Thursday, July 27, 2017


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


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!

  •         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.


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


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


Rich harvest area for the best hardwood cooking woods in the world
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!