solid form.  Nothing was reduced to ash and all the chips were black in color.  Did something go wrong?

Black color to the wood chips means that the wood processed through most of the stages of combustion and turned to carbon on the outside, giving the distinct black coloring.  If the wood chips are still in sold form, then combustion was not complete.  Complete combustion would have reduced the chips to a pile of carbon ash.

Combustion Has Needs

To ensure complete combustion of a wood product specific factors need to be in place: air-fuel ratio, quality of the fuel, reduced moisture or water level, etc.  The 3 ingredients that must be present to sustain combustion are oxygen, heat, and fuel.  If you can achieve a balance of these 3 ingredients, you will achieve complete combustion and have great success with wood product used in an electric smoker.

Can Black Chips Be Re-Used?

The most important thing to remember about combustion is when wood is reduced to carbon, it produces very little if any smoke and has no flavor release.  To answer the question of whether wood chips that are black but still in solid form can be re-used, the answer is no.

Those chips will not give out any flavor, they simply will finish the final stage of combustion and turn to ash.

Remove those black chips and add fresh, keeping the chips in the dry state when smoking with them.  You’ll find better results and less waste in the wood product you purchase.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

TO BARK OR NOT

This Diagram shows the two key elements of the tree that can effect your Barbecue results. Smokinlicious® only harvest wood from the heartwood of the tree.

Should I cook with bark on woods or go bark-free?

I’ve heard all kinds of reasoning for leaving the bark on: it burns up right away so you don’t need to worry.  It’s what gives the flavor to foods.  It’s what gives the color to smoked and grilled foods.  It is the essence of BBQ!

Well, my intention is to simply provide you with more detail about what is in the bark and then you can decide for yourself if you want to include it in your wood fired cooking method.

What Is Bark?

There are two types of bark in every tree: living bark which is called phloem and dead bark called rhytidome.  For today’s discussion, I am only focusing on the rhytidome or dead bark which is the outer bark layer.

Outer bark’s main purpose is to protect the wood tissues against mechanical damage and preserve the wood tissues from temperature and humidity variations.  Bark chemistry is much more complicated than wood tissue chemistry but let’s cover the basics.

Chemistry of Bark

Outer bark has high concentrations of pectin, phenolic compounds, and minerals.  Although the exact chemical levels vary by species, location of the tree, age of the tree, and growth conditions of the tree, let me list some of the common extractives:

ethyl ether – a common laboratory solvent as well as a starter fluid component

dichloromethane – common compound used in paint strippers and degreasers as well as to decaffeinate coffees and teas

calcium oxalate crystals – a calcium salt found in plant materials with a link to kidney stones in humans

Air Pollutant Meter

For many years, university and research facilities around the world have used tree bark as a bio-indicator of air pollutant levels as bark is highly porous, rough, and high in lipids making its surface ideal for absorption.  It’s been proven that tree bark soaks up airborne gases and particles.  In fact, in my own home state of New York, the Niagara Falls area trees have been noted to have significantly higher levels of Dechlorane Plus, a flame retardant chemical that is produced by a factory in that city.  How much higher?  Several thousand times higher!

After many decades of non-regulated chemical use in various products – think pesticides, flame retardants, building material preservatives, etc. – and with the subsequent halting of production of many of these highly toxic chemicals in the 1980s and 90s, research now shows that as those chemicals evaporated, they became air borne particles.  Those particles landed and were absorbed by the outer tree bark.

Temperature Fluctuation

My experience with bark-on woods used for the intended purpose of cooking has been that bark results in temperature control issues.  Often, when the bark combusts it does so in variable levels, producing a short burst of elevated temperature.  This is likely due in part, to the chemical air pollutant particles that have settled into the outer bark layer.  Knowing that bark harbors impurities that the tree is exposed to, I hypothesize that there likely are other particles, likely transferred via air as well as direct contact from the carrier (think animals, humans, etc.), that are absorbed by the tree’s bark.

Change of Taste

Just as lighter fluid can add unpleasant or at the very least a distinct taste difference in foods cooked over product lit with lighter fluid, I caution that some of you will also find an off taste to foods cooked over bark-on woods.

If you are lucky enough to have a source of wood within your own property, that has no neighborly contact with chemical industry, and you feel confident that the bark-on wood is safe, then the choice to cook with it may be easy.  If, however, you rely on an outside source say a firewood supplier, you may want to rethink cooking over that bark-on product or at the very least, take the time to rid the bark.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

WHY CHARCOAL IS NOT AN INGREDIENT

Charcoal that is produce properly is a fuel and provides heat! Wood adds flavor!

There are so many methods of getting a message out rapidly given the speed of technology and the many platforms for posting opinions and marketing strategies today.  In doing research for a publication, I came across a statement made by a charcoal company that made me a bit … confused.

 

An Ingredient Not A Fuel

This company claimed that their charcoal product was an ingredient not a fuel!

Not a fuel?  That statement is in direct conflict to what charcoal manufacture was designed for – heat.

I realize that when used with 100% accuracy, charcoal will produce no smoke and a consistent heat.  We all know that the 100% accuracy is the kicker – pretty much no one is proficient at producing full ignition of the charcoal with stable air intake to maintain the high heat level the product was designed for.  What usually occurs is that we start out with full ignition but given the need for longer cooks, we add charcoal and thus, start to fluctuate the oxygen feed.  Only during those fluctuations does production of smoke occur with charcoal.

 

Non-Carbonized Wood IS Flavor

Charcoal production is the act of carbonizing wood which means all the volatiles of the wood are burned off until what is left is pure carbon or at least a high percentage of carbon.  There is no refuting that charcoal burns cleaner, hotter, and more evenly than wood only.
Here are where differences occur though when it comes to types of charcoal.

Lump charcoal is made from various scrap wood sources like furniture manufacture, wood packaging manufacture, flooring manufacture, and building material scraps.  Due to the high level of variation in these pieces, most often there is not 100% carbonization of the lump charcoal production.  That’s why you can get some smoke and flavor from that product; when combustion of a non-charred piece occurs, you’ll stimulate organic compounds that produce flavor.  Keep in mind, because scrap wood is used you can get other debris in the purchased bag as often this is scooped up from a site and transferred to a production facility, with the scoop gathering anything that may be in the area.

Traditional charcoal manufacture also known as briquets, is also made from scrap wood, sawdust and wood chip product.  It is known that some manufacturers include a percentage of softwood but for the most part, product is derived from hardwood.  Briquets do have binders added and there are some types that have accelerates added to make them extremely quick to lite.  Personally, I can detect those additives and feel they do change the overall flavor when cooking foods over them but you can make that determination for yourself.

Controlled flavor only comes from wood and the best and safest flavors, from hardwood.   Charcoal is a fuel, it is for heat, and the only flavor it produces is when meat/poultry drippings fall directly on the hot coals and vaporize, stimulating flavors.  Never are flavors stimulated from the briquet or charcoal.

 

So, Who Is The Ingredient?

If the definition of an ingredient is a substance that contributes or makes up a mixture, then truly hardwood is an ingredient in wood-fired cooking recipes as it gives off its distinct organic flavor compounds that make up the cell structures.  Heat is NOT an ingredient and that is what charcoal is: HEAT!  A claim to be an ingredient just holds no truth.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Breakfast Potato Takes on Smoke!

The smoky deliciousness of breakfast potatoes!

 

Give It A Smoky Start

As with most breakfast potato recipes, this one has just a handful ingredients to make it oh so memorable at the breakfast table.  It starts with a key ingredient – smoked potato – which you can find the technique for on our previous posting.  This is a recipe that can certainly accommodate your specific preferences so alter it as you please.  For my rendition, you’ll need the following:

 

Gather These Ingredients:

  • 2 cups smoked potato cut into pieces no larger than 1 inch
  • 2 cups of chopped sweet pepper – I’m using red, yellow and orange for a pop of color
  • 1 Jalapeno pepper diced
  • 1 cup of rough cut onion
  • 1 Tablespoon oil – I’m using coconut oil for its high heat level
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil or flavored olive oil – I’m using a Tuscan flavor
  • 1 cup of ricotta cheese
  • 1 red tomato sliced into ¼ inch thick slices
  • Oven safe skillet

 

One Hot Skillet Makes It Easy

Be sure you’ve readied all the ingredients as this recipe can be completed quite fast.  Place your oven safe skillet over medium-high heat and allow to heat.  Add the tablespoon of high heat oil and move the pan around to ensure the oil coats the entire bottom surface.  Add the cup of chopped onion and allow to cook for 3-4 minutes.  You’ll know you’re ready for the next step when the onion becomes translucent.  Add the 2 cups of chopped sweet pepper and mix well.  Allow the vegetable mixture to cook until tender, about 8 minutes.

 

Adding Heat and Smoke

Once you see the vegetables take on a shine and tenderness, it’s time to add the diced jalapeno pepper, mixing well.  After just a couple of minutes, go ahead and add the 2 cups of smoked potato to the mixture.  Mix well and allow to absorb some of the existing cooking oil and moisture.  The colors will begin to blend as well as the flavors getting us close to the finished dish.

 

Mellowing Out the Boldness

To add another level of flavor, a tablespoon of flavored olive oil, I’m using a Tuscan blend, is incorporated to the vegetable mixture.  Once this has cooked for a few minutes, I add the cup of ricotta cheese in dollops to the skillet.  Using my spatula, I break this down with the heat to provide a creamy consistency.  The creaminess of the ricotta will help balance the boldness of the smoke and aide all the flavors to mellow.  After 5 minutes of medium heat, this pan will be ready for a quick trip to the oven to finish everything off.

 

The Spectacular Finish

After taking the skillet from the stove top, I place it in a pr-heated 350°F oven to finish.   This will only take about 10 minutes.  Remember, if using cast iron, this material will hold a lot of heat, so once the pan is removed from the oven allow the dish to sit untouched for about 5 minutes.  Then plate to your favorite platter.

I like to add sliced fresh tomato and a sprinkle of fresh parsley to the top.  This is a perfect dish for any type of eggs or served an accompaniment to sausage.  Of course, it can stand alone as well so feel free to treat is as its own meal.

Smoked potato from the charcoal grill with a medley of vegetables gets you to the perfect Smoked Breakfast Potato!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

BEECH IS CERTAINLY “GRAND” IN EUROPEAN SMOKER WOODS

The grand ole tree beech adds a very European flavor to smoked foods, especially sausage style products.
With 10-13 Beech varieties available throughout the world, this is a hardwood tree that can age to some 300 years.  Visually, they are quite impressive often with distinct “root feet” and gray, smooth bark.  The scientific name is Fagus Grandifolia but in North America we know this as American Beech.

I’m With the White Oaks

Beech is a relative to the White Oak hardwood family.  However, there is some differences in its performance as a fuel wood and flavoring wood.  Beech tends to hold more water or moisture than white oak and for that reason, you need to be sure you are using this for cooking when the level is closer to 20-25% or lower.  Anything higher will produce a brown smoke as the energy generated is used to evaporate the water.  Using Beech with a higher moisture level could produce some off coloring to the foods.

Cooking Specifics

Beech is a very easy hardwood to burn and produces a nice bed of coals.  It does not throw spark when it combusts so it is ideal for all types of equipment including fire pits and camp pits.  It has minimal aroma when burned but produces a balanced flavor profile to foods.

The MBTU level is considered high so know you will get a long cook time from this wood.

Neutral Ways

In my opinion, Beech is one of those hardwoods that is neutral when it comes to food pairing.  I have found the ability to cook vegetables, fish, meats, poultry, and even flavor seasonings and herbs with its flavonoids.  You really can’t miss with this choice.  Knowing it is a hot burning wood and makes a great bed of coals, you should attempt to get all the wood can give from a heat point of view.  Think about raking hot coals to one side of your equipment and cooking foods directly in the coals while the remaining fire cooks more traditional foods on the grate.   Remember, there is value in the wood through the entire stages of combustion.

My Tan Skin

Coloring to foods tends to be on the earthy palette side giving a very pleasant appearance.  Because this wood is so well balanced, you can select both sweet and savory ingredients without causing any muted flavoring.  This is true whether the wood is in chunk, chip or dust form.

This can be a harder hardwood to locate since it is more prevalent in the Northeast, especially New York State but if you can locate it, pick some up and enjoy the many benefits of this grand tree.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

STRAWBERRIES GET SMOKY FOR AN AQUA FRESCA COCKTAIL

The process of smoking strawberries for your summer cocktail is very easy. Merely cut your strawberries and place them on your grill to enhance their flavor than process into flavorful drink.
If you enjoy fruity drinks or smoothies, then the Smoked Strawberry Aqua Fresca is perfect!  Using seasonal fresh strawberries will bring this to the ultimate flavor height but any store purchased variety will work as well.  This is the perfect cocktail for a summer event or as a non-alcoholic refresher on an exceptionally warm summer day.  Get ready as we tell you how to do the smoking technique then construct this fabulous drink.

Strawberries Love Smoke

Start with strawberries that are at their peak.  Gently wash them and then trim the stem end.  I cut smaller strawberries in half and larger in quarters to ensure the smoke vapor can penetrate easily but you certainly can leave them whole.  In addition to the strawberries – at least one quart to produce enough liquid for a few drinks – you’ll need the following ingredients and materials

Ingredients & Materials:

  • 4 tablespoons sugar – reserve some extra in case you want to make this sweeter
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of fine or coarse sea salt
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Handful of fresh basil or mint
  • Ice cubes
  • Blender
  • Mixing bowl
  • Mortar & pestle (optional)
  • Sheet pan lined with parchment paper
  • 2 double filet wood chunks from SmokinLicious®
While you are getting the strawberries ready you can have your grill warming up.  Set all burners to medium-low and close the lid.

Gas Grilling With Wood Chunks

Cooking with wood chunks can be done on the LP Gas Grill by using the heat shields or diffusers, whose purpose is to ensure even heat output over the grill grate.  By keeping a medium-low heat on the burner containing 2 wood chunks from SmokinLicious®I’m using 1 ash and 1 cherry – you won’t get the wood erupting in flames but rather a slow combustion that releases plenty of wood-fired flavor.  While the wood heats up, I combine my strawberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, and a pinch of sea salt.

Get Ready For Juicy Bubbles

When you smoke strawberries on the grill, all the locked in pectin water will be released by the heat.  That’s why it’s so important that you line your sheet pan with parchment paper so you don’t end up with a hard to clean mess.

After mixing in the vanilla extract, sugar, and salt it’s time to spread the strawberries onto the lined sheet pan and place on the grill.  Once the pan is in place, turn off all the burners except for the one that has the wood chunks on the diffuser. Cooking time will be about 40 minutes with a grill heat of 300°F maintained with the lid closed and 1 burner lit.

Taste Is The Sweet Aroma

Whenever I smoke fresh strawberries, it brings the memory of my Mom making strawberry jam.  As the strawberries react to the smoke vapor, you will see the pectin release and a beautiful, thick glaze will form around them.  This is the stuff that will make an exceptional aqua fresca so be sure you don’t lose any when removing the pan from the heat.  You’ll see the finished strawberries take on a much darker coloring and reduce size slightly from the water loss.  Now get ready for the fun part – getting our drink together.

Strawberry Base

To start our drink creation, you will need a blender and I prefer a mortar and pestle for combining citrus and fresh herbs.  Add the smoked strawberries to the blender and the remaining sugar. You can add the lime juice and fresh basil or mint right to the blender or add to a pestle and combine with the mortar. Once combined, add to the blender. Process the mixture.  Add a few ice cubes and process again until a smooth mixture is revealed.  You may add lime juice, sugar and ice as you see fit at this point – the recommended amounts are merely a guide.

Creating the Ultimate Aqua Fresca

With our strawberry mixture completed, it’s time to combine everything into a refreshing drink or cocktail.  If making a cocktail, select your spirit of choice.  I recommend tequila, vodka, or rum.  Add some ice cubes to a glass.  If making the alcoholic version, add an ounce of alcohol to the glass. Pour in the strawberry mixture and stir.  Add a sprig of basil or mint to the glass and serve.

If you are a frozen drink person, add more ice during the blending stage to thicken this up and make a milkshake like consistency.  This is so refreshing and so fitting for the warmer months.  Enjoy the Smoked Strawberry Aqua Fresca your way as you stay cool this summer season!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

LEARN WHAT THE SMOKE COLOR MEANS WHEN COOKING WITH WOOD

Smoke has many colors and they all mean something special when cooking- learning what they mean could increase your culinary results!
You smell it before you see it!  The aroma of foods being cooked outdoors.  When those foods involve cooking over wood – hardwood to be specific – well, it’s a flavor experience that is in a league of its own.

Today, instead of concentrating on the cooking technique of wood-fires, let’s examine the smoke vapor.

Does the color of the smoke being produced mean anything for flavor outcome?

The quick answer: absolutely!  Let’s take a closer look at the finer points of smoke vapor colors.

From Black to Nearly Invisible, The Language of Smoke

There are four basic attributes to smoke when it leaves equipment: volume, velocity, density, and color.  It is the combination of these attributes that reveal so much about the color of smoke vapor or gas produced from combusted wood.

Black Smoke = No Oxygen

Black smoke is unattractive, highly dense, consisting of large particles, and the key sign that the wood is starved for oxygen.  When air intake is left uncorrected, this black smoke vapor can turn foods acrid, bitter, and sooty.  Certainly, this is not the goal of wood-fired cooking!  Don’t cook with smoke that is black in color.  Learn how to control air intake and exhaust for proper air flow and the best smoke vapor infusion for great flavor.

Gray/Brown Smoke = Poor Wood Quality

You understand air flow, the balance needed between air intake and outtake.  Despite you optimal setting of air flow, you still find gray to brown smoke color occurring.  What happened?

Often, this boils down to a case of poor wood choice.  Gray or brown smoke occurs when there is a mixture of moisture and hydrocarbons.  Bark on woods can stimulate brown smoke as this is the driest and most impure part of the wood.  You can also see gray to brown smoke color when there are other stimulants on the wood.  It may be that something dripped on the wood, was deliberately applied to the wood, or was part of the wood’s manufacturing process if the wood is a bye-product from another process.

White Smoke = Initiation of Heat

Virtually all solid materials exposed to combustion emit white smoke.  This means heat is being stimulated to the wood and drying it out.  Remember, moisture is water and when heat finds water it has to induct it to produce steam.  This takes energy from the fire or ignition and can stall full stages of combustion.  Once moisture is evaporated you will observe white smoke to transition to a clearer color, hopefully the infamous blue.  For longer, lower temperature cooking, wait for the white smoke stage to pass before adding the food to the grates.  For hotter temperature cooking like burgers, steaks, etc., go ahead and add to the grates even with white smoke present.  The abundance of aromatics at the white stage will allow for flavor to permeate shorter cook items.

Blue Smoke (or nearly invisible) = Holy Grail

Keeping in mind that you don’t always need an invisible or blue smoke to have a flavorful wood-fired cooking event, this is still the goal when cooking with wood for many hours.  Blue or invisible smoke means that full combustion has occurred to the wood and the lignin compound is releasing the smoky aromatic that will stick to moist food surfaces.  Take advantage of this pristine stage and get cooking for the best wood-fired flavors.

Finding the Perfect Wood with the Perfect Moisture Level

As a final note, don’t be fooled into thinking that using dry wood will save time on waiting for the fire’s heat to evaporate excess water and get to the flavoring.  There is extensive research demonstrating that the ideal smoke composition containing flavor stimulating compounds called carbonyls and phenols is in hardwoods that have a higher moisture rating not the 10% or less that is considered seasoned wood.  Use caution when making the wood purchase.  Knowing key details about the wood prior to purchasing will help to achieve the smoke color that produces maximum flavor.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

TOP 10 VEGETABLES TO COOK IN HOT EMBERS

Ember cooking can be done in a cask iron plan, fire box and even in a Hibachi! Try this unique cooking method to add a flare and unique tastes to your outdoor grilling and cooking!
I want to be perfectly clear – this is not cooking over hot flame or direct flame.  This is cooking after the wood and/or charcoal has burned down in to very hot coals; when the coals develop a white-gray ash coating. THIS is the time to ember or coal cook these select vegetables.

 

The Rules of Ember and Ash Cooking

The essence of using all that the wood can give for cooking. That it was ember or coal cooking is.   I want to be sure there is no misunderstanding on what is needed to do this type of cooking safely and effectively.

Rule #1: If going with all wood for the coals, only use hardwood and clean hardwood at that.  You’re going to lay foods into this material so I believe it should be clean and mold free with moisture level 15-20%.  If higher, it will simply take longer to get to the coal stage.

Rule #2: Again, if using all hardwood, try to limit the bark or go bark-free if possible to reduce the potential for mold spores that can be released into the air.

Rule #3: Have everything ready before you start.   You’ll need an ash-coal hoe, fire gloves, and small coal shovel at the ready.  I would also have tongs for those times when you don’t bury your foods completely in the coals but rather lay them which requires turning of the vegetables.

Rule #4: Equipment wise, you can use a charcoal grill that has fire brick added for insulation, a clean fireplace (I prefer an outdoor unit), a clean fire pit, or an open pit built in a safe area with brick or gravel as the base to protect the fire from spreading.

 

Hot Embers Birthed in One Hour

On average, it will take about an hour to move a small fire from flame to hot ember.  Depending on whether you elect to use charcoal or wood will determine the amount of time the fire needs to burn down – an all charcoal fire will be 30-45 minutes; all hardwood fire about 45-60 minutes.  Remember, charcoal produces heat and little smoke, whereas hardwood, produces heat, smoke and specific aromatics and flavorings in that smoke.  At the ember-coal level, both have equal carbonization and act similar for this method of cooking.

Using approximately 8 lbs. of charcoal or 10 lbs. of hardwood, or any combination of the two, light a fire in the equipment of your choice.  Let the fire completely burn down until only hot coals remain.  Rake the coals to produce a thick even bed.  Then select your favorite vegetables from the ones listed below, and you’re on your way!  Always keep a small fire going for additional hot coals if doing large amounts of vegetables.

 

Vegetables That Love Hot Coals

Here are the top 10 vegetables to introduce to the hot embers for fantastic flavor:

Asparagus         Broccoli          Cauliflower        Eggplant

Garlic        Leeks         Gourds (squash, pumpkin)

Onion       Peppers       Potato

If you want minimal monitoring to the actual cooking process, then place the selected vegetables into the bed of coals and then shovel hot coals and ash over the top so that the entire vegetable surface is covered in embers.  Leave untouched until tenderized, which will be 45-60 minutes depending on the vegetable selected.   Otherwise, you can set vegetables within the coal bed and turn them during the cooking process to ensure even char.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Flank Steak Pinwheels with Ember Roasted Asparagus

Flank steak pinwheels with ember roasted asparagus – just one of the wonderful ways to use fresh asparagus this season.

Great recipe idea with the use of Ember cooked Asparagus and Flank Steak.  While the pinwheels can be cooked on the Charcoal/LP-Gas grill or even in the oven!

Ingredients:
  •         Ember cooked Asparagus (see previous blog)
  •         2-3 lbs of Flank Steak
  •        4 oz of Spinach leaves
  •         Olive Oil or Pesto
  •         4 oz of Mozzarella cheese
  •          Pepper and Sea Salt for taste
If grilling on Charcoal or LP/Gas grill use Double Filet Wood Chunks to add some additional flavor!

Preparing the Flank Steak

The ideal is to pound out the flank steak with a meat mallet to help tenderize it.  I like to coat my flank steak with olive oil, fresh ground pepper and kosher salt and place in plastic wrap to marinate for at least 6 hours but I prefer marinate overnight.  Once marinated, I can begin to assemble with the other ingredients.

Assembling the Pinwheels

Lay out the flank steak and place the spinach leaves overlapping them as you go.  Now take the halved asparagus stalks and layer them next.  Last, load on the mozzarella cheese and then season with salt and pepper.  Remember, if the mozzarella is not fresh, it will have some salt to it so be careful when adding additional salt. Now, staring on the long end of the steak, begin rolling inward, tucking in the filling as you go.  Once completely rolled, take 6 inch lengths of pre-cut meat twine and tie around the rolled flank steak about every 2-inches.  These sections will become the individual serving sizes.  Cut the steak between the twine ties and lay each cut piece of steak on a baking sheet.

Cooking the Pinwheels

Cook the pinwheels on a baking sheet or pan for approximately 30 minutes.  Flank steak will render a lot of juice so you may want to use a roasting rack in the pan.  Once the mozzarella cheese becomes golden brown, you’ll be ready to remove from the oven.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes then serve.

Serve!

This is just one combination of flavors that work well with the flank steak and ember roasted asparagus.  Other winning combinations include artichoke heart, roasted red peppers, kale, even quinoa if you want to added a grain texture.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

KIWIFRUIT GETS SMOKY FOR A FLAVOR BOOST

Add a new twist to your kiwifruit by cold smoking it to enhance its wonderful sweet flavor.

Kiwifruit is now in season!  It’s time to use this potassium, vitamin A, C & E enriched fruit in your favorite recipes.   How about doing something to up the flavor level a bit?

Packed with more vitamin C than an orange and as much potassium as a banana, Kiwifruit, more commonly called kiwi, is also a fiber powerhouse.  I’m going to take this creamy fruit favorite to a new flavor level by cold smoking it.

The Ease of Hand Held Food Smoking

To do this technique, you’ll need a hand held food smoker, SmokinLicious® Minuto® Smoking Wood Chips in size 6, 8 or 10, a lighter, a sheet pan, a food bag large enough to go over your sheet pan, and a cable tie.  Then gather together the number of kiwifruit you’d like to infuse with smoke vapor, and have a knife and cutting board available.

Let the Smoke In

Simply cut your kiwifruit in half to allow the smoke vapor to penetrate the fruit flesh.  As kiwifruit is covered by a brown, fuzzy skin, you will need some of the fruit’s meat exposed to get real smoke flavor incorporate.  Otherwise, leaving them whole won’t bring much of a smokiness to the fruit meat.

What I love the most about cold smoking with a hand held food smoker like The Smoking Gun™ Smoker, is how fast this flavoring can be done to any food, beverage, liquid, spice or herb item.  After cutting me kiwifruit in half to allow for maximum penetration of the smoke vapor, I place the cut halves on a sheet pan.  I then slip a food bag over the sheet pan.

A Pinch of Hardwood Is All It Takes

Time to prepare The Smoking Gun™ Smoker or other hand held food smoker you might have.  I take just a pinch of Alder Minuto® Smoker Wood Chips and place in the bowl of the food smoker.  I insert the tubing into the food bag, about ½ way back and gently draw in the end of the bag around the tubing.  I’m now ready to turn the food smoker on and light my Alder chips.

A Cloud of Smoky Goodness

Once the smoke is dispensing at a good rate into the food bag, turn the hand held food smoker off and remove the tubing, cinching the food bag tight.  I attach a cable tie to the end to keep it closed tight.  Here’s a tip: have your cable tie pre-looped for easy application and less chance for any leaking smoke vapor.

Allow the smoke vapor to remain in the bag until dissipated.  If you want an extremely light smoke flavor, then feel free to release the smoke vapor as you see fit.  For me, I will patiently wait for it to clear before releasing the cable tie on the bag.

Containment Is Key

Not only are hand held food smokers, like The Smoking Gun™ Smoker easy to operate and extremely fast at infusing smoke flavor, they generate a lot of smoke that can be easily capture.  Although I’ve used a food bag over a sheet pan, feel free to place the kiwifruit on a plate fit with a dome cover or simply use plastic wrap.  Anything that can trap the smoke is ideal.  You will see as the smoke is produced, it will travel throughout whatever container your using covering the entire food surface.  Although this looks like a huge amount of smoke that would potentially produce strong or bold smoke flavor, I remind you that I am using a very mild hardwood – Alder – to infuse smoke flavor to the kiwifruit.  I highly recommend whenever doing a fruit item – go with a milder hardwood for the infusion process.

15 Minutes to Smoky Goodness

This simple method of using a hand held food smoker with SmokinLicious® Minuto® Smoking Wood Chips in Alder to add a mild smoky flavor to seasonal kiwifruit takes just 15 minutes.  All of the nutritional benefits remain in this healthy fruit; rich in potassium, vitamins A, C, and E, as well as fiber.  Think about all the things you can do with this super fruit: add it to a smoothie, cut it up for fruit salad, pair it with a grain like quinoa, rice, or farro, or simply enjoy it as is.   For me, I’m thinking of entertaining so I will start with a cocktail recipe.

Did you like this idea?  If so, leave us a comment and let us know what you would love to see next.  Be sure to follow and subscribe to us as we bring you innovative ideas for adding wood-fired flavoring to all types of foods.  Check in next for my Smoked Kiwi Caipiroska, a flavorful cocktail featuring kiwifruit, mint and vodka.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

COOKING WITH OAK- A BOLD FLAVOR

Rich harvest area for the best hardwood cooking woods in the world
THE BOLDNESS OF OAK!
New York State is home to the most varieties of Oak anywhere in the world!  Currently, there are 16 native to New York State alone, with many more varieties having been brought into the state.  In Central Park alone, there are 18 species of oak represented.  Comprised of two subgroups – white oaks and black oaks – there is one key distinction between these groups.  White oaks produce acorns that are usually sweet while black oaks produce bitter acorns.  So how does this translate when using Oak wood for smoking?

At SmokinLicious®, we try very hard not to make flavor descriptors of each hardwood we manufacture into cooking wood, as we hold to the belief that there are so many factors that contribute to the reveal of the underlying wood flavonoids (i.e. temperature the wood is exposed to, other ingredients used on the food cooked over oak, moisture level of the wood, etc.).  However, we do have a scale to guide the user on the boldness of flavor.  Oak is at the highest end of that scale.  It is the boldest flavor we offer!

Knowing that oak is a powerful flavor, I must remind you that smoke particles do not penetrate completely into the meat.  In general, for meats, smoke vapor only penetrates about an 1/8” meaning the “flavor” you will decipher from the oak is actually to the outside area of the meat.  Certainly, if you cook a meat until it can be shredded, you will mix the outside flavor areas with the less wood flavored inner meat and get a good balance to the smoky flavor.

As I’ve tried to stress, cooking foods with a specific hardwood is the choice of the cook.  I am not one to say that you can never cook a specific food with a certain hardwood.  Everyone’s palate is different and tolerates different levels of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.  I will, however, remind you that bold flavors need to be balanced and this can easily be done through the other ingredients incorporated with that food item or even on that food.  This will allow you to use oak wood for smoking: cold smoking say beef jerky or game jerky, hot smoking lamb, goat or beef, grilling steaks of beef or pork, stove top smoking pungent flavors like onion and garlic, and hand held cold smoking say a robust cheese.

As always, very little quantity of wood is needed to bring forward the unique qualities of the wood and Oak, with its boldness, is not an exception.  If you’re in the market for a very bold flavor, then go for the black oak varieties including Pin Oak, Scarlet Oak, and Red Oak.  A step down from the black oaks, the white oaks include Chestnut Oak, White Oak, Swamp Oak, and Post Oak.  Either choice will bring you hardwood offering that is strong in appearance, aroma, and flavor!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

I WOULDN'T GRILL WITH MOLDY WOODS- HERE'S WHY

Learn why moldy hardwood is unfit for cooking and smoking food
There are many opinions out there in the BBQ world when it comes to the wood used for smoking and grilling.  Some people preach it doesn’t matter where the wood comes from as long as it isn’t a treated lumber.  Comments include, “don’t worry if there are bugs or bug holes – if they’re in there, they’ll just burn up,” or “fires are hot so anything on the wood just burns.”

But you should worry.  Here’s why.

In the USA, we try hard to re-purpose items so our landfills aren’t overflowing.  What we fail to do, however, is ponder the history of that re-purposed item.  Let’s take the common wooden pallet for example.

Wooden pallets have enjoyed a rebirth with the DIY generation.  Everything from headboards and wine racks, to dining tables and wedding guest books have been constructed from the used wooden pallet.  What should be widely discussed, is the potential for toxic exposure to this wood item.  Wood pallets, just like scrap woods, can harbor mold spores as well as chemical residue if they were used to transport items containing or exposed to chemical toxins.  Use these discarded items for cooking wood and you introduce a whole host of new risks.

A Primer on Mold

Mold growth is stimulated by three specific needs:

#1 Moisture: Mold spores need moist or damp locations to grow

#2 Food Source: Mold spores need food to survive and they love porous materials

#3 Optimal Temperature: Mold spores can thrive in temperatures from 32° to 120°F and have the highest stimulation rate in temperatures of 70-90°F.  Yes, even at the freezing mark, mold spores don’t die, they simply go dormant.

The Look of Mold

Mold has a range of appearances but on wood is mostly reveals itself as a fuzzy or discolored layer on the surface of the wood.  Molds are a type of fungus and they grow on wood when the three conditions mentioned above combine.  Molds feed on the wood nutrients (cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin compounds) without weakening the wood itself.

Why is Mold a Risk

Molds produce millions of microscopic spores that can be carried in the air.  Mold spores are around us everywhere.  They search for the ideal surfaces to land on and grow.  When they increase in concentration, allergic reactions are triggered in sensitive individuals.   Expand this concentration to multiple locations and you can become highly sick.

Cooking with Moldy Wood

You now know the 3 parameters needed for mold spores to concentrate and thrive.  Why would cooking with moldy wood be of concern if you’re simply throwing them into hot coals or exposing them to gas fueled heating elements?

Because mold spores can survive combustion!

Molds can produce mycotoxins, toxic chemicals that are present on spores and small fragments of mold and fungus that are released in the air.  When moldy wood is introduced to fire, these toxins are released into the air and can cause anyone around the equipment to experience coughing, sneezing, eye and throat irritation.  If a preexisting condition like asthma is present, symptoms will be worse.  This can lead to a compromised lung health and disease.

Remember, mold looks for moisture environments so if you are cooking with moldy wood, you take the risk of the airborne spores taking harbor on the food being cooked over that wood.  The moist surface of the food is a perfect visiting ground.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

The biggest challenge is it is almost impossible to distinguish toxic molds from non-toxic which is why I recommend that you never use moldy woods for cooking.  Some types of molds won’t reveal themselves on the outside of the wood but will be present within the interior wood cells.  It is always best to err on the side of caution and dispose of moldy wood or burn it in an outdoor setting not being used for cooking.

Get Rid of Ash

I highly recommend that you safely dispose of all ash from previous wood-fired cooking to decrease the risk of mold spores and fragments.  As mentioned above, mold spores can survive combustion and so they can remain active in ashes.  Don’t leave old ash laying around and certainly not within the equipment.

Finding hardwoods at the ideal moisture level, storing the woods in a well ventilated area, and rotating wood to circulate air exchange are good practices to help you stay safe during the outdoor cooking season and maintain healthy lung function for life.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Smoked Strawberry Napoleon

A New Flavor Twist- Smoked Strawberry Napoleon
A New Flavor Twist- Smoked Strawberry Napoleon

SMOKED STRAWBERRY NAPOLEON WITH PROSECCO CREAM

Take advantage of the short, fresh strawberry season by using your harvest in unique and flavorful recipes.  Up first, this take on strawberry shortcake that is in a league of its own!

INGREDIENT LIST

 Here’s what you’ll need:
  • Packaged Won-Ton wrappers
  • Frying oil (be sure to use one for high heat)
  • 1 quart of smoked strawberries smoked with Minuto® chips (reserve about 6 whole strawberries for garnish)
  • ¼ cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds
  • ¾ cup cold Mascarpone cheese
  • 1/3 cup cold heavy cream
  • ¼ cup cold Prosecco
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

PREPARING THE WON-TONS

In a large skillet, heat 1 cup of high heat oil.  When ready, reduce the heat to medium-high and begin adding won-ton wrappers one at a time without crowding the pan. I usually can fit about 4 at a time. This step will take you a bit to do enough wrappers to ensure you have 3 per Napoleon serving. 

I like to cook the entire package of won-ton wrappers as these make excellent snacks either alone or for dipping salsa, guacamole or your favorite dip.  Plus, they make a great sweet snack when sprinkled with cinnamon/sugar or powdered sugar. When cooking the won tons, watch for a tan hue and bubbles to begin on the wrapper. Turn once and remove to a paper towel lined plate about 20 seconds after turning, as the won-ton holds a lot of heat and will continue to cook out of the pan.

PREPARING THE STRAWBERRY FILLING

Placed the quartered smoked strawberries in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of sugar and the vanilla; toss to coat.  Set aside until we are ready to assemble everything.

PREPARING THE PROSECCO CREAM

Preheat the oven to 375° F.  Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and bake until golden about 5-7 minutes.  Set aside.

Combine the mascarpone, heavy cream, the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, ground red pepper, and the prosecco in a medium bowl.  Beat with a mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes.  Be sure not to over beat.  Refrigerate briefly to bind everything.

ASSEMBLING THE NAPOLEON

Place one cooked won-ton on a serving plate.  Top with a large dollop of Prosecco cream and then cover with smoked strawberries. Repeat this process 2 more times so you have three won-ton layers per plate.  Top with almonds and a whole smoked strawberry on top plus a little extra of your smoked strawberries.

THE ULTIMATE TREAT THAT ISN’T TOO SINFUL!

With the sweetness of the Prosecco cream, the hint of smoke in the strawberries, and that crispy crunch of the won-ton layers, this is a one of kind napoleon that you and your guests won’t soon forget.  Feel free to experiment with different cream fillings and fruits.  I like cannoli cream as well with a hint of cinnamon.  And don’t forget to take picture of your masterpiece and send along to us at SmokinLicious®.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

WHY WON’T MY WOOD CHIPS SMOKE??

Smoking wood chips burn up too fast, while the smoking wood chunks last

WHY WON’T MY WOOD CHIPS SMOKE??

We’ve all been there!  You purposely made a list of all the things you would need for the weekend BBQ.  Carefully selected the meat, cleaned the grill or smoker the weekend before, and purchased the wood chips to impart that great flavoring you can only get from hardwood!  You marinated the meat 24 hours ahead and woke up on grill day full of excitement.

So, what happened?

Instead of having the best, most flavorful meal you had to settle for an ordinary grill day with no special flare.

Why?

The wood chips failed to smoke.  Or, worse yet, they just burned up in minutes.
It’s time you learned exactly what to do with those wood chips so this never happens again!

Tip #1: Understand the basics of hardwood

Wood is loaded with water.  It’s only after the tree is cut that a loss of water or moisture occurs as there are two types of moisture content in wood: free water which is water in the cell cavities and bound water which is water held in the cell walls.

Try to cook or grill with a wood that has been fresh cut and you’ll likely have a very bad meal; acrid undertones and black, sooty color.   Wet wood stimulates acrid smoke vapor.

Now, go the opposite direction.  Take a wood that is dry, as in it’s too low to register on a moisture meter, and you have a full heat generator.  This is what we want in the fireplace or fire pit to keep us warm, not in the grill, as it will simply generate too much heat and produce overdone, dry foods.

Tip #2: Understand Oxygen Flow

Even when using equipment with fuel assist like LP, gas or electric, you still need to be aware of air flow.  Quality equipment is always designed with insulation in mind to keep heat from escaping but all equipment has some level of venting built in.  Whenever you use grilling or smoking woods with equipment, you need to find the balance between air intake (oxygen) and exhaust damper or vent.

Some manufacturers will build in the ideal location for the wood chips by incorporating a drawer. Even if you don’t have this option on your grill, you can still provide the perfect spot for producing combustion to the wood by simply placing your wood chip container on or above the heat source.  That’s it!  Often this can be accomplished by putting your container right on the heat diffuser or bar that is under the grill grate.

Tip #3: Understand What the Lid is For

Have you ever wondered why charcoal grills have a completely removable lid while LP/Gas and Infrared grills always have a hinged lid that is permanently attached?

The reason is very basic; grill grates, regardless of material construction, are designed to absorb heat and produce conduction heat where they contact the food items (conducting heat from the grate to the food).  The lid of the grill reflects the heat back to the food grates in what is termed convection heat (transferring heat by air flow or through a liquid medium like water (think boiling eggs).  These grills maintain vents somewhere on or near the lid to vent out the gases from the LP or natural gas used to operate the grill.  Remember, LP needs to be mixed with air to burn, thus, the reason for all those vents on LP grills!

Here’s the thing – if you keep opening the lid while using wood chips, you change the dynamic of the heat absorption forcing the unit to work harder to produce both conductive and convection heat.  Plus, you will keep altering the stages of combustion of the wood chips.  Leave the lid alone!

Tip #4: Don’t Wet the Wood Chips

I hear this all the time that the worry with wood chip use on a grill is that they will burn too fast.  Let’s break this down so you understand just what happens when smoke vapor is produced from wood material.

The drier the wood the faster it will go through the stages of combustion and the more heat it will produce.  If you have wood that is without measurable moisture, you will get limited or no smoke production, just heat.  You need to purchase wood chips that have some measurable moisture to work effectively.  Chips labeled as kiln dried are likely too dry for producing smoke vapor.

Tip #5: Step Up from Chips to Chunks

Maybe it’s time to abandon wood chips all together in favor of bigger pieces of wood.  Here’s how to know what would work better:

If you’re cooking one item and it is a short cook time, then chips will serve you well.  If, however, you are planning on loading the grill with an assortment of foods say sausage, chicken, corn, peppers, ribs, etc., then you may want to consider using wood chunks either directly on the grill’s diffusers or in a wood chip metal box (learn how to do this).  These pieces, being large and dense, will burn longer giving off more smoke, which means less work for you to replenish.  Plus, you can do different types of wood chunks all at the same time (one cherry, one maple, one hickory … you get the point).

Success with wood chips can be had if you learn to purchase wood with some moisture, use the wood dry (no pre-soaking), keep the wood over the heat source of the equipment so it can combust, and use the right type of wood product – chips versus chunks – for the length of cook time.

Then get ready to truly have the best grill day ever!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

HOW TO CUSTOMIZE YOUR WOOD COOKING TECHNIQUES

Customized Smoking Wood Products Make a Difference with Equipment Efficiency and Taste
Customized Smoking Wood Products Make a Difference with Equipment Efficiency and Taste

Why Not Build Your Own Wood-fired Ingredient Box?

I’m old enough to remember the days when the purchase of a new car was very limited in terms of customizing.  You didn’t get the opportunity to choose much more than the exterior color and even those choices were limited to a few!  Today, you can go online and literally build your own car from the type of engine and fuel it will use, to the color, texture, and material of your interior and everything in between.  This got me thinking about customizing when it comes to the wood-fired cooking experience.  Why should cooking woods be any different than the car industry?  Why not build your own wood-fired ingredient box when it comes to the smoking wood?

Since SmokinLicious® Gourmet Wood Productsinception, we have offered a level of customization to the user purchasing our products that has been unmatched by any other company.  We provide options that empower the user to combine various products as you would the ingredients to a homemade stew.

Why is This an Option of Value and Importance?

There are times that you need different products on hand to simply do specific functions.  For instance, Grande Sapore® Wood Chips are a means of bringing the temperature of some equipment up quickly.  Smokin’ Dust® provides for a sudden burst of smoke vapor due to its lower moisture level.  Double filet smoker wood chunks tend to be the ideal sizing to place on diffusers/flavor bars of LP grills and achieve smoke vapor around foods being cooked.

I think one of the primary reasons that smoking wood should have a level of customer choice is that most of us don’t own just one piece of equipment.  I think I’m safe to assume that all of us have a conventional stove top.  That gives the opportunity to do stove top smoking.  Many of us have the newer models of LP grills that allow for the placement of woods chunks and/or the use of wood chips.  Then there are those that have the conventional stove top, the LP grill, the charcoal grill, and a dedicated smoker.  Wouldn’t it be great to source all the products need for these different types of equipment from one supplier and even get the chance to purchase a combination of products for one price?

And the icing on the cake –  Now that’s customization at its best!!  That’s SmokinLicious®!
It’s time to make your wood-fired cooking experiences uniquely your own by starting with SmokinLicious® and our wide array of species and flavor options just waiting for your hand and imagination to take your wood-fired cooking memories to new heights!