Smoking or Non-Smoking?

Smoking is one of those techniques that home cooks stay away from because it seems intimidating and complicated when, in reality, it's really easy. Smoking food steps up your game, and it's something I've gotten a lot of mileage out of, so in the spirit of giving away my few secrets, here's Dirt Candy's Rough Guide to Smoking. Get ready to impress people!

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Impressed, yet?

WHAT DO YOU SMOKE? Onions: Chop them up, smoke them, then use them in any soup base to give it a layered, complex flavor. Corn: remove the kernels from the cob, smoke them, then add them to a salad. Mushrooms: already taste meaty, but smoking takes them to a whole new level. Cheese: smoked cheese is one of the greatest things in the universe, just keep the temperature low so it doesn't melt and become a cheesy apocalypse. Tofu: a boring old block of tofu becomes the kind of thing you can't stop eating when you cube it and smoke it, or smoke the whole block.

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Smoked Cheese: Food of the Gods

HOW DO YOU SMOKE? You need a gas stove to smoke with ease, unfortunately. Buy a smoker and some wood chips on Amazon and you're in business. What wood chips should you buy? It's up to you, really. There's maple, mesquite, hickory, pecan...the sky's the limit. My only advice is that the first time out you go with something sort of straightforward like oak, or hickory, or maple. Save the strong flavors like apple and cherry for once you're comfortable with smoking.

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You don't need something like this to get smoking.

HOW TO BUILD A SMOKER. If you don't want to buy a smoker online, you can MacGyver one. This is the step-by-step on how to cobble together a home smoker and how to use it.

a) Soak your wood chips for at least an hour. You can’t oversoak them. Soaked wood chips will cook your food as you smoke it (steam), so if you don't want to cook while you're smoking, then don't smoke them. However, if you're starting out, I'd suggest you soak.

b) Line a heavy-bottomed pan with tin foil so you don’t ruin it with all the charred mess you'll get from your smoldering wood chips. Then pour in your soaking wet wood chips and spread them evenly along the bottom.

c) Make a little tray out of tin foil and poke holes in it. Drop that directly on top of the wood chips. It can sit right on them as long as they have room to breath. You can also use a steamer, or any little rack you've got that fits your pot and keeps your food from falling through onto the wood chips.

d) Cover the pot, and turn the heat on high. Let it reach a full smoke - not the first smoke you see, but let it go until it’s really smouldering. Think of the difference between a simmer and a full boil. This should take about 20 minutes.

e) Now pour whatever you’re smoking onto the tray and spread it evenly. Cover the pot again.

f) Bring it back up to a full smoke.

g) Turn off the stove and let it rest, covered, for about 20 minutes.

h) Repeat until your food is as smoked as you want it to be. It's that easy. Check your food as you go. It should slowly be darkening as it smokes, turning a caramel color. If it’s not turning golden brown, keep repeating the smoke/sit/smoke cycle over and over again until you feel like it’s right. Be careful when tasting right out of the smoker. Sometimes food needs to rest for a few minutes to let some of the acrid taste of fresh smoking dissipate.

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Keep an eye on your food as you smoke, or this will happen.