The $6 Ingredient That Adds Smoky Grilled Flavor (Without the Grill)

published May 7, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

There are countless ingredients clamoring for space in your kitchen. Taste Makers are the ones that actually make a dish amazing. Each month, we’re exploring one ingredient that has earned its place in our small kitchens and will make even simple food taste spectacular.

Whenever summer rolls around, I find myself lamenting the same thing year after year: I still don’t have a grill. Almost all of the urban apartments I’ve lived in haven’t had the space for one, and so I’m always left envious of my friends who get to flip burgers without care. In an attempt to re-create the smoky flavor I crave, I’ve tried all the alternatives like an indoor grill pan, nearby communal grills — I’ve even semi-seriously thought about breaking fire code rules and sneaking a small grill onto our balcony.

After years of trial and error, the best alternative I’ve found happens to also be the cheapest and most hassle-free. Instead of adding another tool to your kitchen or schlepping a bag of charcoal to the nearest park, pick up this one essential seasoning.

Maldon Smoked Sea Salt Is the Easiest Way to Add Grill Flavor Without the Grill

To get a taste of the grill’s signature smoky flavor during these prime grilling months, I’ve come to lean heavily on smoked salt. There are a variety of ingredients that claim to add a smoky hit to your food, but after trying a lot of them Maldon Smoked Sea Salt is my absolute favorite. While certain smoked spices and condiments can be overpowering (and make whatever you add it to taste like it fell in the campfire), this salt is delicate, and lends a mild, balanced hit of smoke with a clean salt taste. Like classic Maldon Sea Salt, the flakes are large, flat, and uneven, which adds textural crunch to bites of food.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Use This Salt to Finish Rather than to Season

It’s important to remember that Maldon Smoked Sea Salt is a finishing salt, which means you don’t want to swap it for kosher salt in recipes. Kosher salt is used for salting food as you’re cooking it — you add it to pasta water and sprinkle it generously over steak before searing it. The delicate flavor of Maldon Smoked Sea Salt will be completely lost if used in this way. To preserve its subtle flavor, use it after you’ve cooked your food. Still use kosher salt for seasoning things you’ll be adding smoked salt to — just use a lighter hand since you’ll be finishing with an extra layer of salty flavor.

My Favorite Ways to Use Maldon Smoked Sea Salt

  • Sprinkle it on roasted vegetables. To make roasted vegetables taste like they’ve been grilled rather than roasted, sprinkle them with a bit of smoked salt right after you’ve pulled them from the oven. I especially love to do this with shishito peppers.
  • Make corn on the cob even better. My favorite way to eat corn on the cob in the summer is slathered with butter and sprinkled with smoked salt.
  • Finish fish, chicken, and steak. If you’re craving the lightly smoky flavor of grilled chicken but only have the option to bake it or cook it on the stove, sprinkle it with smoked salt before serving. The same goes for fish, steak, and even pork chops.
  • Use it to rim the glass of your cocktail. Add smoked salt to the glass of your margarita or Bloody Mary for a fun, summery twist.
  • Sprinkle it on your sweets. Smoked flavor works wonders with desserts. Sprinkle a pinch on vanilla or chocolate ice cream for a surprising way to end a summer meal. Use it in place of regular salt in homemade salted caramel sauce, or sprinkle a little on brownies or chocolate chip cookies immediately after they come out of the oven.

Your turn: What’s your favorite underrated ingredient in your pantry? What do you reach for when you want to elevate your cooking quickly and easily? Tell us in the comments below! We may give it the star treatment in an upcoming edition of Taste Makers.