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Test Kitchen tips: Flavoring wood chips for smoking

May 30, 2012 |  6:00 pm

Hickory-Smoked Brisket

Next time you break out the Weber to do a little smoking, consider soaking your wood chips in something other than water to add a little complexity to the overall flavor.

Soak the chips in a flavored liquid, such as wine or fruit juice -- beer is a favorite of mine when I'm smoking on a hot summer day. The liquid will infuse the chips with flavor as they soak, giving the food more depth and dimension as it smokes. Try adding a little apple juice for light and fruity notes, perhaps a little red wine to add some spice notes. A touch of rum added to the soaking liquid can lend a nice hint of caramel when smoking something delicate.

Even after the chips are soaked, you can still use the drained liquid while you're cooking. Add some of the drained liquid to the drip pan as the food smokes; as the liquid steams, it will continue to flavor the food.

Oh, and don't forget the cook. Always make sure you have enough beer -- or other liquid -- on hand for yourself as you watch over the grill, savoring the great outdoors.

If you have any kitchen tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment below or shoot me an email at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

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Photo: Hickory-smoked brisket (recipe below). Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

Hickory-smoked brisket with Southwestern barbecue sauce

Total time: 2 hours, plus 5 to 6 hours smoking time

Servings: 6 to 8

Note: This recipe calls for hickory chips and the use of a smoker, or a charcoal grill converted to a smoker. Hickory chips are available at many well-stocked markets as well as at barbecue supply stores. The barbecue sauce makes about 6 cups, more than is needed for this recipe. Any remaining sauce will keep up to 1 week, refrigerated.

Hickory-smoked brisket

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 (3- to 4-pound) beef brisket with a layer of fat no thicker than 1/2-inch

4 cups beer

2 cups water

Hickory chips, soaked

1. In a small bowl, combine the salt, pepper, onion powder, cumin and garlic powder. Rub the mix into the brisket and let sit at room temperature, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, prepare your smoker or grill to cook over low, indirect heat for several hours. Set up a drip pan underneath where the brisket will smoke, and fill with the beer and water. Shortly before cooking, adjust the heat as needed to maintain a temperature around 250 degrees and add hickory chips to start smoking.

3. Place the brisket (fat side up) in the prepared smoker and cook for 2 1/2 hours. Adjust the heat as needed (add several coals to either side of the grill as needed if using a kettle grill) to maintain the ambient temperature (around 250 degrees); replenish the chips as needed to keep smoking. Baste the brisket every 30 minutes or so to keep it moist.

4. After 2 1/2 hours, wrap the brisket (fat side up) tightly in foil and continue to cook over indirect low heat until the meat is fork-tender, 3 to 4 additional hours (time may vary depending on the heat of the smoker and size and thickness of the brisket).

5. Remove the brisket from heat and, still wrapped in foil, cover it with a layer of newspaper and kitchen towels to keep warm. Set aside, covered, for at least 1 hour before serving. While the brisket is resting, make the sauce.

Southwestern barbecue sauce and assembly

1 large onion, thinly sliced, top to bottom

3 cloves garlic, crushed

2 jalapeños, seeded and diced

2 poblano or pasilla chiles, seeded and diced

1/2 cup strong brewed coffee

1 beer, preferably ale

2 tablespoons tomato paste

3 cups ketchup

1/4 cup maple syrup, preferably Grade B

1/4 cup molasses

1 tablespoon cumin

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon New Mexico chile powder

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

Prepared smoked brisket

1. In a heavy-bottom 4-quart pot, combine the onion, garlic, jalapeños and chiles with the coffee and beer. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the tomato paste, ketchup, maple syrup, molasses, cumin, salt, chile powder and red wine vinegar and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and blend the sauce using an immersion blender or in stages in a stand blender, until fairly smooth. Set aside.

3. Remove the brisket from the foil and slice across the grain into thin strips, reserving any pooled juices and leftover bits. Stir these drippings into the barbecue sauce. Serve the brisket warm with the barbecue sauce on the side.

Each of 8 servings: 667 calories; 37 grams protein; 19 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 44 grams fat; 18 grams saturated fat; 161 mg. cholesterol; 1,077 mg. sodium.
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