Posted on 14 Oct 2014 18:11
Have you ever watched Top Chef? If so, have you seen chefs on this competition show using a handheld device to "smoke" meats and other foods? Could you actually smoke something with a small handheld device? Is it something worth owning for your kitchen? If so, how do you use it?
I've asked all these questions and more. Owing a big old meat smoker, or even a newfangled electric smoker is not in the cards for me, and probably most of my readers. We may be interested in getting some smoke flavor into our foods sometimes, but certainly not enough to justify the expense and footprint of such a device. And, hey, if we really want some genuine smoked brisket, or some other great barbecue, we know where to get it in our town!
What is a Handheld Smoking Device?
But, a handheld smoker is not really a smoker in that regard. Real smoking is slow and takes hours. Some people smoke their meats for up to 13 hours. A handheld smoker is more of a smoke infuser or smoke flavoring device. In principal this is a great idea. We love smoke flavor in our foods but we don't always want to grill outdoors! And liquid smoke flavoring is not the same at all. So, why not an easy and portable way to put some smoke into our food?
Although there may be more than one company making these, the one everybody talks about is The Smoking Gun Handhelf Food Smoker by PolyScience. It is a handheld battery-powered smoker that can be used inside or outside.
I've tried to gather together some resources on using The Smoking Gun food smoker to share here on CulinaryLore, but I had limited success. I have included some videos from Williams Sonoma with Chef Michael Voltaggio. Remember I mentioned Top Chef? Michael Voltaggio was the season six winner. He holds a Michelin Star and is the recipient of several awards, as well as being a finalist for James Beard Best New Restaurant award. He serves as Chef de Cuisine of The Dining Room at The Langham, Huntington Hotel & Spa in Pasadena. He hales from Frederick, Md. (my state!) In the videos below (parts one and two), he explains the use of The Smoking Gun and demonstrates how to use it.
The Smoking Gun with Chef Michael Voltaggio, Part I
The Smoking Gun with Chef Michael Voltaggio, Part II
Chef Voltaggio explains about the different kinds of wood chips you can use, such as apple, cherry, mesquite, and hickory and what kinds of foods they are suited for. He also explains how you can use herbs and spices such as coriander in the smoker! You can also use teas, hay, or dried flowers. By the way, you can also use sawdust, but if you do buy a smoking gun to use, be careful of what sort of sawdust you use. Much of today's lumber is pressure treated with chemicals to preserve it. You do NOT want to smoke with the sawdust from such lumber! Little canisters of wood chips to use in The Smoking Gun are available separately for purchase, but you shouldn't have much trouble finding them locally for a cheaper price. The basic Smoking Gun comes with two .5 ounce samples of apple and hickory wood chips.
The goal of using the handheld smoker is to finish your already cooked food with a little hit of smoke. But you don't have to smoke only cooked food. You can smoke salt, for example, as the chef demonstrates in part two. He also shows how to make a smoked tomato salsa, a smoked soup in a blender, a smoked Margarita cocktail (sorry, I'll pass), and table presentation.
Now, the goal here is not to stand their blowing smoke onto your food while smoke fills up your house. Instead, you want to find a way to enclose the food and the smoke into a container, so that the smoke has some time to infuse into the food. Regardless, the obvious problem is that a lot of smoke is going to be released into your kitchen, and you're going to need some good ventilation if you don't want your fire alarm going off when you use it. Not every kitchen has ventilation fans that vent air to the outside. A fan and a window might do, but be aware that this could be a problem in small urban kitchens. You may need to use it outside, in that case. If you can get past those problems, this looks like it might be a cool little gadget to own.
Of course, it is possible to smoke in a pan on the stove-top. However, this is not just "smoking" it is cooking. As such, you need a way to control the temperature, and to get the smoke to the food without smoking your house in the process. Whether The Smoking Gun is a better alternative for those who don't wish to have an expensive outdoor setup, may be up to the individual and what they intend to do. Many people seem to be surprised that this isn't going to replace a real smoker and they compare it to other ways of smoking food. It is a smoke finisher, not a smoker. Smoking is a cooking method, as well as a flavoring method. The smoking gun is meant as a flavoring method, alone. It does not cook the food. The other problem is that certain folks may be tempted to use it for a purpose other than for which it was designed (you know who you are!). Before long we might find a kitchen gadget being considered 'parapenalia.'
I've checked out some reviews and I've noticed that some people are making mistakes in the way they use the smoker. This shows that we should study up before we purchase or use a product and then decide it doesn't work well! For instance, one problem is that people are trying to smoke things in containers that do not allow enough room for the smoke to expand, or even to have enough smoke. Let's say you wanted to smoke some beverage and you had a glass of the beverage almost full. You try to force smoke into the beverage with the hose of the gun but there glass is narrow and there is not much air space left in it. The smoke wants to expand. Since it has such a small space to do that in, more of the smoke tends to force itself out of the top of the glass. Then, even if you cover the glass for a while, to give the smoke a chance to infuse, there is not much smoke in it and you don't get too much of a smoke flavor. The answer would be to put the beverage in a larger container that allows more smoke to fill it. At least, if you wanted a more intense smoke flavor. I've seen people blowing smoke bubbles into liquid in almost full containers. That just is not going to get much smoke flavor into the liquid, because the smoke pretty much sticks around as bubbles instead of the smoke flavor particles going into the liquid itself. Once the bubbles dissipate or are popped, the smoke just blows away. That might work for a touch of subtle smoke, but not a moderate, or big hit of smoke flavor.
I've tried to find some reviews or articles that were not from stores but so far I cannot find any that I consider fair or credible as most of the users do not seem to know how to use the gadget properly. Of course, I haven't used it either, that's why I'm looking for a credible review! Some people consider it a toy. Since anything that you don't absolutely need could be considered a toy, by some standards, I don't know how to use such sentiments. Have you used The Smoking Gun? Do you know of a good review or article about it? If so, does it work? What are your thoughts? Share in the comments below!
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