Smoking with Stephan Pyles
Smoking, like grilling, is one of the oldest cooking methods and was a means of preserving food, long before the advent of refrigeration. Now it is mostly used to impart flavor dimensions to meats and poultry, as well as to other ingredients such as vegetables. Smoking on a large scale was brought to Texas by German immigrants in the nineteenth century, who introduced smokehouses to sausage making, and the practice has remained an important part of the Texas culinary tradition and culture ever since. I started to experiment with smoking vegetables in the early 1980s and began a trend that is now widespread. I like to think this is my legacy not only to the New Texas Cuisine, but to a far broader audience as well.
Home smokers are available from specialty hardware stores and mail-order sources; they are relatively inexpensive, so they are well worth the investment. You can also adapt a barbecue to become a smoker by adding a pan of water to the bottom, sealing all but one vent, and by following the method described here: soak 6 to 8 chunks of aromatic hardwood, such as hickory, mesquite or apple in water for 20 minutes. Place a pan of water in the bottom of the smoker. Build a fire in the smoker with hardwood lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes and an electric starter. Let the charcoal burn down until it is covered by a uniform whitish-gray ash, which should take 20 to 30 minutes, and spread the coals out. Add the soaked hardwood chunks and let burn for 5 minutes. Place the ingredients to be smoked on the grill over the water pan and cover with the top of the smoker. Stoke the fire every 30 minutes, adding more charcoal and soaked wood chunks as necessary.
As a general rule, an average 2½ pound chicken will take 1½ to 2 hours at a temperature of 250°F; chicken or duck breasts will take 20 to 25 minutes; large tomatoes will take 20 minutes; and chiles, bell peppers and onions 25 to 30 minutes.