While it’s impossible to get the perfect charcoal flavor in your food without using charcoal; however, you can get a decent approximation with the right spices and cooking methods. Simulating the charcoal flavor may be necessary if you live in an apartment where outdoor grilling is impossible or forbidden by your landlord. You may also need a substitute for your charcoal grill if you live in a region with harsh winters and don’t want to brave the elements. In either case, you have options for getting a strong smoky flavor. Some of the best ways to replicate the charcoal flavor on food not cooked on a grill include:
Liquid smoke is distilled from the condensed water vapor released when wood is burned. It can impart much of the flavor that you would get from smoking with hickory and other aromatic hardwoods. Make a barbecue sauce or mop with it, or you can add it to a marinade for something that you plan to cook in a grill pan. Use it lightly so that your food doesn’t take on an ashy, overly smoky flavor.
You can get smokiness from tea as well. Specifically the lapsang souchong variety of tea. You have two options: steep the tea and use it in your marinade or grind the leaves and sprinkle them on them as a spice.
Even though it has been around since the early 20th century, charcoal seasoning is not particularly well known outside of the state where it was invented: Alabama. Charcoal seasoning includes onion, garlic and MSG combined with activated charcoal for a dark color and smoky flavor.
You can use a smoking gun to make your smoked salt or you can purchase premade smoked salt. Use it to finish everything from steaks to vegetables. It will give you a savory umami flavor profile along with a light smokiness.
Smoked paprika is yet another way to get a smoky flavor from a spice if you can’t grill over charcoal. It is paprika made from peppers that have been smoked over oak fires before being powdered. It is a great way to add both flavor and color to food.
Chipotle pepper (or chipotle in adobo sauce)
Chipotle peppers are jalapeños that have been dried and smoked. The adobo sauce consists of vinegar with paprika, garlic, and other seasonings. The smokiness from the chipotles can stand in for the smokiness from charcoal and can provide a little heat as well. If you want less of the heat, the adobo sauce is an option since it tends to be milder than the peppers. It does soak up some of the chipotle chiles’ smokiness so you can use it to give your food a charcoal-like flavor.
A smoking gun
A smoking gun is exactly what it sounds like: a gun you can use to shoot smoke onto your food. You load the gun with wood chips so that they can be burned to release the smoke. Place the food you want to smoke into a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, leaving an opening for the smoking gun’s tube. Place the tube in the opening and blast your food with smoke. When it is smoked like this, your food can take on a smoky flavor in as little as five minutes.