April Challenge: Hot Smoking

March 15, 2011

All year, we're featuring Charcutepalooza, the year-long meat extravaganza masterminded by bloggers Cathy Barrow (our own MrsWheelbarrow) and Kim Foster.

Each month brings a new challenge (e.g. duck prosciutto, salt curing), and a new roundup of the best posts -- which we'll feature on Food52. Charcutepalooza will culminate in a competition offering an amazing grand prize (details here). You can see a list of past challenges here, read the rules here, and see a list of the bloggers who've signed on here. And check out all the fun Charcutepalooza events going on here. Now, onto the next challenge...

charcutepalooza april challenge. hot smoking.

by Cathy on March 15, 2011

Post image for charcutepalooza april challenge. hot smoking.

It’s time for another Charcutepalooza challenge, and this time, we want you to get in touch with your inner MacGyver. We’re taking all we’ve learned from salt rubs, salt cures, and brines, and we’re adding fire. It’s Hot Smoking time.

And once again, Kim and I are saying, “Poor Dennis,” at least once a day. My wonderful husband, a mostly-vegetarian fan of simple foods prepared simply, is extremely patient. And loving. And not a fan of smoked foods. (Or cured, for that matter.)

Dennis tells people the secret to our happy marriage is that he “lets Cathy be Cathy.” And he means it. But for four days last week, it was tough going. Twenty seven pounds of meat sat brining, salting, curing and otherwise bleeding in the refrigerator. There was no looking past the slabs of pork belly, the visceral jowl, looking way too much like what it is. A pig cheek. And then the large containers of brining pork loin, a big meaty shoulder, sliced and salted, drying on a rack over a sheet pan. That’s a lot of meat. Confronting.

Saturday, after six hours in Paul & Elaine’s backyard, smoking various fabulous tasty treats, I walked in the front door and Dennis said, “Have you been smoking?”

Seriously? I had to remove my clothing in the laundry room.

So, you’ll see why Kim and I were feeling a little sorry for Dennis.

Last night, right before turning in, I stirred together the batter for English muffins. (Thank you for yet another spectacular recipe, Michael Ruhlman.) I had in mind Eggs Benedict. After all, I had my very own homemade Canadian bacon, leftover egg yolks from my class (pavlovas! buttercream!) for hollandaise. And extra beautiful farm fresh eggs crying out to be benedict-ed.

This morning, I’m griddling the English muffins – Dennis was intrigued. Impressed, even. I told him about the eggs benedict plan, and this is what he said…

“You made Canadian bacon? I used to love Canadian bacon.”

The angels sang out.

I would feed my husband charcuterie. He might even like it.

So, tonight’s dinner will be eggs benedict, from scratch. (No hollandaise for Dennis, thankyouanyway. Oh well.) And for the time being, until next month’s challenge, we will forget about the pity party.

For the Apprentice Challenge, please hot smoke salmon.

For the Charcutiere Challenge, please hot smoke either pork loin (Canadian bacon or spicy smoked pork) or pork shoulder (tasso ham.)

Big props to our generous sponsor, D’Artagnan – they’ll have pork shoulder and pork loin discounted, just for Charcutepalooza. Remember to show them some love with links and mentions. If you aren’t receiving emails with the discount code, send me an email to get in on this great deal.

Remember this is the last week for the Cochon and Charcuterie events – I am so excited to be attending in Little Washington, Virginia on Sunday, March 20. There are still a couple of spaces left.

Yes You Can Smoke

I tested a variety of methods but I know many of you are already smoking lots of things, so please chime in and share your knowledge. Your pastramis made me sigh and get a little teary-eyed.

We’ll be giving away this fabulous Charcutepalooza apron, handmade by Charcutepalooza-er Pam, who blogs at Snappy Service Cafe, and can be found on Twitter at @LeakySpoon. Kim and I will randomly select a comment on this post and we’ll announce the winner in Kim’s post 3/31. And get this? Pam’s offered to personalize the winner’s apron with your name, blog name, Twitter handle, or favorite pig part. Won’t you let us know what you think about hot smoking? Share your tips, your tricks. This apron could be yours.

Post on the 15th. Tag your post charcutepalooza and we’ll be sure to see it. Share your blog post with Punk Domestics. Cross post and upload photos on Charcutepalooza’s Facebook page and Flickr page. And don’t forget to share all those great original recipes on Food52.

Indoor Smoking

For indoor smoking, use fine wood chips, not big chunks, and use them dry, not wet. These fine chips – sawdust? – are available at hardware stores, kitchen stores, and through Amazon. I liked the four pack as I had the chance to play with fruit woods and hickory, and the classic for salmon, alder wood. For more tips and hints, Elaine found this cool book full of great ideas and information for indoor grilling and smoking.

MacGyver Your Wok

Line your wok with aluminum foil, then cover dry wood chips with a dome shaped piece of foil (to keep the meat from dripping directly on the wood), just insert a small grill rack and add your meat/fish and either use the wok cover or create a tent with more foil, crimping it all airtight. Heat the wok on the stovetop until you see a little smoke, reduce the temperature to medium low, and cook for the recommended amount of time. (Here is the guide I used, from the New York Times.)

Review: My wok is cast iron, and therefore took far too much time to get hot enough to make the wood chips smoke. I think a lighter weight wok would work well. It took a long time to get to temperature and there never was big smoke, just weak smoke, so the taste was dull. Make sure you open the window and get the wok right over to the fresh air before opening it up, then you won’t have smoke detectors going off, a kitchen filled with smoke, and so on.

Cameron’s Stovetop Smoker

A metal box with sliding cover, a rack and drip pan. Everything fits together, so it’s easy to store, and the sturdy handles fold back in the most clever way. The small size would be perfect for a two person household and will allow you to smoke up to 2# of salmon or pork loin or shoulder. The larger size, which I purchased, is about the size of a lasagne pan. A 3.5# piece of pork belly fits perfectly. Available from Amazon for $30-$45.

Review: I love this smoker. The smoky flavor is perfectly imparted. It’s easy to clean, easy to use. Very little smoke escapes until you open the lid (see above.) And when we did open it up inside, oops, the over-the-stove exhaust hood took care of the concentration of smoke quickly. The downside is the inability to regulate the temperature. I guesstimated a handful of chips for the bottom of the smoker, put it over a medium flame until a wisp of smoke snuck out, then reduced the heat and was able to smoke salmon (20 min.) and pork (45 min.) to perfection. It seemed like magic that everything worked as it’s completely impossible to control. I will be using this stovetop smoker often (like, every Sunday morning! bagels and hot smoked salmon? be still my heart.)

Smoking Outside

The Big Green Egg

Paul and Elaine have one of these really cool contraptions. They’ve used it for grilling, and only once for smoking, so we were using information from the internet to help us along. We had some issues controlling the temperature and we nervously babysat for most of the 2 hour period, open the top, close the top; open the bottom vent, close the bottom vent. I do expect the next attempts will get easier.

Review: While Charcuterie recommends 200° for smoking, we liked the moist smoked results at 250°. The meats came out of the Egg with a gorgeous crust. I’m not sure the stovetop smoker will ever achieve that intense smoky salty crispy amazingness.

Mercy, that’s some pig.

I look forward to more experimentation and more Saturday afternoons in Paul & Elaine’s backyard. (Extra specially nice? I designed their garden a few years ago and now I get to hang out there.)

Weber Gas Grill (MacGyver returns)

I used the Weber two ways. I used it to keep a very low heat under the Cameron’s Smoker (see above.) This was a great absolutely carefree way to smoke foods for long periods. It’s easy to manage the low temperatures, although not low enough to cold-smoke.

The other smoking method came from reading several websites devoted to fiddling a smoker out of a grill. I made an aluminum foil packet (6″ x 8″) of half wet wood chips and half dry. I poked some holes in the packet and placed it on the right side of my grill. I lit only the left side of the grill. Once the temperature was at 200°, I placed the meat to be smoked on the right side (indirect heat) of the grill. The piece of pork shoulder (tasso) came out beautifully. Perfect crust, nice smoke flavor, but missing that extra, really nice, charcoal taste of the meat smoked on the Egg.

Wish I had…
A Bradley smoker.
Maybe in my next life.

Most impressive MacGyver effort
Check out this cardboard box smoker. I believe this deserves a merit badge…

Hot Smoked Salmon

Last April, Food52’s weekly contest theme was Salmon. I entered a recipe I’ve made for 25 years, or more… Salmon with Sorrel Sauce. It’s a good recipe, and always a hit at a dinner party. I was thrilled to be selected a finalist, but thought I’d never win when I saw the competition – what an AMAZING recipe. Meet Christine. She’s a culinary school grad, a journalist, and a great friend. She’s on the Meat-wagon, curing goat belly and hanging duck breasts with all of us.

Her recipes (find them on her blog and on Food52) are spot on smart, tasty, and they work. Every. Single. Time. She was my competition, and her recipe for Hot Smoked Salmon Soba and Asian Greens Salad was brilliant.

So, since last April, I’ve made Christine’s salmon recipe many times and Dennis likes it more than any other I make. But I’ve never managed to trick out a smoker until this challenge came along. I usually grilled the salmon and hoped that did the recipe justice. (Sorry, Christine.)

I have to tell you. Smoking makes a HUGE difference. The way the smoke works with the five spice powder is amazing. Make this recipe. Right away. It’s fantastic.

The salmon is also great served cold, as an appetizer. And here’s the most surprising thing. I froze some, just to see if it would freeze well once smoked. That fish came out of the freezer perfectly, with no reduction in texture or flavor. We snacked on it, with crackers, in the late afternoon Spring sunshine, while the pork smoked.

Another evening, in just one hour’s time, I brined a pound of salmon in salty water flavored with molasses and sorrel, then smoked it over alder wood. I served that salmon on stone-ground grits topped with creamed spinach scented with nutmeg.

Have fun with your brine, with your wood chips, and with your salmon.

Smoke and Pork Are BFFs

There was a time when I grilled pork tenderloin all the time. For parties, for quick dinners, for the leftovers, for the cold sliced pork sandwiches. It was inexpensive and easy and fast. And, let’s face it, pretty boring until you added a great sauce.

When you brine, or salt cure, a pork tenderloin, and add smoke, you’ve created a little bit of paradise. That dullish cut becomes sublime. From one four pound tenderloin, I made both the Canadian bacon and the spiced smoked pork loin following the recipes in Charcuterie. Because I had pieces that weighed just 2 lbs. each, I cut the brine amounts, or the salt rub amounts, in half (by weight) but kept the curing times the same. Both pieces of pork were smoked at 250° for a little more than two hours in the Big Green Egg. And they are really really good. So much better than any pork loin I’ve ever made.

Store bought tasso ham has never been a favorite of mine, but I thought I would try it home-cured. You could knock me over with a feather. It’s completely different. Completely. The big meaty 4.5# pork shoulder (boned) made five 1” thick slices, with almost two pounds leftover for another project. Two slices were cooked on the Cameron smoker, two on the Big Green Egg and one on the Weber. Each slice ended up weighing about 6oz, after smoking, which was exactly the right amount for this delicious dinner party ready recipe.

Thanks go out to Stonyman Gourmet Farmer for generously providing the meats for my challenge posts. DC area Charcutepalooza-ers should email Susan to pre-order. Pick up at the Bethesda Women’s Market (W,F, Sa).

Charcutepalooza loves our sponsors. D’Artagnan offers 25% off the meat-of-the-month. If you aren’t receiving your email with the secret code for Charcutepalooza members, register here. And the trip to France – an awesome grand prize deliciously designed by Trufflepig and Kate Hill at Camont.


See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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BrianS March 17, 2011
Cinghiale tasso and canadian bacon it is.

Sagegreen March 16, 2011
Really inspiring! Amazing. I am going to try these out later this spring.
MrsWheelbarrow March 16, 2011
Yay! You'll be so impressed with yourself!
Jennifer A. March 15, 2011
Cathy, Your writing is so enjoyable; I am looking forward to following along with charcutapalooza this year. (btw - my husband is an enthusiastic smoker of salmon and trout that he catches many miles out in Lake Michigan - perhaps we can save my sinuses this year, and I can get him to start stripping in the mudroom :))
MrsWheelbarrow March 16, 2011
Thank you Jennifer Ann - I think Dennis is going to make me leave my clothes in the garage next time. He was complaining about the smoky laundry room.
Sodium G. March 15, 2011
I think this is one charcutepalooza I can dig into! So excited to get all McGuyver on this pork butt
MrsWheelbarrow March 15, 2011
Absolutely! I'm so excited you'll be participating!
StephIrey March 15, 2011
Can't wait to try smoking! This should be another great Charcutepalooza month. Cathy & Kim, my boys love you!!! They've never had more wonderful meats to eat than in the last two months. Thank you!!
MrsWheelbarrow March 15, 2011
Have fun. It's such a clever skill to add to the repertoire..
inthebow March 15, 2011
I am not a blogger, but I've been happily playing along with the Charcutepalooza challenges. It's also inspired me to try a number of other Ruhlman recipes. I've made a couple batches of Tasso already and it's amazing. I have a Cameron smoker and it has worked really well for this. After the bacon challenge I tried a second batch smoked in the Cameron. It was fantastic! I can't wait to try salmon.
A note on the Big Green Egg, my parents have had one for many many years. The best turkey I've ever eaten was smoked in that one. Happy smoking, everyone!
MrsWheelbarrow March 15, 2011
I just smoked a piece of maple cured pork belly in the Cameron and I'm sold. I've been roasting cured bacon for years, and thought I had created magic, but the smoking option is amazing. I felt like one of those cartoon characters floating off the ground, transported by the smell.
cheese1227 March 15, 2011
Thanks for very kind words, Cathy! Can't wait to trick out my wok this weekend for the salmon dish again. The canadian bacon will definitely by my big challenge this month!
MrsWheelbarrow March 15, 2011
You're so welcome. We're having *your* salmon again tonight!