Everyone knows the old cliché that you can’t get that authentic smoky flavor if you cook the food on a gas grill or barbecue. The makers of gas BBQs have been trying for ages to dispel that belief (or “myth” they would call it), but with only limited success.
The truth of the matter is that with flame tamers and lava rocks (see below) one can get some semblance of a smoky flavor. But even the makers of outdoor gas grills and barbecues don’t truly buy it. That’s why they try to square the circle, offering extras such as steel boxes in which one can place wood chips (reviewed in this site: Flavor from the Fire I - wood chips and wood chunks) that are supposed to heat up and create the smoke.
But there is an old Indian trick for infusing gas-grilled food with that smoky flavor. I say Indian, because I first learned it from an Indian I got talking to when we discovered that we had a common interest in barbecues. I subsequently did some internet research and found several variations of the same idea. And the one common theme was that they were all sites concerned with Indian cooking. So, the idea did indeed originate in Indian cuisine.
Now, let’s start with this method and then look at some of the others.
For this method, you need the following “ingredients”:
● 1 onion
● 1 small piece (max 2 inches each dimension) of lump wood charcoal
● 1 teaspoon of butter, clarified butter or ghee
● Spices (optional)
Before starting, please note that the charcoal should be natural and not easy-lighting. The easy-lighting charcoals have chemicals on them and you do not want to infuse your food with chemicals - only smoke.
1. Light the barbecue and set the gas on maximum, ideally closing the lid to make it heat up more quickly.
2. Meanwhile, hollow out the onion, so that it forms a "cup" big enough to accommodate the charcoal.
3. When the barbecue is hot, place the piece of charcoal in the center of the food grate, directly over the flames, turning it around with tongs to make sure that all sides heat up.
4. When the charcoal is glowing hot, put the food onto the food grate.
5. Then place the hollowed-out onion on the food grate, next to the charcoal
6. Immediately, transfer the hot charcoal into the hollowed-out onion, using charcoal tongs or some other safe method that does not involve burning your hands.
7. Add a teaspoon full of butter, clarified butter or ghee (optionally mixed with spices) to the hot coal inside the hollowed-out onion.
8. The coal will start emitting a dense white smoke.
9. Close the lid.
10. At the same time as the gas is cooking the food, the trapped smoke from the vaporizing butter and charcoal will infuse the meat with that wonderful smoky flavor that they told you could only be obtained from a charcoal barbecue!
And that’s it. The longer you leave the food there, the smokier the flavor. So, if you like it smoky, it’s better to turn the gas down and let it cook for longer - but obviously it depends on what you’re cooking.
Don’t forget to remove the onion and coal when it cools down, after you finish cooking. And don’t be tempted to eat the onion. Like the onion you use to clean the food grate (see TIPS AND TRICKS: How to clean your food grate) throw it away when finished.
Try this method and let us know how it works out for you.
If your gas BBQ has a flame tamer, the juices from the food ooze out in the heat and fall onto the flame tamer. When they hit the hot flame tamer, they vaporize into smoke and rise up into the food.
Lava rocks (also reviewed on this site: Flavor from the Fire II - smoker boxes, lava rocks and charcoal) work in a similar way, but have certain advantages. Because lava rock is porous, it captures more of the dripping fat and juices. This in turn produces more smoke, adding to the smoky flavor of the food.
Also, lava rock can be spread over the entire surface, unlike flame tamers which leave some parts uncovered. Lava rocks are also better at containing any flare-ups to a local region. With flame tamers, flare-ups tend to spread, when they occur.
Lava rocks are generic and you can buy them in many places. Flame tamers are specific to the appliance. If you need a replacement, you might have to order it separately from the manufacturer.
The most widely advised way of getting a smoky flavor from a gas grill or BBQ is to use wood chips. The idea is to get them hot and smoldering.
There is an ongoing debate among BBQ aficionados about whether or not to soak wood chips in water (or beer) before putting them in a steel box with holes (or wrapping them in aluminum foil with holes) and putting them in the closed gas barbecue in an effort to get some smoke out of them. Soaking them means that initially you will get steam rather than smoke. And if you soak them in beer (or whisky), you will certainly get an interesting flavor
But the question is whether soaking actually does any good. Some say it merely cools the barbecue down and slows the cooking process. Others say it stops the woodchips all burning up at once. They dry out at an uneven rate - or so the theory goes - and thus the soaking helps maintain an even consistent smoke over time, without having to add more chips. Others say that the water only penetrates a couple of millimeters (similar to the debate on marinades - See TIPS AND TRICKS: The BEST Marinade in the World). This means that once the water evaporates, it is as if the chips have never been soaked in the first place.
Rather than enter the fray of this debate, we are going to throw this open to you - our wonderful community of BBQ enthusiasts. Tell us your experiences and let us know what you think at the subject.
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