The smell of wood smoke is intoxicating and rich in associations, redolent of warmth and safety, yet also instantly transporting us to the outdoors. Smoking food has a long history, and home smoking has been common for centuries in rural Nordic regions. Now the appeal of smoking meats, fish and cheeses at home has seen this food trend take off around the world.
Home smoking is a skill that is well within the reach of any keen home chef. By installing a home smoker, you’ll have the luxury of smoked goods whenever you want them, and can impress your dinner guests with Michelin-star-worthy creations like smoked caviar, salads dressed with smoked olive oil, or smoked butter melted enticingly over steak or fish.
The first thing to know is that there’s more than one way to smoke food. Hot smoking is the home cooking trend that’s catching on, being the simpler process. It’s similar to a light roasting at around 80–120 degrees Celsius. Cold smoking has been practised for centuries as a form of preservation. It’s done at around 25 degrees Celsius, giving a more delicate smoked flavour to the ingredients, without cooking the food through.
Traditionally, fish or meat were smoked to preserve as well as cook them. These days, anything goes, from vegetables and fruit, to desserts and spirits. You could experiment with duck, pigeon and venison, or even a smoked hard-boiled egg.
For home smoking, you can either make your own smoker or purchase one. There are plenty of chic freestanding smokers that can fit in a shed or garage and look similar to barbecues – choose between barrel models and taller, slimmer designs. If you become a smoking pro, you might like to install a full-size smoking cabinet, which will slot nicely into an outbuilding or pantry and looks like either a fridge or a traditional wood-burner.
To prepare your food for smoking, you’ll need your salt of choice, as well as sugar and seasoning, to rub into the food to intensify the smoky flavour. When your food is ready, simply select your wood chips: the magic ingredient. The key thing to remember is that you won’t need too much – only a few tablespoons for smaller projects.
You can use any hardwood for home smoking and can order chips online. A variety pack will let you try out a few flavours. As you get more practised at home smoking, you’ll soon pick up the different flavours and learn which you prefer.
Oak is the most commonly used, imparting a mild flavour that combines well with almost anything. For chicken and fish, applewood provides a light, sweet flavour. There’s also the strong, bacon-y flavour of hickory smoking, which is perfect with pork. Mesquite wood has the most powerful kick, making it ideal for red meats. You can also smoke at home with loose leaf tea or even hay – but be sure to check the instructions for your smoker.
If you're looking for a simple way of incorporating restaurant-level cuisine into your dinner party repertoire, home smoking could be a food trend to keep up with.