Step by step through the smoking process

Step #1 Line the pot and the lid with a generous amount of tin foil, so that the interiors are completely covered and there is an overhang of 4-5 inches of foil around the rims of both the pot and the lid. Take special care to line the pot and particularly the bottom of the pot thickly and well, using 3-4 layers of regular-weight foil, 2 layers of heavy-duty foil, or a single layer of "extra heavy" foil. If in doubt, use more rather than fewer layers, to prevent the ingredients from caramelizing onto the metal. Leave the overhanging edges sticking out instead of pressing them neatly back against the pot, so that they will be easy to grasp and crimp shut.

Step #2 Mix the smoking ingredients thoroughly and lightly with your fingers, blending the sugar and breaking up any lumps. Spread the mixture evenly in the bottom of the pot without compacting it, so that it covers a diameter of about 8 or 9 inches. Place the pot securely over the cold burner.

Step #3 Oil the top of the rack thoroughly with Chinese or Japanese sesame oil or corn or peanut oil, so the food will not stick to it. Arrange the rack securely in the pot, lifted at least 1½ inches above the top of the smoking mixture. Center the food on the rack, breast side up for a chicken or duck. If the food is forced to come in contact with the sides of the pot, put a small piece of oiled parchment at the point of contact lest they adhere upon heating.

Step #4 Turn the heat to high, and wait for the mixture to begin smoking convincingly. It can take upwards of 10 minutes. Two or three thin wisps is not enough. Wait until several ribbons of smoke rise in different corners of the pot, and only then put the lid in place. Crimp the foil loosely shut with fingers, chopsticks, or tongs, or press it shut with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula, leaving an inch-wide "escape hatch" through which you can monitor the intensity of the smoke Seal the foil securely enough to insure a minimum loss of smoke, but not so tightly that it will be hard to open without tearing, as you may need to reseal it later on.

Step #5 Adjust the heat to maintain a steady leak of ribbony smoke from the escape hatch, which may mean leaving it alone or reducing it, all depending on the power of your burner. Set a timer according to the recipe, then check every several minutes to insure that the smoke remains constant. If it falters, raise the heat, adjusting it as your eye dictates.

Step #6 When the time is up, turn off the heat, and wait the required minutes while the smoking continues from the heat of the pot. Remove the pot to an airy spot, if practical. Loosen the foil, then lift the lid slowly away from you to avoid being hit by escaping smoke. Blow the smoke away if needed to clear your view, then judge the food for proper color. It should be evenly a rich brown, light to dark mahogany according to the degree of intensity you like. If the food is too hot to check barehanded, lift it carefully with a clean, dry cloth. Be aware that whole ducks or chickens will have a cavity partly filled with hot juice.

Step #7 If the food requires turning over to color it evenly or additional smoking to color and flavor it more deeply, sprinkle an additional 4 tablespoons brown or white sugar around the edges of the burnt smoking mixture in order to regenerate the smoke. Return the uncovered pot to high heat, wait for the mixture to smoke convincingly, then replace the cover. Crimp the foil shut, monitor the escaping smoke, and adjust the heat as before to maintain a steady puff. Repeat the process as many times as is needed to get the right depth and evenness of color, adding sugar each time to refuel the smoke.

Step #8 When your eye judges the color to be right, free the food gently from the rack and transfer it carefully to a waiting plate. If you have smoked a chicken or duck, tilt the cavity over the pot to drain it of juices.

Step #9 Before doing anything else, immediately dispose of the tin foil and smoking ingredients, wrapping the one tightly in the other. Put it outside the house or wrap it airtight, to contain the burnt odor.

Step #10 Proceed to gloss the food with sesame oil or cook it further, as the recipe directs.

Last update 2014-12-09