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Jul 26, 2009 02:29 PM

Liquid Smoke - Processed BBQ or Not?

So we have had a little discussion in a much longer BBQ thread on the LA board that was going to be off topic (thank to A & W for pointing that out) and I'm putting up this thread to continue that discussion here. Below are the posts that got this started (just to lend some context to this subject) - the last one is by A & W and says we needed to take this discussion to GT. Hope that all makes sense?


I do not think there is an artificial smoke flavoring, just liquid smoke, which actual comes from wood that is burned and run through a still like machine and turns the smoke into liquid. It is all natural.

Burger Boy Jul 25, 2009 10:57AM
re: Burger Boy

which joint are you talking about that does this?


kevin Jul 25, 2009 02:23PM
re: kevin

I believe he is talking about the beans at Kansas City BBQ Company in North Hollywood. I was just commenting on the use of liquid smoke and how it is not artificial.

Burger Boy Jul 25, 2009 10:07PM


I consider that artificial, or at least processed. Either way, it has no place in good bbq, like it sounds Kansas City BBQ Company is.

a_and_w Jul 26, 2009 08:32AM

re: a_and_w

I agree to some point, hard to get a smokey flavor in certain things without it. Processed, not really it is real smoked that has been liquified naturally. Pastuerized processed cheese food is artificial. You would never use it in a marinade or rub, but then I know some pit masters use hickory salt in their rubs instead of straight sea salt, then smoke it. is that cheating? I do not know, to me as long as it is smoked I do not care what they use in their rub or marinade, taste is the bottom line.

Burger Boy Jul 26, 2009 11:48AM
re: Burger Boy

After all, isn't great Q heavily "processed" through the use of wood smoke and dry rub?

Servorg Jul 26, 2009 12:48PM

re: Servorg

I have a lot to say on this subject, but I think we should probably take it over to general topics.

a_and_w Jul 26, 2009 01:10PM

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  1. Liquid smoke is indeed a natural product, but I don't really like the taste, compared to natural smoke deposited on meat. For beans, there are several ways to get a smokey component- the easiest is liquid smoke. Of course, one can collect the drippings from the smoker, and add those. Finally, one can cook the bean uncovered in the smoker, where the smoke can be deposited directly into the beans. Finally, smoked meat can be used in the beans themselves. The most agressive smoke flavor would come from the liquid smoke or the smoky drippings. Personally, we just used smoked meat in the beans, and do them on stovetop. But many people actually make the beans uncovered in their smoker, with or without addition of smoked meat.

    5 Replies
    1. re: ganeden

      The key to using LS is to use an eyedropper and literally use a drop at a time until whatever you're seasoning tastes "right" to you. It is strong and powerful stuff- a very little goes a very long way. I think I've had the same bottle for 10+ years and it's still half full (or half empty, depending...) There are times when LS is indispensible; like smoky vegetarian mushroom chili... adam

      1. re: adamshoe

        Yep, used sparingly and in its proper place...LS is a good thing to have on hand, I think, and like Adam, I've had mine on the shelf for a few years now.

        1. re: Val

          Liquid smoke is VERY potent and should be used by droplets. I tend to like the flavor of Spanish Smoked paprika if I am not actually going to smoke the meat myself...

          1. re: Val

            I'm anticipating the "How long can I keep Liquid Smoke?" thread any minute now ;)
            Not really too worried about it...does that stuff even HAVE a use by date?! adam

          2. re: adamshoe

            I use it for my veggie chili, and nothing else that i can think of. I measure it by pouring it into the cap and letting it go in by drops

        2. Thanks for the information regarding how liquid smoke is produced.

          To that end, agreed, it's a "natural" product.

          However, I still don't want it used in any BBQ I eat.

          BBQ is all about long and slow cooking using specific woods as a flavor component. All of that hard work, time and patience builds up the anticipation of chowing down on something truly remarkable.

          To me, using liquid smoke is pretty much cheating the time honored tradition of BBQ cooking. Adding a few drops of liquid smoke and calling it BBQ just isn't right in my playbook.

          6 Replies
          1. re: vinosnob

            But what if you could produce the same exact BBQ taste in 3/4's of the time using LS? What about in half the time? Is cheating different than smart when it comes to cooking?

            1. re: Servorg

              Like I said, I prefer to have the flavor come from a long cooking/smoking process.

              Time isn't a factor unless were talking about home cooking.

              1. re: vinosnob

                I guess I don't see any difference in using something like LS and using a dry rub (or just salt and pepper for that matter) to enhance the flavor of the meat.

              2. re: Servorg

                >>But what if you could produce the same exact BBQ taste in 3/4's of the time using LS?<<

                Let me know when Liquid Smoke produces the same exact BBQ taste in 3/4's of the time. I'll be the first one in line to use it.

                It is NOT the same.
                I'm not against using something that would reduce time at all, but Liquid Smoke does NOT produce the same results in less time. I regularly use a scant amt of hickory smoke powder in my rubs to add flavor ALONG with the imparting of the natural wood smoke flavor. I'd be all for a cheating method that produces the same results as cooking low and slow, but I don't think Liquid Smoke is that cheating method. It adds Liquid Smoke flavor, but it doesn't add natural wood smoke flavor.

                1. re: gordeaux

                  In spite of my remarks below about the fake kahlua pig recipe, I have to agree that LS does not impart the same flavor as one obtains by exposing the food to actual smoke. There are many subtle differences that add up to a noticeable big difference, especially if one were to try plates of smoked and liquid-smoked meat side by side. The liquid smoke flavor tends to be harsher and less complex; my recipe's instructions to rub LS and salt and then refrigerate overnight help to mitigate this somewhat.

                2. re: Servorg

                  "But what if you could produce the same exact BBQ taste in 3/4's of the time using LS? What about in half the time? "

                  How about never? Liquid smoke is an accent for those with limited options or commercial cooking but it can not truly replace or replicate
                  "the same exact BBQ taste".
                  If that were possible even 5% of the time then this would be a far more interesting topic. There is a big difference between a product like LS being used as a flavor or visual enhancer Vs it being used to replace an entire cooking process.

              3. There's a recipe for kahlua pig in "The Foods of Paradise", Rachel Laudan's scholarly and delightful overview of Hawaiian food and food history, that calls for pork shoulder butt rubbed with liquid smoke and salt, allowed to sit overnight, then wrapped in ti leaves, banana leaf, and slow-cooked over water in the oven. Yes, she says, it's cheating, but it's also how most Hawaiians make it nowadays! I can tell you from ample personal experience that it is also really good.

                5 Replies
                1. re: Will Owen

                  Why on Gods green earth would any one rub a pork shoulder with liquid smoke for a Kahlua pig? Kahlua pig is not smoked.
                  If you are really inclined to use this stuff on a pork shoulder you are better off brining the shoulders and adding a few drops in your brine liquid Vs putting it directly on the shoulder.

                  1. re: Fritter

                    Kahlua pig is not technically smoked but almost everyone who makes Kahlua pig here in the oven does use liquid smoke, authentic or not.

                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                      I wouldn't want to argue that one KM since I'm sure you have had far more Kahlua pig than I have. I can only say that which I have had did not have any smoke on it. It seems like a strange addition to me but as I noted if you use LS in a brine it is a lot less harsh than rubbing directly on the flesh.
                      Suddenly I am even more thankfull I have a BGE.

                      1. re: Fritter

                        First things first, we have been misspelling it: Kalua pig. Ka=The, Lua=Pit. it does not have Kahlua in it.

                        If you look up recipes on line for kalua pig, you wil find almost all of them do have liquid smoke added (even Sam Choy's). After thinking about it, I can't explain it because in real kalua the hot rocks that line the pit would not have much smoke flavor, and the leaves don't burn that much. At the same time the volcanic rocks used are very porous, so maybe they do absorb a lot of smoke flavor, especially after repeated use, which they release into the pig as it cooks in the ground.

                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                          Wait! You mean I can't make a white Russian with it?
                          Mwahahaha LOL
                          I don't doubt what you are saying at all KM I just don't see the authenticity of the LS but I suspect you may well be correct. Maybe it's just that the smokey nuance connects us to the outdoors and thus the past. Just a few more months until we get back to HI to try some more pig!
                          I did look up Sam Choy's recipe. It looks like he utilizes LS in the sauce which makes more sense to me than cooking it in.
                          I have two Berkshire shoulders waiting for the smoker as we speak.

                2. IMO, liquid smoke is NOT artificial, though it's flavor does TASTE somewhat artificial. Compare this with Tropicana Pure Premium OJ, which, it turns out, is made from pasteurized juice sitting for many months in enormous vats and is dosed with "flavor packs" prior to bottling in order to make it taste fresh. The flavor packs aren't considered a "chemical", "ingredient", or "additive" because they are derived, after extensive manipulation, only from oranges.

                  All of which explains why Pure Premium stopped tasting the same a few years after it first came out.

                  1. Servorg, my apologies for the tardiness of this reply. I wrote out a much longer version about a week ago that was lost in the aether when I tried to post. Basically, liquid smoke illustrates for me the absurdity of the distinction between "natural" and "artificial" flavoring.

                    Liquid smoke is about as processed a product as I can think of. Such "natural" flavors are often chemically identical to their "artificial" counterparts. I don't get why people are OK with it just because it's actually derived from burning wood. Ultimately, there's something processed and fake about the flavoring whether we call it "natural" or "artificial."

                    Like sbp, I'm reminded of Tropicana "not from concentrate" orange juice. While ostensibly "natural," it's actually one of the most processed products in the supermarket. Tropicana removes all oxygen and flavor chemicals so the juice can be stored in vats for up to a year. Then, when it's time to package the juice, they add orange essence and oils to give it flavor.

                    Finally, regarding BBQ, Burger Boy makes an interesting point re hickory salt. Still, there's no question in my mind that liquid smoke is cheating. But don't take my word for it. As the website Cheater BBQ explains, "Liquid smoke is a Cheater BBQ essential—a critical ingredient for making great barbecue without a fire."


                    15 Replies
                    1. re: a_and_w

                      It's just that "natural" is not always better. The act of cooking meats in a smoker definitely has it's downside in terms of molecular changes to the meat that are not necessarily beneficial to the human genetic material. Liquid smoke may actually be a healthier alternative - who knows? So cheating or not cheating really doesn't enter into it for every consumer. Each one of us has our set of priorities when it comes to food. And those are neither good or bad, right or wrong. They are just our own ever changing set of personal choices.

                      1. re: Servorg

                        Ironically, an "artificial" bbq flavor is probably more healthy than liquid smoke because of impurities in the latter. I don't quite see your point re cooking meats in a smoker. Could you explain a bit more?

                        1. re: a_and_w

                          There are health risk produced in the grilling/BBQ process in which known carcinogens, found in the smoke produced either by charcoal or wood, (or even by the fats as they are vaporized into smoke) that adhere to the food being cooked.

                          1. re: Servorg

                            Mmmmm...tasty carcinogens!

                            I'm not telling anyone not to use liquid smoke (although I never would). All I ask is that if you use it and cook it in an oven or microwave or whatever, don't call it BBQ.

                            1. re: bigmista

                              "Mmmmm...tasty carcinogens!"

                              I hope that you and your family are able to say that for the balance of your lives...

                              1. re: Servorg

                                I know I'll be able to say it for the balance of mine!

                            2. re: Servorg

                              "There are health risk produced in the grilling/BBQ process in which known carcinogens"

                              While that is indeed true it's a fairly moot point. Grilling is done at high temps. BBQ can be fast or slow. OTOH smoking is almost always a low and slow cooking process or even indirect like cold smoking.
                              If carcinogens are found in wood smoke then there is a very real possibility that liquid smoke is far worse for your health since it is a concentrated product.
                              There is at least some theory that **if ** LS is run through what amounts to a giant water bong that it will reduce those carcinogens. Personally I think that's a real stretch for a couple of reasons.
                              One being that if this were true water bongs would not be used by those who smoke. The active ingredients in the smoke like nicotine, Tetrahydrocannabinol etc. would be reduced and no one would continue to use that device.
                              I believe the real goal there is to make the smoke less harsh.
                              Secondly this process which would likely be more costly would have to be used by all who make LS or at least would have to be a known process by a specific brand before any one could actually even begin to think that LS might be a more healthy option.

                              1. re: Fritter

                                "If carcinogens are found in wood smoke then there is a very real possibility that liquid smoke is far worse for your health since it is a concentrated product."

                                That turns out not to be the case. Liquid smoke doesn't capture the tar and ash, two of the higher carcinogenic compounds imparted to food during the cooking / smoking process. Liquid smoke is actually captured in water vapor and then the vapor is concentrated back into liquid form producing the liquid smoke product. FDA studies of carcinogenic chemicals found in food put liquid smoke far down the list of foods we consume (and in the case of liquid smoke that would be a very small amount in any case) here in the US.

                                1. re: Servorg

                                  "FDA studies of carcinogenic chemicals found in food put liquid smoke far down the list of foods we consume"

                                  That may be true but it's not really relevant to the fact that LS can be linked to cancer causing carcinogens. Just because some carcinigens "can" be filtered out does not imply in any way that all manufacturers of liquid smoke *are* filtering them out. Take a look at the FDA charts for foods that contain acrylamide and then look at how the levels soar on foods with LS.
                                  LS is on the FDA chart as a product that contains acrylamide. Natural smoked foods are not.
                                  AFAIK all HCA's are affected by higher cook temperatures. If you rub LS on food and then cook it at a higher temp than traditionally smoked food the carcinogen levels increase exponentially. So even if LS did contain lower carcinogen levels (which none of us know for a fact at this juncture) it becomes a moot point once that protein is cooked at a higher temerature than a protein smoked low and slow over wood.
                                  If there is tar and other carcinogens in smoke then it is very likely in LS as well. I seriously doubt all brands of LS are made the same or that you or I will ever be privy to all of the trade secrets involved with the commercial processing of that product. Lets remember that some brands of LS have a lot more than just smoke and water in them. Soy and corn syrup are in some brands. The levels of carcinogens in each brand may be vastly different. If you have a source with a scientific study that has tested LS brand by brand or any LS for carcinogens please give us a link.

                                  1. re: Fritter

                                    "Take a look at the FDA charts for foods that contain acrylamide and then look at how the levels soar on foods with LS."

                                    How do you know which foods being tested contain liquid smoke? I see the numbers for levels in the liquid smoke but I don't see anything that tells you about liquid smoke in any other food tested.

                                    And even if you know which ones contain liquid smoke how do you know that it's the only other additive in the food that may or may not be causing any increase in levels of acrylamide?

                                    The FDA tested 2 brands of liquid smoke, (2 types from one manufacturer and 1 from another), Colgin Natural Hickory Liquid Smoke, Colgin Natural Pecan Liquid Smoke and Stubb's Mesquite Liquid Smoke. And they were all quite low in acrylamide according to the chart when compared to other foods such as french fries (for instance).

                                    The process of distilling liquid smoke breaks down into liquid and water vapor. All of the companies use distillation to produce the product. The water vapor is what the liquid smoke is eventually made from. The vapor leaves behind the tar found in wood smoke, which is the principal carcinogen (along with ash - another known carcinogen - which is too large of a particulate matter to pass through the vapor process). When the liquid smoke is tested chemically they no longer find tar in it. Hence the low ranking for the carcinogen acrylamide in the product.

                                    1. re: Servorg

                                      "When the liquid smoke is tested chemically they no longer find tar in it. Hence the low ranking for the carcinogen acrylamide in the product"

                                      Show us the test results your are viewing that show there are no carcinogens in liquid smoke.
                                      The ranking for liquid smoke is not low by any stretch of the imagination. Take another look at the numbers for Colgin Pecan smoke. It's off the chart compared to the other seasonings and even the other LS tested. In point of fact LS was the ONLY seasoning linked to acrylamides tested by the FDA with Colgin Pecan being 3X higher than the others. The simple truth is that the number for Colgin Pecan LS is far higher than many cooked foods.
                                      If LS had ZERO carcinogens then the FDA numbers would reflect that. Additionally the numbers would not change from Pecan to Hickory in a product made by the same company.
                                      Clearly that is NOT the case.
                                      You may want to take a closer look at the ingredients list on a bottle of Stubbs LS if you think it's nothing more than smoke and water. More like smoke and mirrors.
                                      Earlier you said LS is a "natural" product. Do you really consider hydrolyzed soy protein natural???? There's a good chance that soy has been boiled in sulfuric acid or at the very least contains genetically altered soy.
                                      Clearly LS does contain carcinogens directly linked to cancer and that is supported by the FDA study as well as the ingredients list on some brands.


                                      1. re: Fritter

                                        Looking at Colgin (one of the two brands tested and the one I have in my pantry here at home) shows NO MSG or hydrolyzed soy protein in the product.

                                        You don't want to chance eating something with more acrylamide in it than liquid smoke? Then you better not eat french fries, many have double and some up to 10X's the amount. Better not drink coffee, most all of which have more in them than liquid smoke. Better never eat another olive. Most have more acrylamide than liquid smoke. Hell, some baby foods have more than liquid smoke.

                                        The amount of liquid smoke that most people use in their cooking, and the frequency with which they use it, puts it SO FAR DOWN the list of things we should worry about that are carcinogenic as to be laughable.

                                        You want to cry wolf? Wait until you actually see one (even if it's at the zoo behind bars) before you start yelling to try and scare people.

                                        1. re: Servorg

                                          "Hell, some baby foods have more than liquid smoke"

                                          The Pecan LS tested was way higher than any baby food tested.
                                          That's a fact.
                                          Even with green eggs and smoked ham.
                                          The closest I come to the chicken little theory of life is when I pluck and smoke the scarry little fear mongering clucker. I eat every crunchy little carcinogenic bite.
                                          It probably rates well below the Pecan liquid smoke unless we stuff him with some of that Stubbs hydrolyzed soy protein!
                                          I'll take my chances with real smoked food over pseudo science and frankenfood any day.

                                2. re: Fritter

                                  Fast BBQ??? I missed that one...Examples please!

                                3. re: Servorg

                                  Heatlh and BBQ shoud not be used in the same sentence.