You can smoke ribs. You can smoke brisket. And of course you can smoke ice cream.
Steven Raichlen smokes his ice cream, and that’s not all. He smokes cocktails. He smokes hard-cooked eggs. He smokes maple syrup. Think about that for a second. How good would smoked maple syrup be?
Raichlen is sort of the mad genius of the smoker, the grill and the barbecue pit. He is also perhaps the country’s leading authority on the subjects, having made them the focus of three series on public television and most of his 30 books. His newest book is “Project Smoke.”
The book’s 100 recipes cover everything from smoked nachos to the traditional Chinese delicacy tea-smoked duck. Along the way he has covers smoked beef and pork ribs, smoked shrimp and a truly excellent recipe for braise-smoked lamb shanks with Asian seasonings.
The difference between grilling, barbecuing and smoking is a matter of ingredients, fuel and temperature, he said from his home on Martha’s Vineyard.
Grilling involves small, tender pieces of food over a hot fire with a very short cooking time; foods such as steaks, hamburgers, chicken breasts and chops are all grilled.
“True barbecue is an indirect method, meaning the food cooks next to the fire, not directly over the fire, and it cooks a very long time. The most important thing about true barbecue is it involves wood smoke. You cannot have true barbecue without wood smoke,” he said.
“And then you have this process called smoking. All barbecue is smoked, but not all smoking is barbecue.”
The difference is that barbecued foods are smoked and also cooked from the heat of the fire, but some smoked foods are made without heat: “Think of Nova Scotia salmon, for instance, think of smoked cheese, think of Scotch,” he said.
And there are two different ways of smoking, too. One is hot smoking; that’s the one that uses heat to help cook the food. The other is cold smoking, in which the temperature cannot rise above 80 degrees so that the food remains absolutely uncooked by heat.
Typically, foods are cold-smoked in a two-chamber smoker. The smoke — and the heat that creates it — is produced in one chamber and then moves without the heat to other chamber, where the food is waiting.
But what if you don’t have a two-chamber smoker? What if you still want smoked salmon or smoked nuts or smoked cheese or smoked eggs?
Raichlen has what he calls a workaround for that. Just use a hot smoker and place a large aluminum tray of ice below and above the item being smoked, without letting them touch. You will have to replace the ice as it melts, but it creates a cold zone that keeps the food from cooking (salmon has to be cured first with salt and sugar).
For first-time smokers, Raichlen offers three tips (aside from the obvious first and second tip, to buy the “Project Smoke” book and watch the “Project Smoke” television series.
“The first dish you should attempt is pork shoulder because a pork shoulder is very forgiving,” he said. Brisket is a tougher piece of meat and requires some expertise in knowing when it is done, but “it’s hard to overcook a pork shoulder.”
The second tip is to “avoid what I call the Guy Syndrome,” he said. The Guy Syndrome is the thought process that assumes that if some is good, more is better. Instead of adding one cup of chips to the fire every hour for nine hours, a Guy Syndrome guy would add nine cups at the beginning to create a massive smoke flavor.
“And that is not really a good way to proceed,” he said.
The third tip is to use an instant-read thermometer, especially when smoking meat. “When working with a big piece of meat, internal temperature is crucial,” he said.
And he had a reminder for more seasoned smokers, as well: “One thing that is very important to me is to remember where your food comes from. I’m a big advocate of organic poultry, grass-fed beef, wild-caught seafood. I’d rather eat less, but better, meat. That’s one of my principles,” he said.
And don’t be afraid to try something new. At one point, he took everything he could think of and smoked it. Some of these experiments did not work out, but many did, including mayonnaise, cheesecake, butter — and that ice cream.
“It takes vanilla ice cream, so it is like channeling a toasted marshmallow,” he said.