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A Lesson in the Backyard Arts

IF YOU CAN EAT IT, you can smoke it. Pair the profound interest in summer backyard barbecues with a massive rise in interest by everyday Joes looking for new culinary penchant, and you have a recipe for learning to smoke your own meats. What was originally a method of preserving proteins performed only by trained smokehouse professionals is now the hot weekday water cooler banter. The process of flavoring meat, fish and veggies with smoke from burning natural material (woods like hickory, mesquite or apple trees) has become an art form with truly delectable results.

Here in Hawai’i, kiawe wood is preferred; but the use of local fruit trees as fuel for your smoking adventures-like guava, which adds a blackened color to meats-are all the buzz in smoky circles as of late.

In addition to the wide variety of woods you can experiment with, there are also different methods of execution. Hot smoking puts the heat source close to the meat, which lends to faster cooking but requires a keen eye. Cold smoking replaces intense heat for the slow and steady, and takes fine- tuning-but yields dramatic results.

Expert-in-the-field Henry Holthaus, former owner of Kiawe Cue in the ’80s and ’90s (and current food safety professor at the Culinary Arts College on O’ahu) has been experimenting and perfecting his own smoking style for years. He’s gone well beyond the usual beef, pork and chicken options.

“You can smoke just about anything,” Holthaus says. “Here, in Hawaii, the smoked tako (octopus) is a very good pupu-style dish. I’ve also experimented a bit with smoked oysters. That’s an amazing dish with plump and smoky flavors. Actually, it tastes very different from the canned version but you have to really love oysters.”

Over at Kaimuki’s soul food hot spot, Soul, award-winning chef Sean Priester enjoys smoking his own salmon that he rolls out exclusively during Sunday brunch, beneath his fluffy Eggs Benedict. What formerly had been a mere hobby, he’s just now making his first real foray into smoking, having recently been asked to cook heaps of smoked brisket for a friend’s Texas wedding.

“Smoking has a complexity of favors that I like,” he says. “So it gives me an opportunity to balance the boldness of the marinade with the protein.”

Seasoning options including dry rubs or marinades for beef and pork, and brines used mostly in poultry. While purists may snicker, some try cheating the process by adding liquid smoke prior to roasting the bird. While effective, it doesn’t offer the thrill-or the range of flavors-you can attain with a long, cold smoke.

For the weekend “foodie” warrior, there are numerous accoutrement that range from charcoal, water and propane fired smokers. In Honolulu, POP Marine has a full line of Bradley electrical and propane smokers ranging from $475 and up, as well as various woods and all the tools you’ll need. Holthaus coyly recommends investing $1,000 in an electrical commercial smoker for home use (you can order one online). As he describes it, “Electrical is the lazy man’s way of smoking meats.”

If you’re just starting your foray into smoking, Holthaus does have one firm recommendation: “Make sure that whatever it is you’re doing that you take detailed notes. That way, you can improve on your results as you go. And I’d also recommend on doing small quantities so if you make a mistake it’s not a total loss. It’s kind of a trial-and-error process, smoke to taste.”

No matter which way you cook, the important thing is to make sure it’s fun and enjoyable. Happy smoking!

Simple Rubs for Ribs:

Beef Rib Rub: (Use two tablespoons per rack.)

2 parts fresh ground black pepper
2 parts chili powder (your favorite blend)
1 part ground Hawaiian salt

Pork Rib Rub: (Use two tablespoons per rack.)

4 parts chili powder (your favorite blend)
2 parts paprika (Pennzies has several varieties; we prefer the Smoked Hungarian)
1 part ground Hawaiian salt
Sprinkle evenly over the top of the rack and refrigerate overnight.

Smoked Flavored Brine: (Use for turkey, chicken and other poultry.)
Original recipe: Joel Schaeffer, modified by Henry Holthaus

Ingredients (for a turkey):

2 gal. water
12 oz. Hawaiian salt
1 lb. sugar or honey
10 cloves garlic, crushed
4 oz. ginger root, crushed
3 tablespoons liquid smoke
2 ea bay leaves, broken
5 ea black peppercorns

Preparation:
1. Combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve salt and sugar.
2. Simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Chill overnight. (Do not immerse the turkey in hot brine!)
4. Immerse the turkey in the brine and refrigerate for at least one day, but two days is best. The original recipe calls for straining the brine before immersion, but I prefer leaving all of the ingredients in. It’s also
acceptable to immerse the turkey frozen and it will thaw and marinate at the same time. This, however, will take two days.
5. Thoroughly drain and roast as usual.
6. Discard used brine.

For chicken, divide the recipe in half.