If you want that traditional wood smoke flavor but don’t have the time or equipment, liquid smoke can be used to infuse smoky flavor into fish, meat, and vegetables instantly. Liquid smoke is becoming more readily available in grocery stores.
If you can’t find any or have run out, you can still get a delicious smoky taste into your food without the grill by using liquid smoke substitutes.
In this guide, we’ll help you conjure up delicious smoky feasts with the best alternatives to liquid smoke that might even be in your pantry already.
What Is Liquid Smoke?
Liquid smoke is used as an easy alternative to get a grilled barbecue flavor, without actually grilling over a fire. It is a water-soluble liquid with a yellow or red color.
This liquid seasoning is made by condensing the smoke from a wood-heating process and comes in different varieties including hickory, applewood, pecan, and mesquite. In most cases, the seasoning also contains food additives.
Although it is available more recently for home cooks to use, most liquid smoke is used as a flavor enhancer in commercial barbecue sauces, marinades, bacon, smoked meats, some cheeses, and other ‘barbecue’ flavored foods.
The Best Liquid Smoke Replacement
The best alternative to liquid smoke is using a smoking gun since this will give you a genuine smoked flavor. If you aren’t ready to purchase another small kitchen appliance and don’t have the extra time, here are some simple substitutions you can use to replace liquid smoke in any recipe.
#1. Smoked Paprika
Smoked paprika, also referred to as Spanish paprika, is one of the best options for replacing liquid smoke. Before being crushed into a powder, the paprika peppers are smoked and dried for long periods over oak wood fires.
The spice has a vibrant red color and rich, smoky flavor. Smoked paprika can range from mildly spicy to very hot. The specific type you use will depend on your personal preference and the other ingredients present in your dish.
Substitute quantity: Replacing one teaspoon of liquid smoke with ½ a teaspoon of paprika will provide a subtle smoky flavor that won’t overpower your dish.
#2. Chipotle Powder
Chipotle powder is often used to add an earthy, smoky flavor to meat, chili, salsa, and eggs. It is made from jalapeno peppers which are ground and then smoked slowly over a wood fire.
Keep in mind that chipotle powder is much spicier than liquid smoke and can be overpowering if you use too much.
Substitute quantity: Use ½ a teaspoon of chipotle powder to replace one teaspoon of liquid smoke. Adjust to taste and the heat level you prefer.
If you want to impart smokiness into your dish without any spice or flavors that might influence the overall taste of your dish, infusing smoke by using a piece of charcoal is the way to go.
Place the food you want to smoke into a large bowl. Burn a piece of charcoal by holding it with a pair of tongs over the stovetop hob flame.
Once it starts smoking, transfer it to a small bowl and place that bowl inside the large container with your food. Cover everything together with a lid or cling film and allow the smoky flavor to permeate into the ingredients.
The great thing about this method is that you can add smokiness to desserts, pies, and cocktails which may not benefit from the addition of spicy peppers.
#4. Smoked Salt
Smoked salt is regular salt that has been smoked for up to two weeks with bark-free woods. The flavor can vary depending on the type of wood used including mesquite, oak, alder, applewood, or hickory. Smoked salt can be used as you would use regular salt, sprinkled over vegetables, used as a dry rub for chicken, meat, and fish, or even in desserts.
Substitute quantity: Use smoked salt as you would regular salt in your dish, whether it be sprinkled as a seasoning, in a spice rub, or added to a sauce.
When substituting smoked salt for liquid smoke, keep in mind that it is going to add saltiness to your dish, as any regular salt will do. Cut out the addition of regular salt completely in your recipe, otherwise it will become overly salty.
#5. Smoked Tea
Also known as lapsang souchong, this is a Chinese black tea made by smoke-drying the leaves over a pinewood fire. Smoked tea has a distinctive smoky pine flavor and a strong smoky aroma.
The tea is less bitter than other types of black tea, which makes it suitable as a meat rub or infusing into stew and soup base liquids.
Substitute quantity: To use smoked tea as a liquid smoke substitute, steep the leaves in boiling water. Use 1 to 2 heaped teaspoons in ½ cup water and let it steep for 5 minutes. The longer the tea stands, the stronger the flavor will become.
Strain the leaves and add the liquid to your other ingredients (stew or soup) in the same quantity of liquid smoke you are replacing. Adjust according to the level of smokiness you want.
Alternatively, grind the dried tea leaves into a powder and mix with other spices to use as a meat rub.
#6. Canned Chipotle Peppers
Some canned or jarred chipotle peppers are preserved in a sauce that has a smoky essence. Check the label for any ‘smoked’ ingredients to ensure you have the right variety. The liquid or sauce will also add some spiciness.
Substitute quantity: Replace the liquid smoke measure for measure with the canned chipotle liquid. Adjust according to taste.
#7. Smoked Meats
Smoked meats are best used in dishes like stews, casseroles, chili, or baked beans. Choose meat that pairs well with the other ingredients in your dish.
Smoked bacon is generally a good option but other smoked meats that are available are turkey, chicken, ham hock, and fish. Using smoked meat in your dish will change the fat and nutritional content.
Substitute quantity: Smoked meats can be added in different quantities, depending on the dish you are making and how you are using it.
A small amount of bacon can make a big difference in flavor, however, if you want to bulk up your dish with meat or make it the main part of the meal, then chunky pieces of chicken or turkey can be incorporated into stews, chili, baked beans, and soups.
For a great barbecue-flavored meat marinade, or veggies that taste like they’ve just come off the grill, use liquid smoke as a quick and easy addition to your stovetop cooking. This way you can add smokiness without needing a smoker or pulling out the barbecue grill.
If you don’t have any on hand, there are a range of liquid smoke substitutes to choose from, some of which you may already have in your kitchen.
Keep in mind that many of the options will give your dish a spicy boost and can change the flavor profile.
When using alternative ingredients in place of liquid smoke, start in small quantities and adjust according to taste depending on your desired level of salt, heat, and smokiness.