Smoke cooking is a wonderful technique for preparing a wide variety of meats, seafood and vegetables. Smoking generally uses low heat, which reduces shrinkage and helps most products retain their juices, thus producing a more tender and flavorful dish.

There are a variety of different smokers on the market. The three main heat sources are charcoal, propane gas and electricity. Many outdoor smokers include a water pan which fits between the heat source and the food. This dramatically increases the humidity of the cooking compartment, helping the food to remain moist and tender. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for assembling and using your smoker. It does not require a large amount of wood chips to achieve a well smoked flavor; however, I generally use somewhat more than the manufacturer suggests.

You can also get smoke flavor into your food while using your regular outdoor grill. This is achieved by soaking wood chips in water for one hour, then draining them and wrapping them in an aluminum foil pouch. The pouch is pierced with a small knife to allow the smoke to escape and then placed on the heat source of the grill.

Wood chips for outdoor smokers are generally ½-inch in size. Preferred varieties of wood chips include hickory, mesquite, alder, cherry, apple and orange. Do not use resinous woods such as pine or cedar as they will produce an unpleasant taste. Chips should be soaked in cold water at least one hour prior to using in the smoker or grill. If you use your smoker on a regular basis, you may consider keeping a stock of chips soaking in water. Always drain the chips well prior to using.

Recently, some manufacturers have produced smokers that can be used on the range top. These are smaller and very simple to use, about the size of a shallow roasting pan. They generally use more finely chopped wood chips that often do not require soaking in water prior to use. Again, following the manufacturer’s recommendations is always important. These smokers are particularly effective for smaller, more tender meats and seafood that take 20 minutes or less to cook.