Chemical Flavor, Liquid Smoke
July 6, 2007 12:10 AM   Subscribe

Is there any brand of liquid smoke that doesn't taste like ass? Is it just me, or having I been using the wrong liquid smoke?

I have a number of recipes that call for using liquid smoke, but I've never been able to stand the stuff I've tried. I think it tastes like...chemicals. Is there any non-nasty alternative?
posted by digitalis to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's not purely liquid smoke, but it has plenty of smoke, and molasses and some subtle spices that work with many meat dishes. Dales.
posted by paulsc at 12:21 AM on July 6, 2007

I am something of a bbq genius. My secret is Stubbs.
posted by four panels at 12:35 AM on July 6, 2007

Alton Brown (Good Eats–Food Network) showed how to make your own liquid smoke on his show. I can't find the info online though.

What I did find was a campy industrial film about how it's made commercially.
posted by braintoast at 1:53 AM on July 6, 2007

Maybe you're using too much? Try diluting w/bullion.
posted by RavinDave at 1:57 AM on July 6, 2007

You may want to try spanish smoked paprika.
posted by mildred-pitt at 3:48 AM on July 6, 2007

Any good liquid smoke should be just that: it's literally condensed smoke, and shouldn't have anything in it except hardwood smoke and water (that Good Eats episode was cool). I use a brand called Wright's, and it's just...smoky. But nothing will ever truly replace the flavor you get when something's been really smoked.
posted by rtha at 5:13 AM on July 6, 2007

First of all, make sure that the liquid smoke you're buying is actually derived from a wood that you like the flavor of; if you're comparing bottled hickory smoke to a Texas brisket/tri-tip flavor, that's probably mesquite and you're never going to get a flavor like that from a hickory product (I think hickory tastes like ass, personally, whether it's legit or from a bottle).

If it's ever practical for you to grill properly, like once or twice a year, I'm not sure about making your own liquid smoke, but one of my BBQ books describes making smoked salt. Start by soaking your favorite wood chips overnight and then make a low-heat bed of coals. Make a large, shallow "pan" from aluminum foil, and cover it completely with regular salt; drain the chips thoroughly, toss them onto the coals, put the foil-pan on top of the grill, and smoke it for 30-60 minutes. Probably helps if you stir occasionally to get all the salt grains exposed.

I've only tried this once, but I didn't let it sit in there long enough and the result was rather... mild. But at least it was a mild mesquite flavor.
posted by rkent at 6:01 AM on July 6, 2007

Cooks Illustrated did a review of liquid smoke a few years back. I don't have access to it right now, but I believe the preferred brand had the fewest additives. I will post the answer this weekend if I dig it up.
posted by footnote at 6:12 AM on July 6, 2007

This chowhound discussion on liquid smoke offers some alternatives from a bunch of food obsessives. . .
posted by jeremias at 6:21 AM on July 6, 2007

Re: the Good Eats reference.

The transcript for that show can be found here:

You're looking for Scene 13 where he explains how he makes liquid smoke.
posted by ijoyner at 6:30 AM on July 6, 2007

Not to pre-empt footnote, but I located the Cook's Illustrated review, at least the one that's on-line. I believe it's only available to subscribers, so I've copied it below:

Because liquid smoke is a key ingredient in commercial barbecue sauces, we wondered what it is exactly and how it is made. We learned that liquid smoke is exactly what it says it is. Hardwood is burned, smoke is created, and that smoke is condensed and purified. It is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is found in the condiment aisle of most supermarkets.

Our next question was, which brand is best? We purchased four bottles of commercial hickory-flavored liquid smoke (Colgin, Stubb's, Wright's, and Reese) and tasted each in our homemade sauce recipe. Stubb's, which had the longest ingredient list (seven, including soy sauce and high-fructose corn syrup), received not one vote and was considered too spicy and "artificial tasting." In third place was Reese, which tasted the least smoky and therefore the sweetest. Colgin came in second and was described as "sharp and sweet," flavors we attributed to the presence of vinegar and molasses. Wright's, the overall winner, was the only liquid smoke whose only added ingredient was water, and it was the smokiest sauce with the purest hickory flavor. Because Wright's was stronger tasting than the other brands tested (the label does say "concentrated"), we recommend using it in the way you use salt, by adding a little during cooking, then tasting and adding more, if needed.

Wright's (like many other brands) is available in both hickory and mesquite flavors. We performed a head-to-head tasting and quickly discovered why most barbecue sauces are made with hickory. The hickory-flavored sauce beat the mesquite 3 to 1, the latter described by tasters as "artificial," "acidic," and "musty."
posted by Kat Allison at 6:45 AM on July 6, 2007

Another vote for Stubbs.
posted by adamrice at 7:05 AM on July 6, 2007

If you are serious about BBQ and you know what smoke is supposed to taste like, I think you will always find the liquid smoke flavor unacceptable. I find Stubb's particularly vile, but I'm a BBQ snob who looks down on any liquid smoke. They all have a kind of chemical, artificial flavor to me and Stubb's most of all. If you liked that taste, I guess you'd like Stubb's best, because it has the strongest flavor of the commercial preparations.
posted by Lame_username at 7:29 AM on July 6, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, incredible information guys. Thanks so much. I'll poke around and see what works.
posted by digitalis at 10:32 AM on July 6, 2007

I use Wrights. One or two capfuls makes for perfect bean soup.
posted by lekvar at 10:37 AM on July 6, 2007

« Older Percentage of GDP currently and historically spent...   |   During an audition or reading, are hand or body... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.