Thursday, March 29, 2018


Bratwurst in the Orion Smoker Cooker nicely cooked plump and juicy!
I believe that wood fired foods can be enjoyed 365 days of the year regardless of the temperature/conditions outside.  To ease the challenges of wood cooking outdoors when the conditions may not be optimal, I look to my equipment options and make a selection that ensures the cooking is quick and as easy as possible.

I want to have bratwurst party!  Unfortunately, I’ve chosen a -2° day to do just that.  No problem!  I simply rely on my Orion Cooker to provide a fast, high heat method of cooking with my SmokinLicious® Minuto® Wood Chips..

There’s Nothing To It!

Preparing your bratwurst for the Orion Cooker couldn’t get any simpler than making a few cross cuts in the skins to ensure they don’t burst while cooking

The reason bratwurst is so popular for entertaining and for summer days is just how quick it is to prepare.  When you smoke a casing containing product, you want to ensure that the juices don’t cause a pressure build up and result in your brats exploding all over the smoker.  I make 3 shallow knife cuts in each brat to ensure they can plump up without exploding out of their casing.  These German brats are made with a combination of pork and veal and have an all-natural casing meaning the casing is made from the intestine of an animal.  I specifically purchased brats that were on an uninterrupted casing line so I could hang my brats on the Orion Cooker rib hooks to ensure smoke vapor envelopes each link completely, just like commercial smokehouses do.

Before smoking my German bratwurst, I’ve prepared the Orion Cooker by adding SmokinLicious® Minuto® Wood Chips in Wild Cherry to inside of the cooker. The wood chips are placed in the space between the cooker’s wall and the drip pan.  I’ve lite a chimney starter full of briquettes which when grayed over will be poured into the fuel pan.  12 briquettes are also lit in the smaller fuel pan at that top of the unit.  I’ve loaded my strings of bratwurst to the rib hooks of the unit. Next, place the lid on and let these cook and smoke for 45 minutes untouched.

Done Before You Know It

Here’s why I love cooking with the Orion Cooker.  On a -2° winter day, I can still use the convection heat from the Orion Cooker to finish the German bratwurst in just 45 minutes.  In fact, I don’t use a full fuel tray of briquettes for this smoke.  Just one chimney starter full of coals plus about 15 unlit briquettes placed on top of the lit coals.  Great smoke flavor is added using Minuto® Wood Chips in wild cherry from SmokinLicious®.   I’ve hung over 24 brat links on the three rib hooks of this unit so I can feed plenty of hungry people.

Fix It Your Way

Now comes the best part!  Fixing your bratwurst the way you love it.  Put out a variety of toppings to stimulate creativity at the brat table.  I’ve included raw chopped onion, sweet pickle relish, sauerkraut, hot Hungarian pepper rings, BBQ sauce, beer brat mustard, kimchi, horseradish sauce, just to name a few choices.  Whether you slice your brat down the middle or leave it whole, anything goes.  German bratwurst done over SmokinLicious® wild cherry wood chips and hung on the hooks of the Orion Cooker, for that old school, smokehouse flavor.

Thursday, March 22, 2018


Stuffed Mushroom appetizer featuring smoked artichoke heart cooked on the plancha-stove top.
You’ve seen us use our plancha to do squid, now we’re going to smoke some artichoke hearts and mushroom caps using just one application of wood chips. This time, our plancha will be set up with Beech Piccolo® wood chips to infuse wood flavoring into artichoke hearts and button mushroom caps for the ultimate stuffed mushroom appetizer.  I’ll take you through the recipe and cooking technique using my plancha on the gas range.  Easy entertaining starts here with Stuffed Smoked Artichoke Mushrooms.


Wood Firing the Artichoke Hearts

Smoking artichoke hearts on the plancha over Beech smoker wood chipsWe start off with a 14 oz. can of artichoke hearts packed in water.  This will be roughly 8 artichoke hearts.  After draining, rinsing, and patting dry, we fire up the plancha on our gas range placing a small handful of SmokinLicious°  Beech Piccolo° wood chips on the plancha.  As the plancha temperature rises close to 300° F, it’s time to add the artichoke hearts to the smoker racks.  Place the cover on the plancha and let the artichoke smoke for about 8 minutes, turning one time half way through the cooking time.  Then remove the hearts from the plancha, rough chop them, and put aside for the mushroom filling.


Button Mushroom Caps

Next on the plancha go the mushroom caps.  We prepared them by first washing them, patting them dry, and then removing the stems.  The stems are reserved to be used in the filling mix.  If you want extra smoky flavor, feel free to smoke the stems as well but you should smoke them separate from the caps so they don’t shrink and lose too much water.
Button mushrooms preparing to be smoked on the plancha
We’re still using the Beech wood chips that were used for the artichoke hearts as these still have plenty of smoke vapor to be released.  Again, these mushroom caps will only take a matter of minutes.  Remember, mushrooms are loaded with water so don’t let the caps stay on the plancha too long causing them to shrink and fall apart.  Just bronze them with the smoke vapor, then remove to be stuffed.  A good sign that they are ready to come off the plancha is when you see a small puddle of water forming in the cap.


Mushroom Cap Filling

With the artichoke hearts and mushroom caps smoked, it’s time to start on the filling.  Here are the ingredients need for the filling:
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme
  • 1 egg white
First, I chop the mushroom stems, dice the shallots, and mince the garlic cloves.  In goes the butter to a hot skillet, then all three prepared ingredients are added.  Once cooked down, the white wine is added to the mixture with cooking continuing until the wine has evaporated.  This is a highly aromatic filling that will blend well with the smoky flavors of the artichoke and mushroom.

Placing the stuffing into the button mushrooms with a spoon
The aromatics are now ready for the rest of the filling ingredients.  First, add the chopped smoked artichokes hearts.  Next in, the parmesan, bread crumbs, parsley, thyme, and egg white.  Mix everything together until it binds well.  Time to fill the smoked mushroom caps.  Using a teaspoon, I fill each mushroom cap heaping the filling on top.  Although we prepared 20 mushroom caps, there is enough filling to do 40-50 caps depending on the size of the mushrooms selected.  I place these in a baking dish and slide them into a pre-heated 350°F oven for about 30 minutes.


Soon to be the Favorite Stuffed Mushroom Appetizer

After smoking both the artichoke hearts and the mushroom caps, I infused the filling with the smoked, chopped artichoke hearts.  With the additional flavors of parmesan, thyme, parsley, garlic, shallot and wine, these mushroom caps are full of flavors including that subtle smoke undertone.  These are sure to become a favorite appetizer or snack.  Plus, when done on the plancha, they can be smoked year round without concern for the weather.


Smoked Ham On The Gas Grill Made Easy By Following a Few Tips
Whether you’re preparing ham for a holiday like Easter, Christmas or New Year, for a formal brunch or even for a family special event like a reunion, Christening, or engagement party, you can take this average protein and make it so much more.  Even if the ham you purchase has already been smoked, you can take away the factory flavor and truly make it your own with our simple technique for smoking on a gas grill using a two-zone cooking method.  Plus, I’ll give you a ham glaze recipe that will make you forever throw away a prepackaged glaze.

Get your gas grill ready, purchase a ham, and bring your game as I give you the easy steps to smoking a ham on the gas grill with wood chunks.


Great Ingredients for a Great Glaze

Today’s hams now come with a variety of labels so let’s cut to the chase to ensure you know what some of them mean.  Wet Cured Hams are already smoked but still need to be cooked to kill microbes if they are labeled ‘cook before eating” or need some cooking if labeled “cooked”.  These are usually for purchase as a whole, half or bone-in shank ham.  Dry Cured Hams have been cured in a lot of salt and usually need to be soaked in ice water before cooking, which removes a great deal of the salt so it’s more edible.  Fresh Ham is uncured and uncooked.

No matter what ham you select, you’ll need a glaze to bring greatness to the meat.  For my ham, I’m making an apricot-Dijon glaze that is so flavorful and simple.  For my glaze you’ll need the following ingredients:
  • ½ cup apricot preserves
  • ½ cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon paprika, preferably Spanish-style
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
In a medium bowl, combine the glaze ingredients and mix well.  Refrigerate until you need it.


Smoke First

All our apricot glaze ingredients mixed together and ready to baste our ham.I’ve discussed the different types of ham and the fact that most sold in grocery stores are precooked and often smoked.  Don’t let this stop you from doing your own smoking.  To start, you’ll need to trim the fat that is still present on the pre-smoked ham.  That means, trim to within a 1/4 inch.  Remember, smoke vapor will not penetrate through fat.  After trimming, you’ll need to score the meat in the traditional checkerboard pattern.  Knife cuts measuring ¼ inch in depth are produced first vertically and then horizontally, leaving about 1-inch spacing between cuts.


Preparing the Gas Grill

For this recipe on our as grill, we used a two zone approach; heat applied below the SmokinLicious Single Filet smoker wood chunk and no heat underneath the ham.Once trimmed and scored, it’s time to prepare the gas grill.  Light the burners on one side of the grill and set to medium-high heat.  We want to maintain a cooking temperature of about 275°F.  Leave the other half of the burners off as that will be the cooking area for the ham.  This technique is the two-zone cooking set up.  Place 2 single filet wood chunks from SmokinLicious® directly on the heat shield of the lit burner.  These will heat and release the smoke vapor and add flavor to our ham.  Total time cooking the ham in this manner will be about 30 minutes.  The ham is placed on the cold half of the grill with the flat side of the ham on the grate.

After 30 minutes, take two long sheets of heavy-duty foil and place the ham on the foil.  Take your pre-made glaze and cover the ham with about half of the glaze mixture.  Now, fold the foil around the ham sealing at the top.  Place the foil-wrapped ham back on the cold side of the grill and insert a meat thermometer in the meat at least 1-inch away from the bone if you have a bone-in cut of ham.  Let cook until the thermometer registers 130°F.  Every 15 minutes, brush the ham with glaze dripping that have collected in the bottom of the foil.  Once cooked to 130°F, remove the ham from the foil, drain the residual glaze back into a saucepan with remaining uncooked glaze you had reserved and allowed to heat on low.


Final Step to Crisp Skin

Place the unwrapped basted ham on the hot grill to crisp the outer skin. Be careful not to over cook!After removal from the foil, there is one final step before serving.  The skin requires just a bit of crisping which will be done on the hot side of the grill.  Place one side of the ham on the hot side of the grill allowing the glaze sugars to caramelize for just a few minutes per side.  Do not do the flat side of the ham and do not allow the sugars to burn.  Once the three sides are done, remove to a cutting board and slice.  Serve the residual glaze on the side.  Now you must try Smoked ham on the gas grill!

Friday, March 16, 2018


Bringing smoke flavor to stuffed squid done on the plancha will provide wonderful and unique flavor to this appetizer.
We love demonstrating the versatility of SmokinLicious® products with all types of equipment.  We’re taking our Piccolo® wood chips to the plancha to smoke infuse some stuffed squid for a unique appetizer.   Don’t own a plancha?  You can do the same thing with a standard stovetop griddle and a small roasting rack.  Or, use a charcoal or gas grill with some wood chunks for the same smoky flavor.

Plancha Cooking

Our plancha on the stove ready for us to add smoker wood chips and the stuffed squid.A plancha is a flat top grill made of heavy metal that can be placed on any type of heat source: electric, gas, infrared, induction, charcoal grill, gas grill.  Basically, a plancha is a griddle made of metal.

What’s great about a plancha is you can do simple hot smoke infusion using a micro wood chip that is quite fast due to the intense heat these quality metal cookware pieces produce.

My plancha is made by the French company, Mastrad.  I prepare the plancha by placing it on my heat source – in this case my gas range – set the heat level to medium-high, place a handful of SmokinLicious® Piccolo® Wood Chips in Beech size #10 on the plancha, and place the two smoking racks on the griddle.  I’ll give the wood chips about 5 minutes to heat up and start releasing smoke, then it’s time to place on the stuffed squid bodies.

Stuffed Squid Ingredients

For our stuffed squid you’ll need to gather the following ingredients in addition to SmokinLicious® Piccolo® Smoker Wood Chips (Beech):
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1-1/2 heads of frisee or other green lettuce, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1-1/2 pounds squid, bodies only, rinsed – should be about 8 bodies


Making Stuffing

Time to make the squid stuffing.  Taking a medium bowl, combine the seeded and diced tomato, chopped greens, and capers.  In a small bowl, make the dressing by whisking together the 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, lime juice and zest, salt, and pepper.  Drizzle over the stuffing mixture and toss to coat.

After stuffing the squid we're usin toothpick to hold it closed during the cooking process.Stuffing the Squid

Taking one squid body at a time, fill with the stuffing mix using a teaspoon within ½ inch of the open top.  Then lace a toothpick through the top.  Brush all the bodies with the remaining teaspoon of olive oil.  Then they’re ready to place on the hot plancha.

Plancha Cooking

The stuffed squid on the plancha ready for smoke infusion by our Smokinlicious Piccolo Beech smoker wood chips.
With the wood chips hot and releasing smoke vapor, I place the readied stuffed squid on the cooking racks.  These will cook and smoke for about 7 minutes before I will turn them.  Another 4-5 minutes on the other side, and you’ll see a golden hue and plump shiny bodies emerge.  Turn off the heat to your plancha and carefully remove the squid.  Cut into 1-inch slices and serve warm.

There are many variations to stuffing squid bodies but this is one that is essentially vegetarian in design so it can be enjoyed by everyone.

Thursday, March 8, 2018


Smoky bourbon cranberry cocktail is a simple but elegant drink for holiday celebrations during the colder months.
For those of you who love bourbon, we’ve got a special cocktail for the sampling.  This is a rather festive drink containing cranberry.  We add an additional layer of flavor by cold smoking the cranberry cocktail syrup for a unique blend of sweet, tart, and smoky.  Let’s get started on how it’s done.

Making Cranberry Syrup

Our smoked bourbon cranberry cocktail starts with the ingredients for a cocktail syrup.   Similar to traditional simple syrup, this one has a bit more acid in the form of white wine vinegar. You’ll need to gather together:
  • 1 cup of fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 cup of white wine vinegar
  • Sugar- 1 cup
You also need a saucepan and heat tolerant spoon.

Start by placing a saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the white wine vinegar and the cup of sugar and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Next in, one cup of cranberries, fresh or frozen, though I’m using fresh as they are available at the time of this recipe.  Bring the mixture to a boil stirring constantly.  Once the sugar is dissolved and the cranberries have reduced, remove from the heat and allow to cool in the saucepan.  While the mixture is cooling, let’s prepare the handheld smoker for the smoke vapor infusion.

Cold Smoking is in Your Hand

It’s never been so easy to produce smoked ingredients with the development of the handheld food smoker.  It all began with The Smoking Gun which is the unit I will be using today, but know there are many options available to you.   I set up my handheld food smoker with Sugar Maple Minuto® Wood Chips.

Bringing the cooled saucepan to a table, I have a piece of press and seal at the ready, but you can use plastic wrap, a food storage bag, or vacuum bag, anything that will provide a seal.  I seal around the saucepan leaving a small opening to insert the tubing of the food smoker.  Turning the unit’s fan on, I light the wood chips and allow the smoke vapor to fill the saucepan.  Once filled, I release the tubing from the pan and seal the pan completely with the wrap, allowing the smoke to penetrate the cranberry syrup.  The longer the pan stays wrapped, the more smoke flavor the syrup will take on.  Once infused, remove the wrap and prepare to make the cocktail.

Building a Smoky Cocktail

To make the cocktail, place ice in a rock glass.  Add ¼ cup plus a splash of your favorite bourbon.  Add two tablespoons of seltzer and two tablespoons of the cranberry syrup.  Stir and add a tablespoon of fresh cranberries.  It’s now ready to serve!  Smoky Bourbon Cranberry Cocktail – a unique drink for all those bourbon lovers you know.

Thursday, March 1, 2018


The history of fire cooking part I

For thousands of years, it was the only way to cook.  Many believe that this discovery separated man from the other animals.  Fire.

Estimated to have been discovered some 2 million years ago, the discovery of fire and more importantly, the discovery of how to tame fire, resulted in man’s brain development, value of food, changes in our body, and social structure.  It gave us survivability.  It extended our life by improving daily calories and nutritional needs by allowing us to cook poisonous plants and meats.

So how did fire cooking get discovered?  That is the million dollar question.  Here are some of the hypotheses out there regarding the discovery of fire for cooking:

Nature Provides Ignition

There are some scientists who believe that fire cooking was found by accident.  A lightning strike or grass fires that sprung up due to the excessive dry conditions exposed to the hot sun.  Many don’t feel man did anything to “discover” fire other than observe the characteristics of fire: it produces abundant heat, light, and when it traps an animal within its flames, it produced a more tender meat, easier to digest food source, and more pleasing aroma to the meat.

Tool Construction

There are others who believe that early humans realized the importance of tools.  By sharpening stones to produce spears, cutting tools, etc., these early beings observed spark.  Either through intention or perhaps with Mother Nature’s assistance, these sparks caught twigs, brush, fruit, and/or grains on fire.  Remember, early human life did not involve a developed brain.  A discovery of fire, however, would help advance not only our brains, but our bodies into the erect beings we are today. 

The Earliest Cave Cooking

In South Africa’s Northern Cape province, a dwelling known as Wonderwerk Cave, contains the earliest evidence that our ancestors and apelike ancestors were using fire.  Compacted dirt showed evidence of ashes, carbonized leaf and twig fragments, and burnt bits of animal bones.  Scientists were then able to analyze this material and determine that the fragments were heated between 750 and 1300°F, which is the heat level of a small fire made of twigs and grasses.

If indeed our earlier species learned to harness fire for cooking, this would account for the advancement of our brains and our ability to become erect beings walking on two legs.  Cooking on fire allowed for easier chewing and digestion and produced extra calories to fuel our brains. Fire also warded off nighttime predators, allowing for sleep on the ground or in caves rather than in the trees.

It’s All About Energy

Raw food diets have been popularized as a method of losing weight and of being healthier.  However, only a fraction of the calories in raw starch and protein are absorbed by the body via the small intestine.  As a result, the remainder passes into the large bowel, where it is broken down by the organ’s high population of microbes, which consume the majority for themselves.  However, cooked food is mostly digested by the time it enters the colon. For the same amount of calories ingested, the body gets roughly 30 percent more energy from cooked oat, wheat or potato starch as compared to raw, and as much as 78 percent from the protein in an egg.  In experiments, animals given cooked food gain more weight than animals fed the same amount of raw food.

Cooking breaks down collagen (connective tissue in meat) & softens the plants’ cell walls to release their storage of starch & fat.  The calories to fuel the bigger brains of successive species of hominids came at the expense of the energy-intensive tissue in the gut, which was shrinking at the same time.  If you look at early imagery of apes, you’ll see how we morphed into narrow-waisted Homo sapiens.

Coming up in The History of Fire Cooking: Part II, learn more about why cooking foods by fire made us who we are today.  In conclusion, did we provide you with new information you didn’t know?  Additionally, leave us a comment and subscribe as we bring recipes, tips, techniques, and the science behind the fire and smoke.