Portable smoke infusers can be a little intimidating; there's a lot of vague or conflicting information online about how best to use them, and it can be hard to know where to begin. As it turns out, these tools are actually pretty easy to operate. Over the course of testing five different models, we tried numerous methods. Here's what we learned.
What You'll Need
To start, you'll need a portable smoke infuser and some extra-fine wood chips. If your smoke infuser didn't come with these chips or you've run out, you can get them online or sometimes at your local hardware store. Different varieties of wood are available; we particularly enjoyed smoking with applewood and hickory chips, but it can be fun to experiment with other types. A single 1-pound bag of chips will last you a very long time, since you will be using only about ¼ teaspoon of chips at a time.
You'll also need a vessel to hold the food you're smoking. During testing, we found that food storage bags work best, but for bigger items or large volumes of liquid, a bowl or dry storage container, such as a Cambro, can also work. If you're using a bowl or a dry storage container, you'll need to have some plastic wrap on hand so that you can fully enclose the food and trap the smoke in the vessel.
How to Smoke-Infuse Foods
Step 1: Enclose Food
Enclose the food in a food storage bag, leaving some empty space, and seal the bag most of the way, leaving a small opening at the top through which to insert the nozzle of the smoke infuser. Press the bag to remove as much air as possible—this ensures that more smoke, not air, comes in contact with the food.
If you are using a bowl or dry storage container, place the food inside and cover the vessel tightly with a double layer of plastic wrap. You won’t be able to get the extra air out, so the results may not be quite as intense as if you were using a bag. Punch the nozzle of the infuser through the plastic wrap to make an entry point for it. Remove the nozzle to clear its opening of any plastic wrap that might have gotten stuck in this process—if the opening is obstructed, smoke will flow back through the machine instead of out through the tube.
Step 2: Insert Nozzle
Snake the nozzle through the hole you’ve created in the bag or the plastic wrap, leaving some room between the nozzle and the food.
Step 3: Add Smoke Chips
Add a single layer of extra-fine smoke chips on top of the mesh screen in the smoking chamber—about ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon of chips.
Step 4: Activate Smoke Infuser
Turn the fan on to the maximum fan speed, and then use a long match to ignite the chips. Smoke should start flowing through the tube and into the container fairly quickly.
Step 5: Continue Smoking
Turn the fan down to low and allow the smoke to continue flowing into the food for 10 to 30 seconds. If you’re not sure how smoky you want your food to be, start on the lower end of that range. You can always repeat the process; it’s better for your food to be not smoky enough on the first round than for it to be too acrid to eat.
Step 6: Turn Off Smoke Infuser
Turn off the infuser and remove the nozzle. Close up the vessel, sealing the plastic bag completely, or add a third layer of plastic wrap to your bowl or food storage container. The smoke should be trapped inside, with little or no smoke leaking out.
Step 7: Shake Vessel
Gently shake the vessel. As Greg Blonder, food scientist and professor of product design at Boston University, explained, handheld infusers don’t have the turbulence or air flow seen in traditional standalone smokers. Consequently, the smoke molecules generated by infusers often just sit in the vessel or stick to the sides of the container itself instead of infusing the food. Shaking the vessel mimics some of that turbulence, forcing more smoke molecules to come into contact with the food; the agitation also increases the food’s exposure to the smoke as well.
Step 8: Wait
Wait until most of the smoke clears. This indicates that most of the smoke has either dissipated or made its way into the food.
Step 9: Taste
Taste. If the food is smoky enough for your tastes, it’s ready to serve! If you want it to be smokier, you can repeat the process until it meets your preferred level of smokiness. Since smoke flavor is fleeting, be sure to smoke-infuse your food right before serving.