This article was born from a question which was recently forwarded to SmokinLicious® to answer. “Why salt choices are necessary in food despite adding different ingredients even for sweet dish need(ing) salt”.
I realized just how important salt is to the style of cooking known as barbecue.
Why the Need to Salt?
Salt is a mineral found in crystalline form that is used as a seasoning for food. Simply put, salt brings out the flavor or natural essence of food. Salt choices draw out the natural juices in raw meat and dissolves with the liquid forming a brine that gets reabsorbed by the meat. This results in the meat’s ability to hold on to more of its own natural juices during cooking.
Types of Salt Choices
Over the past 5 years, salt choices have become a very hot commodity in the food industry. There are hundreds of kinds of salts but for simplicity sake, I will discuss those that are commonly found in grocery and food specialty stores.
Decades ago, this was simply known as iodized salt. This is the most refined salt that is known to have a metallic taste due to the grinding process and high-heat process to produce it. It is almost pure sodium chloride and has the highest per-granule sodium content of all salts. When used in cooking, the cook generally will use too much due to this refined grind size. I recommend you never cook with standard table salt.
This salt type is made by the evaporation of seawater which results in the retainment of natural micronutrients. Unlike table salt which uses a high-heat process, sea salt provides minerals of iodine, magnesium, calcium, potassium and bromide. There are many different grind levels in sea salt and each of those, affect the taste, color, and mouthfeel of the salt itself.
Known for its ability to distribute evenly on the surface of food, kosher salt is harvested by mining dried up ocean and sea beds. It has a much coarser grind than table salt, which is considered flaky (For cooks, it is reliable, consistent, inexpensive, and pure).
Just as the name implies, this type of salt is used only when a dish is finished, for instance, sliced tomato with mozzarella and basil, grilled to perfection steak, and even watermelon. Therefore, it is considered a very light tasting salt.
Tamari and Soy Sauce:
I am including tamari and soy sauce as these are very common substitutes for salts in sauces used for barbecue. Sometimes, soy sauce is used in addition to salt or garlic and onion salt for these items, making them much higher in overall sodium content. On average tamari has 700mg sodium per serving while soy sauce comes in at a whopping 1000mg per serving.
BBQ Rubs & Seasonings
Hopefully, you’ve learned how to read an ingredient list on any label. The first ingredients listed make up the largest amount of the contents, while the last few ingredients make up the least. I looked at five (5) popular BBQ rubs and seasonings sold on Amazon.com to see what ingredients made up the bulk of these items and where salt rated on the ingredient list. Here are my findings:
As you can see, salt is a primary ingredient of commercially marketed rubs/seasonings for barbecue. Therefore, I always recommend that you give some consideration to making your own rub or seasoning. When produced in large quantity, you can keep these in the refrigerator for up to a month in an air tight container. Best of all, you’ll have the peace of mind knowing you can control the level of sodium in your meal.
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Zucchini is a great vegetable to not only grill but ember cook. It has the density to hold up over the high heat. Add a distinct char taste to this abundant vegetable either as a side dish or an ingredient by making ember fired fresh zucchini.
EMBER FIRED ZUCCHINI
How to cook your zucchini on hot coals.
I love thick-skinned vegetables that come in season during Summer. They are the perfect items to light a fire and make some hot coals to ember fire flavor into them.
We’re getting ready to coal roast one of my favorite vegetables – zucchini! This is so simple to do and produces an extraordinary flavor for zucchini to be eaten on its own or to be used in your favorite recipe. Clean out the fire pit, charcoal grill or outdoor fireplace and prepare to roast “ember fired fresh zucchini” directly on the hot coals.
Building A Small Fire
Know this from the start – You do not need a large fire! A small fire is best to accomplish your cooking in about an hour’s time. For my fire, I am using ten SmokinLiciousSingle Filet Wood Chunks in Ash with a couple of pieces of chardwood that were left over from a previous cook. Why Ash hardwood? Because it is hands down, the best hardwood to produce an even bed of coals which is what you want when you coal roast.
I stack the wood so there is quite a bit of air space between the pieces. This ensures I have good oxygen flow to produce combustion quickly. My technique is to stand the wood pieces on their end and make a circle. I try to have a couple of pieces in the center kind of tipped on to each other. Remember, you want to produce hot embers quickly so it only requires a little wood and a lot of oxygen to burn things down. I light my wood using a small butane torch. Leave the torch in place until I’m sure the wood has ignited. I keep the lid off my charcoal grill so I can push the combustion process through completion and get those ash covered, hot embers.
Red Means Hot
You will know when the coals or embers are ready for cooking when you have uniform coals and they are glowing red from the bottom and gray on top. I keep a couple of larger coals banked to the side to maintain heat and for reserved hot coals. Just in case I need to rake more to the cooking side. I like to nestle a high heat metal cooking rack on the hot coals and then place my whole zucchini on the rack. This allows for little ash to accumulate on the skin. Remember, those coals are very hot so the zucchini will take less than 20 minutes to tenderize and char.
Turn For Full Char
With the zucchini and coal rack in place, I give the embers about 8 minutes to char and cook the first side of the zucchini. After that time, I gently turn the zucchini so that each side gets an even char. Once the first 8 minutes are done, there will be less time needed for each of the other sides as the zucchini will hold heat. I’ve added one additional wood piece to my banked fire just to be sure I have enough heat in the coal area. I will not put the lid on the unit during the entire cooking process as this is open fire cooking. My total coal cooking time is approximately 16 minutes.
Perfection In Smoke & Char on Ember Fired Fresh Zucchini
After placing my ember fired fresh zucchini on hot coals for about 16 minutes total, turning several times to get an even char, this spectacular vegetable is ready for eating. You will see, there is very little coal bed left following this technique so remember, if you are cooking more than a couple of zucchini, you will need a larger coal bed.
For those of you thinking that the black, charred skin will be bitter and not appealing to eat, think again. Most of the char will rub right off but the flavor will be infused throughout the ember fired fresh zucchini. I’ve sliced mine about ¼-inch thick as I plan to make a galette of ricotta, garlic oil, and basil.
Check in soon for our post on that recipe. Did you love this wood-fired technique? Leave a comment and subscribe as we continue to bring you new ideas, tips, techniques and recipes for all things wood-fired, smoked, and charred!
Honestly, banana can be smoked via an indirect hot smoking method as well as with a handheld food smoker. With a peak season from January thru April, and imports readily available, you can enjoy this fruit anytime of the year! For the handheld smoker technique, skin the banana and expose to the smoke vapor. This just takes minutes. For the hot smoking technique, you’ll need to be sure that the banana is placed on the side of the grill that does not have the heat source so it doesn’t get too mushy.
#2 Sauces Things You Didn’t Know You Could Smoke
Do you have a favorite sauce recipe that you would love to add a smoky component to? Don’t waste a lot of time trying to get smoked ingredients into your sauce. Instead, just expose the sauce to a cold smoke application using a handheld food smoker. Using this method lets you decide just how strong to make the overall smoky flavor.
The best thing about radish is all the root colors they are available in; red, white, purple, and black. Their shape can be round or cylindrical and they have the distinct undertone of spice and zest. They are so easy to smoke on a grill with hardwood by slicing them and placing in a vegetable grill pan. You can even place whole radish directly in hot embers to add flavor and char.
You’re familiar with roasting chestnuts but did you realize that smoking them is just like slow roasting? Chestnuts have a lot of moisture which make them ideal for the grill. Whether on a charcoal, gas or even a standard stove top grill pan, by including wood in the mix, this nut takes on a whole new flavor. Fresh chestnuts are available during the winter months so start planning.
#5 Chocolate Things You Didn’t Know You Could Smoke
You’ve probably guessed that chocolate smoking can only be done with a cold smoking technique. This ensures that no chocolate melts and all that yummy goodness stays perfect inside. Using a handheld smoker, smoke infusion can take as little as 15 minutes when you let all the smoke captured with the smoking bag dissipate. Otherwise, it can be a short as just a few minutes.
#6 Water Things You Didn’t Know You Could Smoke
Why would you want to smoke water? First, there are many recipes that require water in them so this is a subtle way to add a smoky ingredient. Second, smoked cocktails are all the rage. Why not smoke the ice cubes instead of the entire drink? The easiest way, is to smoke water and then place it in ice cube trays and freeze. You can smoke the water on a hot smoker, stove top smoker or with a handheld smoker. Lots of options.
#7 Cream Things You Didn’t Know You Could Smoke
Cream is one of those dairy items that reacts well with smoke vapor. In fact, most items that contain milk by-product will smoke well. I really like cream because you can do so much with it: Include it in sauces, desserts, soups. Each time you use it in a different dish, it will take on a new flavor profile.
#8 Citrus Fruits Things You Didn’t Know You Could Smoke
All citrus fruits are simply spectacular when they are exposed to smoke. Now you don’t have to smoke the main protein of the meal. Instead, just serve the citrus with it, whether you juice it on fish, add it to a sauce, or drizzle it on your favorite cake. Again, you can hot smoke, stove top smoke, or cold smoke citrus.
#9 Spices Things You Didn’t Know You Could Smoke
Any spice can be turned into a smoked spice. Want smoked curry? Go ahead! Smoked Cinnamon? You go it! You can smoke any spice easily with a handheld food smoker. In minutes, you can have your own version of any spice smoked.
Just as you can do with many of the previous items on our list, herbs allow you to decide where the intensity of the smoke flavor will come from. You can smoke herbs and then sprinkle on top of a dish, you can smoke the herb and add it to a cooked item – think herb crusted chicken, or it can be married with other ingredients that the specific herb is compatible with. Remember, a cold smoke method will keep the herb in its raw state while hot smoking will produce a dehydrated version of the herb that is so much better than those dry herbs you buy in the grocery store.
Get inspired by this article to try your hand at a smoking technique with one of our items or something you have a passion to try. Then subscribe and follow us so you get additional inspiration on recipes, tips, and techniques for all things wood-fired.
We discuss the pros and cons for smoking foods in foil- in particular your BBQ and how it can affect the food.
SMOKING FOODS IN FOIL: PROS & CONS
“Does smoking foods in foil still allow the wood flavor to penetrate?”
It is a common question heard when it comes to hot smoking. In fact, there is even a technique called the Texas Crutch that relies on wrapping meats like ribs, pork shoulder, and brisket in foil with 1-2 ounces of liquid into the foil and then sealing all ends tightly so no liquid or steam escapes. This process tenderizes and speeds the overall cooking process, which with hot smoking, can be quite lengthy.
Here’s the thing – when you use this technique, you do so after the meat product has cooked to about 135-150°F. That means a great deal of smoke flavor has already penetrated. What about if you start out smoking foods in foil? Let’s look at the pros and cons of smoking foods in foil, information you can use for traditional oven cooking as well.
Aluminum leaches into foods that are wrapped in it. Current research indicates that the average person can tolerate about 2400mg of aluminum exposure per day due to our body’s ability to excrete the small amounts of this metal efficiently. Therefore, any ingestion levels over this would be considered a health risk by the World Health Organization.
Aluminum foil is disposable so it is a convenience. There is no clean up when you cook foods in foil and often there are recycling programs that accept used foil. It can save on degrading your cookware and grill grates.
Aluminum is found in other items like corn, yellow cheese, salt, herbs, spices, tea, cooking utensils, and in over-the-counter medications like antacids. A derived from aluminum is also used during the purification process of drinking water. These all must factor into the recommended daily intake of this metal, meaning you need to assess whether cooking in foil will put you over the daily recommended limit.
Aluminum foil aides in producing a convection heat as it is an excellent heat conductor. Thus, cooking times can be significantly reduced when foods are placed in foil.
Foods with higher levels of acid have a higher rate of leaching aluminum into them. This is true whether the acidic ingredient is in solid or liquid form. In fact, acidic liquids have a higher leaching rate than solids. Give this consideration when working with foods such as tomatoes, vinegar and citrus items.
Using aluminum foil can tenderize tougher cuts of meat when you include an ounce or two of liquid. Additionally, aluminum foil is leak proof when you seal all ends.
When you cook acidic ingredients in foil, both the appearance and taste of the foods can be altered by the reaction to aluminum. The tastes are often described as metallic.
From the smoking perspective, if you start the foods on the grill grates without any aluminum foil, cook until 135-150°F internal temperature, and then wrap in foil to finish, you likely will find very little change in taste. Ingredients containing acid would have cooked down and not be at a level that would interact as aggressively with the aluminum.
If you do elect to cook on the smoker, charcoal grill or LP grill with foil, know that you can see firsthand the reaction of the aluminum with food ingredients. You can see the wood molecules by the smoke vapor particles that develops on the outside surface of the foil. As foil is a heat conductor, it also is somewhat of a sponge and will steal some of the smoke vapor particles from the food.
Remember, one of the key benefits to using aluminum foil is its ability to seal tightly whether preventing spillage to a piece of cookware or sealing in liquids for cooking. Cooking smoked items wrapped in foil from start to finish will not allow for full penetration of the smoke vapor particles that account for the unique color, texture, and taste to smoked foods. Plus, you likely will increase your risk of health issues with repeated exposure to high aluminum levels.
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