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Fear of smoking

I can't cite specifics but I've heard that, literally, smoking is hazardous to your health. It's not much different than tobacco smoke in that unhealthy residue in the smoke permeates the meat. From my own experience, the few times I've had smoked meat, I found that it didn't enhance the basic taste but did add another level of flavor at the edge which didn't really impress me. Is there more to it than that? Am I missing something?

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  1. No more to it than you stated for the most part. You're not missing a thing.

    Just eat something else...or go to a place that serves bbq (even though they don't really cook barbecue).

    63 Replies
    1. re: JayL

      If that's true, why is smoking 'all the rage' these days? Is it just another food fad?

      1. re: mucho gordo

        Define 'food fad.'

        If we're using 'fad' to describe anything that's popular despite centuries of tradition and popularity in just about every cooking culture in existence, 'fad' seems like a fairly useless term.

          1. re: carolinadawg

            Actually I'm being very truthful.

            BBQ is far from a fad...but I can see that argument when referring to the masses.

            Regardless, if a person has such an issue with a food type, it's better for said person to simply find something else to eat...don't ya think?

            1. re: JayL

              No, bbq isn't a fad and perhaps the word doesn't apply to smoking either. It just seems that, in the past several years, there has been an increased emphasis on smoking. The only smoked food I've enjoyed was applewood smoked bacon. Smoked ham and pork chops tasted horrible to me.
              Nobody has addressed my comment that smoking was, indeed, hazardous to your health by ingesting wood residue.

              1. re: mucho gordo

                It has been established that charring is probably bad for your health, and also that the nitrites used in some smoked meats (like bacon) are also likely bad for your health. The process of smoking meats is probably not good for your health either if that entails you inhaling some of the smoke. I don't know of any solid evidence that smoked meat is unhealthier than un-smoked meat when charring, smoke inhalation, or nitrates aren't involved. But anyone is welcome to correct me if I've missed something.

                Course, those of us who like smoked foods are generally in it for enjoyment rather than health benefits anyway.

                1. re: mucho gordo

                  Also, you seem to have something fairly specific and narrow in mind with respect to 'smoking' (though I'm not sure exactly what that something is). While it's certainly possible that you just don't like the effect of smoke and aren't missing out by skipping smoked foodstuffs, if your experience with smoked foods is truly limited to a 'few times' you smoked some meat yourself, you still have an awful lot to explore.

                  Smoking has pretty broad applications.

                  Here's a few things where smoke plays a crucial role (besides BBQ) that you might have tried already:

                  Bacon (you've mentioned this one)
                  Nova (cold smoked salmon)
                  Chipotle peppers
                  Most paprika (and by extension the many things flavored by paprika)
                  Chorizo (cured, Spanish style chorizo anyway)
                  Most country hams (not necessarily the same thing as 'smoked ham,' btw)
                  Grilled meats (the smoke from burning meat juices contributes a major element of the 'grilled' flavor - it's why grilled meats don't taste like broiled meats)
                  Scotch Whisky

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    I seem to be judging smoking, in general, by the few things that have turned me off, namely; smoked oysters, lox and the grayish color of the meats.

                    1. re: mucho gordo

                      Have you tried anything smoked that you've actually liked? Carolina pulled pork? Texas brisket? Memphis ribs? It might be you just don't like smoked foods.

                      1. re: monkeyrotica

                        Primarily I don't like the grayish color smoking gives the meat or when the smoke flavor overpowers the taste of the meat. I love applewood smoked bacon, for example, because the two flavors compliment each other.
                        A brisket with a thin grey ring on the outer edge is ok as long as the meat, itself, tastes like brisket.

                        1. re: mucho gordo

                          These weren't gray:


                          And if the smoked flavor is overwhelming, then they've been smoked for too long or with the wrong wood. From what I've learned here, the smoking part of it is only the first part not the whole time.

                    2. re: mucho gordo

                      While not totally risk free, smoked food isn't nearly as unhealthy as poorly grilled food.


                      1. re: monkeyrotica

                        Great link Monkeyrotica. Indeed, the primary danger, by far, is when fat drips directly onto flames (where it is transformed) and then volatilizes up onto the meat (or, worse, where the flames burn the fat in place).
                        All other risks from indirect hardwood cooking are minor in comparison.

                        1. re: VTB

                          Another thing I like about my Bradley electric smoker.

                      2. re: mucho gordo

                        "Nobody has addressed my comment that smoking was, indeed, hazardous to your health by ingesting wood residue."

                        That's because there is no definitive research that the statement is true. There is some research suggesting it may be true, however, there are many other variables that may be at play. Not to mention that studies have found the same thing regarding a very large number of foods and food preparations.

                        If you don't like smoked meat, and don't want to eat it, then don't. Simple.

                        1. re: carolinadawg

                          With few exceptions, as noted, I don't eat it. I was just wondering what other people see in it.

                          1. re: mucho gordo

                            In my case, a properly smoked brisket is flavorful and juicy. When it's bad, it's dry a sinewey. With pulled pork, the wood used (apple or peach particularly) adds a layer of flavor to the pepper vinegar sauce and the meat. For me, the smoke is one of many flavors that work together to make great bbq and I enjoy the challenge of making it myself. You could simmer the meat in a crock pot and skim the fat for something healthier, but it wouldn't taste the same.

                            1. re: monkeyrotica

                              You just brought up another subject that confuses me. What, exactly does another "layer of flavor" mean? Why do I want my beef, pork or whatever to taste like anything else. If something isn't enhancing the basic meat taste, then it is detracting from it.

                              1. re: mucho gordo

                                Well, it's sort of like seasoning. If you don't like salt, pepper, or any other herbs or spices, then you probably won't like the addition of smoke, either. OTOH, that 'layer of flavor' can apply to anything you add to food to change the way it tastes, whether it be a rock or wispy blue smoke.

                                1. re: mucho gordo

                                  People who like smoked meat think smoke is in fact enhancing the meat.
                                  Smoking is kinda between seasoning and sauce, and it is spread evenly throughout the meat unlike sauces and seasoning (well, unless you equilibrium brine).

                                  1. re: mucho gordo

                                    Well, you can use seasonings to enhance flavor as well as to mask them. Salt brings out other flavors in foods; same with naturally occurring MSG in things like soy sauce or anchovy sauce. It makes you taste other flavors intensely. It makes the difference between a steak with no salt and one with salt and one that's been drowned in A1. In the case of barbecue, some styles like Kansas City use lots of sauce whereas Texas brisket uses a minimum of seasonings, letting the meat speak for itself. Part of the fun of making it yourself is being able to experiment with seasonings and sauces and techniques to find what works for you. So for me, "layer of flavor" means seasonings working with the smoke and the properly cooked meat. Sorta like tacqueria tacos: you can  get plain meat on a tortilla, but it tastes much better with queso and escabeche and onions and a nice hot sauce. To me at least.

                                    1. re: monkeyrotica

                                      Nothing except a rub ever goes on my steak; never a sauce because the ingredients overpower the taste of beef. I'm a burrito lover and order just meat and hot sauce. I hate when they pile cheap filler ingredients on so they can get by using less of the costlier meat.

                                      1. re: mucho gordo

                                        But you find that the rub does not overpower the taste of your steak? What's in it?

                                        1. re: linguafood

                                          I rub a bit of OO into the meat and use a combo of cajun seasoning, ancho or chipotle chili powder, coarse ground black pepper and seasoned salt. For me, these enhance the beef flavor. Most sauces contain ingredients that are too strong for me, IE: vinegar, tamarind, anchovies, etc.

                                          1. re: mucho gordo

                                            Now, you see, your rub on my steak would never do; I find too many spices do not complement, but overpower, the beef flavor. And I don't care for spicy peppers at all. The only seasoning I want on my steak is salt and pepper.

                                            Food is subjective; that's all there is to it. I love good pulled pork, bbq'd ribs, smoked brisket. I love it. There's no explaining one person's taste to another.

                                            You don't care for it, fine. More for me. :)

                                            As to any supposed health risks, you picks your poison and you takes your chances. None of us are getting out of this world alive; we may as well enjoy ourselves as long as we're here.

                                            1. re: mcsheridan

                                              Isn't there some cliche that ends with "You won't live any longer - it will just feel longer"?

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                Many cliches revolve around that theme. Anthony Bourdain sums it up with "your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride."

                                                1. re: mcsheridan

                                                  I've never been tempted to have any "body art" but that could sway me!

                                              2. re: mcsheridan

                                                Absolutely. It's a fact that most of the foods I enjoy are no good for me. I don't eat 'healthy', (Sorry, Michelle)

                                              3. re: mucho gordo

                                                I hate oil on my steak to me it just masks the flavor of the meat.

                                                1. re: rasputina

                                                  A flavorless oil like rice-bran? Do you not oil your grill grates before you throw the meat on it?

                                                  1. re: linguafood

                                                    I thought rasputina was joking! I don't oil the grates but put a dab on the meat.

                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                      I guess either way works. Did the NYT chicken again yesterday and would've *hated* if all that nice skin woulda stuck to the grates. I oiled them *and* the marinade had a blob of sesame oil in it, so it worked out.

                                                      1. re: linguafood

                                                        I fry 'em so that's not an issue for us. And I haven't fixed those in FAR too long.

                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          Still haven't fried them. Wonder if I ever will :-D

                                                          1. re: linguafood

                                                            Well, having an induction cooktop sure makes the cleanup easier :)

                                            2. re: mucho gordo

                                              I don't find that a hollandaise or bernaise sauce overpowers the taste of a steak. Quite the opposite.

                                              1. re: mucho gordo

                                                They don't add "cheap filler ingredients," as a way to somehow steal your money. That's just what goes in most burritos.
                                                Also, I used to like only salt and pepper on my meat as I only buy good quality meat, but I've found there are a lot of sauces and such that enhance beef. The red wine/beef demi from MMC@H is probably the best I've found, it has a beefier flavor than the steak. Also, what are you using on your rub?

                                                1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                                                  I didn't say they're trying to steal my money. Those ingredients aren't 'just what goes into the burrito'; it's what appeals to the masses as well as maximizing their profit. It's no different than McD adding all kinds of things to a puny piece of meat and calling it a burger. For me, the meat is central; anything else goes on the side.

                                                  1. re: mucho gordo

                                                    I can get the burger example (I assume you mean lettuce, tomato etc, NOT chemical additives), but burritos, are typically made with more than just meat. I mean why bother with the tortilla? Sounds like you just want a bowl of meat, nothing wrong with that haha.

                                                    Where meat is concerned you sound like Ron Swanson.
                                                    I do have one question though, how do you like your steaks cooked?

                                                    1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                                                      Your assumption is correct anent the burger. I love the way Mexican meats are prepared. The flavors are superb and should not be hidden under a pile of lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream, etc.
                                                      Almost raw; pink is slightly overdone.

                                                2. re: mucho gordo

                                                  Do you put rub on your steak to "enhance" the flavor?

                                                  If your burrito has nothing but meat in it, I don't believe it's actually a burrito.

                                                  1. re: mucho gordo

                                                    Isn't a tortilla with only meat just a taco?

                                                    1. re: Hobbert

                                                      Taco is no different except it is an unwrapped and smaller tortilla. They pile a bunch of stuff on top of a small amount of meat.

                                                      1. re: mucho gordo

                                                        This may help you understand Mexican foods:


                                                        Except for ceviche, flan and guacamole, they all contain things other than meat.

                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          My point is they can, but don't HAVE to contain all the other things just like a burger can be just a piece of meat w/o lettuce. tomato,pickle, etc. You don't have to put beans in your chili. It is not written in stone anywhere that a burrito MUST contain everything.

                                                          1. re: mucho gordo

                                                            But I think it is written in stone that burritos and tacos MUST have things other than meats. I don't think the burger comparison is at all valid. IMO of course.

                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                              I guess it's just my thing. I don't like my salads and sides piled on top of the meat.

                                                              1. re: mucho gordo

                                                                That's cool. Just don't call what you eat a "burrito." :)

                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                  I've also got to come up with a name for a hamburger without lettuce/tomato.

                                                        2. re: mucho gordo

                                                          The only stuff on my tacos is cilantro and onion...

                                                          1. re: Hobbert

                                                            But would you consider it a taco if it DIDN'T have cilantro and onion?

                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                              Oh sure...just a boring one. A pile of meat in a tortilla, even a weirdly large one, is a taco to me. It sounds like mucho gordo just wants to eat piles of meat. It's an interesting choice.

                                                              1. re: Hobbert

                                                                One of the things I like about burritos and tacos is all the different flavors and textures that go on in my mouth :) Plus I can make a generous meal out of a small amount of leftovers.

                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                  I agree! Juicy grilled meat (I like shrimp), crisp onions and cilantro, a dash of spicy salsa very finely chopped on a corn tortilla...ooh, now I want tacos! Reminds me to start planning my garden so I can make my own salsa. I finally have a yard to do it in! I'll probably kill most of the plants but it'll be fun trying :)

                                                                  1. re: Hobbert

                                                                    I have just the hot, sunny spot for peppers! Killed a squash plant there last year :)

                                                                2. re: Hobbert

                                                                  I love the flavors and textures of various meats. I just can't grasp the concept of having a salad or sides on top of my meat. An all meat burrito (my favorites are tripas, lengua, cabeza and al pastor)with beans/rice on the side is fine but not all mixed together. It's that simple.

                                                                  1. re: mucho gordo

                                                                    I've never seen tacos served like that. I've seen plates with all those things on them along with tortillas and you make up what you choose. I don't call that tortillas. I'm guessing you don't like lasagna, soup, BLTs, etc.

                                                                    ETA: tortillas should read tacos.

                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                      Actually, if I made one for the judges on "Chopped" I would call it a "deconstructed taco(burrito)" and win points for creativity.
                                                                      As for lasagna, soup, etc. there are exceptions to my rule; Stroganoff, shepherd's pie to name a couple. A BLT is a salad on bread and I'm not a big fan of L&T.

                                                              2. re: Hobbert

                                                                Yeah, I'll get that too sometimes, but nothing more.

                                                      2. re: mucho gordo

                                                        If you think about it enough, you'll probably find that the difference between enhancing the flavor of your meat and detracting from it is inherently subjective. For example, most would agree that the right amount of salt enhances flavors, but too much salt detracts from the experience... but how much salt is too much varies from person to person. Likewise, there is little concrete difference (in terms of whether you are changing the basic flavor of meat) between adding flavors from spices, sauces, and various complimentary ingredients and adding flavors via the cooking process (smoking in this case, but the same could be said for grilling, searing, braising, etc).

                                                        You can find a wide variety of how much smokiness is added via smoking in foods, so if you like the effect it's not hard to dial it in to your particular tastes. Even something like bacon, which you've said you like, can vary greatly - some have a rather subtle applewood smoke flavor; others, like bacon from Benton farms, have a particularly intense hickory smoke flavor. Personally, I think either way can be done well and both have their uses, but there's nothing wrong with preferring one to the other.

                                                  2. re: carolinadawg

                                                    Thanks for addressing that issue.I wasn't aware of the outcome of any research.

                                        2. I think there is quite a finesse in doing barbecue - combining spice rubs and different types of smokes to get a finished product that shines - I would say that you probably have not partaken of good barbecue but barbecue that is only mediocre - just my opinion

                                          1. "Am I missing something?"

                                            Not if you don't like it.

                                            I tend to look at food in terms of taste. If I had to think about what was the most healthy thing for me to eat , drink or do at all times and avoided anything with risk(which doesn't exists) it would rob me of enjoyment in life so why prolong it

                                            1. Some people just don't like smoked food, though I would be willing to wager a fair amount of those folks would probably be able to find something smoked they like if they had more/better options.

                                              I liked smoked foods but have definitely had some that were not done properly and quality suffered greatly as a result. Smoke flavor can at times be overpowering too.

                                              I recommend you try garnishing, seasoning, or cooking some dishes with smoked salt. It is a good foray into smoked flavor and you can easily adjust the amount you use and need no special gear/smoker to use it. I've found it to enhance some things in unexpected ways.
                                              One thing I like especially is making a butternut squash soup (From MC@H) and garnishing it with creme fraiche and smoked salt, adds a whole new dimension but doesn't overpower the dish. I also liked smoked salt in my rib rub since I live in an apt and can't have a smoker : (

                                              Try salts smoked with various wood types, some are a little more or less intense than others.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                                                Smoked, instead of seasoned, salt added to my rub is an excellent idea. I will definitely try that.

                                              2. A smoked pork butt is delicious, as is smoked chicken, smoked ribs, and smoked salmon (hot or cold smoked).

                                                Perhaps it's just not to your liking, but there are clearly many, many, many people who love smoked foods.

                                                I really couldn't possibly care less about any supposed health hazards.

                                                1. As other have commented, char is bad for your health, but I haven't seen evidence that smoking food per sey is bad for your health.

                                                  Smoking has to be done right just like the preperation of any food. When smoked the first flavor should be that of the actual food and you should be able to identify that flavor. Pork should first taste like pork. The second flavor you should taste is the bark or the rub that was used on the food and the third flavor should be the smoke and if done properly the smoke is very light.

                                                  If it's all done right, smoked meat is quite good, you get a nice smoke ring around the outside of the meat and just a hint of that smokey flavor. But it has to be smoked with the right wood, the right amount of wood, a good rub that doesn't overpower the meat, and to the proper temperature. A good rub is a science all to itself.

                                                    1. I have an elaborate, expensive outdoor kitchen...complete with huge gas grill, smoker, wood fire oven, etc. have taken classes and have cooked outdoors with Stephen Raichlen ....and .....I am actually not too fond of American BBQ. It is often....really bad.

                                                      I really love cooking with fire and smoke. It is a technique, it is a skill to create fabulous food with elemental techniques. Not the same as the weird Macho thing of proper " Que." The whole cooking with smoke and beer in hand...that is so often espoused on foodie BBQ sites. They have somehow managed to elevate smoked beef to a heavenly level...not sure WTF that is.

                                                      I think it is okay that you don't get the idea of smoked meats, in general. I think most smoked meats taste similar to deli meats. They hold little interest to me. But, the smoker is a great tool. I love smoked eggs, smoked Mac and cheese (especially the one from smoke and pickles) smoked salsa, smoked cheese, smoked seafoods, smoked salt, smoke tomato, etc. so many ideas...so little time. I don't think you are missing a thing. But, smoked foods (in general) can really be great. Simple smoked meat...not too great, IMO.

                                                      6 Replies
                                                      1. re: sedimental

                                                        Damn that sounds awesome, livin' the dream!

                                                        1. re: sedimental

                                                          Agreed. The best meatloaf we've ever had was smoked. And my freezer has lots of packs of smoked Roma tomatoes and tomatillos.

                                                          1. re: sedimental

                                                            I took a full day Smoking class at the Culinary Center of Kansas City that was put on by the Midwest BBQ Institute. You smoked on what you brought, they supplied the meat and other raw materials. You made your own BBQ rub and smoked the meat they provided and showed you how to prepare on your equipment. One guy showed up with a $15,000 BBQ rig, the most beautiful smoker I've ever seen. Part of the class was a contest for the best ribs and/or best chicken. Neither prize was won by the guy with the $15,000 smoker. My son-in-law and I won best ribs, smoked on a $300 WSM. The moral of the story is that it's not about the most elaborate or expensive equipment, it's about getting the rub, smoke, and time/temperature just right. The judge and instructor for the class was a professionally trained chef (Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, New York) and a past Grand Champion of the American Royal BBQ competition. Not your average Joe.

                                                            That aside, not everyone likes BBQ, even when it's done right and most don't like BBQ done wrong. And that's just fine, there are many foods I'm not fond of either. For years I didn't like BBQed ribs, then I had some really good ribs and changed my mind.

                                                            1. re: mikie

                                                              Agreed. I use my old Little Chief smoker more than anything else for all kinds of things. It is a great little smoker!

                                                              I actually cold smoke more than I hot smoke most of the time and I am more interested in using smoke as a flavor- rather than a cooking method.There are many ways to enjoy cooking outside, besides hot smoking a huge chunk of meat all day or night...although that is fun sometimes too...it is just not my "main attraction" to the expansive art of outdoor cooking!

                                                              1. re: sedimental

                                                                I cold-smoked and then froze a bunch of thin-cut, chuck steaks. They're terrific to just thaw and cook for a couple minutes a side in a hot skillet. Wonderful smell and taste. My dog goes nuts over the smell.

                                                                1. re: sedimental

                                                                  I've never tried cold smoking, sounds interesting and something I'll have to look into.

                                                                  When we remodeled our kitchen, I cooked everything outside, even did a meatloaf on the grill, using it just like an oven.

                                                                  It's always good to have a "great little smoker"!

                                                            2. State governments have now said it is perfectly safe in 13 States. And I am sure you put complete trust in your elected officials.

                                                              Oh, wait, you are talking about smoking meat. I didn't know they sold bongs for that.

                                                              What size screen? Sauced or dry rub?

                                                              1. If you like smoked meat great if you don't, that's fine, too. I like it and have a smoker we use a few times per year.
                                                                I've never heard or read where smoked meat was as dangerous as smoking tobacco or other combustibles.

                                                                Everything in moderation. I think you have a lot more to worry about environmentally than the occasional piece of smoked meat.

                                                                1. It's very easy to use too much smoke when barbecuing or smoking meat. It's a beginner's mistake that many cooks never overcome. If you put meat on while there is thick, white smoke coming out of the smoker, you will most likely get smoke with impurities (like creosote.) This can ruin meat. It's best to wait until you only see thin wisps of light smoke before adding the meat. It doesn't look like much, but the smoke is there and it will flavor the meat.

                                                                  I usually add a couple of chunks of whatever wood I'm using (dry wood, never soaked) to my lump and let it burn down to coals before adding the meat.