The Japanese Tool Essential for Smoking at Home

February 17, 2016

The donabe is a Japanese clay pot that has been loved by Japanese people for hundreds of years. While its popular use is for hot pot dishes—ingredients cooked in a broth and served family-style at the table—a donabe can also be used for cooking rice, steaming, making stew, and smoking foods.

And if you enjoy smoked foods but do not have access to—or space for—a smoker (which are often quite large and quite costly), an Ibushi Gin donabe is truly an essential tool.

Many donabes have specific uses—making soup or for steaming foods, for example—and Ibushi Gin donabes are uniquely designed for smoking food at home. By pouring water in the rim between the lid and the lip of the body, it creates a water seal and effectively smokes the contents in a short time without releasing smoke outside. I’ve been using this donabe for almost ten years and it has been an essential tool in my kitchen. It’s so easy to use, as all I really need to do is set the smoke chips and ingredients in the donabe and wait half an hour. Among the popular items to smoke in my home are duck breast, chicken wings, salmon, boiled eggs, Camembert cheese, and nuts, to name a few.

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This is also a great tool for entertaining guests: When I smoke in this donabe and remove the lid at the table, it's exciting to reveal the freshly smoked ingredients inside—and their extremely appetizing aroma.

An Ibusi Gin donabe and Naoko Moore's Smoked Duck Breast. Photo by Eric Wolfinger

More: Learn what else to make in a donabe in Naoko Moore's book.

An Ibusi Gin donabe comes with three tiers of grates you can set ingredients on. First, you place a small handful of wood smoke chips in the bottom, then place the ingredients on the grates. Set the donabe over high heat on a stovetop and wait until the chips start to release smoke before covering with lid. Once the lid is on, pour some water in the rim and smoke for several minutes. Then, you turn off the heat and let it rest for 20 minutes or so. The carryover heat and smoke will complete the process after the heat is turned off. The care for this donabe is also simple: Simply wash out the cool donabe with mild soap and water and let dry well.

These donabes are made by Nagatani-en, an artisan donabe producer from Iga, Japan. Nagatani-en was established in 1832 and has been run by Nagatani family for 8 generations. Just like any other donabe made at Nagatani-en, Ibushi Gin is made from Iga clay and it takes about two weeks to produce each piece.

Thank you for smoking (these things):

The province of Iga used to be the bed of Lake Biwa (the largest lake in Japan) about 4 million years ago, and it's the clay from this lake that's used for making this donabe. This special clay contains a lot of fossilized microorganisms from the ancient time and they become porous when the donabe is shaped and fired in the kiln. The porous body of the donabe enhances the heat retention ability, so it stays very hot for a long time after turning off the heat. I feel the energy of the earth and history in my Ibushi Gin, and it will continue to be my very good friend in my kitchen for many more years to come.

Make Naoko's Smoked Duck Breast with Creamy Wasabi-Green Onion Dipping Sauce:

Naoko Moore is an expert in Japanese home cooking and the author of Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking.

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Donabe expert and author of DONABE Cookbook