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Cooking Tips

Smoke Without Fire: Three Ingredients That Bring Big Smoky Flavor

Here are the three ingredients that can enliven your dinner with a delightful smoky essence. 

Published July 28, 2022.

I love smoking meat and vegetables on my backyard kettle grill. A little charcoal plus wood chips or chunks or, even better, a small wood fire right in the grill gives the food a bewitching smoky flavor that tastes like summer. 

But when cooking outside is not an option, you can add smoky flavor in the kitchen. Here are the three ingredients I use to bring to mind glowing embers when I'm cooking indoors.

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10 ingredients. 45 minutes. Quick, easy, and fresh weeknight recipes.

Smoked Paprika

Paprika is a powder made from ripe, red chiles that are dried and ground. The Spanish and Hungarians are masters of this spice, and there are great versions made in California too. When those peppers are smoked before drying (or as part of the drying process), you get smoked paprika. 

Smoked Paprika

As with regular paprika, smoked paprika can be mild (often labeled “sweet”) or spicy, depending on the variety of chile used. I prefer to use the mild version, knowing that I can always add heat to taste later. 

This smoky spice is great as part of a rub for roasted poultry or meats, stirred into vinaigrettes to dress roasted vegetables, and on any egg dish, just to name a few favorite uses. Try it in our recipe for Barbecue-Spiced Potatoes.

Chipotle Chiles

Chipotle chiles, which are jalapeño chiles that have been smoked and dried, rank pretty high on the list of potent, flavor-bomb ingredients. Chipotles are sold three ways: as whole dried chiles, as chile powder, and swimming in tangy adobo sauce in cans. 

Chipotle Peppers

I always keep chipotle powder on hand to add heat and intense smoke flavor to chilis, rubs, and sauces. The canned chiles are great too; since most recipes call for only one or two chiles, you can freeze any extras (there are several chiles in each small can) or follow the lead of a chef colleague and puree the contents of the can and either freeze it in teaspoon-size portions or funnel it into a squeeze bottle to keep at the ready in the door of the fridge. 

You can experience the power and allure of chipotle chiles in our recipe for Grilled Chipotle Shrimp. Or try stirring a little pureed canned chipotle in adobo into mayonnaise—and say hello to your new favorite condiment. 

Liquid Smoke

This is a product that has gotten a bad rap because there are, in fact, inferior versions of liquid smoke out there that are filled with chemicals and unnecessary ingredients. But good versions, such as Wright’s, are just condensed smoke in liquid form and taste very smoky but clean. 

Liquid Smoke

Liquid smoke is great to use in barbecue sauce and brines. Use it judiciously, as a little goes a long way and too much is definitely, well, too much. See what liquid smoke can do for your cooking by making our recipe for Backyard Barbecue Beans.

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