Methods to Get the Best
Who has been in the barbecue world for time enough to remember the gas devices with lava rocks? Today it is a tool virtually disappeared from the market and I can understand how hard it is to believe that until not so many years ago lava rock was the benchmark. It is a bed of small volcanic rock pebbles immediately placed above the burners. Their purpose was to blur and replicate in this way the powerful effect of typical coal irradiation. The problem is that they were extremely porous…. They drench their self with fats falling from the meat, creating Dante’s flames at the slightest strain after a few uses. The solution was to change them very, very often or … wash them. You will not believe it but I have seen people wash lava rock in the dishwasher …!
It seems like science fiction I know, but this makes it easy to understand one of the main differences between coal and gas devices: while the former are conceptually elementary, their operation is based on a mere physical principle and structurally they are practically the same since 1952, year of kettle’s invention, the latter are subject to continuous, constant and profound innovation. The evolution that gas devices have suffered just over the past 10 years is incredible. Today, on good-quality devices, I personally see the difference in performance on classic direct cooking is almost zero, except for special cases such as cooking on aromatic wood coals. Unfortunately, at least for what is my experience, the most significant gap still existing is about smoking.
Let’s face the truth: Smoking on a gas device is by no means simple. The most common thing I heard is “I do not understand: my neighbor with a handful of chips in a kettle made an amazing smoking, I smoked an entire bag and felt it barely.” The problem is that while a coal-fired device is an almost hermetic cooking chamber where the air movement is dictated by the simple physical principle of the lower weight of the hot air compared to the cold one, in the gas to this phenomenon, the same kinetic energy of the fuel inlet must be added. The result is that there is a significantly higher air swirl in the gas device’s cooking chamber and this makes it very difficult for adequate smoke permeation around the food. In addition, too much stress puts the chips at high risk of flame trigger.
It is difficult to get the same results as a carbon on a gas device when we talk about smoking but I can tell you the two systems in my opinion better to try and some tips that can help you in the attempt.
The smoke box is a classic in gas smoking but typically it is used to contain wooden chips. Actually I find it much better with hardwood pellets. The pellets consist of compressed wood powder and the amount of fuel at the same volume is considerably higher. In addition, the shape allows for better occupancy of the space, ensuring a more intense and lasting smoke.
For similar reasons, I find it quite good even by simply placing a chunks between the device’s flavorizers bars. The only thing to do is to modify the positioning according to the burner’s power: in the case of the most performing devices, you can place an aluminum sheet cracked between the chunk and the flavorizer, or even place the chunk directly at the grid level.
Whatever system you decide to use, if you may find it useful, consider the following tips:
- If you use a smoke box, try to mass with chips or pellets and fill it as much as possible. If you do not need long last smoking times, just stick the wood on one side of the smoke box but do not distribute it. Exactly as on charcoal devices when shredding the chips, the wood mass becomes too small compared to the exposure to the air, increasing considerably the flare-up tendency.
- Do not wet the wood, I recommend always on dry wood for the gas. On charcoal, moisturizing the wood helps to prevent the contact with the coals from flashing instantaneous triggers and to obtain greater presence of water vapor in the smoke improving its performance. In the case of gas, on the contrary, you will find quite hard to start smoking. Wood surface moisture will make it even harder to achieve this goal and the slowly and completely dehydrated wood, it will go extremely easy directly from nothing to flames.
- One of the many difficulties to smoke with gas is that except for the few elite devices equipped with a dedicated burner, in most of the commercial ones on an indirect cooking, the burner that generates the heat required for cooking is the same used for the partial combustion of wood. The point is that not necessarily the amount of heat needed for the first function is the same as needed for the second. What happens most often is that the flame emitted by a burner designed to generate, for example, 160 ° C, struggle to trigger smoke. The thing is the same described in the previous point: the wood is slowly dehydrated until it passes in a few moments directly to the flame. My advice is to start with the burner wide open, the wood in place and without putting the food in the chamber until the smoking starts and then immediately lower the open of gas to the sufficient grade to generate the target temperature.
- Unfortunately, one of the reasons why the result of smoking on gas devices is rather bleak is that too often the wood tends to pass from smoke to flame. If there is smoke there is no flame and if there is flame there is no smoke. Unlike coal, the fact that the lid is closed will not help us: if the flame is triggered, it remains until the fuel is exhausted. Clearly, this trend significantly reduces the exposure time of food to smoking. My advice is to equip you with a sprayer containing simple water to use as soon as you check flames on the side of the smoke box.
Have you ever tried to smoke with gas? What results did you get? Do you have a your own favorite method?