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October 18th, 2017

The Kosher Gourmet

Think you can't get smoky flavors from a gas grill? Try this (3 recipes!)

Jim Shahin

By Jim Shahin The Washington Post

Published Sept. 1, 2017

 
Think you can't get smoky flavors from a gas grill? Try this (3 recipes!)
 
  Stacy Zarin Goldberg for the Washington Post.

Gas grilling is to barbecue what two-hand touch is to actual football: fun, but certainly not as serious.

As interest in true low-and-slow smoking grows, though, backyard cooks who own gas grills (approximately two-thirds of the grill owners in America): How do you add smoke flavor to foods without cooking over wood or charcoal?

To barbecue gurus such as Steven Raichlen, it's a non-starter. ("My advice: don't," he writes in his book "Project Smoke.") Others are more open to the idea.

"Most people think of smoke and believe that it's something handled by pitmasters with these giant rigs, and that's the stereotypical image," says Jamie Purviance, author of several grilling books, including "Weber's Smoke." "But you can use a gas grill to get that smoky flavor."

It's possible, but not easy. Frankly, the gas grill is not ideal for smoking. Unlike smokers, which are designed to provide a deeply smoked flavor through wood smoldering over long periods, or even charcoal grills, which allow for the use of big hardwood chunks to swaddle food in vapors, gas doesn't provide that charred flavor. Plus, as Raichlen points out, wide venting in many gas grills allows smoke to escape. The grills are designed to handle a diaphanous, ephemeral smoke, not a penetrating one.

Grill manufacturers, though, have taken notice of an increase in interest in true barbecue. Mike Kempster, former global chief marketing officer for Weber-Stephen Products, says that over the past decade, the company has seen an uptick in the number of people calling and emailing with questions about smoking. Weber responded by manufacturing, among other things, perforated metal smoker boxes designed to be put inside a gas grill.

The average gas grill, which can cost from $200 to $1,000, has come a long way since the days when ceramic briquettes or lava rocks provided the heat. Now, it is more common to find angled steel heat shields over the burners. "Heat tents protect the burner," says Clark Turner, a spokesman for the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association and director of product management for Char-Broil. "They reduce flare ups and even out the heat."

Although they're still not as good for smoking as charcoal, today's gas grills can achieve some pretty good smoking results - if you understand its limitations. Here's how to start:

Get a receptacle for wood chips or chunks. They will smolder and create the smoke that wafts across the food. (If you have a high-end grill, it may have a built-in smoker box, set directly above a burner.)

Most free-standing smoker boxes are rectangular and cost about $20. Make sure to get a heavy-gauge stainless steel one that can stand up to the grill's heat. These are set on the cooking grate or on the angled metal plates beneath the grate. There are also V-shaped boxes, for placement between the plates.

You can also jury-rig a smoker pouch by placing wood chips in the center of a 12-by-16-inch sheet of aluminum foil, closing it up, and poking a few holes in it to allow smoke to escape. Like the rectangular box, it can be set on the cooking grate or on the angled metal plates.

Put the smoker box onto the cooking grate before starting your grill. The distance from the fire will help keep the wood chips from flaming and, because they'll take a little longer to catch, the grill will be fully preheated by the time smoke appears.

Soak chips or chunks of oak, hickory, pecan, apple or some other fruitwood or hardwood in water for an hour, then drain and add them to the box or pouch. Place the box back on the grill and turn all the burners to high to preheat.

Cook with indirect heat: fire on one side, no fire on the other. When you see smoke, turn off the side of the grill that's not under the smoker box. Set the knobs on the hot side (where you've placed the box or pouch) to the desired temperature. Put the food on the cool side, close the lid and wait until the food is done.

This is where the limitations come in.

It's possible to smoke large meats such as a pork shoulder or a brisket on a gas grill, but it's unlikely that they'll come out as deeply flavorful as you want. Why? One, wood chips in smoker boxes don't last very long, and you'd have to replace the pouch every half-hour for eight or 12 or even 18 hours. Two, wood chips provide more of a wisp than a plume of smoke, so your food won't have that brawny, outdoorsy flavor. You can use chunks for longer-lasting smoke, but even they are inadequate to the task because there's the aforementioned problem with smoke escaping out the vents.

Better, then, to use the gas grill for daintier foods that will take smoke more easily and quickly. Focus on these:

Appetizers, such as spiced mixed nuts. Sprinkled with brown sugar and cayenne, the nuts take on a classic sweet-hot flavor and are imbued with an earthiness when hickory smoked. They take only 30 minutes to cook, are addictive and keep well in a sealed jar.

Fish, particularly fillets and steaks. Like the mixed nuts, they quickly absorb the smoke, and because the waft of smoke is gentle, there is little fear of oversmoking, a concern with fish. Meaty fish, such as bluefish, mackerel and swordfish, work particularly well. One of my favorites is the buttery and juicy Chilean sea bass, which is dense yet moist, inviting the smoke to imbue the flesh with a light campfire fragrance.

Sausages. They can gently roast, which keeps the meat moist but cooks it through. (Sausage is often grilled or fried, which tends to burn the outside while leaving the interior underdone.) They take only about 40 minutes, making for an easy weekday meal.

In "Project Smoke," Raichlen offers a bratwurst recipe that comes out juicy inside and snappy outside. He calls for you to hot-smoke them over hardwood. But it comes out so well on a gas grill that it might make even him a believer.



SMOKED CHILEAN SEA BASS WITH PONZU SAUCE

4 servings


Thick, meaty fish such as Chilean sea bass takes well to a light smoke. To accompany it, this version of a Japanese ponzu sauce is tart with lime and lemon, brightening the smoke flavor.

You'll need to soak 1 cup of apple or alder wood chips for an hour.

MAKE AHEAD: For best flavor, the ponzu sauce needs to be refrigerated for at least 2 hours before serving, and preferably overnight. It can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Dried bonito flakes and kelp are on the Asian aisle of most large supermarkets. Ingredients

For the sauce

2 tablespoons plain rice vinegar

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)

1/4 cup fresh lime juice, (from 2 limes)

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1/2 cup mirin

1/2 cup dried bonito flakes (about 1/4 ounce)

One 3-inch piece of kelp (kombu; about 1 ounce)

For the fish

1 tablespoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon powdered or granulated garlic

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

2 pounds Chilean sea bass fillets, pinbones removed (may substitute halibut or haddock) Steps

For the sauce: Whisk together the rice vinegar, lemon and lime juices, soy sauce, mirin, dried bonito flakes and kombu in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and preferably overnight.

For the fish: Prepare the gas grill for indirect heat. Turn the heat to high. Drain the chips and put them in a smoker box or foil packet poked with a few fork holes to release the smoke; set it on the cooking grate, between the grate and the ceramic briquettes, or atop the angled metal heat plates, close to the flame. When you see smoke, reduce the heat to medium (375 to 400 degrees). Turn off the burners on one side.

Lightly oil the cooking grates on the indirect-heat side of the grill.

Combine the salt, powdered or granulated garlic and the cayenne pepper in a small bowl, then use some of it to season the fish (to taste). Place the Chilean sea bass on the indirect-heat side of the grill, close the lid and smoke for about 15 minutes, or until the fish is lightly bronzed and the thickest part of the fillet is barely firm to the touch. It should be moist inside.

Transfer to a cutting board and cut into 4 equal portions, dividing them among individual plates. Strain the sauce, discarding the solids; the yield is about 1 1/2 cups. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the ponzu sauce over each piece of fish. Serve the remaining sauce in a bowl on the table for use as desired. Serve.

VARIATION: For a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them on one side of the grill. For a medium fire, you should be able to hold your hand 6 inches above the coals for 6 or 7 seconds. Drain the chips and scatter them over the coals. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames.

Nutrition | Per serving (with 8 tablespoons sauce and half the seasoning): 250 calories, 43 g protein, 8 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 95 mg cholesterol, 1,500 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

SMOKED BRATWURST

4 servings

Bratwurst is commonly grilled over flames or fried on the stove top. But smoking them adds a flavor dimension, helps retain their moisture and helps prevent the brats from getting too done on the outside before they are cooked through.

You'll need an instant-read thermometer, and you'll need to soak 1 cup of hickory, oak or cherry wood chips for an hour. If you choose to serve sauerkraut, consider placing it with its juices in a disposable aluminum foil pan in your grill and smoke it alongside the brats.

Serve with potato salad or potato chips and ice-cold beer.

Ingredients

4 bratwurst links (1 to 1 1/2 pounds total)

2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil

1/2 large sweet onion, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices

1 medium green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

Coarse kosher salt

4 hot dog buns, for serving

Prepared mustard, preferably horseradish, for serving

1 cup sauerkraut, for serving (optional)

Steps

Prepare the gas grill for indirect heat. Turn the heat to high. Drain the wood chips and put them in a smoker box or foil packet poked with a few fork holes to release the smoke; set it between the grate and the ceramic briquettes, atop the angled metal heat plates, or on the cooking grate at the far end of the hot side. Once you see smoke, reduce the heat to medium-low (300 to 350 degrees). Turn off the burners on one side.

Lightly oil the cooking grate. Place the links on the indirect-heat side of the grill and close the lid. Smoke for 30 to 40 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of each brat should register 160 degrees. Even though you are cooking indirect, you may get grill marks, so turn the brats after 15 or so minutes.

While the brats are smoking, heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat (stove top). Once the oil shimmers, stir in the onion and pepper. Season lightly with a salt; cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, then transfer to a bowl.

Once the brats are done, transfer them to a plate for serving at the table, along with the bowl of onion and pepper. Serve each brat in a hot dog bun and top with the mustard, onion and pepper, and, if desired, sauerkraut.

VARIATION: If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them on one side of the grill. For a medium-low fire, you should be able to hold your hand 6 inches above the coals for 8 to 10 seconds. Drain the chips and scatter them over the coals. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames.

Nutrition | Per serving (bratwurst and buns only): 420 calories, 23 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 27 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 75 mg cholesterol, 870 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

WOOD-SMOKED MIXED NUTS

8 servings (makes 2 cups)

With their rich flavor and crunchy texture, nuts take naturally to smoke.

Buy packaged or canned salted mixed nuts or select your own and mix them. Either way, the slightly sweet, savory spicy seasoning blend mates well with the smoke to create a handy snack or appetizer.

MAKE AHEAD: You'll need to soak 1 cup of hickory or pecan wood chips for an hour before smoking.

Ingredients

1 teaspoon packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon powdered mustard

1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder

2 cups mixed salted nuts, such as almonds, pecans, cashews and macadamias

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Steps

Prepare the gas grill for indirect heat. Turn the heat to high. Drain the chips and put them in a smoker box or foil packet poked with a few fork holes to release the smoke; set it on the cooking grate, between the grate and the ceramic briquettes, or atop the angled metal heat plates, close to the flame. When you see smoke, reduce the heat to medium (375 to 400 degrees). Turn off the burners on one side.

Whisk together the brown sugar, thyme, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, powdered mustard and chipotle powder in a medium bowl. Pour the nuts into a baking pan, then add the brown sugar mixture and the oil, stirring to coat evenly. Spread the nuts in a single layer.

Place the pan on the cool side of the grill, close the lid and smoke for 30 to 40 minutes.

Serve the nuts warm or at room temperature.

VARIATION: For a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them on one side of the grill. For a medium fire, you should be able to hold your hand 6 inches above the coals for 6 or 7 seconds. Drain the chips and scatter them over the coals. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames.

Nutrition | Per 1/4-cup serving: 220 calories, 4 g protein, 7 g carbohydrates, 21 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 170 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar

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