Monday, March 14, 2011

No Smoking

Today is actually part 1 of this week's post.  It is also not really food.  However, it will provide a way in which you can create amazing foods of various types, and should still be noted for this reason.  You may also have a general idea by now of what Thursday's post will bring, and this should make you very excited.

Food cooked over, or in a campfire always has such an amazing taste, one which is easily remembered.  It is the smoke.  I love the smell of smoke.  Wood smoke more than tobacco, unless it happens to stem from a pipe.  I once smelled like woodsmoke for a week straight, despite showering and it was likely the very best week of my life.  I wish I could create a cologne or perfume that actually recreates this smell.

The sad thing about smoke is that people took all of the fun out of it with this stuff called 'liquid smoke'.  I know that it is actually made by processing smoke via an aqueous solution, and such, but it is just too easy and stinks of convenience culture.  So, if you have not already done so, practice smoking food items.  To do so, you will need a smoker.

Smoker Principles
- The idea of smoking is really nothing more than making a whopping amount of smoke, a bit of heat, and surrounding a foodstuff with it for an extended period of time.  All of the scientific, persnickety garbage that gets floated around in the name of smoking is window dressing. If you like to treat your eating like chemistry class, feel free to indulge, but ignore it for now.
 - In this light, a 'smoker' does not have to be expensive, or complicated, or temperature- controlled to +/- 1º C.  Anything that can contain a large amount of smoke, a medium amount of heat, and some food will serve you without fail.
- In that light, here is what you need for a smoker:
(1) A Containment System: I have used a cardboard box*, a cooler**, a kettle grill, my oven (a very poor idea, but important for learning), and ceramic flowerpots to serve this purpose.  Anything which can in some sense hold smoke a heat inside without melting or letting most of it out will work. Everything following goes inside this.
(2) A Heat Source: I have used charcoal briquettes, coals from a fire, river rocks, an electric waffle iron, an electric hot plate, my oven, and a campstove to serve this purpose.  Some of these work better than others - the main thing to keep in mind is that smoking something takes a few hours minimum, so whatever heat source you use, it should be capable of providing relatively consistent heat for that period. Depending on what you use, a metal container might need to be included to hold the...
 (3) Smoke Makers: Wood chips or sawdust.  Any hardwood.  No softwoods (pine, etc.). No Pressure-treated lumber.  Experiment, as flavors are kind of subjective, i.e. I don't like Mesquite wood, but some love it.  It is also up to you whether or not you soak it in water, wine, pork blood, or beer.  Do what thou wilt.
(4) A Platform: Something to put your food on that will allow the smoke to pass all around it. Old or new grill grates work fine for this. 
- Some people are wild and crazy about perfect temperatures and such, but I have rarely worried about this.  As a general rule, your heat source should be relatively calm, no roaring fires, or blast furnaces.  A temperature gauge is not a bad idea, though mainly to check out the internal temperature of your meat if such is what you are smoking.  If your chips are making a lot of smoke, it is probably hot enough.  If your chips are burning really fast, things might be a bit hot.

So, spend the next few days devising your own smoker.  Comment should you have questions, or if you want to share your design.  Alton Brown has a nice plan for a ceramic smoker, but I find him terribly annoying, and far too concerned with precision to possibly gain any enjoyment from watching his show.

* Some people suggest not doing using this because it might start afire. Your heat shouldn't start the box on fire.  If it does, put it out.  Use common sense.

** One cooler I used actually couldn't handle the heat produced, and I ended up with melted plastic all over my food.  This might be one thing to check out before using a cooler (the heat will be around  120º C / 250º F).    Also, it will smell like smoke forever.

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