Smoking is a highly popular method of either cooking, flavoring or preserving foodstuffs. Smoked dishes are prepared by exposing the food, which generally comprises of meats, to the smoke, which is most often produced by burning wood. The smoke applied to the food may be hot or cold smoke. Smoked food acquires a peculiar flavor due to the action of smoke, which is unique to this method of cooking only. Smoked ham and turkey are two highly popular smoked recipes.
Origin of Smoking
Although smoking food emerged as a method of preservation, flavoring and cooking the food only from the 18th century onwards, the roots of smoking can be traced back to the ancient world, when man used to keep food around smoke, so as to prevent flies and insects from spoiling it. Smoking was basically a method of preserving meats as it was discovered that the meat, after absorbing the smoke would last longer. It was also observed that the smoked foods tasted much more flavorful and were more easily digestible than raw food. Hence smoking evolved into a process of cooking, flavoring as well as preserving food. Initially, the type of wood to be used for smoking was not specific, but with the advent of time, it was found that various types of wood would impart different flavors into the food. Alder, Oak and Maple wood is generally used in order to prepare smoked dishes.
The Process of Smoking
Smoking works in a complex manner. The smoke released from burning wood contains molecules which are soluble in water and fat, these particles are absorbed by the meat which is being smoked, and the meat retains the flavor of the smoke, along with certain anti-bacterial properties. Also, the heat present in the smoke tends to dry out the meat, thus concentrating the flavors and further increasing the shelf life of the meat by removing moisture. Smoking is classified into 2 different methods hot smoking and cold smoking, both of which have been discussed below:
Hot Smoking: This method is also refers to as Smoke Cooking, and it involves exposing the food to be smoked at a relatively higher temperature (155-250 degrees Fahrenheit), allowing the food to get cooked during the smoking process.
Cold Smoking: This method cannot cook the food, but only adds a smoky flavor to the food and also removes moisture from the food. Meats and vegetables that are cold smoked are cooked using another method of cooking like roasting, frying or grilling prior to being served.
The process of smoking is carried out using different types of equipment specifically made for preparing smoked recipes, such as Charcoal Smokers, Upright Drum Smoker and the Propane Smoker. There are also commercial smoke houses for carrying out the smoking process on a large scale. Most of the smoked recipes are considered gourmet, although some smoked meats are also used to prepare everyday dishes as well.
Popular Smoked Dishes
Popular Smoked dishes include preparations like Smoked Salmon, Smoked Pork ribs or ham, Smoked beef dishes such as Pastrami, Smoked cheeses like gruyere and gouda cheese and certain smoked vegetables and fruits such as jalapenos and plums as well. Although meats and fish are the most demanded smoked products, ingredients like salt can also be smoked. Smoked bacon and ham is extremely popular in the western cuisine, and certain sausages are also prepared using the process of smoking. Smoked recipes are mostly native to the American and European cuisine, and with new methods of food preservation like freezing and brining introduced, Smoking is now primarily used to add flavor to the food.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Smoking
The main advantage of smoking food is that it can preserve it, while at the same time adding cooking it and making it more flavorful. However, one major disadvantage of smoking food is that smoke, when released from incomplete combustion of wood, may contain certain hydrocarbons which are carcinogens that can lead to stomach cancer.
Processes Similar to Smoking
The process of smoking is somewhat similar to grilling, which involves cooking the food on a grill placed above burning charcoal, with the difference being that smoking is generally carried out in an enclosed area with more smoke and less heat involved than grilling.
• The Upright Drum Smoker is also known as the “Ugly Drum Smoker”
• Hardwood is generally preferred for preparing smoked recipes
• Certain beverages, like whisky, also undergo the smoking process.