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Liquid smoke...or not?

This BBQ fan has been bubbling over in excitement upon finding a new and interesting BBQ sauce recipe to try. However, my excitement was quickly banished upon the realization that the recipe calls for "liquid smoke." I have avoided this substance in my cooking exploits thus far, but fear that it may be necessary when making BBQ sauce. I do not have a grill (3rd floor tiny apartment) so this would be going into the oven after being liberally splashed with excitement over chicken (and various other possible edible victims). Any BBQ experts out there have an opinion as to whether I can omit this strange substance or a possible replacement?

(Liquid smoke just sort of gives me the willies)

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  1. My homemade sauce certainly does NOT have it. I use apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, worcestershire sauce, onions, garlic, and various other things. Tastes great.

    1. I do not use liquid smoke, I dont like the processed, chemical taste it has compared to the real thing.

      Luckily I have a smoker, so I can get the smoke flavor naturally.

      3 Replies
      1. re: swsidejim

        Hi you having a smoker is good because I need your help. I also have one and I ran out of hickory so I puchased a bag of hickory chip from Home Depot but they are to big to use in my smoker. Do you know where or what I can use to turn these chips into smaller pieces or sawdust.

        1. re: Chinajade

          Mm, rent a wood chipper? Small hatchet and start splitting kindling? Beyond from all that work, I would see about returning them for smaller wood chips that do fit into your smoker.

          1. re: bushwickgirl

            I actually do use a small hatchet for that purpose. Kind of funny.

      2. I have replaced liquid smoke successfully with Tabasco's Chipotle Pepper Sauce - the smoke chilis bring the nice smoke flavor with our the chemical taste - also adds a bit of fire as well

        1. Most liquid smokes are completly natural. They are merely the condensed liquid from the actual smoking process, the stuff running down the inside of your home bbq/smoker lid. Other than actually smoking your item, which doesn't sound like an option, this is the only way you will impart that flavor. As chowhounds we should not fear that which we have not tried, but embrace the opportunity to explore and broaden our culinary horizons. Not to mention a bottle of liquid smoke is only a few bucks. Try it and report back.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mattrapp

            I agree. Many liquid smokes are all natural, and they can be used safely. If you are cooking in a third floor apartment without a grill, you need this. If someone else tells you that THEIR homemade sauce doesn't have it and if they have access to a grill or smoker, it is not a valid criticism. You are starting at a disadvantage and need to do what you can to get a smoky flavor. That may involve using liquid smoke or a prepared sauce that has liquid smoke in it. It is not a level playing field.

            BTW, I used to be afraid of it too, and assumed that it was a chemical concoction. Indeed, some might be, but after reading about it, reading lots of labels, and learning how it is made (and Alton's episode is a good one for that), I became convinced it is just fine. Just be sure to use a light hand at first.

            I agree on considering smoked paprika instead of regular, and if you like the heat, smoked chilis as an alternative. You'll likely need to adjust the original recipe.

          2. In Alton Brown's episode about Beef Jerky (food network), he set up this huge contraption to make his own liquid smoke. It was a pit with a pipe that he topped with an upside down bundt pan and a cover for it topped with a bag of ice. The idea was that the smoke comes up the chimeny, through the hold in the bundt pan, and when it hits the cold lid, it condenses and falls into the bundt pan for later harvesting.

            Sounds like a lot of trouble, doesn't it? He did it tho, and I was envious because I hate the taste of the commercial product that is liquid smoke.

            1 Reply
            1. re: xnyorkr

              It IS a lot of trouble and I believe even AB said it's not worth it. He did it to illustrate that it can be a DIY project if you're up to it.

              The stuff you can buy at restaurant supply stores has no chemical additives and is pretty good.

            2. It's definitely not "necessary" for making sauce, but if you really really want a smoky flavor and you can't...well...smoke, it can at least get you some of the smokiness you're after. I just watched an episode of BBQU where Steve even used some.

              You could always mix up the sauce and taste it without the liquid smoke and see if you think it stands on its own.

              1. Consider using Wright's Hickory Seasoning, a liquid smoke that's probably the best. There's plenty to experiment with, and the 3.5-ounce bottle will last for years. Also, it is an all-natural product.

                5 Replies
                1. re: mardy

                  Thanks for the recommendation! I'm going to roll up my sleeves, silence my knocking knees and give it a whirl.
                  Anything for the love of BBQ.

                  1. re: ForkSpoonandKnife

                    Word of advice - when you measure it out, do it over the sink or anywhere except over your sauce in the making. I've overpoured and ruined my sauces, which were just fine up to then!

                  2. re: mardy

                    Cooks Illustrated reports that the best liquid smoke lists "smoke and water" on the label...simple and natural..."Wright's" as mentioned by Mardy, was their top rated brand......use sparingly it is quite potent...

                    1. re: ChowFun_derek

                      I believe it was Wright's that converted me. I thought it tasted like petrochem, but liquid smoke is just that, some are better than others, and none are all that chemically different from a little petroleum anyway.
                      I prefer it in things that it can be well dissolved in, like stews and sauces, or in a marinade, I would not add much to my barbecue sauce, or at least would not expect it to taste good if it was very noticeable.
                      Better not enough than too much, when you first come to enjoy it it seems like a miracle you can't have too much of. Most such product comes in a bottle that wants to pour more than you ever need, I put some in the cap, very carefully, then let it run out of the threads in one small quick dribble. If you're making food for many a small portion of a cap-full is usually way more than enough.
                      I also use a lot of chipotle, which is what got me started on liking the smoke.

                      1. re: ChowFun_derek

                        "Sparingly" is key...you buy one bottle and it's going to pretty much last you a lifetime.

                    2. I've successfully replaced liquid smoke with two things in sauces.
                      If you want some heat, use powdered chipotle peppers. You get the kick and the smokiness.
                      If you want strictly smoke flavor, use smoked sweet paprika. I use this all the time in my BBQ sauce recipe, and you get that smokey flavor the same way you would with liquid smoke.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: QueenB

                        Nice call on the chipotle/paprika connection there QueenB. I agree, leave the creosote out.

                        1. re: QueenB

                          I was going to suggest the chipotle route too. It does add a nice smoky flavor. Bayless' Frontera Chipotle Rub is great to get some zing and smoky flavor into grilled meats.

                          1. re: QueenB


                            Smoked chiles area great way to go!
                            I like to use smoked HOT paprika, rather than the sweet- i uauslly wind up adding honey or molasses (or cider, sherry vin)- and it takes the place of the chiles.

                          2. If you're tasting weird chemicals in things after using liquid smoke, you're probably using too much. The amount of actual smoke flavor in the one or two chipotles I usually add to my barbecue sauce is probably equal to less than 1/4 tsp. of Wright's - more like a drop or so. Now, I have to say that about the only thing I use liquid smoke for these days is when making fake kahlua pig. That calls for several tablespoons of it, but it gets rubbed all over the pork shoulder butt along with salt, which then sits overnight and is slow-roasted the next day, by which time any harsh flavors have completely mellowed.

                            1. I don't consider myself a bbq EXPERT (I'm always learning way too much stuff to claim that), but I *do* think of myself as a bbq PURIST, so I would never use Liquid Smoke in my own cooking. OTOH, it's really a question you have to answer for yourself. Yes, it can impart a smoky flavor without having to create the smoke. And yes, it is possible to over do it. Then again, it's possible to oversmoke food with real smoke, too.

                              I guess for me, the bottom line is that I consider LS a shortcut, and when I'm making bbq, I don't use shortcuts. If shortcuts are ok with you, Liquid Smoke should be ok. When I want a little smokiness in my food but can't fire up a wood-burner, I add a few drops of Bufalo Chipotle Sauce.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: ricepad

                                That was my favorite, but I have found that Tabasco's Chipotle is a better hot sauce.
                                Buffalo Chipotle is much better than any other smoke in a bottle, and it is pretty mild for a hot sauce. I like Wright's Liquid Smoke a lot too, but it was the Buffalo Chipotle that got me started.
                                Buffalo is also among the very the cheapest of hot sauces, which makes me happy it's so mild. Buy it at a Mexican store, thin it out with a little water when it gets clogged, or empty, or you'll leave at least several servings in the "empty" bottle.

                              2. Penzey's has a smoked paprica, and some places sell smoked salt. Maybe that would help. Or add some bacon grease.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: xnyorkr

                                  The imported Spanish smoked paprikas are wonderful and come in several varieties from sweet smoked to a rather tart smoked version. Tienda.Com can fix you up.

                                2. Zingerman's has a hot and a sweet smoked spanish paprika along with a couple smoked sea salts. They have a good ordering system online. www.zingermans.com

                                  1. A bit of liquid smoke here or there won't kill you. Heck, you may even find that it's completely not off putting.
                                    You've probably had it a bbq sauce or something without ever realizing it.

                                    As for subs. Chipotle and paprika have been mentioned but if you have to add salt to your recipe, perhaps you could source out some smoked salt. I keep meaning to put a plate on my smoker when I do it but never remember.


                                    1. I use lapsang souchang tea to get a smoky flavor. I grind the tea leaves in a coffee grinder I use just for spices, etc. Get it as fine as you can and then force through a fine mesh strainer. Repeat and repeat until you have enough fine powder to keep in a salt shaker. You can also use a lapsang souchang tea bag as a sachet in soups and chilis where you want a smoky taste.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: magnolia

                                        That's a great idea, especially since I can rarely bring myself to actually DRINK it :-)

                                        1. re: magnolia

                                          This is what I do too. It is particularly excellent in chili.

                                          1. re: magnolia

                                            Do you need to keep it sealed??


                                          2. As to comestibles with the taste of combustibles, Liquid Smoke has a place on my shelf. A January oven-braised brisket with LS can taste great and heat the house rather than using the smoker on the outdoor deck.

                                            As to that steak coming to room temperature for indoor pan grilling, and the debate of "to salt or not to salt", a few drops of LS, smeared on both sides, is a flavor-tipped arrow in the Culinary-Cupid's quiver of secret taste ingredients. In BBQ sauce it can have its place; if you're hesitant, make the recipe without it, then add some LS to a small portion, and compare.

                                            As to brand: Colgin's is excellent, as is Wright's. I prefer Colgin's. Colgin's website is a bit clunky, but a few clicks can take you to a nice diagrammatic of how they combust the wood and distill the taste components:

                                            As to the debate of "purism" and "is LS just yukky stuff?", re-visit the Tom Hanks scene in Castaway where he thumps his chest and shouts "I have made Fire!". Had he been comfortably back at Fedex headquarters in Memphis, and looking for a shortcut for smokey taste so that he could spend some quality time with Helen Hunt, he probably would have reached for Colgin's, and let the pros do the work of distillative fractionation in stainless steel chambers

                                            4 Replies
                                              1. re: FoodFuser

                                                Yay, Food Fuser! I had this link already loaded to paste (http://www.colgin.com/public/lsfaq.as...) when I read down far enough to find you'd beat me to it. I gave up Wright's for Colgin's nearly a decade ago? As for "harm" in it, if you've ever had a full helping of boxed mac and cheese you're probably suffered more harm from that than you will with a "serving" of properly used Colgin's liquid smoke.

                                                I ALWAYS make my own barbecue sauce from scratch, and it always contains a dose of Colgin's. And I can honestly say I cannot remember anyone ever having less than three servings of anything I make with my own barbecue sauce.

                                                1. re: FoodFuser

                                                  Colgin...are you serious? That stuff is yuck. They have a bunch of additives in their liquid smoke (molasses, vinegar, caramel color). I just switched from Wrights to CedarHouse liquid smoke. Wrights just seemed to be bitter to me. CedarHouse is a bit smoother they use a 90%/10) hickory mesquite blend. Found it on Amazon and gave it a try based on the reviews. You can get from it's own site.

                                                2. I think liquid smoke gives a nasty chemical taste to foods so I wouldn't use it. I suggest a few chipotles in your sauce instead.

                                                  If you really want a smoked flavor, consider a stovetop smoker. They are small and work quite well. Otherwise, you will have to accept you can't make bbq without a smoker just like you can't really grill without a grill. Grill pan = grill marks Liquid smoke = weird chemical flavor

                                                  1. Since you live in an apartment, I think you might really enjoy the benefits of a stove-top smoker, such as a Cameron's smoker. You certainly get the great smokey flavor without hours in a regular BBQ/smoker. It works quite well with chicken halved or cut up into pieces. The last thing I cooked was a slew of vegetables. They were delicious.
                                                    Tip: you would need a working kitchen fan, because the scent of smoke is very strong when you open the smoker to remove the food

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: sassille

                                                      I have a Cameron stovetop smoker, and I have to say, I haven't been that impressed with it. I used it a few times right after I got it, but to be honest, I couldn't discern any smoke flavor. I tried chicken and ribs.

                                                      Cooks Illustrated recommends spreading tea leaves on the bottom of a rimmed baking sheet and cooking the food on a wire rack above that and sealed with aluminum foil. Similar set up to a stovetop smoker but without the additional cost. Supposedly the tea leaves smolder at a lower temperature and gives enough smoke flavor to permeate some of the meat.

                                                      1. re: ESNY

                                                        I have made boneless, skinless chicken breast in my Stovetop smoker and it came out so good, with a deep smoky flavor. I mix the woods I use, and I also use more than they say to. It was so good that a friend came over with a bottle of wine, and we sliced the chicken thinly, cold, and ate it with cheese and crackers. She was so impressed that she bought one. I have also smoked a brisket in there, for about an hour, and then put it in the oven. When I served it people couldn't believe that I hadn't smoked it all night.

                                                    2. Use it!,but use it sparingly, I've had the good fortune to eat numerous things prepared with liquid smoke, from a whole pig cooked in a pit overnight,brisket,both on the grill,and in the oven,to an absolutely awesome steak done in the oven with the stuff, if used correctly it is like any other seasoning,and can be a wonderful tool for someone like yourself that cant cook with wood/charcoal...good luck,and enjoy!

                                                      1. If you don't mind a little zing, grab a small can of chipotles in adobo sauce, chop them up and include them in your sauce. They'll impart a nice smoky flavor and add some heat, too. Smoked paprika works nicely, too, though I prefer either canned or dried whole chipotles to any pre-ground/-powdered option. Of course, this won't give your meat the flavor of having been smoked for hours, but it'll beat the hell out of liquid smoke, guaranteed.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: surrys

                                                          Yes on the chipotles, this guy was doing it many,many years before they became popular,and i gotta say i have eaten bbq,from Melbourne Fl,to Spokane Wa,and hands down it is no contest,this IS THE BEST SAUCE PERIOD! imho,of course LOL! http://www.mrpowdrellsbbq.com/our_sau...

                                                        2. Liquid smoke is just fine if it is mixed in to a marinade or sprayed on meats before cooking. It is not a condiment to pour on. It is VERY concentrated and strong. Never try to drip it from the bottle, especially over your whole pan of meat or sauce! Even a minor "over pour" will ruin your whole plate or bowl. If you use it often, put it in a spray bottle, mix it with water and mist it into your mix or on your meat. It is a tasty flavor spark to add to egg salad or other food that cries for some smoke flavor that just isn't possible to put in the barbeque, . Remember, this stuff is dynamite and has to be used sparingly. If you think you need two drops or squirts, more than likely you are mistaken. A little jar of this stuff should last for years. I cannot overemphasize how little of this you need. Try a whisp of it on pancakes!

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Leonard_ofr

                                                            awesome idea, though I don't like the idea of putting it in plastic.

                                                          2. My Dad would always mix a drop of LS into 1/4 cup of butter and use that to dress steamed green beans. LS is very tasty stuff, if used sparingly, IMO...

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: OldDog

                                                              I agree OldDog. LS is tasty but you have to go lightly with it. Too much can ruin a meal. I'll have to try the green bean trick.

                                                            2. Instead of liquid smoke, try using some ground Lapsang Souchong tea. Its a chinese tea that is smoked, and so it gives off a very smoky flavor. I use it mixed with salt for seasoning on anything I want to give a smokey flavor to, but can't actually use smoke.

                                                              I bet steeping some of that in your liquid before adding other ingredients to your sauce would do the trick.

                                                              1. I use a product from this place: http://www.sneakypeat.com/SitePages/H.... It's chunks of Irish peat to be used in a smoker or on a grill just like you would wood chips. But they've also got it in a form called "fines" which is the peat ground down to a powdery substance and then used the same way that other posters have described using tea leaves and can be used in your oven without smoking yourself out. It is awesome! I did venison once for a feast that included several other hunter/foodie types and was told it was the best venison they'd ever had and they asked for the recipe. One of them was quite put out that mine was better when he said that his recipe was the same. I forgot to tell them that I had "smoked" the venison prior to roasting with the Sneaky Pete Fines! Besides doing mail order, Sneaky Pete can be found at Celtic, Irish and Scottish festivals all over the east and has the festival schedule on the website. The owner always has grills running with samples and is more than happy to share how to use the product and recipes. Just follow your nose to his stand!

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: morwen

                                                                  Thanks for that response, morwen.

                                                                  Triggers a memory: I once had a friend from the Peatlands who shared that secret, and some of his homemade stash for quick smoking.

                                                                  Triggers a need to find out Just Why a good scotch whiskey tastes smokey. Sure, it's the peat, but for years I put off finding out just Where in the process the peat was applied. Turns out they smoke the freshly malted (sprouted) barley to dry it and lend the smoky aroma.


                                                                  Adds a little richness to the phrases in the old song "The wind that shakes the barley."

                                                                  1. re: FoodFuser

                                                                    Most Irish whisky distillers don't smoke their barley and there's one of the differences between Irish and Scotch but I had a bottle of Connemara Irish that was smoked and found it different from but every bit as satisfying as a Scotch.

                                                                2. Such is apartment life, alas. I wish I could grill and smoke as we did when I was growing up in the suburbs, but one makes sacrifices to live in the city. Liquid Smoke is a natural product, as some of the others have mentioned, so go lightly and keep it subtle.

                                                                  1. I'm a liquid smoke fan, too.

                                                                    I typically do not eat pork, so, liquid smoke stands in in a lot of recipes where I'd normally add some sort of smoked pork product.

                                                                    It's great in bean recipes, especially my bean and cheese dip. I also add a drop or two to chili and my greens soup recipe.

                                                                    1. Liquid Smoke is a fine product...just don't go NUTZ w/ it (that is, unless you want the sexy chick down the hall stoppin by for some DAMN GOOD BBQ)!

                                                                      1. Liquid smoke is actually smoke filtered through water so it is a good product. However, If you are going to smoke your meat, there is no need to use liquid smoke. If, however you are going to bake the meat in the oven with bbq sauce then use the liquid smoke so it will still taste right. You could also use it in a brine, marinade or injection sauce to simulate real bbq.

                                                                        1. I am not an expert, but I do cook most of my meat on a smoker. Most of the BBQ fans I know refer to liquid smoke as "Bong Water". Your better off without it in your recipe, its very easy to use too much and go overboard. Mediocre & bad Q joints or restaurants passing off oven, pressure cooker, boiled or whatever as BBQ accomplish going overboard with the bong water all too well.

                                                                          Obviously it is also possible to use too much real smoke, most often this is done with Hickory. Perhaps liquid smoke is blamed sometimes when it is not at fault.

                                                                          Smoked Peppers would be a better replacement for smoke flavor. The way i understand it though.... at least according to Wikipedia many commercial producers of Chipotle dont smoke them anymore, they cook them on large industrial sized gas grills. Paprika manufactures may not be as shady, but I doubt it.

                                                                          Now if your wanting to fake a smoke ring.....or make a real smoke ring absoulutly huge.. rub a couple tablespoons of TenderQuick on a big hunk of meat, let it set in for about 10-20 minutes and rinse it off. Being adverse to Liquid Smoke... I would be more inclined to fake a smoke ring, rather than fool around with faking the flavor with nuclear strength liquid smoke.

                                                                          1. It's curious that we are talking about whether liquid smoke is as natural (or good) as smoked peppers or meat, when we all know that inhaling smoke is unhealthy (not just tobacco smoke).

                                                                            I'm a relative novice when it comes to using liquid smoke - but I finally bought some after hearing the author of Cheaters BBQ on The Splendid Table.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: paulj

                                                                              I would think that a small amount of liquid smoke in your digestive system is much less damaging than tobacco smoke, smog- or hemp-related smoke, or carbon monoxide gas assaulting your lungs.

                                                                              I have powdered hickory smoke, that is (from the label) "natural smoke from a hickory burning fire is sprayed onto a malt-sugar base." I take the malt-sugar base to mean diatastic malt, used in the beer brewing process, with added sugar. That's natural enough for me.

                                                                              It's very potent, like liquid smoke, and the 4 oz bottle is enough for 50-100# of meat, so I'm going to have this stuff forever.

                                                                              I use it in rubs or in BBQ sauce, sausage, jerky and to perk up sauces, but I don't smoke meat, not an option for me, just smoke-flavor it. I'm with the "if you smoke your own, the meat needs no liquid smoke" school.

                                                                            2. Liquid smoke is a handy tool. Is it as good as the real thing?.. absolutely not but some of us mere mortals don't have the time or access to a smoker. It's a shortcut... I use it sometimes.

                                                                              It's been a long time since I used cream of mushroom soup but I have used Golden mushroom Soup...recently...so shoot me.

                                                                              I often use a box cake mix that is usually better than scratch.

                                                                              I am at this moment going through the hours long process of making beef stock but I have enjoyed using the boxed stuff. Let's not even mention the $9 I spent on soup bones.

                                                                              Look folks... sometimes we all have to take shortcuts. Anybody says they don't are fibbing.

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                                No matter how "naturally processed" a Liquid Smoke is, it doesn't come close to the flavor of foods cooked with Natural Wood Smoke. You don't have to inhale. Also there are recipe shortcuts. Like if you are going to grill fresh Chicken why marinate it with Liquid Smoke when you can add Wood Chips to use Grill as Smoker? Food will taste much better. Some BBQ Rubs with Smoked Paprika can also enhance smoky flavor.

                                                                              2. Some people in this thread have asserted things offhand likeĀ "Liquid smoke is actually smoke filtered through water so it is a good product."

                                                                                Well, that depends. The old standard US commodity product, according to my reading in past decades, was assembled from cheap wood-processing byproducts (creosote oil and wood vinegar), so I'm not surprised several people here report impressions of "chemical" taste. I'd guess many of you have ingested that cheap type of smoke flavoring if you've eaten commercial bbq sauces, or processed foods like "bbq flavored" potato chips or some processed meats.

                                                                                Now there are more brands of liquid smoke flavoring for home use including those that really are made from smoke and water. So, it depends. Read the label.

                                                                                1. I realize the original post was 2007. Liquid Smoke works good, but if you go to the sauce aisle in your grocery store, look for Woody's Cooking Sauce. This is a little goes a long way sauce that works great for baked beans, bbq sauce and by itself although I wouldn't cause it's so strong. It has a great smoke flavor and is easy to measure cause it's really thick. http://woodysfoods.com/sauces.php
                                                                                  I have no interest in Woody's other than a satisfied customer

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: rexster314

                                                                                    I'll have to try Woody's if I find it. Sounds more like a "sauce" than regular Liquid Smoke. But suppose a sauce is still considered a liquid.