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Liquid smoke - how do you use it?

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#1 nathanm

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Posted 11 April 2010 - 06:49 PM

I have always regarded liquid smoke as the work of the devil, and in no way a substitute for real smoking of meat or barbeque. At most it is a way to add a bit of smoke to a sauce or other non-meat application.

But recently I have seen some scientific papers where they argue that in blind taste tests some people actually prefer it to the real thing. That probably depends crucially on the real smoked meat they compared to. However, it made me think that maybe - just maybe - I was too quick to write it off liquid smoke (LS).

Also, there is a new book out called Cheater BBQ that strongly advocates it.

There are four basic ways to use liquid smoke:

1. In the marinade, or brine, left to soak into the meat prior to cooking.

2. In the cooking liquid. The Cheater book advocates putting the LS directly into a crock pot /slow cooker with cubed pork butt or spare ribs, which are then slow cooked for 6-8 hours before being put in a hot oven to make a nice crust.

3. Applied right at the end to the meat (and/or in a glaze) then heated in hot oven or under broiler to brown the surface.

4. Commercial meat packers uses spray it into a smoker, allowing it to vaporize. You could likely simulate this in one of those stovetop smokers. The temperature would be lower for the LS.

I tried an experiment with #2 today, trying both Stubb's Hickory and Wright's (also hicory). The flavor was OK, but very weak. There was a hint of smoke flavor, but only that.

I also tried approach #3 and it had an objectionable harsh aftertaste, particularly from the Wrights.

Besides the supermarket brands there are commercial suppliers like Red Arrow.

Anyway, I am interested in whether anybody else has some positive LS experience they want to share. Given the reputation of LS among real BBQ lovers negative experience is almost too easy, so it isn't as valuable :smile:

#2 RAHiggins1

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Posted 11 April 2010 - 06:59 PM

David Chang uses it in his signature egg and caviar dish. You can add it to condiments to add a smoky flavor. You could add it to a sous vide salmon filet to simulate smoked salmon.
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#3 David Ross

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Posted 11 April 2010 - 07:20 PM

I tend to use a product if it gives me the results I'm looking for, which typically means the flavor I want. (And I suppose if a bottled product like liquid smoke is good enough for David Chang, there must be some redeeming qualities about it).

I use a few drops of liquid smoke in a smoked creamed corn dish I make in late summer when our sweet corn is ripe. I smoke the ears of corn on the barbecue to give it a true smoked, charred flavor. Then I puree the corn with cream and add a few drops of liquid smoke to enhance the flavor. I also add some smoked bacon and chives to the creamed corn. The liquid smoke gives the final dish a little boost and I don't feel at all guilty for using it. Granted, I haven't ventured out using it on meats.

#4 Tri2Cook

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Posted 11 April 2010 - 07:49 PM

I haven't worked with liquid smoke enough to offer positive experiences (I have a bottle that I bought because a tiny amount goes in the BBQ marshmallows from the Chadzilla blog that I wanted to try. They were awesome but it would take years of marshmallows to use the entire bottle so maybe I'll do some experimenting with it sometime.) but I'm not in favor of ruling out any ingredient based on other peoples opinions or tradition. I really don't care if someone else think it's right or wrong to use something, if it gives me the result I want then it's a valid ingredient.
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#5 Dakki

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Posted 11 April 2010 - 09:00 PM

I use it when making beef jerky. Just enough to suggest a bit of smoke. I think any more would give the jerky a "chemical" flavor.
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#6 ScoopKW

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Posted 11 April 2010 - 09:07 PM

I use mine (and only Wright's Liquid Smoke) for making ersatz lox. I add the liquid smoke to kosher salt, and use that to cure the salmon. I am very happy with the results -- I get pricey lox for the cost of inexpensive salmon fillets.
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#7 nickrey

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Posted 11 April 2010 - 09:41 PM

I use a dash of it in Chili to give that "cooked over an open fire" taste. Works well.
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#8 Doodad

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Posted 12 April 2010 - 04:40 AM

I have only ever seen it used in slow cookers and such with lots of liquid.

#9 Peter the eater

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Posted 12 April 2010 - 05:08 AM

I use Haddon House Liquid Smoke every once in a while. Originally, I got it for all the pork and chicken we were raising, and later on I started using it sparingly on seafood. What I like is the short list of ingredients: water, hickory smoke concentrate, and an emulsifier (polysorbate 80). It packs a ton of smokiness in each drop, so a little 5oz bottle goes a long way.
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#10 BadRabbit

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Posted 12 April 2010 - 06:20 AM

Better liquid smokes are not as "chemical" as most assume. The better ones are made by pushing real smoke into a hyper-humidified chamber and then the air in that chamber is condensed into liquid. It's essentially just distilled smoke. They usually add an emulsifier to make it less watery but it is not as artificial an ingredient as most assume.

I've made the Cheater BBQ Pork mentioned above and never had anyone know the difference (and I live in the south where people know good BBQ).

Edited by BadRabbit, 12 April 2010 - 06:21 AM.

#11 Beebs

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Posted 12 April 2010 - 09:53 AM

I've never used liquid smoke before. But I've been messing around with making bacon at home without actually smoking it (I live in an apartment), and haven't thought to use liquid smoke to simulate the smoke. Smoked paprika didn't quite do the job, so I'm excited about giving this stuff a try.

#12 IndyRob

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Posted 12 April 2010 - 12:05 PM

I add the liquid smoke to kosher salt, and use that to cure the salmon.

You can also dry this salt on a sheet pan in the oven and use it to impart some smoke flavor to just about anything (store it sealed). I googled 'liquid smoke salt' and found some more elaborate methods for making smoked salt.

#13 nathanm

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Posted 12 April 2010 - 12:42 PM

As mentioned above, liquid smoke is distilled from real smoke. It is analogous to vanilla extract, or a similar flavor extract. Some brands add vinegar, molasses and similar things, but many brands (including Wright's) is just the smoke extract.

In sauces or similar contexts this undoubtedly works pretty well - it is a flavor extract so there is no reason it wouldn't work in a similar fashion to others. Some of the brands seem to be a bit harsher flavor than others in this context, but I am sure one could play with the amount to add and come up with something.

My interest is in trying to use it for meat smoking. As mentioned above there appear to be a couple ways people do it, but my experiments so far have not been successful.

#14 rlibkind

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Posted 12 April 2010 - 01:25 PM

I use mine (and only Wright's Liquid Smoke) for making ersatz lox. I add the liquid smoke to kosher salt, and use that to cure the salmon. I am very happy with the results -- I get pricey lox for the cost of inexpensive salmon fillets.

You're right, that ain't lox. It's not even ersatz lox, however. What you're making is ersatz smoked salmon, or Nova lox. Real lox (a.k.a. belly lox) is simply brined, never smoked.

Mostly, I use Wright's as an additive to canned baked beans, and occasionally added to a sauce for application after cooking/grilling.

Edited by rlibkind, 12 April 2010 - 01:28 PM.

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#15 BarbaraY

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Posted 12 April 2010 - 04:18 PM

The only time I use it is to make my dad's BBQ sauce because that's what he used and to make a faux smoked chicken breast.
The smoke is mixed with water in a lidded pan and the breasts are placed on a rack over the water and covered. Then steamed for a short time. Works pretty well.

#16 jmolinari

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Posted 12 April 2010 - 05:35 PM

has anyone thought of using it in a bread dough, in a miniscule amount, to simulate the bread having been cooked in a wood oven? Or in a pizza dough?

#17 RAHiggins1

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Posted 12 April 2010 - 06:19 PM

Smoked mayonaise is signature at Richard Blais's "Flip Burger Boutique" and is un-believably good. Stir a few drops in to your favorite mayo and taste the results. Then add it to some home made french fries.

Edited by RAHiggins1, 12 April 2010 - 06:20 PM.

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#18 jsmeeker

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Posted 13 April 2010 - 12:55 PM

I've never used it, but the thought has crossed my mind. I have no way to do a proper BBQ at my apartment, but I have made pork ribs by braising them in a foil pouch. (recipe/technique came from Alton Brown). I contemplated the idea of adding liquid smoke to the braising liquid, but never actually tried it. It's been a while since I have made ribs like this, largely because I got on a BBQ kick and swore off doing braised ribs at home. I figured I would rather not eat them unless I could get really GOOD BBQed ribs.

But now that this topic has popped up, I may reconsider. A few brands have been mentioned. Can we get some more details? Is liquid smoke available in different wood types? (Oak, cherry, hickory, etc.??)

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#19 Toliver

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Posted 14 April 2010 - 09:41 AM

Can we get some more details? Is liquid smoke available in different wood types? (Oak, cherry, hickory, etc.??)

In the majority of grocery stores, you may not be able to find different kinds, let alone different brands, of liquid smoke. Have you tried an online search? That may be more fruitful than a trip to the store.

As for uses, my mom brushes a beef brisket with the liquid smoke, wraps it in foil and lets it sit in the fridge over night. She has a dedicated pastry brush for this job since the liquid smoke tends to linger on the brush even after cleaning.
Then she cooks the brisket low and slow in the foil "pouch" and it has a nice smoky flavor when finished cooking.

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#20 scubadoo97

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Posted 17 April 2010 - 07:52 AM

Nathan, to answer your question, very sparingly

I have cold smoked corn for a corn soup and then added a few drops to bump up the smoke flavor just a tad. Do the same with hot smoked salmon or other fish when making a fish spread. The delicate smoke flavor can get lost in a spread so the liquid smoke helps highlight the smoke flavor in the dish. A little goes a long way.

#21 emannths

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 10:53 AM

I'd like to bump this, with particular emphasis on nathanm's original question regarding whether anyone has had any success making "smoked" meat using liquid smoke. It looks like so far there have been success with salmon and brisket. Anyone else care to chime in? I'm particularly interested in any successes with pork (butts, bellies/bacon, ribs).

Also, any opinions on brands?

#22 FrogPrincesse

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 01:50 PM

I've used liquid smoke to make kalua pig & duck.

The meat (pork "butt"/shoulder, or a whole duck) is rubbed with salt and liquid smoke (I used Wright mesquite), wrapped in ti or banana leaves + foil and then cooked in the oven. The foil bag containing the meat is placed in a roasting pan containing water, and the pan itself is wrapped in foil.

This technique is described in Alan Wong's New Wave Luau, and is supposed to mimic cooking in a traditional imu underground oven.

#23 BadRabbit

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 02:10 PM

I'd like to bump this, with particular emphasis on nathanm's original question regarding whether anyone has had any success making "smoked" meat using liquid smoke. It looks like so far there have been success with salmon and brisket. Anyone else care to chime in? I'm particularly interested in any successes with pork (butts, bellies/bacon, ribs).

Also, any opinions on brands?

I did the ultimate cheater pork once after hearing about it on Splendid Table and finding the recipe on their website (it uses butt or country style ribs). I changed the spices to my usual rub but did follow their process and use of LS. It produced a good pulled pork for sandwiches. I don't know if I would have attempted to serve it as straight BBQ (i.e. not on a bun) because the lack of bark would have been more noticeable. The flavor is very good and the texture is tender though somewhat homogenous due to the aforementioned lack of bark.

I smoke butts all the time and a good one in my smoker is one of my real passions. That said, I wouldn't hesitate to use this recipe if I couldn't smoke for some reason.

I'd also like to second using LS for mayonnaise. RB's Flip Burger Boutique's fries (fried in duck fat) with the smoked mayonnaise is incredible.

I always use Wright brand LS.

Edited by BadRabbit, 23 March 2011 - 02:13 PM.

#24 OliverB

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Posted 24 March 2011 - 10:58 AM

I haven't used mine in years, don't even recall what I bought it for, maybe to make a bbq sauce or something. But to those that want to make their own bacon, but can't smoke it for some reason or other, I'd think it would work well to add that smoky flavor if all you can do is put your cured bacon in the oven. Maybe carefully spray some on with a mister? It's incredibly strong, if you want to cure yourself from a smoked meat addiction eat a teaspoon of this stuff, that should do it (don't try this at home, you'll probably have that taste in your mouth for a very long time!)

It's a natural product, I think it's just water that's being smoked and then maybe concentrated, might even be healthier than the real smoking?

I have to try that mayo, that sounds interesting! And LS can be something fun to play with, smoking things you can't really smoke at all, like a fine misting on some ice cream? Chocolate? Fruit? I might just have to put some in a little mister and play with it some more!
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#25 StefanS

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Posted 29 March 2011 - 08:22 AM

I use LS for shin and flank steak, sous vide.
I think the result is good (but I must admit that I do not own a smoker or have never tried food from one)

I brine the meat for a few hours (10% brine) up to 24h(5%) if I have the time, the brine is mixed with some LS (I just add a bit) and sometimes some other spices
After that I Sous Vide the meat, using dry rub, for 48-72h.

I think the LS adds a good taste and have tasted with out without the brine (without LS) and find the meat more moist using it.

#26 JoNorvelleWalker

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Posted 12 October 2014 - 09:45 PM

I assume Nathan has this all figured out by now, based on the good press liquid smoke received in the books.  As for myself, I had never tried liquid smoke until tonight.  Being an old woman who lives in an apartment, my cookery does not include much barbeque.


This afternoon I bought a bottle of Stubb's Hickory.  Putting my nose to the opening it was rather vile.  But then again, raw vanilla extract does not do much for me either.


Persevering, I rubbed a chicken thigh with a few drops of Stubb's -- and then with chili spice mix (MC@H p 138), a spice mixture of which I have grown most fond.  There was a Pavlovian response upon entering the kitchen, but after grilling there was not much smoke flavor to be detected.


Should I have used more?  Where did I go wrong?

#27 lesliec

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Posted 13 October 2014 - 05:30 PM

For something completely different ... the Smoking Cap cocktail works quite well with 'fake' smoke if the real stuff isn't available.


Be cautious; just a few drops onto the ice cube should do it (I have a spray bottle of manuka smoke flavouring, and it's startlingly strong but fine in this with a gentle squirt on top).  You can always add more.

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#28 andiesenji

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Posted 13 October 2014 - 06:31 PM

Over the decades I have been cooking I have tried liquid smoke many times but never quite cared for the flavor and sometimes during cooking the flavor completely dissipates, leaving no hint of smokiness behind.  Too much and there is an acrid, sharp flavor that is most unpleasant and catches in the throat. 


I prefer a different solution.

For some things I use Lapsang Souchong tea because that imparts a wonderful smoky flavor without the harsh flavor I find in liquid smoke.


For some foods I use smoked salts.  In fact, I cooked a pot of beans yesterday and used guava-smoked salt to achieve a flavor that is remarkable like the flavor achieved when the beans are cooked with smoked ham hocks.

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#29 Porthos

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Posted 14 October 2014 - 04:22 AM

I have never used it to try to duplicate the flavor of meats that have been smoked.


I use LS in stove-top-cooked bean dishes that I want to add a little something extra to. I add it toward the end of cooking.


My wife has a recipe in her head for tuna dip which has a bit of LS added. It is always popular.


Back to bean dishes, making navy beans with some onion, a bit of garlic and finishing with some Applewood LS is tasty in my book.

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#30 gfweb

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Posted 14 October 2014 - 11:03 AM

I will use it in a salmon " log" made with cream cheese and horseradish. Occasionally in a salad dressing. Once in deviled egg filling.