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I am looking for alternatives to using wood chips for smoking meats. I would like the process to actually smoke the meat. Liquid smoke/marinades are not what I'm looking for.

Has anyone heard of any projects or items that could be used? I'm thinking of a more environmentally friendly way to smoke meats without relying on wood such as apple, cherry, hickory or mesquite. The cost of obtaining these woods in some parts of the world make it cost-prohibitive.

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I'm confused. You don't want fake smoke but you don't want to use wood? Are you asking for a synthetic substance you can burn that will not be worse for the environment than burning wood?

First of all- burning wood is not bad for the environment- that carbon has not been sequestered and so it would be released into the atmosphere anyway when the wood decayed.

Secondly- mesquite is a cancerous weed here in Texas and I encourage everyone to smoke with it to restore the damaged ecosystem.

Thirdly- You can't fake the taste of smoking with wood. That's the point. Even liquid smoke is actually made by distilling real smoke.

(I originally posted a comment and decided to modify it into an answer.)

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You actually end up sequestering more carbon smoking with wood if you bury the charcoal (or something else, as long as it isn't burned down to white ash). The carbon isn't driven out of the wood when smoking, and nothing will eat the wood once the cellulose has been converted to carbon. So smoking with wood is a net positive vis a vis atmospheric carbon. –  Adam Shiemke Aug 25 '10 at 20:15
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@Adam - You've motivated me to do my part to help the environment and smoke a brisket tonight. –  Sobachatina Aug 25 '10 at 20:21
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I am more interested in the process of smoking meats without the use of wood. I was curious if it was possible to smoke meats with other materials such as oils or some other plant based alternatives. The idea being, "How do I get the hickory smoked taste when there is no hickory wood available?" –  It Grunt Aug 26 '10 at 0:08
    
That makes sense. I apologize for misunderstanding the question. –  Sobachatina Aug 26 '10 at 0:22
    
But to get "hickory wood taste" you'd need hickory wood. This is like a vegan saying I'd like to eat bacon so can you recommend a way for me to eat bacon but still be vegan. My answer is no, you can't have it both ways. If you want hickory flavor your going to have to smoke with hickory or use liquid smoke. Every country/cuisine smokes so your going to have to adapt your flavors to the lay of the land. –  Brendan Mar 27 '13 at 1:42
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i made a smoked salmon recently that used tea leaves (from tea bags, specifically chai and a black tea with citrus), and it was very subtle and awesome. highly recommended. i used, i believe, 3 tea bags total, plus 2T of brown sugar and 2T of white rice in a lightly folded foil packet.

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I believe that cooking on a plank of wet wood will give you some of the flavor of smoking without actually burning the wood. But I don't think the flavor will be nearly as strong.

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it is possible to smoke foods with products other than traditional wood chips. however i have achieved best results by mixing with wood. i like ginger (sliced the same size as a wood chip), star anise, cinnamon stick (broken to roughly the same size as a wood chip), garlic, thyme (soaked in water), tea (i enjoy using jasmine tea), rosemary, peppercorns (soaked in water), citrus peel, chips from wine casks or bourbon cask. any type of woody plant stalk will do as well.

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There are many different woods used for smoking throughout the world, each giving a characteristic flavor, intensity, and color to the foods that are smoked with it. You are not going to get the "hickory smoked" taste by using anything but hickory. Here is the list of common smoking woods given by Nathan Myhrvold in Modernist Cuisine Vol 2:

  • grapevine
  • straw
  • ash, elm, hornbeam, chestnut
  • tea leaves
  • alder
  • apple
  • cherry, peach
  • corncob
  • heather (dried)
  • mahogany
  • thyme, marjoram, or sage (dried)
  • walnut
  • linden
  • birch, poplar, willow
  • hickory
  • pecan
  • laurel
  • rosemary, dried
  • beech
  • juniper
  • camphor laurel
  • oak
  • mesquite

Additionally, in some areas where vegetation is less available locals use dried manure or peat to smoke meat.

Other sources:

http://www.deejayssmokepit.net/Woods.htm

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Wow. You would have to really want your meat preserved to smoke with manure. At that point it's not really cooking- more like desperation. –  Sobachatina Apr 28 at 15:19
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