I'm stingy with my smoke.
Not in a "don't bogart that can, man" way. Just that if I'm going to go to all the trouble of stoking a hardwood lump charcoal fire, obsessively monitoring its low-'n-slow-ness for a goodly chunk of the day, feeding its greedy gut with beer-soaked mesquite and hickory chunks at half-hour intervals all for the sake of an albeit fabulous brisket or pork shoulder, I'm gonna want a bit more return on the investment.
Here's where foil pans of salt, cherries and lemons come in.
Since lid-lifting is anathema to efficient meat smoking, I use natural intervals -- when I'm replenishing coals or chips -- to slip trays of salt, halved lemons, limes or de-stemmed cherries onto the top rack of my Char-Griller barrel smoker. As I'm almost comically obsessive about not letting the temperature crest 225 degrees, there's not much fret about losing juice to evaporation and the flesh and rinds pick up the deep, mellow flavors of woody smoke.
Sweet, smoked cherries lend a low, charred note to a perfect Manhattan and long-smoked Kosher salt on the rim of a Margarita glass creates a luscious, briny wash with every sip.
But when life hands you smoked lemons, there's really just one thing to do.
6-12 smoked lemons, halved
Bourbon or rye (optional)
Place the lemons in foil pans, some cut-side-up and some down, away from the heat source in your smoker or kettle grill. Hickory and mesquite chips and chunks impart wonderful flavor, but feel free to experiment. Either way, they should be soaked for at least 30 minutes beforehand. Beer works very well, as does leftover wine, but water will do. Place a handful of these soaked chips on your ashed-over coals, and lower the lid, leaving the side vents open.
After 30 minutes, check the lemons to make sure that the juice is not evaporating. If the rinds are softened and have begun to brown significantly, remove the pan from the smoker. If they haven't, leave them in for at least another 30 minutes before removing.
While the lemons are smoking, stir together a mixture of two parts sugar to one part water and bring it to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Carefully stir the mixture, cooking it to the point of a thick syrup, and remove it from the heat. Let it cool.
Place the lemon halves in a pitcher, and press down on them with a wooden spoon or muddler, until they've released most of their juice. Stir in the sugar syrup, tasting as you go. Once you've achieved your desired ratio of sour to sweet, pour the rest of the syrup into a tightly lidded jar and store it in the fridge for later use.
Pour cool water into the lemon-syrup mixture, tasting as you go. Keep in mind that if you'd like to serve this over ice, leave the balance a bit stronger than you would otherwise to allow for dilution. Or, circumvent the issue by reserving some lemonade to freeze into ice cubes.
Brown liquor, smoke and lemonade are a gorgeous fit. Hold back on some of the water and pour in a bit of bourbon or rye to taste.
Next up - Smoked Cherry Old Fashioneds and Smoky Margaritas
Kat Kinsman is the Senior Editor of AOL Food and Slashfood. She drives a Char-Griller barrel smoker.
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