Some food, some drink.
‘Tis the Season to Give Seasoning: DIY Smoked Salt.
Finally, a food gift that can be given without fear of rejection (or even worse, regifting). Homemade smoked salt is a DIY food gift you can feel good about giving, as it's gluten-free, vegan and all-natural. It's a seasoning that no self-respecting foodie's kitchen should be without, and assuming you've got a means to smoke, it's a cheap and easy solution for holiday gift-giving.
Last year for Christmas, my sister gave me a bottle of salt that had been infused with alder wood smoke. I had never really experienced smoked salt before, but I can tell you now that it's something that I now can't live without in my spice cabinet. After a few really good burgers and countless bowls of quality pasta salad, my personal supply of smoked salt was starting to dwindle; and with the holidays upon me I thought it wouldn't be such a bad idea to give others something that I thoroughly enjoyed having in my own cupboard. I got on the web to look for a resupply ('cuz you know you ain't gonna find any in little ol' Northwest Kansas) and was met with immediate sticker shock. You thinking what I'm thinking? Yeah; it's time to go DIY. After a bit of research (this discussion in particular was really good), I found out that smoked salt is really just that: smoke and salt. I've got a grill that delivers plenty of smoke (and good barbeque to boot), so all I needed to do was find a good means to maximize surface area. Enter: The splatter guard. By design, we're talking about a surface that's meant to keep all but the vapors (read: smoke) in the skillet. For less than ten bucks I can saw off that plastic handle in the name of science and sacrifice what was once a kitchen unitasker for the goal of perpetual smoked salt, so long as I've got smoke wood, charcoal and a cooker to do it in.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Cut the handle off the splatter guard with the hacksaw. Prep your cooker with a pound each of charcoal topped with your smoke wood chunks. pour the salt evenly on the splatter guard and place on the grill. Smoke at no higher than 225F for 12 hours, gently stirring the salt every two hours. After the first 12 hour cycle, clear out the ash and add the additional charcoal and wood to repeat the 12 hour cycle again, making sure to stir that salt every 2 hours. After the 24 hours of smoke have elapsed and the salt cools, remove your smoky seasoned goodness to an air-tight container until you're ready to either use it or gift it.
- I'm not trying to exclude anyone here, but the fact of the matter is, you need an appropriate cooker/smoke producer to make this happen. I'm writing this for my Big Steel Keg (or whatever they're calling it these days), but I reckon y'all are smart enough to reproduce this in your favorite cooker. Barbeque people are ingenuitive by nature I think. Other Kamado grills like the Big Green Egg are fine, as would a pellet-fed cooker such as a Traeger. It also goes without saying that a Weber Smoky Mountain is made for this sort of thing.
- Usually where barbeque is concerned, it's important to have an indirect heat source. in this case, I just don't think it matters as much. I mean, whataya gonna do? Dry out the salt?
- Keeping what I just said in mind, temperature is still important. Every grill is different, but generally speaking, lower maintainable temperatures make for more smolder and smoke, which in this case is a more efficient use of your fuel for its intended purpose. Likewise, you don't wanna cook off the smoky resins that you worked so hard to put on that salt in the first place. On my Keg, 225F is the sweet spot, as that's the temperature at which I no longer have to babysit my air intake, while still attaining a respectable amount of smoke.
- Surface area is the name of the game here. Pick a sea salt or Kosher salt that's flaky or chunky; not fluid like the table or pickling variety. Those pockets of space between the grains promote opportunity for those smoke resins to adhere and do their thing. Also, you want smoke coming at your NaCl form all sides, and that's the reason we're using a porous vessel like a splatter guard in the first place. For good measure, be sure to give everything a stir about every two hours in case there are 'hotspots' of resin accumulation.
- I've got it in my head that more of a moist heat will help the smoke better adhere to the salt, but I've not had a chance to properly prove this. I tried my salt smoking three different ways: Smoke wood only, smoke wood and a can of water sitting next to the salt on the grates, and half the weight of soaked smoke chips instead of wood chunks (again, it was a surface area thing). Frankly, as I was using a different variety of smoke wood each time, it's hard to really compare smoke intensities, and I've not had the time to do a proper full comprehensive matrix-style test (never mind the ridiculous amounts of smoky sodium chloride that it'd generate).
- I tried both a 12 and a 24 hour smoke. The day-long smoke was actually broken up into two twelve hour sessions to ensure that there was enough fresh smoke wood to get the job done without over-filling the fire pit. Again, depending on your cooker, I'm sure your mileage is gonna vary.
Have you priced smoked salt compared to plain ol' Kosher? It's literally a pennies on the dollar sort of deal; and I gotta say that the first batch outta the smoke is most certainly worth its weight in gold. It's hard to think of a single thing that couldn't use a bit of subtle smoky nuance in addition to the seasoning you were gonna add anyway. Where cooking's concerned, this stuff will take your mac and cheese to new heights when applied judiciously. Likewise, using a bit as garnish atop something rich and chocolaty (ahem) is da bomb. And if you like to keep it simple, try seasoning your steaks and burgers with this stuff and a little cracked black pepper instead of the seasoning with the phat orange lid; it just can't be beat! More of a beverage person you say? An already smoky reposado tequila in your favorite margarita or highball practically begs for the stuff. And for those of you who have one too many office Christmas party stories involving Señor Tequila, look no further for the best Bloody Mary topper your tastebuds did ever encounter .
While I was researching the best way to create a smoked salt, I had read in a few places that liquid smoke applied to salt subsequently dried in the oven was a simple route to smoky seasoning goodness. Hey, but isn't that cheating? Well if you consider that liquid smoke is literally liquid (water) and smoke, then not really; but is it that simple? Just for kicks, I dosed a bit of Kosher with liquid smoke to see what would happen and the results were anything but comparable. Real smoke sans the liquid intermediary is definitely the way to go. Not only does the end product have that rustic look that a smoked salt should, but the final product has a depth of flavor that the shortcut just cant hold a candle to; which I suppose only goes to show that you can't rush barbeque seasoning either.