There are lots of things to love about autumn and the approach of winter: college football, changing leaves, hot toddies in front of a roaring fire. But having to put the cover on the charcoal grill is not one of them. Add that to the fact that my family has spent the summer living in a condo with a "no outdoor cooking" covenant and you can see the potential for a sad time around our household.
Enter the SAVU Smoker Bag from www.hotdiggitycajun.com. I first met Jennifer Hunneycutt, the owner of this online food products business during the Gaylord Food and Wine Festival last summer. I was attracted to her booth by the fact that it smelled like bacon. She sells a variety of interesting kitchen and grill accessories, many of which are dedicated to applying smoke flavor to meat, something which makes her my friend.
She suggested that I try some of her Smoker Bags as a possible solution to my restrictive condo (condon't?) situation. The bags look like a padded mailing envelope made out of thick foil. Closer examination showed that the bags are actually made out of three layers of foil. The heavy outer cover provides insulation that allows Smoker Bags to be used in either an oven or on an outdoor grill, if you're one of the lucky ones that gets to use one.
Between the outer and second layer, there is a mixture of tiny wood chips, either hickory or alder, and a hardwood syrup and crystal sugar mixture to add a smoky sweetness to whatever you place in the bag. The third layer of foil is microperforated to allow smoke to flow through around the contained food without allowing moisture to escape the food and put out the smoldering chips. It's kind of like Gore-Tex for food.
SAVU Smoker Bags are the invention of a Finnish fisherman, and believe me they know a little bit about smoking fish in Scandinavia. Tapani Tirkkonen developed the product based around alder wood for salmon but quickly added the hickory option to support the carnivorous preferences of the North American market.
Using them couldn't be easier. Unroll the bag and fill it with whatever you choose: salmon, trout, pork chops, chicken, potatoes, peppers and onions have all worked very well for me. Fold up the end of the bag and follow the directions which say "THIS SIDE DOWN" in big letters. 15-20 minutes in a hot oven at 475 degrees gets the chips up to their smoldering point and starts to melt the sugar/syrup mixture. After smoking begins, you can drop the oven temp down to 375° to continue cooking. Times may vary depending on whether you're cooking meat or fish, but usually 15-25 more minutes does the trick.
The hickory smoke and sugars offer a subtle flavor to pork and chicken, while the more tangy alder wood appropriately takes the front seat with salmon and trout. You might miss the normal purple smoke ring characteristic of hours in a traditional smoker, but the experience is far superior to Liquid Smoke alternatives.
Pricing varies depending on the quantity of bags you order, but at $3.00-$3.50 apiece Smoker Bags are still less expensive than buying a small bag of charcoal which you'll just leave out in the rain on your back porch to get ruined anyway. Don't limit yourself to traditional recipes, either. I read about a technique for homemade ketchup using pureed smoked tomatoes, peppers and onions and can't wait for the Titans bye weekend to try it out. It almost makes condo life tolerable.