Thursday, January 25, 2018

WOOD SUPPLIER- ARE YOU GETTING WHAT YOU PAID FOR?

Not all wood supplier are like Smokinlicious®, cutting their product from forest grown fresh harvest. Rather they use recycled material.
Not all wood supplier are like Smokinlicious®, cutting their product from forest grown fresh harvest. Rather they use recycled material.

One of the things we do at SmokinLicious® for commercial-grade customers is take in a sample of their current smoking wood and analyze it.  When you’re a Company producing a food product, you need consistency of the final product.  When it comes to smoked foods, this can be a challenge as wood is a plant material that can be highly variable when put through the stages of combustion.  If a mixture of woods is used in the process, combustion rate, biochar production, volatile burn off, and other parameters of the wood can be affected in a negative way.

Like a Game of Roulette

If price is the only factor guiding your decision on a wood supplier, then you are playing a game of roulette.  Just like any other business transaction, you should be looking for authenticity of the wood.  Let me give you an example:

Germany is the only country currently taking direct steps to protect woods on the endangered species list.  Yes, there is such a list with 183 countries participating in some level of enforcement.  The direct goal of The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is to prevent deforestation but the challenge, as with most lofty goals, is personnel to enforce the regulation. Germany is uncovering case after case of fraudulent wood sales and finding that less expensive woods in the manufacture while invoices reflect another more expensive wood.

Now look at smoking wood products.  There are no regulations.  A company can package wood product of pretty much any condition, label it as a specific species, and put it into the marketplace.  There is no accounting for:

▪ how the wood was collected
▪ what the wood pieces are made from
▪ treatments conducted on the wood
▪ if the wood is 100% of a specific species
▪ the origination of the wood
▪ the age of the wood

Mixed Product Dominates

I can’t even count how many times we’ve visited a Company’s location to view their wood supply and find that what they thought they were purchasing is not what’s present.  Some suppliers have gone so far as including softwoods in the product labeled as hardwood!  This doesn’t happen with just the larger pieces of wood either.  Micro chips commonly used in industrial smokehouses rarely contain 100% of a said wood.  Perhaps this is the reason why packaging regulations for a smokehouse bacon or ham can state it is Applewood smoked when Applewood may have only made up 10% of the wood used in the smoking process!

Ask and Demand

The budget for wood can be substantial for companies and restaurants.  You have every right to demand a product’s accountability.   Ask questions!

What is the origin of the wood?  Remember, many smoking wood suppliers are not involved in the manufacturing process.  They are the seller not the manufacturer meaning they likely have little or no knowledge of the history of the wood.

Has the wood undergone any processes?  Kiln dried? Preservation chemical added? If the wood didn’t start out for cooking, it is likely that processes used to stabilize the wood for its main purpose, say flooring, were applied.  That won’t make it the best choice for a cooking method or even a safe choice.

You have every right to request a Letter of Guarantee or Letter of Authenticity.  Remember, woods used for food preparation or cooking currently have no universal regulations.  The only wood regulation that exists in the USA is regarding moving firewood and that is regulated primarily by the individual states.

Why be so concerned about the wood when we don’t consume wood? 

We may not consume the wood in its natural form but we certainly consume food products cooked over or near that wood, that infuse many of the organic compounds of the wood.  Not all organic compounds are good.  There are many known toxicities in certain species of wood with softwoods containing the highest risk.  That is the reason why you should never cook with a softwood.  Other wood has the potential to cause sickness and in some cases if a person’s system is already compromised, death.

Take the time to learn about the wood you will use in the cooking method and ask the questions that could be the difference between a successful venture and partnership with your wood supplier or a disaster you simply didn’t need.

Our Smoked Carrot Cake

Our Smoked Carrot Cake starts with us grilling our carrots to add a hint of smokey flavor to this vegetable! Then we bake these carrots into a perfect looking cake for Smokey Carrot Cake!
Our Smoked Carrot Cake starts with us grilling our carrots to add a hint of smokey flavor to this vegetable! Then we bake these carrots into a perfect looking cake for our Smoked Carrot Cake!
Carrots are ready for picking and for cooking!  We’ve got an easy smoking technique that can be done with whole, sliced, even grated carrot.  Once smoked, we are taking all that flavor and making an oil-free, carrot-almond cake with ricotta cream.

Nutrition for your Bones

Carrots are known for their supply of antioxidant nutrients but they are also prized for their benefit to bone mass.  Rich in Vitamin A, biotin, vitamin K, fiber and so much more, carrots offer a variety of color options: traditional orange, yellow, white, purple, and red.  As they are considered a hardy root vegetable, then tend to keep longer than most other vegetables.  On the grill or smoker, they work perfectly at absorbing the level of smoke vapor you want for recipes.

Carrot and Grill Preparation

shredding carrots in the food processor makes it easy! Just don't overdue the process; need some pulp to the carrotsAs carrots are a root vegetable, they can get a lot of dirt on them.  It’s important that you wash them well and then pat dry.  If you want to smoke your carrots whole, simply trim the ends.  My plan is to use these in our smoked carrot cake recipe so I’ll introduce my carrots to the food processor to produce even shredding.  Once shredded, I place in a grill safe, flat pan. I’ll be using two SmokinLicious® single filet wood chunks in Wild Cherry to keep the flavor on the mild side.  These chunks are placed on a lit burner set to medium-low.  Only that burner will be on!  Preheat the grill using all burners, then when the carrots go on the grill, turn off all the burners but the one with the wood chunks.

Just a Little Time

As I’ve elected to preshred my carrot for the eventual cake recipe, the actual smoking time will be quite short.  I don’t want to remove all the water content naturally found in carrot as I want a moist cake.  My total cooking time is roughly 15 minutes.  If you do want additional smoke flavor without dehydrating your carrots, you can do a handheld food smoker application as well as this a cold smoking technique that will not affect the moisture of the food nor provide any cooking.

Recipe Time

With our carrots wood grilled, it’s time to start on the cake ingredients.  Preheat the oven to 375°F.   First up, 1-1/2 cups of finely ground almonds, preferably blanched, finely grated lemon zest from 2 lemons, and 2 tablespoons of sugar.  If you cannot locate pre-ground almonds, you may use blanched slivered almonds and process in the food processor.  Add all three ingredients to the food processor and pulse until a fine, ground consistency is achieved.  Time to prepare the 9-inch springform pan.  First, butter the bottom and sides.  Feel free to add a butter parchment round to the bottom of the pan if you wish.  Then take a small amount of the ground almond mixture and apply to the sides of the pan.  Before we start on the cake batter, melt four tablespoons of butter and set aside.

Cake Batter

Hand mixing the ingredients to form the batterNow it’s time for the basic dry ingredients for our smoked carrot cake batter.  This is a recipe that is oil free.   I’ll be using cake flour to bring more lightness to this cake.  Here’s what you’ll need for the start of the cake batter
  • Unbleached cake flour-1-1/4 cups
  • baking powder-2 teaspoons
  • salt-¼ teaspoon
  • sifter
All these ingredients will be sifted into a medium bowl to bring airiness to the cake.  Next up, the wet ingredients.  You will need:
  • sugar-¾ cup
  • 4 large eggs
  • almond extract-¼ teaspoon
cracking eggs into a mixing bowl and then add the other wet ingredients to them.Crack the eggs in a large bowl and add the sugar.  With an electric mixer set to medium-high speed, beat the egg mixture until pale, foamy, and thickened.  Reduce the speed to low and add in the remaining almond mixture, almond extract, and the flour mixture.  Once the dry ingredients are incorporated into the cake batter, take the 4 tablespoons of melted butter and pour over the batter, gently incorporating.  In goes the smoked, grated carrot – about two cups.  Just combine those items and then spread the batter into your prepared 9-inch springform pan. I’ve used orange carrot for this recipe as they were available in the garden but I prefer yellow carrot for a golden color all the way through the cake.

Baking Time


the baking time for this recipe is 40 minutes Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F once the cake is placed on the middle rack (From the preheated oven of 375°F).  It will take about 40 minutes to cook through.  While it’s baking, I make the ricotta cream.  Gather together:

  • ricotta cheese-1 cup
  • sour cream-1 cup
  • honey-2 tablespoons
  • confectioner’s sugar-2 tablespoons
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
Combine all these ingredients and refrigerator until the cake is ready to serve.

Our Smoked Carrot Cake- Spongy, Light Goodness!

With our cake lightly browned and springing back when touched in the center, it’s ready to come out of the oven and cool.  Once the cooled cake can be plated to a cake stand, I take about ¼ cup of confectioner’s sugar and sift the sugar over the cake.  Now it’s time to slice this succulent cake and serve our ricotta cream on the side.  This is a very subtly smoked carrot so you will not get an overwhelming smoked flavor.  In fact, if you don’t tell anyone you smoked the carrot, they likely will never know.  Experiment with flavors you like – swap crushed pistachio for the almond, coconut extract for the almond extract.  You can even dust with cocoa powder.  Anything goes!  Don’t forget, only dust the cake with the confectioner’s sugar before you’re ready to serve as this cake is very moist and will increase in moisture as it sits.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

INFUSING WOOD SMOKE INTO BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Infusing cherry wood smoke into Brussels sprouts using the gas grill is simple and easy and adds a very flavorful touch to this hearty vegetable.
A favorite of the cabbage family, Brussels sprouts came to the United States via French immigration in the 18th century.    They are dominantly grown in California and available June thru January making them a Fall and holiday menu favorite.  SmokinLicious® will take the flavors up a notch and add wood smoke into Brussels sprouts for two upcoming recipes.  We’ll do this on the gas grill fit with wild cherry wood chunks to bring subtle smokiness to the finish sprouts.  First purchase 3 lbs. of Brussels sprouts and get two cherry single filet chunks, and you’re ready to fire up the grill and get smoking.

The Easy Grill Method

Bringing the flavor of wood smoke into Brussels sprouts is so easy.  To start, gather about 3 lbs. of Brussels sprouts, some cooking oil, butter, and a heavy-duty skillet. I prefer a nut oil like walnut or almond. For a skillet I’ll be using cast iron.  I’ve trimmed the ends on about half the sprouts and for the other half, I’ve trimmed the ends and cut them in half.  That’s it!  Fire up the grill and get ready for a quick method of adding great wood-fired flavor.


It only takes a couple of pieces of wood chunk to bring fabulous flavor to the grill.  I set up a cast iron pan on one side and place two cherry wood chunks on the heat shields of the far burner.  Let the pan heat up for about 5 minutes then pour in a couple of tablespoons of oil and heat.  Right before I add the Brussels sprouts, I add a couple of tablespoons of butter.  In go the whole Brussels sprouts and the lid comes down.  Leave untouched for about 5 minutes before turning.

Flavor Finish

The cooking time for this recipe is approximately 20 minutesAs I have two recipes in mind I’m cooking two batches of Brussels sprouts: one batch whole and one batch halved.  After leaving for 5 minutes, I stir them to ensure that all surfaces are infused with wood flavor.  I maintain a temperature of 350-375° F which will make this a quick cooking method.  The first 5 minutes, the lid is down but once stirred, you can finish the cooking with lid up.  Remember, cast iron will retain heat, so you can turn the heat off and let sit for about 5 minutes.

After stirring a couple of times, both the whole and halved Brussels sprouts are ready in about 20 minutes time.  I simply remove them from the heat and bring them in to be added to my favorite recipes.

I have two recipes I’ll be working on: Smoky Brussels Sprout Gratin and Tortellini with Lemon and Smoked Brussels Sprouts.  These truly are the most flavorful Brussels sprouts! For those of you thinking about a holiday meal with them, well, the grill will give you that extra oven room you need.  Take advantage of the long harvest season and try these mini cabbages on your grill.  Check in for our recipes soon so we can get you started on how to use your prized sprouts.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

6 REASONS WHY CEDAR WOOD SHOULD NOT BE YOUR TOP CHOICE FOR COOKING

6 reasons not to cook on Cedar wood
6 reasons not to cook on Cedar wood

You love different techniques for cooking and absorb new information like a sponge.  In particularly, you love outdoor methods of cooking.  One of your favorites is plank cooking on cedar wood.  Every time you read a recipe, they all call for use of a cedar plank or cedar wrap.

But is cedar really the best choice?  More so, is cedar a safe choice?

Let’s examine the top 6 reasons why cedar may not be an ideal cooking wood choice.

#1 Softwood Classification

Cedar wood is not a hardwood.  It is a softwood that is from the gymnosperm trees meaning, it is a conifer or cone producing tree.  As a rule, softwoods should not be used for cooking as they contain a lot of air and sap which equates to a fast burn and unpleasant flavors.  In fact, there are many softwoods that can be toxic if cooked over.

#2 Poor Fire Resistance

During plank cooking, you are using the wood as a vessel to infuse flavor to whatever food is placed on top of the plank.  Here’s the concern with cedar – because it is a lower density wood (23 lb./ft³), it has very poor fire resistance.  That means, it reaches full combustion much faster than hardwood and will burn as a result.  Certainly, that’s not what you’re looking for when you plank cook.

#3 Poreless

Unlike hardwood which contain pores in the cell walls, softwoods like cedar are poreless.  They use cell components called tracheids to transport water and nutrients.   In addition, the organic compound lignin found in the cell walls, is much lower than in traditional hardwoods used for cooking.  Why is this an issue?  Lignin is what gives wood fired cooking the distinct flavor and aroma to foods.  For cedar, the average lignin composition is 20%±4 compared to common hardwoods used for wood-fired cooking which average 28%±3.

#4 Plicatic Acid

Cedar contains chemical properties (specifically plicatic acid) that are shown to be a good absorber of odors and moisture.  This is one of the key reasons why cedar is a preferred softwood for pest control to keep fleas, ants, mites, moths, and mosquitoes away.  When exposed to plicatic acid for lengthy periods of time, a condition known as “cedar asthma” can develop.

Additionally, a regular exposure to the cedar oil found in the wood can result in contact dermatitis or skin irritation, rhinitis, and conjunctivitis.

#5 Animal Toxicity

There are many studies available on how the use of cedar wood chips and shavings have affected animals continually exposed to these products.  Most studies show a correlation with liver dysfunction in animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and hamsters.  In fact, smaller animals, like guinea pigs and hamsters, have a higher incidence of death which may be attributed to plicatic acid exposure.  The phenols and aromatic hydrocarbons also have been shown to cause respiratory problems in animals like those listed above.

#6 Not All Cedar Is The Same

Cedar is part of the pine family of trees with native origin in North Africa and Asia.  There are no native cedar trees to North America.  The red cedar common in the Eastern USA is part of the Juniper family and can be highly toxic if taken internally.  Under no circumstances should you ever cook with red cedar from the Eastern states of the USA.

USA cedar trees are referred to as false cedars since there are no native varieties.  There are commonly 5 varieties of the false cedars available: Western Red Cedar (common to Southern Alaska, Northern California, and the Rockies), Northern White Cedar (Southeastern Canada, Northeastern quarter of the USA, south into Tennessee, and west into Iowa), Eastern Red (Aromatic) Cedar (Eastern USA), Yellow Cedar (Pacific Northwest from Alaska to British Columbia into Oregon), Spanish Cedar (although Native to South and Central America, it was planted in Florida).  Every false cedar has some known health risks with the most common being respiratory due to toxicity of its pollen, oil, or other chemical compound.

Now you’re asking..

“So if there are all these documented health risks, how did cedar plank cooking gain so much popularity?”  I suppose the easiest answer is that cedar was used by the earliest settlers in the Pacific Northwest as a means of preserving, storing and cooking the seasonal fish.  Think about the limitations of the day: they would be using resources that are available without thought to the items we ponder today like health, future risk, etc.  This concept was examined from a different perspective many years later with the desire for flavor, appearance, and functionality.

We often make the mistake of jumping into something full throttle before asking some of the key questions to keep our bodies safe and healthy.  Remember, there’s lots of documentation out there stating why you should not cooking with softwood yet when it comes to plank cooking, specifically, cedar plank cooking, we don’t seem to carry that issue forward.  I don’t think I’ll ever understand why.



Thursday, January 4, 2018

GRILL-BUILDING THE PERFECT COOKING FIRE- PART II

Building the perfect fire for cooking! Our chimney starter full of flaming hot charcoal being poured into our kettle grill.
Building the perfect fire for cooking! Our chimney starter full of flaming hot charcoal being poured into our kettle grill.


In Part I of our series on lighting an outdoor fire for cooking, I addressed fire production for the outdoor fireplace or fire pit cook, known as open fire appliances.  In Part II, I’ll address the needs for kettle, drum and box grills’ fire set up.

The Wood-Fired Environment

There are many choices in equipment for working with a wood fire but each has different material components that determines how much work would be involved to cook on the unit.  Here is the primary point when you’re selecting equipment for live fire: how will you cook on that equipment?

If your plans are to always do indirect cooking whereby the source of heat (fire, coals) will be on one side and you will cook on the non-heat side (in my opinion, the preferred method for all cooking), then know that most any equipment selected will work.   However, the time for the equipment to heat up may play a factor, as the heating time is directly related to the insulation of the grill. Plus the amount of radiant heat it can hold.

If a unit is manufactured from heavy metal, brick, clay, or ceramic housing, then it will perform exceptionally by giving radiant and retained heat.  Why is that important?  Because producing retained and radiant heat means less fuel consumption and even cooking results.

The Kettle Grill

Our orange Stok kettle grill was used for our demonstration.For thinner material grills like the traditional kettle grill which are very popular, low cost, and preferred by many, you can compensate for the potential heat loss and improve efficiency by adding fire bricks to the walls and floor of the grill.  You will simply start your live fire directly on the fire bricks rather than the charcoal grate.  Fire bricks will work well in any grill that could improve on its insulation.

 

Drum/Barrel Grill

The overall cooking space in a drum/barrel grill is larger than that of a kettle grill.  However, just like any metal material, there are different grades so quality can be variable.  Same rule applies to these grills: if the insulation is not great, add fire brick to improve the performance.

Box Grills

These units are traditionally made of high heat metal with a deep, metal charcoal pan that includes grid and vents.  A grilling grate is suspended above and there often is a lid to the unit.

Fire Set Up

As I’ve stressed before, a good fire needs 3 elements: fuel (wood, charcoal), oxygen (air intake vents), and heat.  As with any fire cooking, a small, hot fire is ideal.

To start your fire in one of these pieces of equipment, first open the air intake vents at the base of the charcoal firebox area.  This will ensure that oxygen can stimulate the start of the fire.  Since this is an enclosed firebox area, the size of the wood pieces may need to be adjusted from what you would commonly use in a fireplace or fire pit/fire ring.
Our bark free Double Filet smoker wood chunk is the perfect size for the small kettle grill and box grills.
I like to use the log cabin method of starting a fire with this equipment.  Lay 2 longer pieces of hardwood parallel to each other with about 3 inches of air space between them.  Lay 2 more hardwood pieces on top perpendicular to the first pieces.  Place the last 2 in position to match the base woods’ alignment.  In the center, add a pile of tinder which can be hardwood chips, pine cones, even newspaper if need.  Again, I like to use wood in its natural form as much as possible.  Pile some kindling size wood pieces on top of the tinder pile.  You can drizzle vegetable oil on top of the kindling and tinder to assist with ignition which proves helpful if you plan to light with a long wooden match.  I prefer to lite my fire using a MAP torch.

Don’t Rush It

It is imperative that you allow the fire to go through the full stages of combustion before you introduce foods to the cooking grate.  Too much flame and smoke will ruin the foods.  The ideal is to wait until the fire burns down to glowing embers.  If your equipment has the room in the firebox, rake or shovel some of the hot embers to one side and add just a small quantity of additional hardwood to keep the heat steady.  The rest of the hot embers are what will be used to cook with.

Position the foods based on the heat needed for the cooking.  Meats will require more of the heat while vegetables and one pot dishes will take the medium to low heat.  An infrared thermometer will aide with knowing heat levels in your equipment or you can use the hand test: hold your hand over the coals the distance your foods will be.  If you can only hold your hand for a count of 2 seconds before you need to pull it away, that is high heat.  3-4 seconds is medium-high, 5-6 seconds is medium and 7-8 seconds is low heat.

Be sure you visit Part I of this series so you can view the list of recommended tools to have when you wood-fire cook.