A smoker is a cooking utensil that allows you to cook food using heat and smoke. Think of a smoker as a barbecue grill without flames. Food is placed on the side of the main source of heat, rather than directly over the flames. This allows the food to cook more slowly and to absorb the smoky flavor. For best results, light smokers using only wood, rather than coal or gas. You want to woody flavor to enhance the cooking process.
Smoke any type of meat on a smoker -- beef, sausages, chicken and pork. Meat can take several hours to cook on a smoker, so precook it. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends using the microwave or the stove to precook, but only if you transfer the meat immediately into the smoker. Otherwise, you risk bacterial growth. The temperature needs to reach 145 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit during the cooking process in order to kill bacteria.
To smoke fish, first dip it into brine for at least 30 minutes. Make your own brine by mixing water, brown sugar, lemon juice, salt, pepper and onion powder. The proportions depend on how sour you want the mix to be, so experiment with a few different amounts or use a favorite recipe as a guide. A smoker cooks through a process known as “hot smoking.” This means that after you retrieve the fish from the brine, you’ll need to put it inside the smoker, on the heat. It can take up to eight hours to smoke fish, depending on the size of the cut and the type of fish.
Smoke any type of cruciferous, crunchy vegetables in a smoker. Leafy vegetables, such as spinach, will not do well on a smoker. Any vegetables that would do well on a grill will cook well on a smoker too. Asparagus, squash, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms and artichokes can all go on a smoker safely. Use low heat and remove part of the burning wood if necessary. Veggies will smoke much faster than meat, so check them every 10 minutes to make sure they don’t overcook.
According to Chris Dubbs and Dave Heberle in their book “Smoking Food: A Beginner's Guide,” you can smoke unexpected things, such as nuts, eggs and cheese. To smoke cheese, leave the cheese outside of the fridge for a while, so that the air toughens up the outside. To make sure the cheese doesn’t melt, you need a smoker big enough to keep the cheese far away from the heat source. It takes between two and six hours to smoke cheese, depending on how concentrated you want the smoky flavor to be.
- “Smoking Food: A Beginner's Guide”; Chris Dubbs and Dave Heberle; 2008
- “Get Smokin': 190 Award-Winning Smoker Oven Recipes”; Editors at Cookshack; Running Press; 2001
- USDA; Smoking Meat and Poultry
Tammy Dray has been writing since 1996. She specializes in health, wellness and travel topics and has credits in various publications including Woman's Day, Marie Claire, Adirondack Life and Self. She is also a seasoned independent traveler and a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant. Dray is pursuing a criminal justice degree at Penn Foster College.