What is Liquid Smoke and How to Use Liquid Smoke


If you’ve spotted liquid smoke on the shelves at the supermarket and wondered what you were dealing with, it delivers as promised: you’re getting smoke that’s been condensed into a liquid form.

What is it, though, and how should you go about using it when you’re grilling?

What is Liquid Smoke?

Liquid smoke is a yellow to red liquid that’s water-soluble and used to impart a smokiness to food without calling for cooking with wood smoke.

You can use liquid smoke to flavor all kinds of meat and veggies.

This intriguing liquid is typically made from condensing the smoke from wood. Beyond this, though, liquid smoke often contains a variety of food additives.

Smoking food first sprung out of necessity in the paleolithic era, as people realized it was much more efficient to store and preserve smoked meat than dried meat.

Today, while we have refrigerators and freezers to eliminate this need, many grillers still loving using a smoker for meats and vegetables with that unmistakable taste.

If you like the idea of smoked food, but you simply can’t put up with the lengthy wait and effort involved, you may consider trying some liquid smoke for the next best thing.

Where Did Liquid Smoke Come From?

Back in the early 19th century, Ernest H Wright was working in a print shop where he noticed a drop of liquid trickling along a stove pipe. This phenomenon – caused by the rising smoke meeting cold air – stayed with him.

Many years later, Wright became a chemist. He was experimenting with burning wood through a condenser to replicate the dark drops of liquid he saw as a teen. He discovered that this liquid could be used to impart a smokiness to foods without actually smoking them.

Is it Safe to Use Liquid Smoke?

Despite liquid smoke being widely available in stores and online, using it is steeped in controversy.

The smoky flavor and aroma you crave in smoked foods, whether the result of smoking or bottled liquid smoke, results in the production of PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). This byproduct can be dangerous, possibly even carcinogenic.

Fortunately, the amounts of PAHs in most bottled liquid smoke are so negligible as to present no legitimate safety concern. In addition, you need to use so little liquid smoke that you can do with no niggling worries about whether it’s safe to do so.

What Can You Use Instead of Liquid Smoke?

If you like the concept of liquid smoke but your last bottle is empty, consider the following substitutes:

  • Lapsang Souchong: Used this smoked tea as a dry rub on your favorite meats or use it to add a flavorful kick to your stews and soups
  • Chipotle powder: Famous for its smoky flavor, add some chipotle powder, but exercise a light touch. This stuff is notably spicier than liquid smoke
  • Smoked paprika: This spice is made through drying peppers over oak-burning fires over the course of several weeks, and it makes a wonderful alternative to liquid smoke if you’re looking to mix things up

How Can You Use Liquid Smoke?

The highly concentrated nature of liquid smoke means you don’t need much at all to pack quite a punch. As little as half a teaspoon of this stuff will add great body to your soups and stews, but without completely dominating your tastebuds and overpowering the dish.

Liquid smoke works well on broiled, grilled, or sautéed meat, too. For best results, spread a thin layer all over your food before you cook it. For dishes made with ground meat, simply add a few drops when you’re adding the rest of your spices.

Even if you’ve never gone out of your way to use liquid smoke, you may well have encountered it anyway. Most of the liquid smoke that’s sold worldwide is not sold in dedicated bottles of liquid smoke. More often, this stuff is found as a flavor additive in the following:

  • Marinades
  • BBQ sauces
  • BBQ-flavored foods
  • Smoked meats
  • Hot dogs
  • Some cheeses

You can also make some neat substitute dishes using liquid smoke, ideal for vegetarians and vegans.

For a twist on bacon for breakfast, try cooking up some mushrooms or eggplants and imbuing them with a few drops of liquid smoke. Make a marinade using a few drops along with some paprika, soy sauce, and maple syrup. Coat this all over your preferred substitute and enjoy.

You can also rustle up a replica hot dog that doesn’t contain any sausages. Whether you’re vegetarian or simply looking to ramp up your veggie intake, grab some carrots and liquid smoke. Make a marinade using some liquid smoke – go sparingly as always – some apple cider vinegar, and some olive oil. Soak your carrots in this marinade for four hours and then roast them. Pop the result inside the bun of your choice and you can recreate your favorite childhood snack without the meat content.

How Can You Cook With Liquid Smoke?

If you don’t have access to a grill or a smoker, it’s still possible to produce smoked meat, fish, or veggies.

All you’ll need is a few drops of liquid smoke that you lightly brush over your food or use as a marinade.

If you find even tiny quantities of liquid smoke too intense, try diluting it with some water or vinegar for a more subtle flavor sensation.

As well as using liquid smoke to spice up your meats and fish, you can add it to your homemade BBQ sauce, and you can even make cocktails with it.

Sounds good, right?

Where can you get hold of this stuff, then?

Where Can You Buy Liquid Smoke?

You’ll find little bottles of liquid smoke near BBQ sauces on the shelves at most supermarkets.

When you’re comparing brands, look for those offering all-natural liquid smoke.

Wright’s – the creator of liquid smoke – and Colgin are two of the most reputable brands. These make use of natural additives like salt, vinegar, and molasses.

You can find liquid smoke in a wide range of flavors, including:

  • Hickory
  • Mesquite
  • Applewood

Hickory is arguably the most popular of all these flavors.

How to Store Liquid Smoke

You should keep your bottles of liquid smoke in the pantry, or in a cool, dark spot. As long as the bottle is tightly sealed, the liquid smoke will last for a couple of years.


If you arrived here at Hempen Hill today with no idea of what liquid smoke is or what to do with it, you should now be perfectly placed to break out a bottle at your next grill out.

The most important thing to remember when using liquid smoke is that this stuff is highly concentrated. You’ll only need a little splash to make a striking impression on your grilled snacks.

Take a moment to bookmark our blog and be sure to pop back soon for more informative content on all aspects of back yard grilling. We update our blog daily so don’t miss out!

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