Finding myself underemployed and tethered to my apartment this summer finally allowed me the time to improve my charcoal grilling skills. When I have nothing else to do, I spend nearly an hour in the late afternoon setting up my grill, heating the charcoal, and cleaning and oiling the grill grate. And to ensure that all aspects of the grilling experience are well lubricated, I’ve experimented with cocktail syrups made from smoked fruits and vegetables. Here are the best recipes I’ve stumbled on so far. They can be recreated on a charcoal or gas grill, or with an actual smoker, if you have one. These are simple recipes, but there are a few things you need to know about smoking before diving in:
- The smoke from most wood doesn’t create an appetizing flavor for food, so it’s easiest to buy a bag of wood chips, chunks, or sawdust specifically intended for smoking from wherever you buy charcoal or other grilling supplies. The bags usually include descriptions of the intensity of the smoke flavor. If you live near an orchard you can probably ask to purchase chunks of peach, pear, apple, or cherry woods at a low cost. Additionally, you can add herbs, citrus peels, and tea leaves to your wood for a more complex flavor if you wish.
- When it comes to smoking any food, you want to avoid positioning the food too close to the smoke source and creating bitter, inedible food. When you place your food on the grill or in the smoker, keep it as far from the smoke source as possible. Your food should not be engulfed in smoke; instead, it should occupy the same chamber as the smoke and nothing more.
- If you’re using a gas grill, you can use a smoker box, or if you don’t have one of those, you can fashion an aluminum foil pouch and place a small handful of chips inside, poking holes in the foil to allow smoke to flow. Then place this envelope to the side of a burner, close enough to smolder. Here’s an article that describes how to make a foil smoking pouch with more detail.
Stephanie Izard combined bourbon and poblano peppers in an Instagram story weeks ago, so I thought I had to try it too. This is a recipe for poblano simple syrup. Let it sit in your fridge overnight, or up to a couple weeks.
- Bourbon or whiskey
- Poblano peppers
- Lemons or lemon juice
- Thoroughly wash the peppers. Place whole poblano peppers on a medium- to low-heat grill. If you’re using a smoker that allows you to set a specific temperature, somewhere around 300 degrees Fahrenheit is fine. If you’re into it, put a small handful of wood chips on the fire to create some smoke. If you don’t want to use smoke at all, simply grill the peppers, and you’ll still make a tasty cocktail.
- Turn the peppers as needed until parts are black and charred, and the whole pepper has softened. It’s a worse sin to undercook the peppers than to overcook them. Grill them until they’re somewhat burnt and losing their shape.
- Put each pepper into its own 16-oz. jar with a heaping tablespoon of honey. Pour boiling water over the pepper until covered. Stir the jar so the honey dissolves and allow it to cool. When it’s cool, cover the jar, and refrigerate it.
- Make your cocktail by pouring equal parts strained pepper tea, bourbon, and lemon juice over ice.
Make a variation by smoking jalapeño peppers, stewing them in a jar with hot water and a heaping tablespoon of honey, and then mix equal parts strained pepper tea, lime juice, and tequila over ice. Top it off with seltzer water as needed.
My favorite drink of the moment requires a low temperature and a little bit of smoke. If you’re able to set the grill temperature, somewhere around 200 degrees Fahrenheit would work. This recipe produces a smoky citrus juice that’s nice without any alcohol as well.
- Brandy (if you’re feeling spendy, use Cognac or Armagnac)
- Triple sec (again, if you’re spendy, try Cointreau, Grand Marnier, or Lillet)
- Simple syrup (or an alternative liquid sugar like agave or honey thinned out in a little hot water)
- Wash a few oranges and lemons and then cut them in half. Place them on the grill and add a small handful of wood chips to the fire. It’s important that you not over smoke the fruits, so don’t use more than about a ¼ cup of wood chips, and make sure the fruits are not placed directly over or terribly close to where the wood chips are placed.
- Keep the oranges and lemons on the grill for 10 minutes or until smoke flavor is imparted. You aren’t trying to cook the fruit, but you want it to be lightly kissed by smoke.
- For each cocktail, squeeze one orange and lemon for juice. Strain the juice and mix with 2 parts brandy, 1 part triple sec, and 1 part simple syrup. Serve over ice.
You can make a fun spirit-free cocktail with these smoked fruits, too: slice the smoked oranges and lemons, toss them with 1 cup of sugar for every 4 oranges and 4 lemons, let the mixture sit out for a day, then press the fruit for as much juice as you can and strain it. Stir in white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar to taste. Mix this with seltzer water and enjoy!