Smoked foods and types of smokers

Apr 18, 2009 at 11:46 a.m. ET

Have you deliciously discovered the intense flavor of smoked meats? Smoking is an age-old method of preserving meat, but it's also a great way to infuse smoky flavor into meats, poultry, fish and even vegetables. If you're thinking about investing in a smoker, there are several types to consider, from a small, stovetop portable model to a large, full scale smoker grill. What you choose depends on your budget and what kind of food you'd like to smoke. Here's what you need to know about different types of smokers.

Smoked Ham

Types of smokers

Stovetop Smokers

These small, portable smokers are a great way to introduce yourself to smoking. They allow you to smoke smaller meats like pork or turkey tenderloin, cuts of chicken, burgers, steaks, chops, and seafood to see if you really enjoy the technique of smoking foods.Stovetop smokers consist of a stainless steel pan about six-inches deep that holds a tray and cooking rack. Before you start to smoke your foods, you place special wood chips under the tray, then cover with the rack. Your food goes on the rack. To smoke, place the smoker across two burners on top of your stove and cover with a tight lid. The downside of stovetop smokers is that they won't hold large cuts of meat, and they can smoke up your kitchen if you don't have a good kitchen fan.

Compact charcoal smokers

These are larger, outdoor smokers that use charcoal or wood chunks for smoking your food. Compact charcoal smokers work somewhat like a charcoal grill, except there is an extra compartment for a water pan that adds moisture to your food. They will hold a small turkey or roast, and they must be used outdoors.The downside to the charcoal smokers is how they are constructed. You often have to take out the food that you are smoking to put in more charcoal. This is not only messy, it makes it difficult to maintain a proper cooking temperature for lengthy cooking times. Your best bet is to opt for a model that allows you to access the charcoal without taking everything apart.

Large wood-burning or charcoal smokers

Many people who cook or smoke competitively use large, commercial wood-burning smokers with excellent results. These smokers are extremely expensive but they will hold more food than a compact charcoal smoker and they are quite similar to a large barbecue grill in most cases.

Electric smokers

These are the biggest, most expensive smokers, but they tend to give the best results. Electric smokers essentially look like barbecue grills with hoppers on the side that dole out wood pellets for that smoky flavor. These smokers are also the easiest to use, because they maintain a constant temperature and the fuel doesn't need to be replenished periodically. Many electric smokers come with digital temperature displays so you always know just how hot the grill is at any time. They hold more food than just about any other grill, giving you the opportunity to smoke a large amount of food and then freeze it or use it for leftovers throughout the week.

Wood pellets and wood chips

Whatever type of smoker you choose, you'll need wood pellets for the electric smoker, or wood chips for the other types of smokers. Be sure to read the manufacturer's directions on the smoker you buy so you know what type of wood chips to use — not all are compatible with every smoker.

Smoker recipes

Smoked Tomato Bruschetta

Makes 24 appetizersHeirloom, plum or Italian tomatoes fresh out of the garden are perfect for this appetizer. Smoking gives tomatoes an amazing texture and flavor that really adds to this dish.

1 or 2 medium tomatoes per person
Extra virgin olive oil (flavored if you prefer)
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
Fresh basil, chopped finely
French bread baguette
Whole garlic clove, sliced in half
Feta or other crumbly cheese
Black olives, chopped

1. Heat the smoker over medium heat. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Thickly slice the tomatoes, removing the seeds if you prefer. Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt, pepper and basil, making sure both sides of the tomatoes are coated. Place sliced tomatoes on the smoker rack, and reduce the heat to low. Smoke the tomatoes for at least 15 minutes, or until they are soft and have taken on a smoky flavor. Allow the tomatoes to cool, and then chop into chunks.3. Meanwhile, slice the French bread into 1-inch thick slices, and rub both sides with the cut edge of the garlic clove. Place the bread slices on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven until lightly browned, turning once. (You can toast bread in a toaster if you prefer, but only toast it lightly.)

4. Lightly brush the top of each bread slice with olive oil, then top with a few chunks of tomato, a bit of crumbled feta, and some chopped black olives. Place under the broiler for just a few seconds to heat and melt the cheese. You can top the broiled appetizers with a bit of fresh basil if you prefer.

Smoked recipes

Smoked Salmon and Peach Roulade
Tea Smoked Chicken
Smoked Salmon Chive Dip