Shopping at Trader Joe’s is a bit like shopping at Costco, except you’re not buying mass quantities of everything. There are constantly new items being stocked on the shelves, and I think that’s a big reason why there are so many TJ die-hard fans and loyalists. Several weeks ago while shopping at TJ’s, I came across “Naturally Smoked Sea Salt” with Umami flavor for $1.99. Needless to say, I was intrigued. I didn’t buy it at the time, but it got me thinking about smoking my own salt at home.
$1.99 for smoked sea salt AND with umami flavor? TJ's, you're legit.
During my relatively short journey of BBQ smoking at home, about 80% of the time, there is plenty of hot charcoal leftover in the WSM — up to an hour left. I always look around my fridge to see what else I can smoke. There’s nothing really. The meat is all gone. If there’s fish, I’m not going to smoke that. I don’t want a fishy smell to taint my illustrious meaty coating I’ve built up within the WSM.
So what’s left to smoke? Salt. Simply lay some sea salt (or kosher salt, just none of that crappy Morton iodized salt) on a flat aluminum pan and place it on the grill for about 1 hour. Depending on how much charcoal and wood is leftover in your WSM, you may need to put a little more — just enough to impart flavor onto the salt. The temperature depends — I usually smoke the salt around 250-300 degrees F. The longer you smoke the salt, the stronger the smoke flavor.
Kosher salt smoked in apple wood
When done, just let the salt cool off before putting it a container. The result is pretty satisfying. I’ve used the smoked salt on my brisket, ribs, and chicken. It gives it that extra little hint of smoke in the background. Since I only have apple wood chips, that’s what I’ve been using. But in the future, I’ll definitely try out other types of wood like alderwood or hickery. The best part is you won’t have to spend any additional money from any of those fancy smoked salt brands.
Since I’m a newbie on BBQ smoking, I’m trying to soak up as much information as possible. There are some websites out there that go into so much detail, it’s mind boggling. I came across this post today on the OC Weekly blog, talking about some of the differences between various types of wood and charcoal. It nicely summarizes most of what I’ve read in a nutshell:
- Charcoal briquettes: the way to go for low & slow smoking, consistent burn times
- Lump charcoal: burns very hot, inconsistent burn times, perfect for searing/grilling at high temps
- Natural charcoal briquettes: burns hotter and quicker than normal briquettes
- Pre-treated “match light” charcoal: yucky, has nasty chemicals, do not use for low & slow smoking (ok I admit it, I still have some of this stuff in storage)
For my WSM, the original Kingsford charcoal
briquettes is the way to go. It’s relatively cheap, easy to find, and is perfect for low & slow smoking. Regarding types of wood, there’s so much info out there — everyone seems to have their opinion on what works best. That’s the fun part of BBQ, everyone does it differently, and it’s good to experiment. Here are some common BBQ wood types and flavors:
- Apple: slightly sweet but denser, fruity smoke flavor
- Oak: versatile, mild smoke with no aftertaste
- Hickory: pungent, smoky, bacon-like flavor
- Mesquite: sweeter, more delicate flavor than hickory
- Cherry: slightly sweet, denser, fruity smoke flavor
For now, I bought a package of apple wood chunks to start things off. It seems like it’s one of the more popular and versatile woods, and people like to combine it with stronger flavored wood like oak, hickory, or mesquite. One thing I’ve always read is, do not over-smoke. The smoke flavor should be a subtle flavor in the background while eating the meat, not overpowering.