Wok Skills 101: Indoor Smoking

A wok is the perfect vessel for smoking foods for a short period of time indoors.


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.

Lining wok with tinfoil

The process is simple: Cover your wok in a piece of heavy duty foil that hangs over the edges by at least 5-6 inches on the sides. The foil should be pressed into the base of the wok and be wide enough on all sides to come up over the edges of a metal rack set on top of it.

Wire rack set over a foil-lined wok

If you have a round rack that can be inserted into the wok, all the better, so long as it is at least three inches above the floor of the wok. A regular cooling rack works fine.

sugar, white rice, green tea pearls, star anise, and coriander seeds smoking in bottom of foil-lined wok

Place your smoking ingredients in the base of the wok. In this case, I'm using a mix of sugar, white rice, green tea pearls, star anise, and coriander seeds to smoke some chicken wings.

Set the burner to medium-high and let the wok heat up until the ingredients inside start releasing smoke, about 5 minutes. The sugar will burn first, then the other ingredients will start smoking. From here, work quickly through the next step so that your house doesn't fill with smoke.

Sealing chicken wings set on a rack over foil-lined wok with another sheet of foil

Place a second large piece of heavy duty aluminum foil over the top of the food. Lift the edges of the bottom sheet up and crimp the two pieces of foil together tightly so that the entire rack is enclosed in a foil tent. You may consider using kitchen towels or oven mitts while doing this, as the foil can get pretty hot.

Try and leave as much room for circulation above the food as possible.

For most foods, I leave the wok over medium heat for 10 minutes, then shut off the heat and let the food sit for a further 20 minutes, during which time the smoke dissipates.

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.

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.