Wok Skills 101: Indoor Smoking

[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Tea-Smoked Chicken Wings

Sweet, smoky, crispy and juicy. Chicken wings away! »

While you're never going to be able to slow-cook a whole slab of St. Louis style ribs on your stovetop, a wok is an excellent way to add a bit of light smoke flavor to smaller foods. It requires no special equipment other than a wok and a rack. Since the whole thing happens in a tightly sealed foil tent, very little smoke actually enters the room (less than say, searing a few steaks off). The heat under a wok is much more adjustable than the blast you get from hot coals on a grill or in a smoker, which expands the possibilities when it comes to choosing ingredients to smoke with. Standard wood chips work fine, as do tea leaves (try green or Lapsang Souchong), dried and fresh herbs, spices (star anise and cinnamon are great), various sugars, fruits and veteables, and rice.

The process is simple: Line the bottom of the wok with foil, add your smoking ingredients, heat the wok until they smoke, place a rack above them (in a pinch, a lattice made with four chopsticks supporting a plate works), add your food, cover with foil and carefully close, then smoke away.

You can hot smoke by leaving the burner on under the wok, turning the foil pouch into a mini oven, or you can get cooler temperatures by blasting it with heat for 1 minute out of every ten. It'll get hot enough to produce smoke, which will get trapped in the foil and smoke the food without cooking it much.

Unlike smoking on a grill or a regular smoker, most wok-smoked foods require some kind of cooking afterwards, though this is not a hard and fast rule. Most get finished by roasting, grilling, or stir frying.

For complete instructions on how to smoke in a wok, click through the slideshow above »

Here are a few of my favorite flavor combinations.

  • Sugar, rice, green tea, star anise, and coriander seeds to smoke chicken wings before broiling.
  • Sugar, rice, black tea, orange rinds, and cinnamon to smoke a whole duck before roasting.
  • Cedar chips under salmon filets before searing or grilling.
  • Oak leaves or grape leaves under a hard cheese (try an aged gouda or ricotta salata).
  • Fresh ginger peels, sugar, rice, cloves, and sichuan peppercorns underneath pork spare ribs before braising and glazing.

Continue here for Tea-Smoked Chicken Wings »

About the author: After graduating from MIT, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt spent many years as a chef, recipe developer, writer, and editor in Boston. He now lives in New York with his wife. Got a suggestion for an upcoming topic? Email Kenji here, and he'll do his best to answer your queries in a future post. Become a fan of The Food Lab on Facebook for play-by-plays on future kitchen tests and recipe experiments.