You may not need a lot to bring out the incredible flavours of your meat, wood smoke in itself is a fantastic addition, but the craft of smoking means there is no end of possibilities!
If you want to take your taste buds to new heights, combine smoking with other ways of adding flavour, such as marinading, brining or curing. In traditional American BBQ cooking there are often multiple layers and depths to these added flavours. Depending on the type of meat and cook time, you can start by injecting a sauce or rub, then apply a mop sauce, then finish with a BBQ sauce or glaze – all the while the food is absorbing the smoke from the BBQ.
There are three opportunities to add additional flavour to your food with smoked foods: Before, during and after smoking.
You can flavour your food pre-smoking with techniques like salting, curing, brining, rubbing, marinating and injecting.
To salt food, cover it with or sandwich it between layers of salt: depending on the size of the food, you will leave it in the salt for a few hours (for small fish fillets) or a few weeks (for large hams). Generally you will rinse off the salt before smoking.
A cure contains salt and often sodium nitrite, plus optional sugar, pepper and other spices.
To create a brine you create a saline solution by adding a salt or a salt cure to water or other liquid. Brining food like pork chops or chicken can help keep the meat moist during the smoking process.
A good crust starts with a good rub. A rub should both season your meat and seal in moisture. There are two popular times to apply a rub to your food; just prior to smoking or the day before, which will help to cure and season the meat.
Most American rubs are based around the following ingredients; salt, pepper, paprika and brown sugar with additional spices that provide regional flavours from where they were first created. Examples of this are when you add cumin and chilli powder to a rub you get a Texas style rub, use dry mustard and hot red pepper flakes and you are close to a South Carolina flavour.
A marinade can be described as a flavoured liquid seasoning/sauce that can be made with an oil (olive or sesame), an acid (vinegar or citrus juice), sauces (soy or Worcestershire sauce) and aromatics (onion or garlic or both).
To add extra flavour and moisture deep into your big cuts of meat you can inject it. Use an over-sized syringe with multiple holes/jets points that allows the liquid to go numerous ways once it injected. Generally the liquid injected can be a broth (stock), melted butter and seasoning or even a juice or cider.
Now that you have added flavours before the smoking you can now consider if and what flavours you can use to complement these initial flavours during the smoking process. You can add flavouring while smoking with Mop sauces, Sprays, Bastes, Glazes and BBQ sauces.
Mop Sauce -
These sauces are applied to the meat with a BBQ mop or basting brush to provide additional flavour and moisture. Mop sauces are generally not too sweet, otherwise the sugars will burn over the long cook time. Also, mop sauces are normally quite runny so they penetrate food.
To keep food moist and add flavour you can spray your food with a fruit juice like apple or mix in a cider vinegar. Only use a food grade sprayer.
Like a mop sauce, a basting sauce is added with a brush, generally a silicon basting brush or a natural bristle paintbrush. The key ingredient in a baste is either butter or meat drippings, like a mop sauce, baste sauces are generally savoury.
A glaze is added towards the end of your cook as they contain sugars so you don't want them to burn. Glazes are mostly thick and sweet and will add a sheen or gloss to your meat.
BBQ Sauces -
Like a glaze the BBQ sauce is added at the end of smoking so you caramelise the sugars in the sauce without burning them. A great way to finish your ribs is to coat with a BBQ sauce and then place over a high heat to sear the sauce to the meat.
To complement all the flavours you have added into the food/meat you need to serve it with the appropriate condiments. The condiments can either match the flavours you have already added to the meat or provide a contrast.
BBQ Sauce -
Different BBQ sauces have different applications, for pulled/shredded or chopped meat you can use a thin vinegar sauce. You can also use the BBQ sauce that you used during cooking to continue the flavour or have it in a side bowl for dipping.
Dill Sauce and Tartare Sauce -
Mayonnaise based dill and mustard sauces work well with smoked seafood. Or you can even smoke the sauces and create a smoked mayonnaise.
Certain foods just taste better with certain condiments i.e. smoked beef goes with horseradish and smoked pork and ham work best with a mustard. These are only suggestions as there are too many condiments and matches to list.
Many smoked foods utilise layers of flavours to create the desired end results i.e. to make pastrami you start by brining your beef or brisket, then crust it in a peppercorn and coriander seed rub before smoking it.
Flavour is all about experimentation, try some of our recipes and soon you'll be creating your own! Don't be afraid to try out different recipes and techniques. Don't forget, if you have a roaring success, share it will us on instagram @charmatenation or our Facebook Page. Good luck!