If I could pick one new kitchen technique to learn, it would be smoking. I've seen some very interesting smoked items this year. Besides the usual brisket, sausages, and salt, I've been intrigued by smoked sugar and smoked olive oil. Think of smoked herbs, or duck smoked with your own favorite sort of tea? But I am not interested in creating an expensive outdoor setup for traditional smoking. I need something simple, foolproof, and adapted for the indoors. Here are two different tools for indoor smoking, and my own first-timer attempts at smoking salt and sugar in my own little kitchen.
First, before anything else, a disclaimer. I experimented with these two different tools knowing full well that nearly any pan can be modified into a hot smoker. You can take an old roasting pan or stockpot and adapt it to become a stovetop or oven smoker. But I had the opportunity to play with these two products, and I also wanted to begin my smoking adventures with tools designed specifically for smoking food. I do expect to try more homespun versions of smokers in the near future, so be on the lookout for that.
Now, moving on to the story!
I have been very interested in home-smoked salt and sugar. Both of these tools promised to get me there. Here's a look at both tools, and a comparison of how well they worked.
Demeyere Smoker Pan
John Pawson's Demeyere line of cookware is high-end, incredibly beautiful, and solidly-constructed. One of the pans in the line is designed to be a stovetop smoker. It has several parts: A solid, two-handled braiser-style pan, as well as a lid and a two-part rack designed to hold the food.
Smoking in this pan was extremely simple. I picked up some fine wood chips at Sur La Table, and heated about a tablespoon in the bottom of the pan over medium-high heat. When the chips were getting hot, I covered them with the smoker plate, then put the rack on top. I placed some sugar and salt on the rack, and covered the pan.
Twenty minutes later, the salt was quite different in color and flavor. The flavor of the wood chips had thoroughly infused it; it was delicious. The sugar was a different story. Silly me; I didn't realize how hot it would get in there! The sugar puddled into a crispy-chewy piece of smoked candy. This has potential, of course, but it is going to take me some time to figure out what can be smoked in this stovetop smoker without compromising texture.
Overall, though, the smoker was a piece of cake. I kept the heat on a low to medium flame, and while my house smelled pleasantly like a campfire, the smoke alarm did not go off, and the actual amount of smoke was quite small and controllable.
• The Verdict: Two thumbs up for the Demeyere Smoker Pan. I loved its ease of use, and how large it is. After the holidays I am going to experiment with tea-smoked chicken, and with salmon. The other thing about this pan, of course, is that it is so versatile. Theoretically at least, you could use it as a braiser or as a deep-bottomed skillet. Yes, it may give a little extra smokiness to your beef stew, but is that such a bad thing? Its $100 price tag looks like a great deal when you consider it as an everyday pan, not just a smoker. (With that rack you could even use it as a steamer.)
• Demeyere Smoker Pan, $99.95 at Williams-Sonoma
The Smoking Gun from Polyscience
The second tool I played around with promised a solution for that pesky melting sugar. The Smoking Gun is a cold smoker, meaning that you are at least theoretically capable of infusing things that would suffer degradation over high heat — things such as whipped cream, pudding, eggs, sugar, and cocktails.
This gun is a rather fascinating little gadget. It takes a few batteries, which I slotted into the handle. On top of the gun's muzzle is a small orifice for wood shavings. The gun came with some wood sawdust that I dutifully packed in. I lit the shavings and a puff of smoke emerged. The wood chips don't continue burning; they just smolder as the gun is switched on and a fan keeps the embers alight. The fan also blows the smoke out of the gun. Cute, but a little lightweight; I was dubious as to whether it would do much to my sugar.
The gun kit doesn't come with a smoking vessel; you put your food in a pan and aim the gun at it. Again, I was dubious whether this would work well; the gun didn't seem to send much smoke at the food. So I slid the included tube onto the end of the gun and inserted it into the pan of sugar I had set up. I clapped on the lid, and let the gun run for about 3 minutes. I left the sugar under the lid for some time, but was still disappointed by the final flavor. It just didn't seem to absorb the flavor of the smoke well at all in the short time that the gun was able to run.
However, in all fairness, I think that I was not using the Smoking Gun in the way it was designed. This little gadget is designed to be an aid to showmanship and flair: Filling a martini glass with smoke before handing it over, for instance, or infusing much less dense foods quickly with a light smokiness.
• The Verdict: While I really wouldn't choose the Smoking Gun for the type of smoking that I want to do, and I probably wouldn't have much use for what it is designed for (especially at its $100 price tag!) I do intend to experiment with it more.
• The Smoking Gun, $99.95 at Williams-Sonoma
Final Thoughts on Indoor Smoking
So those are my initial impressions of indoor smoking; it's remarkably easy, once you get going. There are many factors to tweak and twiddle and play around with (food, type of wood, heat, length of time, mix-ins like tea) but the basic concept is remarkably simple, and not difficult to do inside. My kitchen is very small, but I didn't smoke it out or make much of a mess. I can see so many interesting applications for a basic stovetop or oven smoker!
I am interested to hear your thoughts as well. Do you smoke any food in your kitchen? What's your preferred method? Have you experimented with either of the tools above?
Related: From the NY Times Magazine: How To Make an Indoor Smoker
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the products for testing and review purposes.
(Images: Faith Durand)