Tea smoking for Dr. Fisher

When people find out I have a food blog, very often they ask me to post with something in particular. By this time you all know that my daughter Katie is on a clinical assignment out of town and one of the physicians she is working with saw this blog and told her to ask me post a recipe that is good for a smoker. Tough assignment. But I am an experienced cook and after racking my brain I decided what I would share with him and all of you. Besides, the man was nice to my daughter, so I want to include something that he can use to impress his guests.

Like many of you (or your husbands), we had, for awhile, one of those black "bullet" smokers. We cooked Boston butt, smoked salmon, chickens, and even smoked cheddar cheese (tough to do without melting the cheese, but totally delicious). When my husband and I renewed our vows on our tenth wedding anniversary, we smoked a turkey to serve at our "reception". It turned out great, but two tips - 1) Don't eat the skin! (too smoky!) 2) The meat will have a pinkish tinge when smoked( I was surprised by this when we sliced into it and was afraid it wasn't done!)

Also like most of you, we have used hickory chunks or chips, or mesquite to impart smoky flavor to whatever meat we were smoking. We have also saved and dried chunks of apple wood or pecan wood when we trimmed trees or lost limbs in our yard to use for a different, more delicate flavor. However, a technique that is lesser known and very versatile is tea smoking. While you can use a bullet smoker with this technique, you can also do it on any grill with a cover, and it adapts well to large cuts of meat like pork or whole chickens, pork tenderloins to chicken parts (boneless thighs are my favorite) and even salmon! The only meat I haven't tried is beef, and I think the flavor of tea smoke might be too understated for a meat like beef or lamb.

Tea smoking is done over indirect heat so that the flavor pervades whatever you are smoking. The flavor relies on a combination of salt, sugar, Chinese black tea , and star anise. While you could be very selective in what tea you use, I usually get black tea bags like the ones you see here and open them and use the tea. I am sure you could use green or white teas to get a different taste, but I have not tried this. The star anise is critical to the taste of the smoke. While you can get this spice at gourmet grocers, I usually buy mine at an oriental market near me since they have it at a much better price !

When tea smoking, you cook the meat, poultry or fish the same time that you would if you were just grilling, the smoke is a way to flavor the meat, not cook it, making this a technique you can use any time you are grilling.

Tea Smoke Spice Mix

Mix together 1/2 cup sugar (white or brown is fine), 1/2 cup salt, 1/2 cup of black tea leaves.

You can keep this in an airtight container until you are ready to smoke (your meat, of course)

To smoke, make a double thickness packet of heavy duty aluminum foil and add 3-4 tablespoons of the salt-sugar-tea mixture. Add 4-5 star anise to the packet. Leave the top of the foil packet open, and place on grill or smoker rack over indirect heat and keep top of grill tightly closed. Check periodically, and when all tea and sugar is blakened and no more smoke is emitted, remove the packet, and replace with a new one. Here are some of my favorites and some specific instructions.

For pork tenderloin or chicken thighs- Brush meat with a mixture of 1/4 cup of soy sauce and sherry with a little (2-3 Tbsp) honey stirred in. Place on grill, add smoke packet and close grill or smoker top. 1-2 packets during cooking will give a great taste!

Salmon fillet - Brush lightly with a mixture of 2 tbsp raspberry preserves and 1/4-1/2 tsp of adobo sauce (from a can of chipotle peppers) and 1 tsp canola or peanut oil. Place on grill pan or doubled sheet of foil sprayed with cooking spray to avoid sticking. One tea packet should be enough to flavor this!

Boston Butt- For this I usually precook on top of the stove so that the resulting roast will be tender (and I don't have the worry about whether the roast is really done!). For a 5 lb pork roast, I braise it in 2-3 cups water with a little vinegar and 1/2 cup soy sauce (I use the vinegar from hot peppers) for about 1 - 1 1/2 hours, then slow roast on the grill for about another hour over indirect heat (This means you put the coals on one side and then put the meat on the rack on the other side to slow the cooking). For a roast, 3-4 packets will be enough to give you a roast that everyone will rave about.

One more hint- if your tea mixture burns too fast, move the packet further from the fire, and don't replace the packet until it stops producing smoke.

So I hope all of you will join Dr. Fisher in giving this a try... the results will really surprise you, and let me know if you develop your own techniques or try other spices or herbs (I have always wondered how cloves, or cinnamon stick, or rosemary stalks might work!). A great bonus of tea smoking...you get to play with fire and food!


Anonymous said…
Sounds amazing! I've been lobbying for a smoker for a long time--maybe after my husband reads this post, we'll finally get one!
Sara said…
Very interesting, I've been wanting to try smoking more foods after our success last year. Thanks for the info!
Unknown said…
Thanks for the recipes . . but one additional Question. I have an electric smoker. The temperature in there gets to maybe 175degrees; would that be enought to get the mixture brewing? Should I not add any wood chips?

Deborah Dowd said…
Brandon- Like I said- if you have a covered grill, you're in business!

Sara- Definitely give this one a try- you won't be disappointed!

Quentin- I have never used an electric smoker, but that would be enough to get the tea smoke going but put the packets closer to the heat, and at that low a temp you will have to smoke a little longer.
Melting Wok said…
This is an amazing post, I've not seen anyone written bout tea smoked anything. Yes, they're so flavorful, this is how the Sichuan's Tea Smoked Duck got popular. I've always cooked mine in a crock pot, but never smoked them like that, will definitely try this come summer time, thanks for sharing :)
Deborah Dowd said…
Melting Wok- Thanks so much- I love tea smoking! It has such a delicious and delicate flavor. I would love to hear about your crockpot method!
s'kat said…
Dave and I love to smoke during the summer, but have never ventured into tea territory. I'll have to keep this in mind... thanks for the lesson!
Deborah Dowd said…
Shelley- It is a great option because you get the tea smoke flavor without spending hours over a smoker! I know you will like it!
Backyard Chef said…
Sounds wonderful, Deborah. I only experimented with tea smoking once, and that was with a wok and a rack. This inspires me to give it another shot. If you use a bullet smoker or other kind, try throwing an onion into the fire. Smells amazing!

What a nice blog.
Deborah Dowd said…
Backyard chef- I think you will really like this method for ease and taste. Thanks for visiting and check back in often!
Anonymous said…
I will definitely have to try this during the summer. i wonder if you could use different flavored teas for different cuts of meat.
Deb's Blogspot said…
I have thought about doing this but in my stove top smoker. My sister gave me a small one and it is easy and does not require a lot of wood or that you pre soak the wood. I am inspired now to try tea smoking.