I rather like a strong smoky flavour in some of my food - I've tasted some rather lovely smokey vegetarian Mexican bean wraps for instance. However, I've struggled to replicate this in my own cooking without making things rather hot!

I've tried smoked paprika, which is lovely but the smoky flavour simply isn't that strong in any that I've tried. Cumin didn't seem to do much, and Chipotle has a lovely smoky flavour - but unfortunately a fair punch of heat to go along with it.

Is there anything else I can try to get a nice, strong smoky flavour but without the heat?

  • 2
    As a point of clarification, do you mean heat as in spiciness/piquancy?
    – Tristan
    Jun 16, 2020 at 1:51
  • @Tristan Yup,.sorry - heat as in spiciness. Jun 16, 2020 at 5:00
  • You need to smoke it. That will always be more flavorful than adding artificial or "second-hand" smoke.
    – gnicko
    Jun 18, 2020 at 15:19

9 Answers 9


Depending on what food you are trying to imbue with a smoky flavour, you have multiple options. I here focus on methods that will just give you a smoke flavour, rather than smoked ingredients.

  • Actually smoking the food seems an obvious suggestion. The internet will suggest any number of ways to set up a smoker at home, although you might not want to go through the effort or have to deal with the smoke.
  • Cold smoking is often done with cured meats and fish. As the name suggests, this is smoking (actual smoke from actual fire), but without the heat, often accomplished by creating some distance between the fire and the food, and having the smoke travel from the former to the latter. This guide seems quite comprehensive, including some ideas for a home setup. Cold smoking has similar drawbacks to hot smoking.
  • Some companies make 'smoke guns' such as this one by Breville/Sage, that accomplish the idea of a cold smoker on a much smaller scale. Thus, no need for elaborate setups, nor the risk of smoking up your whole house.
  • Finally, you can look for ingredients or additives that give you a smoky flavour. Liquid smoke is reasonably common. I have also seen powdered versions of this.
  • And, you can make liquid smoke at home if you have some time and basic equipment.
    – SnakeDoc
    Jun 15, 2020 at 19:22
  • @SnakeDoc I've never heard about this! Maybe add a link to a method for that?
    – LSchoon
    Jun 15, 2020 at 20:12
  • 4
    Sure thing - it's basically condensed water that happens to trap some smoke in it: wikihow.com/Make-Liquid-Smoke - and a video: youtu.be/uep7fdkcV8c
    – SnakeDoc
    Jun 15, 2020 at 20:35
  • 2
    Smoked salt is also quite common.
    – henning
    Jun 17, 2020 at 14:08
  • You don't need to set up a smoker to impart a smoky flavor to the food - there are plenty of ways to smoke food using a grill (either gas or charcoal). The usual approach is to put wood chips over one side of the grill and your food on the other. This does best with a relatively long cooking time, though, and for a quick jolt of smoky flavor I'd go for smoked salt to replace (a portion of) whatever salt is already in the recipe or liquid smoke. Jun 17, 2020 at 19:29

In addition to the other good answers, I would add that a lot of the smokey flavour in Mexican foods comes from the chili varieties used.

A good variety for smokey flavour is Ancho (dried Poblano), which are very mild, but have a delightful smokiness to them. They are a key ingredient in some of the very popular sauces like Adobo and enchilada sauce. I think some of the smokiness comes from the drying process, which may include smoking, so substituting fresh poblano will not work

A (much) hotter smokey flavour is provided by Chipotle, which is dried and smoked jalapeno and is also commonly used in Adobo sauce. This one is most likely too spicy for what you want, but is certainly a nice smokey flavour.


Good quality mild/sweet smoked paprika does have quite a smoky flavour. Pimentón de la Vera is a Spanish variety that's reliable whatever the brand (dulce is what you want, not picante).

Adding some cumin helps bring out the smoky flavour, though the flavour of cumin isn't exactly smoky.

If that's not enough, and using more gives too much of a paprika flavour, smoked garlic is a good addition. Smoked onions should be good but I can't buy them and have never got round to making them.

  • 1
    yes my initial reaction was that OP has not had good smoked paprika if they didnt find it smokey
    – jk.
    Jun 18, 2020 at 10:31

I distill my own whisky (it's legal here in New Zealand). Occasionally if I want a really nice smoky flavour to the endproduct and I can't be bothered with actually smoking oak pieces, and I cheat a little bit instead - I add a few teabags of a chinese tea (Lapsang Souchong tea), which is basically liquid smoke in a tea bag. You may be able to use that idea for your cooking as well.


Another additive that I don't see mentioned much is smoked salt. Obviously it will add salt to a dish, but it capable of delivering quite a bit of smokey flavor.

I have some that my sister in law gave me as a gift in a ziploc freezer bag and the smoke smell was so strong that I had to put it in a mason jar as well. Very, very smokey.


Caramelizing sugars will give you a nice smoky flavour, but you have to watch it every second or you just get burnt. I soak raisins in juice (peach, apple, tomato) plus vinegar and cook them over low heat until they start browning and dissolving. It produces a rich smoky taste perfect for BBQ sauce. Just add more tomato paste for body and you have an amazing condiment for any type of meat - or to give tofu and the like a convincing grilled flavour.


Molasses / Maple

Molasses and real maple syrup each add a depth of flavor that can enhance smoky flavors. While neither alone achieves the effect you want, adding either may help you along to your goal.

A little goes a long way, if you want the flavor enhancement without much sweetness.

You will find various barbecue sauce recipes contain either of these ingredients.

For maple syrup, you would want to use the darker grades.


It turns out that smoke is partially a liquid a room temperature. Alton Brown even did a segment on liquid smoke on Good Eats: https://youtu.be/R3JetOoEngs?t=544.

After seeing that I've been using liquid smoke in a lot of food. Most of them are not made of fake plastic chemicals. They're made from smoke that's been cooled off.

Also, this is how most BBQ sauces get their smokey flavor. They literally pour in liquid smoke.

  • 4
    This isn't quite correct - smoke is not a liquid at room temperature - otherwise you would see many a smoking chimney forming a fluid on a winter's day. You can however capture some of the flavour compounds in water and oils coming off the smoking material at room temperature (or cooler).
    – bob1
    Jun 16, 2020 at 3:57
  • @bob1 You are correct. I changed the text a bit. Jun 16, 2020 at 19:54
  • @bob1 Not to say you are wrong (I don't know) but solids and liquids float almost indefinitely if the particle size is small enough.
    – piojo
    Jun 18, 2020 at 9:45
  • 2
    @piojo - true indeed, as many are finding out with the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic currently happening. However, what Ryan Shillington was referring to was that you can capture condensate from a fire - this will involve more than water, probably a bunch of oils (assuming they don't burn completely) etc. Liquid smoke production is pretty similar to distilling in essence. Actual smoke (at least the bit you see) is solid particles of ash and the like, the liquid fraction is a vapour, much like the invisible water vapour in the air you know as humidity.
    – bob1
    Jun 18, 2020 at 10:23
  • @bob1 Thanks, that's informative! I'll watch the video about liquid smoke now.
    – piojo
    Jun 18, 2020 at 10:41

If you want to know how they make the BBQ flavour (of which smoke is an ingredient of), you can watch this episode of a dutch television program which investigates these things: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuZkmPStZv4

You could try to use auto generated subtitles, I don't think there are English variants, so sorry for that.

  • Please add a summary of the video to your answer. Links degrade and have geographic restrictions.
    – user141592
    Jun 16, 2020 at 10:20

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