7 Recipes and Tips to Create Smoky Flavors Without a BBQ Pit

Smoky flavors are pretty hip right now. From meats to sweets to cocktails, smoke is popping up all over the place. If you don’t have a big BBQ pit or smoker room, here are some ideas and recipes to get your smoke on in every aspect of your culinary life.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

1. Smoked salt

Switch it up and replace some of the sea salt you’ve been using with smoked salt. Salted caramel, for example, has had its 15 minutes; step it up with smoked salted caramel. Have a craving for smoked turkey but don’t have a smoker? Brine your turkey with smoked salt and then roast; the salt will leave a smoky taste to the meat as it cooks. This recipe has been adapted from Alton Brown’s Brined Turkey recipe from The Food Network.



  • 1 cup smoked salt
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 gallon vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1½ teaspoons allspice berries
  • 1½ teaspoons chopped candied ginger
  • 1 gallon heavily iced water


  • 1 red apple, sliced
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 6 leaves sage
  • Canola oil


  • 1 (14- to 16-pound) turkey
  • 5 gallon bucket or brining bag

Directions: A couple days before roasting, begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine the vegetable stock, smoked salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.

Early on the day or the night before you’d like to eat, combine the brine, water, and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.

Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.

Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey’s cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. A 14- to 16-pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2½ hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.

Macaroni and cheese, pasta, ramekin

Source: iStock

2. Liquid smoke

According to Serious Eats, which has a long history and description of liquid smoke, it was invented in the end of the 19th century by a man named Ernest H. Wright. Liquid smoke gives the taste of having smoke-cured something without ever smoke-curing anything. It’s made by collecting the particles of smoke in condensers when wood chips are burned at a high heat. This will collect carcinogens, but commercial producers filter most of them out.

This Smoky Butternut Squash Sauce With Pasta and Greens from Oh She Glows is all the comfort of bacon mac n’ cheese but it’s vegan!


  • ¼ cup raw cashews, soaked
  • 1 (4-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • ¾ cup water
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, or to taste
  • ⅛ teaspoon liquid smoke
  • Hot sauce, to taste
  • 1 package mini shell or macaroni pasta
  • Roasted broccoli or sautéed kale leaves, to stir into pasta

Directions: Add cashews in a small bowl and cover with water. Soak overnight or for at least 3 to 4 hours, until soft and plump. Drain and rinse before use.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread out chopped squash on sheet and drizzle with oil. Toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, flipping once halfway through baking, until squash is fork tender. Let cool for at least 5 minutes.

Add the soaked and drained cashews, water, garlic, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, onion powder, paprika, chili powder, and 2 cups of cooked squash into a high speed blender. Blend on high until smooth. Now add the salt, liquid smoke, and hot sauce to taste and blend again.
Cook pasta according to package directions. If using broccoli, kale, or other vegetables, roast or saute those too.

Add the drained pasta back into the pot. Pour on your desired amount of sauce and stir to combine. Stir in the cooked vegetables, if using. Cook over medium until heated throughout and serve immediately.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

3. Smoked sugar

Smoked sugar is another option for getting smoke into your food where it’s least expected. Rim a cocktail glass with it, make a smoky sugar rub for ribs, sprinkle it onto sugar cookies and anywhere there’s maple syrup, use it in spiced nuts, or make smoky sweet tea. (Bonus points for smoky sweet tea made with bourbon smoked sugar.) Then make these Maple Oat Scones with Bourbon Smoked Sugar from The Earthly Delights Blog.


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • ½ cup quick-cook rolled oats
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon table salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon smoked sugar

Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix flour, oats, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter or two sharp knives, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is the size of small peas. Make a well in the middle of the butter-flour mixture, and pour in the buttermilk and syrup. Working quickly, but gently, fold the ingredients together with a spatula to form a moist, slightly sticky dough until just combined.

Lightly flour your work surface, and roll or press the dough into a round disc, about an inch thick. Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into eighths. Transfer the cut scones to the baking sheet, spacing them about ½-inch apart. Brush the tops lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle with the smoked sugar. Bake for 20 minutes or until the sugar is slightly melted and the tops of the scones are a golden brown.

grilled prawns with garlic, shrimp

Source: iStock

4. Mezcal

Mezcal is a tequila made with smoked agave hearts. Not only does it make some delicious smoky cocktails like these 5 from Serious Eats, but it’s a great way to work a smoky flavor into, say, a marinade for shrimp like in this recipe for Lime and Mezcal Marinated Shrimp With Salsa Verde from The Cooking Channel.



  • ½ cup fresh lime juice
  • ½ cup mezcal
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
  • ½ cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons mesquite honey
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 3 shallots, minced
  • 2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound large rock shrimp, peeled and deveined

Salsa Verde

  • 3 cups fresh cilantro leaves
  • ⅓ cup canola oil
  • ⅓ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
  • 1 teaspoon toasted ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small clove garlic

Directions: Prepare the marinade for the shrimp: In a large mixing bowl, combine the lime juice, mescal, cilantro, parsley, honey, scallions, shallots, chiles, garlic and ¼ cup water. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Add the shrimp to the marinade, stirring to coat the shrimp. Let marinate, covered in the refrigerator, for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make salsa verde: Combine the cilantro, canola oil, pumpkin seeds, ¼ cup water, lime juice, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper and garlic in a blender and puree until smooth. Transfer to a small serving bowl and set aside.

Preheat a grill to medium-high heat, about 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove the shrimp from the refrigerator and let drain for 5 minutes. Grill the shrimp over medium-high heat until cooked through, about 2 minutes on each side.

Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with salsa verde.

grilled jerk chicken

Source: iStock

5. Burnt toast powder

Have you ever burnt toast? In that case, you’re already a pro at Saveur’s Top 100 trick for 2015 they picked up from Bar Tartine: Burnt toast powder. They put it on vanilla ice cream, but you could sprinkle it on roasted vegetables, too. Or, if you don’t have a grill but love jerk chicken, make some burnt toast powder and mix it into your jerk chicken rub like in this Super Simple Jerk Chicken recipe we’ve adapted from Pinch of Yum! Start the burnt toast powder the night before for the best effect.


Burnt Toast Powder

  • 4 ounces bread, preferably yeast risen with a hearty crust

Jerk Chicken

  • 2 teaspoons allspice
  • 2 teaspoons burnt toast powder
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts

Directions: First, burn your toast. If not pre-sliced, slice the bread about ¼-inch thick. Under your broiler, toast bread, turning as needed, until evenly burnt, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer bread to a baking sheet fitted with a cooling rack; let sit overnight until completely dried out. Chop bread into ½-inch pieces. Working in batches, grind into a powder using a spice grinder.

When you’re ready to start making the chicken, combine all the spices, brown sugar, and oil in a small bowl. Preheat a skillet to high heat.

Rub the spice mixture over the chicken breasts. Place the spice-rubbed chicken breasts on the hot skillet. Cook for about 4 minutes on each side, until the exterior is very deep, dark brown and the inside is no longer pink.

Remove from heat and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

6. Smoked paprika

Smoked Paprika is made by smoking sweet chilis and then grinding them into a powder. It can add a wonderful smoky flavor to any dish that calls for paprika (try making deviled eggs with it), and deepen flavors in things like vegetarian chili. You can use it to make your own BBQ chips, or you can make this Smoked Paprika Pork Roast With Sticky Stout Barbecue Sauce from Southern Living.


Pork Roast

  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed or grated
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
  • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
  • 1 (4-pound) boneless pork loin roast

BBQ Sauce

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (11.2-ounce) bottle stout beer
  • 1 cup spicy barbecue sauce
  • ¼ cup fig preserves
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Directions: Stir together paprika, brown sugar, salt, garlic, pepper, and 2 teaspoons thyme. Trim pork roast. Rub paprika mixture over pork. Tie roast with kitchen string at 1½-inch intervals, and place in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Chill, uncovered, 24 hours.

Make the sticky BBQ sauce: Sauté onion in hot oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat 4 to 5 minutes or until tender. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Gradually stir in beer. Cook 8 to 10 minutes or until mixture is reduced by half. Reduce heat to medium.

Stir in barbecue sauce, fig preserves, and vinegar. Cook 4 to 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

To cook the pork loin, heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and roast about 1 hour or until a meat thermometer inserted in thickest portion registers 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Let stand 10 minutes. Brush with Sticky Stout Barbecue Sauce. Sprinkle with remaining 2 teaspoons thyme. Serve with remaining sauce.

Cream Cheese, Herbs, Crackers

Source: iStock

7. Smoking Gun

Available from either Polyscience directly or through Williams Sonoma, the Smoking Gun is the only pit-less way to get real cold smoking done in, say an apartment without burning something down. There’s a chamber for wood chip slivers, a fan to blow smoke, and a hose to direct it. This is maybe the best option for using real smoke to cold-smoke things like cheese, soups, cream, or drinks, but there are plenty of applications. Of course it doesn’t smoke a whole brisket like a smoke room does, but it certainly seems to do the trick! Blogger Week 99er used it with great success to make Hickory Smoked Basil Goat Cheese.


  • ½ cup soft goat cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil or ¼ cup fresh, chopped

Directions: In a small bowl, use a fork to combine your goat cheese and basil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and insert the tube for the Smoking Gun.

Place a pinch of the hickory chips in the vessel and light it with a lighter. Turn on the Smoking Gun and let it run for 3 minutes.

Turn it off and let the remaining smoke dissipate. Mix again and serve.

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