It’s a great time of year, these days between late spring and early summer when the sunlight is generous, the air smells like jasmine, and evenings are so perfect for grilling.
I’m one of those people who, at the end of the week, like to grill everything left in their fridge—meat, tofu, vegetables, watermelon (which is so delicious grilled and sprinkled with sea salt and a squeeze of lime), halved avocados brushed with olive oil and grilled face down, and whatever else I have lying around. We might make sandwiches (with grilled garlic bread) or burgers, and load them up with grilled leeks and squash and bell peppers.
Then we light a fire in the firepit and enjoy the bounty. I’ll have some sparkling wine, and we all watch the fire; sometimes we roast marshmallows, but most importantly, we talk. My kids often have a few friends over. It’s one of my family’s favorite summertime rituals.
Sometimes, when life is too busy for an evening spent outdoors, tending the coals, or when the seasons change and you want to fondly remember those soft summer nights with the comforting flavor of food fresh off the grill, smoked salts are a great answer.
A couple years ago, I learned how to smoke salts on a classic Weber charcoal grill. It was an easy way to create a delicious smoky accompaniment to lots of your favorite dishes. Try smoked salts on roasted veggies, deviled eggs, sprinkled atop a good piece of honey drizzled blue cheese, dark chocolate confections, and probably a million other things.
As with most things artisanal and homemade, there are tons of different ideas about the “correct” way to smoke salts. Some people swear aluminum pans are reactive and won’t give your salts the right kind of flavor. Some people poke tiny holes in the bottom of aluminum pans, pour in their salt, and say they work perfectly. Some people soak their wood chips in water for an hour, some overnight, some not at all.
It’s possible to smoke salts on a gas grill or even inside your home in a dutch oven. The instructions below, are based as closely as possible on how I was taught to smoke salts (in a glass pan and without soaking the wood chips). Just know, however you get there, and whoever’s advice you take, you’ll eventually find what works best for you, and that’s what’s most important both with salt and everything else in life. I just hope you enjoy!
Hickory Smoked Sea Salt
Your favorite charcoal (I like natural lump charcoal)
1 aluminum pan, filled with about 1 inch of water
1 cup hickory wood chips
2 cups coarse sea salt
9×13-inch glass baking dish (a Pyrex thrift store find would work perfectly)
Get your coals going in a classic charcoal grill and move them all to one side. You’ll be smoking the salt on the side of the grill without any coals, over indirect heat. Let the coals burn for 20 to 30 minutes until they turn white.
Once your coals are good and hot, add your wood chips right to the top of the coals.
Place the aluminum pan filled with water next to the hot coals and replace the top grate.
Spread the salt evenly in the 9×13-inch baking dish—the thinner layer you create, the more surface area the salts have to absorb the hickory chips smoky flavor. Set the baking dish over the side of the grill with the pan of water, opposite the coals.
Allow the salt to smoke for about an hour, until a golden, smoky crust covers the top. Give the salts a good stir, and smooth them out.
Allow the salt to smoke for about 8 hours, or overnight.
And that’s it!
Smoked salts make a delicious homemade, gourmet gift. Try using different types of wood – anything from cherry to apple to bourbon soaked wood will give your salts wonderfully different flavor profiles.
After your salts have been properly smoked, you can add additional flavor to them to pump up the yum-factor.
If you lay garlic or rosemary, for example, on top of your smoked salts, and cook them for a few hours in a 200°F oven. You’ll dry out the herbs and infuse your salt with additional delicious flavor.
You can also pulse dried porcini or shiitake mushrooms in a food processor and then add to your smoked salt (1 part mushroom powder to 3 parts salt is a good ratio) for an umami-packed enhancement to winter soups, roasted fish, or stewed meats.
Try mixing in a little chili powder or other spices; the options are really as endless as the salt in the sea.
Jen Harrison is the founder of Piper & Sloan, a blog and online shop where she has been “Celebrating the Art of Good Living” since 2015. She hosts creative workshops, international retreats, coaches women on how to better market their businesses online, and sometimes, she digs out her old chef coat and caters dinners, women’s retreats, and gatherings. She lives with her three children, two chickens, and a few too many cats in Martinez, CA.