Case Notes: A restaurant is preparing to open in a new location and made the decision to invest in an Italian made pizza oven that has an option for wood-fired cooking. This equipment would take 6 months to manufacture and deliver to the USA, which gave the owners time to complete renovations on their new building in preparation for the free-standing oven’s installation. During that time, menu development and plating options were reviewed and decided upon.
The one planning need that was left to the last minute – locating the supplier for the cooking hardwood and determining appropriate sizing for the new equipment! WHY???
It always surprises me that restaurateurs are willing to spend $50,000 and up for commercial equipment that does a specific function or technique, yet they don’t spend the time before that purchase ensuring they can obtain the quality accessory needs to get every benefit from that investment.
Here’s the best part: often these equipment lines tote that they can do all sorts of functions including wood-fired cooking techniques. The truth – they aren’t really promoting that function of their equipment line! They simply want to sell you the equipment and have you use standard fuel options like electric and gas. How did I come to this conclusion? By the content of the user’s manual.
Many do not reference:
size of wood product needed for the equipment
how to light the product
how much of the product to use
where to locate a supplier of the cooking wood
pictorials of the steps to do the technique
provide a troubleshooting guide.
Do you really want to spend $50,000, $60,000, $100,000 and be left to fend for yourself with that investment?
Take the appropriate steps when considering additions to or replacements in your equipment line. Research not only the equipment but what is needed to do the smoke infusion technique with that equipment. Yes, wood chips are readily available even though there is a high level of variation between products. But other products are not so easy to find like wood pieces larger than wood chips but smaller than split firewood logs.
In addition, wood-fired techniques can also require additional “tools” to be available in the kitchen that may not have been standard inventory before.
Such things as:
fire retardant gloves
fire grade tools like long handled tongs and a wood poker
a MAP canister/torch for lighting the fire
an infrared thermometer for reading temperatures within the cooking chamber
an ash receptacle.
Prioritize the needs of a wood-fired equipment addition by first reviewing the best option in equipment for your business’ need and second, assessing all the requirements of the wood to be successful in bringing this technique to your kitchen!
Collage of Smoked Chestnuts on a Stovetop Smoker- Dr Smoke
TO THE SMOKE THE CHESTNUT GOES!
Depending on where your located, chestnuts may only be available for a short period each year, usually around the holidays. Mostly pan roasted in the oven, why not do something unique with this prized fruit and smoke them! In addition to the chestnuts, you’ll need a stove top smoker, purchased or you can make your own with tools likely in your kitchen. You can see our writing on the “The Kitchen Find” which will guide you on what is needed.
about 2 hours of time. Be sure you also have a hood vent where you will be using the stove top smoker in order to maintain a smoke free kitchen.
You will find chestnuts available prepackaged or in bulk when in season. Although the packaged product will include a directive to cut and X in the flat surface of each nut, I grew up in a household where we always cut off the stem side. This is the small, dark cap side to the chestnut. The chestnut has a cap and a pointed end giving it a bloated teardrop look. I have found that when smoking, I get better control to the smoke infusion with a fresh cut to one end. Keep in mind, not all the chestnuts purchased will likely be viable as often mold will take hold of some of the chestnuts which you won’t see until you cut in to them. As the chestnuts age, they can develop a fuzzy mold on the outside which will tell you not to waste your time cutting that one open! Simply discard!
Generally, chestnuts have a flat side and a rounded side.
To prepare them:
lay the chestnut on the cutting board with the flat side down. Place your knife blade over the small dark cap, and slice off in one motion. This will reveal the chestnut meat inside which will have a yellow-white hue. Once the cap is off, you’ll be able to tell if any mold has set in as it will have a marked gray/black appearance. If any mold is noted, discard the chestnut as it won’t cook tender. If the majority is free of mold, go ahead and keep it for the smoking/cooking process.
To do stove top smoking, there are 4 parts needed:
a pan to hold the heat and wood chips
a drip pan to prevent rendered fat and juices from entering the wood. Generally, you only need the drip pan when you actually have a food item that will produce juices or fat drippings.
a grill pan
Note: Chestnuts will not produce any drippings though they do have a percentage of water that will be released as steam into the lid of the pan. Just be sure when you open the lid that you keep any collected water from dripping back into the cooking grate.
Now it’s time to start the heat under your smoker pan.
Place the base of the stove top smoker over the burner and turn the burner to medium.
Add about 1 handful of wood chips. I am usingSmokinLicious® Minuto® Wood Chips Size #6 in Wild Cherry which will provide great color to the chestnut’s meat. The wood chips will combust and char but they will not ignite and there won’t be any need to add any additional wood chips. One handful is all it will take to both cook and flavor the chestnuts.
After adding the wood chips to the smoker base, place the grill pan on next. Take the prepared chestnuts and spread them evenly into the grill pan. Then cover with the lid. Do not change the heat level during the cooking/smoking process. There is no need to rotate the chestnuts as the cut end will ensure that the heat and smoke vapor penetrate each piece.
The cooking process will take between 40-60 minutes depending on the number and size of the chestnuts used. I usually do a check about 30 minutes in order to gauge the total cook time.
As you check the chestnuts and start seeing the shell separate from the meat, you’ll know you are getting close to the tender stage. Here is my trick for checking for doneness. Take the end of a paring knife and gently insert the tip into the center of the chestnut meat. If the blade passes into the flesh without effort, you are finished with the cooking process.
Turn off the heat to the smoker pan and allow the chestnuts to rest for a few minutes before removing from the pan. Remember, these shells will be very hot so use tongs to remove them from the pan.
You can see that despite the Minuto® Chips being exposed to consistent heat for about an hour, they merely smolder and char, never igniting. In fact, you could easily use these chips again for another short cook item and they would still give off great flavor. Once the chestnuts have cooled enough to handle, I remove all the shell and membrane. These golden beauties are now ready to eat or to add special flavor to recipes calling for chestnuts. Just another way to bring something new to a seasonal favorite.
STOVE TOP SMOKING….If you’re like me, over the years you’ve become a collector of various cooking gadgets and equipment to the point where you simply don’t have room for one more thing! Yet, you are enamored with the thought of doing stove top smoking & cooking when the weather isn’t cooperating or you simply prefer to be in the house rather than take food and gadgets outside.
Well, I have got just the solution for you!
Stove top smoking can be as easy as locating a deep pot with lid, metal steamer insert,aluminum foil from your kitchen, and tools you likely already own.
Now when I say deep pot I’m talking about a lobster pot, large sauce pot, or even a Dutch oven. Anything that has capacity to hold a suitable number of food items on a steamer insert will do.
Place a second piece of foil or disposable foil pie plate on the chips followed by your steamer insert (this will keep drippings from falling on the chips)
Place the food items (chicken, fish, pork, beef, vegetables, fruit, etc.) on the steamer being careful not to crowd so the smoke can circulate around the food
Depending on the extra room in your pot, if there is a lot of surface above the foods, go ahead and tent the steamer insert with foil so the smoke vapor has less area it needs to travel
Put the lid on the pot and seal the rim with foil to ensure none of the smoke vapor can escape
Turn the heat under the pot to high and allow to begin the smoking for 5-8 minutes
Reduce the heat to medium and cook small food items like chicken, fish, vegetables, or fruit for 10-15 minutes and large food items like pork tenderloin, beef short ribs, etc. for 30-40 minutes
Shut off the heat and allow the food to rest in the residual smoke vapor for 10 minutes
Remove the lid and foil tent if one was used
If you have done smaller cuts of poultry, fish, or meat, these may well be cooked through (175° F for dark meat 165° F for white meat), otherwise, if cooking is still required, transfer the food to an oven safe dish or sheet pan and finish cooking in the oven.
There you have it! A simple in-house, smoking technique using tools you likely already have in the kitchen! Just think, you stayed warm, dry, and comfortable in your own house while the Grande Sapore®, Minuto®, or Piccolo® Wood Chips did their wood-fired magic.
As always, we would love to see your take on the homemade stove top smoker so send along pictures or link with us on social media.
It is likely the most common question posed to us – how does the wood make the food taste? Although I have answered this question hundreds of times, it started me thinking about my answer. It was not complete. I was not explaining that taste IS aroma.
Our experiences with food revolve around our senses and of those senses 3 deal primary with food: taste, touch, and smell. Obviously, you would assume that the sense of taste is the absolute in food experience but you would be wrong. 10,000 plus different odors are relayed via our sense of smell which occurs through our nose and mouth. As much as 80% of what is referred to as taste is truly aroma.
Now, apply this information to the fact that we use wood in cooking techniques that involve infusion of smoke vapor to foods and ingredients, and you will begin to understand where I am going with this. We have all had the experience of smelling a neighbor burning fallen leaves come Fall. It is not a pleasant aroma. Could you imagine someone putting food over a fire that contained leaves as fuel and then tasting the food cooked over that fuel source? Terms that come to mind include bitter, acrid, burnt, and pungent.
I have decided that my new answer to the question of “What kind of flavor does (insert wood type here) produce” will be: the overall flavor is dependent on a lot of factors. These include:
climate and soil of where the tree is grown: the more balanced the pH level of the soil and a location that has suitable precipitation throughout the year, are more favorable to a hardwood tree’s benefit as a cooking wood
bark or bark-free: this affects burn rate and flavor, and yes, it can fluctuate your temperature control
moisture level: the drier the wood the faster it goes through combustion and the more heat it produces. You need some level of moisture left in the wood to produce smoke
humidity of the cooking environment: dry cooking environments do not allow for smoke vapor to stick
type of dry rub and/or sauce/marinade used: wood needs to be viewed as an ingredient to the entire cooking experience so ALL the ingredients need to marry to produce a great flavor. The wood is just one flavor component
what your cooking (beef, turkey, pork, chicken, lamb, goat, etc.): maple used on beef will taste completely different than maple used with chicken. Plus, the type of meat/poultry also influences the flavor, so think generic versus farm raised and cage free versus free range. Just as the soil and climate affect the trees so too does the diet and climate affect the animal.
Although we offer a SmokinLicious® flavor guide with descriptors of the undertones the wood can produce, here is my best summary of the hardwoods we provide:
If you treat the wood as an ingredient you will come to appreciate all that it can offer and produce some spectacular tasting and aromatic dishes both during the cooking process and at its final stage!
People are always in search of that great flavor to food that only comes from hardwood. In fact, it is common for discussions around outdoor cooking to use the terms grilling and barbecuing interchangeably as if they mean exactly the same thing. Let’s be clear – cooking with just LP/Gas is grilling. Barbecue is outdoor cooking over hot coals or wood, whether in lump charcoal form or straight hardwood pieces.
In an effort for grilling equipment manufacturers to compete with charcoal grills and smokers, many began integrating a wood chip drawer in their units to imply that “barbecue” was possible on a gas grill. If you ever tried these, you likely were disappointed in finding that the intensity of flavor just didn’t compare to charcoal equipment. Then the smoker box was developed with a wide variety of design options from rectangular in shape, v-shaped at the base to fit between grill grates, and venting hole configurations that made claim to more intense smoke penetration. Here’s the thing – no one ever discussed what should go in the smoker box. The assumption was to always use wood chips but I am going to take you on a flavor journey using that box that will open your eyes to understanding cooking with hardwood.
One of the key complaints I hear is that when using wood chips in a smoking box or drawer, the chips don’t seem to give off enough smoke and have a very short burn life. In fact, refilling the box or drawer is often needed to finish a simple food item like chicken pieces or ½ slabs of pork ribs. Wood chunks or uniformed sized pieces of hardwood lend to a much longer burn/smolder rate and give off great flavor infusion.
Smokinlicious® Double Filet Wood Chunks
So how can you still work with your smoker box? Simply remove the lid or, if hinged in place, open the lid and place 3-4 SmokinLicious® Double Filet Wood Chunks in the box. Be sure the box is placed on the hot area of the grill and let it go.
The increased volume of the wood allows for things to smolder longer which means the combustion stages are extended, thus, the flavor infusion is extended.
No cover is needed on the box. What I like the best about this application is the box acts as an ash collection tray so removal for cleaning is quick and easy. Keep in mind, LP/Gas units have heat diffusers – although they may go by other names like heat distributors, flame tamers, heat plates, burner shields, and flavorizer bars to name a few – so you already have a built-in method of using wood chunks for maximum flavor infusion to the foods on the grate (see our previous postings on this).
So are wood chips obsolete for the LP/Gas unit? Absolutely not! It is just another option for you especially those of you who pine for more smoke flavor to your cooking.