Close your eyes. No, really, go on, do it. No one’s going to judge. Close your eyes, and with only memory as a guide, reach for whatever sense most screams autumn to you. I’ll tell you straightaway, hearing is right out the door. There are no characteristic seasonal songs that delight, no soundtrack to this in-between season. Similarly, we must discount touch. While bracing weather is of course a signature to the rest of the country, we won’t feel anything worthy of the name chill until mid-January. Sight? No, our acres of greenspace remain stubbornly similar in hue. So what’s left…besides taste and smell? And what more sets the mood for this underrepresented season than the sight and sound of smoke? There’s not much that compares.
Long thought the province of Everglades-inhabiting backwoodsman or grotesquely wealthy foodies easily able to drop a couple of thousand on a complex home smoker, the one secret the gourmet gadget companies want to keep as tight a lid on as possible is that you can easily smoke meats at home with a minimum of fuss in your own home convection oven. To build a cost-effective home smoker, simply take a large pot and line the bottom with a strip of aluminum foil and some smaller selections from a bag of grilling wood chips. Next, place a steamer insert into the top of your pot and place whatever meat (marinated, hopefully) in the insert. Then plop the lid on top and begin cooking long, slow and low, with an initial burst of medium-high heat to set the chips to doing their thing.
Fish will generally want for 10-15 minutes of smoking, while chicken and red meats may require 30-45 minutes. Larger cuts of meat should always be measured with a thermometer and finished in the oven for good measure. A final tip? Create as air-tight a container as possible with more tinfoil around the lid, and leave it sealed for an additional five minutes after you finish cooking. This will ensure all that smoky goodness is lovingly locked within your delicious home-cooked meal.
Should You, Wood You
Now that you’re a savant in the home-smoking game, it’s naturally time to start pairing a selection of woods to whatever you want to cook. For the neophyte, oak is the go-to; with its medium amount of smokiness, it is rarely overpowering even in larger amounts. Mesquite, on the other hand, has such a powerful tang that it should only be used in smaller quantities, or as an accent to another wood. One particular combo that’s trendijng is maple-smoked fish, especially salmon. The sweetness complements the meat and allows you to serve with a minimum of overpowering spice or sauce.