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Sometimes a certain smokiness is just what a dish (or drink!) needs to finish it off. For many of us, though, the options have long seemed to be either to use a full-sized smoker or to “cheat” with tricks like smoked paprika or liquid smoke. The problem is that a typical smoker is too unwieldy and imprecise for many applications, not to mention impractical if you just want to quickly smoke a cocktail or a few bites. Smoked paprika is limited in that it definitely doesn’t work in everything, and liquid smoke is all too easy to accidentally use too much of (ask us how we know).
So what’s a home smoky-flavor-lover to do?
Around a decade ago, the Smoking Gun by PolyScience began to answer this question. This handheld device, like the various similar options now available, allows you to infuse just about any food or drink you can imagine with smoke. And these tools use small food-grade wood chips to create flavor, meaning you won’t lose out on the options of different types of wood smoke for different foods.
Read on to learn about how to use a smoking gun (also known as a smoke infuser), or check out our list of the best smoking guns for cooking if you don’t yet have one and want to get into adding delicious smokiness and stunning visual effects to your creations at home.
How to Use a Smoking Gun For Food
You should always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your particular device, as specific points of operation may vary. With that said, here’s the basic procedure that you’ll typically use to smoke food with a smoking gun or smoke infuser.
Start off in a well-ventilated area (unless, of course, you want your house to have a hint of a smoky smell to match your food). If you’re indoors, make sure any nearby windows are open, and turn on any fans or vents.
First, prepare the container you want to use (optional). You can just use the hose to blow smoke onto food if you like, but we recommend trapping the smoke with the food in an enclosed container. Common choices include cloches and resealable plastic bags. You can even simply put plastic wrap over a bowl or glass to create your own smoking container!
Insert the end of the smoking gun’s hose into your container of choice. This way, smoke won’t start to flow out into the room, leaving you to scramble to position the hose after the device is already lit.
Put the wood chips or other approved material of your choice into the designated chamber in a clean smoking gun. If approved by your device’s manufacturer, experiment with options like tea, hay, and herbs.
Turn on the machine.
Light the wood chips or other approved material. Since the machine is already running, the fan will blow air past the wood chips and begin to generate smoke that will come out through the tube.
Wait for your container to fill with smoke OR wave the tube back and forth over your exposed food or drink.
Turn off the gun once you have sufficient smoke (the container is full, or you’re satisfied with how much has come into contact with your food). If you’re using a container, remove the hose and ensure the container is fully closed to retain as much smoke as possible.
Wait two to fifteen minutes if you’re using a container to enclose the smoke. The length of time you should wait depends on what you’re smoking (shorter for delicate foods, longer for rich or dense foods) and how much smoky flavor you want. If you simply blew the smoke over exposed food, it’s ready to eat without waiting.
Enjoy! You can either open the container and release the smoke before serving, or bring the entire thing to the table, smoke and all, for an impressive show.
Disassemble and clean your smoking gun. This can be easy to forget to do, but it’s extremely important. Once your smoke infuser cools enough to easily handle (probably after dinner!), remember to thoroughly clean all of the parts that require it. The exact construction can vary from device to device, so consult the manufacturer’s instructions about which parts to clean, and how. Many smoking guns have dishwasher-safe parts, but double-check before putting any of it in the dishwasher.
How to Smoke a Cocktail
A nice cocktail or mocktail on its own is special already, but adding a hint of smoky flavor along with a dramatic presentation takes it to the next level. Use this technique with any drink where you’d enjoy some smokiness.
For drinks, you have two main techniques for infusing them with smoke flavor using a smoking gun.
Your first option is to make the drink completely and then smoke it. To do this, fully prepare the drink so that the smoke will be the finishing touch. Next, cover the finished drink with a glass cloche. Proceed with the instructions above for smoking food; insert the hose into the cloche, add wood chips to the machine’s chamber, turn on the machine, light the wood chips, and fill the cloche with smoke.
Once the cloche is full, turn off the smoke infuser and remove the hose from underneath the cloche. The setup should now be basically airtight, with the smoke swirling around under the hood.
Allow the smoke to remain in contact with the drink until it reaches your desired smokiness. We recommend slightly shorter than you would leave food; try two to three minutes instead of two to fifteen. Remove the cloche, watch the smoke billow out, and enjoy your drink!
The second method for smoking a cocktail involves adding the smoke partway through. Instead of finishing the drink and then smoking it, you’ll make the base of the drink, smoke that, and then pour it over ice to finish it.
For this method, simply prepare the base of the drink (or even just one component) in a cocktail shaker or decanter. Follow the steps above to add smoke to the container, then close the container. Shake it (if it’s a cocktail shaker) or swirl (if it’s a decanter), then pour and enjoy!
Tip: in this method, we recommend smoking the drink base when it’s as complete as possible. This way, you’ll enjoy a stunning presentation with wisps of smoke floating away as you pour the smoked drink over ice for your guests. However, you can use the same technique to smoke one component of a drink and then add it to other ingredients. You’ll miss out on the presentation, but you’ll still get some of that beautiful smoky flavor.
How Does a Smoke Gun Work?
These versatile tools are actually pretty simple and straightforward in concept. You light your source of smoke (typically wood chips, but you can experiment with other options too). The compartment holding the smoking substance is typically inset into the gun, although a few models actually have this chamber fully enclosed inside.
Once the wood or other material is alight and smoking, the machine uses a fan to blow the resulting smoke through a tube. You then capture the smoke in a container with your food or drink, and give it a few minutes to work its magic. Alternatively, you can even blow the smoke from the hose straight onto your food.
How Do You Smoke in a Cloche?
You’ve seen it in all your favorite reality cooking shows: a contestant or chef brings out a dish covered in a glass hood full of thick, pale smoke. They set down the dish and dramatically lift the hood. The smoke floats out, revealing the incredible (and smoke-infused) dish underneath.
Now, you can do all of this at home! Once you know how to use a smoking gun, which you’ve just learned in the article, the hardest part is to find that beautiful glass hood. After all, what do you search for? “Glass round lid thingy for smoking fancy food”? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! (See what I did there?)
The term you’re looking for is cloche.
As much as we love to make recommendations of specific products, honestly with this one, it’s all up to your taste. Now that you know the correct terminology, you should have no trouble finding a cloche that suits your style and budget. If you want a starting point, though, we love this one because it offers classic style and doubles as a cake stand. Just be sure that its 8.25” diameter is large enough for the applications you have in mind (it isn’t large enough for some dinner plates, for example).
Is a Smoking Gun Worth the Price?
In our opinion: yes, absolutely! Especially since some of our top smoking gun picks are budget-friendly, we believe that many home chefs should have one around. It allows you to add a smoky note and extra complexity to almost anything you can imagine. Plus you have the creative freedom of figuring out what materials to smoke for the best flavor, whether you use the typical wood chips or something more unusual like herbs or tea.
Really, the only time we wouldn’t recommend a smoking gun is if you’re passionate about (and always have the time and energy for) traditional smoking. Due to the relatively short time the smoke is exposed to the food, its flavor doesn’t penetrate as far as it would in a traditional smoker. If you’re a true smoked food aficionado, you might find the resulting smoky flavor more shallow or mellow than you would prefer. But the smoking gun also gives you extraordinary flexibility and ease of use, so even in this case, you might find that you love having one around.
How Do You Clean a Smoking Gun?
After each and every time you use a smoking gun, it’s important to clean it. If you leave it dirty with smoke residue, you run the risk of gradually making it unusable.
To clean it, wait until it fully cools. (There’s no need to risk burning yourself!)
Disassemble the device. Empty out anything remaining in the chamber that holds the burning material.
Check whether your parts are dishwasher safe.
If so, simply run the washable parts through the dishwasher. We like to use the silverware basket to discourage small pieces from flying around as the machine runs.
If not, put all of the washable parts of the machine into warm, soapy water. This typically includes the burn chamber, the barrel, and potentially any nozzles on either end of the tube. You may also be able to wash the mesh screens inside of your device. Note: please consult your manufacturer’s instructions to learn exactly which parts of your device are washable, as designs vary and yours may differ from these instructions.
Gently wash all the washable pieces in the warm, soapy water bath. You can use a cotton swab to reach hard-to-access areas.
Dry each piece as thoroughly as possible, then lay them out on a clean, dry towel to thoroughly air-dry. Once you’re confident that every piece is completely dry, simply reassemble the device and it’s ready to use for next time!
Does a Smoke Infuser Cook Your Food?
No. Unlike other cooking methods that can leave your food with a smoky flavor, one of these infusers doesn’t actually cook your food at all. Instead, you use it on food that’s already cooked (or ready to eat, if it’s served raw). It will add a delightfully smoky flavor as a finishing touch, but won’t further cook your food.
While those dramatic smoke-filled cloches that you see on cooking shows may look intimidating, it’s an easy technique to replicate at home once you have a smoking gun or smoke infuser. These devices emit smoke made from wood chips or other material of your choice. You then use that smoke to infuse your food or drinks with smoky flavor, without actually cooking or heating them.
We believe that every passionate and creative home chef should have a smoking gun as one of the tools in their arsenal. When you’re looking for that extra bit of smoky flavor, it’s a quick way to add it to almost anything you can imagine.