Give your dishes an instant hit of smoky flavour by using just a few drops of liquid smoke. This versatile ingredient works wonderfully in both sweet and savoury recipes, so read on to discover the different varieties you can buy, and how to use it in your cooking.
What is liquid smoke?
Liquid smoke is a water, flavoured with smoke. To create Colgin liquid smoke (the brand we stock), wood is slowly smouldered (not burned). The gasses are then chilled, which liquifies the smoke, then filtered to remove any impurities. The final process involves the liquid being aged in barrels.
Some brands of liquid smoke may also add additives and preservatives, however (Colgin contain only the following liquid smoke ingredients:
- Smoke flavour, naturally produced from smoking wood
- Vinegar, molasses, caramel colour
What are the different types of liquid smoke?
Europe has different laws to the USA, and while a number of different flavours of liquid smoke are available in the USA, including mesquite liquid smoke, EU food laws are more restrictive -- with tighter limits on brands of liquid smoke available, as well as the smoke flavours.
Currently only two different flavours of liquid smoke are permitted in the EU: hickory and pecan.
The most popular variety of liquid smoke is hickory. Hickory liquid smoke is the distinctive, intensely smoky flavour of American BBQ. It’s wonderful paired with slow-cooked pork butt, added to a marinade for oven-cooked ribs, or brushed onto a steak before grilling. With this smoke, a little goes a long way!
Pecan liquid smoke is a little softer flavour-wise than hickory. Pecan has an intense sweet-spicy smoke flavour, and is great with beef, chicken and pork. It is also a firm American favourite with turkey. Try using the pecan liquid smoke to balance against sweet caramel in desserts.
What can I use instead of liquid smoke?
Liquid smoke is the way to achieve a true, smoky flavour in seconds. It’s a versatile ingredient as it can be used in marinades and sauces as well as being brushed onto food directly.
Another key benefit of liquid smoke is its concentration. A little goes a very long way.
Another way to achieve a smoky, American BBQ flavour is to use smoked chipotle chilli powder. The powder is easily absorbed into sauces, and can also be used as a seasoning, with a pinch adding great depth to stews, burgers, and spiced vegetables or in dry-rubs for barbecued food.
It’s also worth considering smoked oils. These are best used in sauces and drizzles, or as a dip for bread, however they offer a warm, smoky flavour.
Liquid smoke recipes
To cook with the liquid smoke, brush onto steaks, chicken, burgers, or hot dogs for a tangy outdoor smoky flavour. Or add a few dashes to marinades, sauces, baked beans, dips, seafood, eggs, or poultry - to create instant campfire warmth, even when cooking in an oven, or on an indoor stove.
Below are some of the ways we cook with liquid smoke:
Traditionally kalua pork is made using pork shoulder, which is cooked slowly in an underground barbecue pit, before being shredded. Our recipe uses pork belly, cooked until juicy and tender, in a low oven before being finished under the grill to provide the added bonus of crisp crackling. Using liquid smoke gives the pork traditional barbecue flavours. Try our kalua pork belly recipe here.
Pulled pork is a great American classic. It’s an instant crowd pleaser, as well as being an easy and economical way to feed large groups. This recipe uses the US cut, ‘pork butt’ (or 'Boston roast') which quite literally falls apart after cooking. Traditional American barbecue dishes are rich with wood smoke flavours, and we’ve achieved these by using hickory liquid smoke diluted with white wine vinegar. Try our smoky pulled pork recipe here.
For this elegant cocktail, we’ve paired aromatic gin with vermouth, a few drops of pecan liquid smoke and a streaky bacon garnish. The smoky warmth of pecan sits well against salty bacon and citrusy spirits. Try our smoked gin martini bacon cocktail recipe here.
Classic sticky toffee pudding is sweet and warm from dates, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. We've used pecan liquid smoke to create a tangy, outdoor smoky flavour with a hint of nuttiness. Just a few drops of liquid smoke transform the sticky toffee sauce with a sweet-spicy smoke flavour. Try our sticky toffee pudding with pecan smoke caramel recipe here.
Ellie Edwards is the Food Editor at Sous Chef. Previously she worked at olive magazine, writing about exciting new ingredients, UK restaurants and travelling the world to find the best cinnamon buns. When she's not exploring the likes of Belize, Kerala and Zanzibar, Ellie loves rustling up a feast in her London kitchen, with a particular passion for porridge, sourdough and negronis.