Steven Raichlen and Project Smoke

Put on your smoking jackets or rather your BBQ aprons and mitts, and Steven Raichlen will teach you how to “smoke everything.”  During colonial times, a man’s wealth was measured by the number of hams in his smoke house.  George Washington even attended a three day barbecue in Virginia.  Steven Raichlen’s new book Project Smoke and his PBS Project Smoke TV series guides you along the world’s barbecue trail and features recipes, tips, and techniques to help you perfect the smoke ring.  On a side note, who knew that the “rub” was created in the United States!


Photo with Steven Raichlen in Chicago

Photo with Steven Raichlen in Chicago


The first lesson Steven Raichlen wants us to understand is knowing the difference between barbecue and smoking.  He explains, “All barbecue is smoked, but not all smoked foods are barbecue, such as Virginia ham and Wisconsin smoked cheddar.”  A quick rule of thumb to remember the difference between grilling and barbecuing  is: 1) Grilling is on direct and high heat and is fast; and 2) Barbecuing is on indirect heat with larger and tougher cuts of meat, i.e. low and slow.

The second lesson is to “Understand the flavor of smoke.”  As Raichlen says, “Smoke is the umami of barbecue.”  Umami is a Japanese term that refers to the fifth taste that is a savory, luscious, earthy and meaty flavor.  “Smoke is an ingredient that has transformative powers,” Raichlen emphasizes.

The third lesson is to “Smoke everything.”  “Smoke gives dimension and elevates and transports cheesecakes to a whole different level,” Raichlen says.  Yes.  You read that correctly.  You can actually smoke a cheesecake! Raichlen mentions that wood is the primary source for smoke; but he emphasizes that non-fuel sources of smoke create an opportunity to expand your palate.  “The Italians smoke cheese with hay, and the Chinese use black tea to smoke.”  Project Smoke provides in-depth instruction on the types and amounts of wood to use when smoking.  “It’s important to use seasoned wood instead of green wood,” Raichlen explains.  “And always remember that more isn’t better.  You need to use wood little by little.”  His new book Project Smoke provides instructions and creative ways of using both wood and non-fuel sources to smoke your food.

And here is a bonus tip from Steven Raichlen about achieving the “Red Badge of Honor” aka the smoke ring.  This naturally occurring phenomenon results from chemical reactions when nitrogen dioxide combines with proteins in the meat and causes a reddish-pink discoloration.  “Moisture helps,” Raichlen informs, “Put a bowl of water in your smoker to foster humidity.”

Steven Raichlen is on book tour for Project Smoke.  Click here and see if he will be in your city.

What’s in your smoker this summer?

Savor the day!


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