Taste Boosters: Eight Ways to Add Smoky Flavor to a Dish

updated May 12, 2022
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

A subtle hint of woodsy smoke is one of our absolute favorite flavors in a dish – meat-based or vegetarian. Of course, cooking food on a charcoal grill will give us the flavor we crave, but we can think of a few more ways…

1. Make an Indoor Smoker: It’s not as hard as you might think and can be done quite easily on your stove top using a wok and a grilling grate. Here’s how – but don’t forget to take the battery out of your smoke alarm!

2. Add a Strip or Two of Bacon: Cut the bacon into pieces and render out the fat before any other cooking. Use the rendered bacon fat to cook the rest of the ingredients and then add the bacon back in at the end for a subtle smokiness. Smoked chorizo, tasso, and other cured meats also work very well here.

3. Cook with a Dark Smoky Beer: Used in a marinade or substituted for some of the broth, dark beers will add a very nice undertone to the dish. Look for porters and stouts, and ask the sales person for help with flavor profiles. For smokiness, we like cooking with Guinness and the smoked porter from Stone Brewing Company.

4. Use Liquid Smoke: Some people consider this cheating, but we think it makes sense for small apartment living when grilling isn’t possible. Liquid smoke is actually an all-natural product and adds great smoky flavor to slow-cooked braises and stews.

5. Add Lapsang Souchong: A few teaspoons of this tea works well for adding smoky flavors to vegetarian dishes. Buy the tea looseleaf from a reliable seller and grind it into a powder using a spice grinder.

6. Add Molasses: Molasses is a common ingredient in a lot of barbecue sauces, and we can take advantage of its dark, earthy flavor to add smoky depth to glazes, sauces, and even soups. Start with one tablespoon and add more as desired.

7. Use Smoked Spices: Some spices come with their own smoky flavor, like cumin, while others have been smoked before being ground, like smoked paprika. Add a half teaspoon at a time until you get the flavor you want.

8. Sprinkle on Smoked Salt: Use smoked salt as a finishing touch, particularly on individual dishes like hamburgers or over a pasta dish. Don’t bother adding smoked salt to things like whole pots of soup – you can wind up over-salting the dish before you can even taste the smoke.

What other ways do you add “smoky” to a dish?

(Image: Flickr member crinxols licensed under Creative Commons)