No longer just a food preservation method, smoking adds variety and versatility to your recipe repertoire. Fun and simple to use, stovetop smokers can turn everyday foods into delicious dishes.
The process of smoking food has been around for centuries. Before refrigeration, smoking was used to dry and preserve foods, especially meat and fish such as salmon, as well as vegetables such as summer squash and corn. Even nuts can be smoked. Smoking not only extended food’s shelf life, but it also added flavor (without additional calories, sodium or fat), making consumption months later a more palatable experience.
Smokers are available in many shapes and sizes. The most practical and easy-to-use smokers sit directly on the stovetop. They are lidded, deep-sided pans that contain a wire rack and a drip pan. Because use of these smokers varies by cooktop, read the instruction manual before use. If purchasing a smoker is not in your budget, make your own. Any deep-sided pan, such as a roasting pan, will work. Place a wire rack in the bottom of the pan to separate the food from the wood chips. A lid is good to have, but foil works fine if a lid is not available.
Smoking foods at home is easy. First, scatter wood chips on the bottom of the pan. Next, place the wire rack over but not directly on top of the wood chips. Set food on the rack and partially cover the pan with a lid or foil. Turn on the heat source. Once the chips start to smolder, completely cover the pan and reduce the heat. Meats and other proteins can be fully cooked using this method. Use a food thermometer to ensure food reaches a safe internal temperature. If you prefer a lighter smokiness, smoke food briefly and then finish cooking it using another method such as roasting or sautéing.
As for flavor, many options are available. Wood chips are the most commonly used and come in many varieties, including cherry, oak and maple. Use only chips that are specifically designed for smoking food. For indoor smokers, small wood chips or shavings provide the best results. For additional flavor, experiment by adding herbs and seasonings such as rosemary and chili powder to the wood chips.
There is, however, a potential health concern with consumption of smoked foods: They may contain carcinogens known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that, when consumed, may raise the risk for developing certain types of cancer. PAHs are formed when meat is smoked or cooked over flames or high heat. One possible way to decrease the amount of PAHs in smoked foods is to limit the time food is exposed to the smoke and to enjoy in moderation.