Fresh from the smoker, my latest batch of mesquite smoked salt crystals. The color of good smoked salt should be as rich as the aroma and flavor it provides, ranging from a light amber to a dark pitch, almost black color.
Almost two years ago I wrote up an article on a series of experiments I was doing smoking salt. At the time I promised a follow up article posting my results in a "couple of weeks". Clearly it has taken me longer to get here than a couple of weeks, but I didn't want to post on the subject again until I sorted out some of the details and techniques and had a chance to do some research.
The art of salt smoking has prompted more inquiries than any other subject I have posted on Chilefire.com - I have received emails from both professionals interested in marketing their own smoked salt and amateur home smokers interested in making up a batch after having tasted the unique salt, all looking for a web resource on the topic. So, after experimenting for over a year and making up a few batches of really great salts, as well as a few total failures I thought it worth starting up the Salt Smoking Discussion Forum
What I Have Learned - The Basics:
There are six basic recommendations I have for the first time salt smoker outlined below. if you follow these basics you should have decent luck making up some great salts.
1. Use Long Smoke Times
Smoking salt take time, salt doesn't absorb the smoke - or cook and react in the warm environment the same way meats will. Salt absorbs flavor as the smokes resins coats the grains, and this take some time. In my experience, depending on the coarseness of the grain, salt needs at least 4 hours in the smoker, but my best salts spend 24 hours smoking.
2. Use Cool to Medium Heat, and Always Cool Your Salt in the Smoker
Heat is tricky, I have made great salts at regular barbecuing temperatures around 225°but have had better luck when the temperature is even lower. Some folks I have talked to swear by cold smoking, but in my experience anywhere from cold smoked at 85° to regular BBQ temps at 225° work well. If however you get a spike in your temperature to grilling temps - for any length of time you're gonna have to start over - the higher heats will burn off the smoky resins and leave you with salt that pretty much tastes like salt. In short - tend your fire. Finally leave your salt in the smoker until the smoker goes cold. I have 't the slightest idea why this makes a difference, but it does. Salt cooled in the smoker has a better aroma and a smoother smoke flavor, sure it takes longer - but has that ever stopped you before?
3. Soak Your Wood
This is the only time you will ever hear me suggest soaking your wood before you smoke with it. Every time I hear someone on TV or the Web say to soak our wood chips before you put them on your fire it makes me cringe - soaked wood makes nasty, bitter meat in my opinion. However when you're smoking salt - and only when you're smoking salt - it seems to work pretty well. Moisture plays a role in Salt smoking and while I have had some luck with using a pan of boiling water in the coals, my best luck has been when I soaked my wood. With salt it doesn't make for a bitter taste.
4. Use Coarser Salts
Coarser grain salts smoke better. The smoke can move through the grains more easily and the smoke seems to stick to the grains better. I mostly use a grain size I can put in my salt grinder, it seems to work best.
5. Resist the Urge - Smoking Salt when Your Smoking Other Foods is Not a Good Idea
Fastest way to mess up your smoked salt? Smoke it with a pork butt, a slab of ribs, or god forbid a fillet of salmon. Don't do it! Salt takes up the flavor of cooking meat faster than it does the smoke - and the effect is not good. If you are thinking "oohhh! bacon salt!" this isn't the way to do it, trust me. Yuck.
6. Store Your Product in an Air Tight Container
Finally, when your done, seal the salt in an airtight container. The smoky flavor you have carefully layered into your salt is sensitive to oxygen and looses it's tang, smoke flavor and aroma as the essential oils oxidize and evaporate.. Seal it up tight as soon as it leaves the smoker. I use big mason jars that folks use for canning.
You can find the complete" How-To" I have put together on the Salt Smoking Discussion - including pictures of the rig I am using and the processes that I have used to make my best salts. And if you have smoked salt - please consider joining the group and sharing your experiences, recipes, tips and tricks.