What the heck is a "Smoking Gun"—and why do chefs and bartenders love it?
Our smoking expert tried the cult-favorite cooking gadget. Here's what he found.
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Let's get one thing out of the way: the Breville Smoking Gun isn't the murder weapon in some obscure Raymond Chandler mystery. It's a cult-favorite kitchen tool that's been updated for 2017—and we just gave it a try.
As its name suggests, it gently wafts wood smoke over your food or beverage, infusing it with as much or as little smoky flavor as you’d like.
Buy the Breville Smoking Gun at Amazon for $99
I really, really like smoked foods. During the summer and fall, I can usually be found in my backyard tending to my charcoal smoker. I have spent countless hours tinkering with the art of smoking a variety of foods, and I know what really good smoked meats and foods should taste like.
So, when I had the opportunity to try out the Smoking Gun for myself I jumped at the chance. Besides, it’s officially too cold to smoke food outdoors in New England. Could this little gadget be my winter BBQ solution? We tried four different recipes to find out—and learned a few things about the Smoking Gun along the way.
Test #1: Smoked Gouda
To be fair, I never actually thought the Smoking Gun would truly smoke anything. But I did think that it would “infuse” smoke flavor into the food, and that the result would taste at least somewhat smoked.
There’s an important distinction here: Food that has been cooked in an actual smoker is cooked, dried, and preserved—as well as deeply infused with the smoky flavors of wood. Those changes all happen on a chemical level to the whole hunk of meat, cheese, fish or whatever else you may be smoking.
The only way to fake that is with liquid smoke, which actually takes the distilled essence of smoke and infuse those flavors into the food itself. I figured using real smoke it would do the same thing as liquid smoke, only better! I was wrong, but that turned out not to be such a bad thing.
For example, when I smoked some Gouda cheese, it had an immediate, strong punch of smoke smell and flavor—but the smokiness quickly disappeared and gave way to the normal creaminess of the cheese itself. Afterwards, I was left wondering whether the smoke had ever been there at all. It wasn’t bad—it just wasn’t what I was expecting. By comparison, store-bought smoked Gouda had a deeper, nuttier smokiness to it that was less prominent, but far more pervasive in the overall flavor profile.
Test #2: Smoked vanilla ice cream
At my wife’s suggestion, I decided to smoke some vanilla ice cream that we could put on warm apple pie.
The Smoking Gun works by heating up tiny bits of wood chips, creating a controlled burn within its confines and releasing the smoke through a flexible hose. While the original Smoking Gun Pro has lots of metal surrounding its mini-smoker, the less-expensive (by $50) model I tried out has a plastic surround—and its base is a bit smaller, too.
No matter which model you choose, Breville sells mini wood chips designed specifically for the Smoking Gun. You probably could shred your own chips, but the official chips are designed for maximum flavor. (After some cursory Googling, I discovered that people put all sorts of things in the Smoking Gun. You can probably imagine some of the most popular, uh, substances.)
The instructions said to use plastic wrap to cover stuff you’re smoking, so I plopped some ice cream in a Tupperware container, sealed it with plastic wrap, and fired up the Smoking Gun for the second time. Unfortunately, most of the smoke escaped—so I used a sheet of plastic wrap and put most of the lid on the Tupperware container, which quickly filled. I resealed it, and then popped it back into the freezer so it could sit for a few minutes without melting.
At this point it became clear that the Smoking Gun wasn't meant for a small apartment kitchen with limited ventilation. It was only the second project I’d attempted that evening, but because any smoke that doesn’t get perfectly sealed into your container squirts out and wafts about your kitchen, mine smelled like a campfire. A not-insignificant amount of smoke remained in the air even after I opened the windows, and even lingered through the following morning (more on that later).
The rest of the smoking moved to the back porch. That's not a huge deal for me, but it might disappoint someone who was hoping for an indoor smoking solution.
But what about the ice cream? Well, it was amazing. Served with warm apple pie, the smoke added an interesting hit of flavor up front that seemed very well complimented by the sweetness of the rest of the dessert. Both of us really liked it and would have gladly paid for it had we gotten it at a restaurant.
Test #3: Barbecue Sauce
While the smoked ice cream sat in the freezer, I also smoked some BBQ sauce for use on a slab of ribs we had in the oven. In a sense, this was the most crucial test, as I needed to know if I could easily add smoke to meat without having to resort to liquid smoke, or smoking the meat itself. So I added smoked sauce to the ribs for their last half hour in the oven.
Breville’s own promotional material makes it clear that the Smoking Gun is a “smoke infuser” for “cooked foods” and I suspected this is where the trouble with the ribs would lay. Would the smoke flavor hold up to further cooking? And, would smoked sauce have enough flavor?
When done, the cooked ribs didn’t really taste smoky at all. Instead, they just tasted like BBQ ribs that had been cooked in the oven. If we had smoked the fully cooked ribs after they had come out of the oven, that probably would have done the trick. But the smoked sauce had completely lost all smoke flavor after about a half hour in the oven.
Test #4: Cocktail Hour
Ending the night with a smoky cocktail seemed like a good idea so I followed Breville’s own instructions for something called a "Smoking in the Sidecar." It’s Cognac, Cointreau, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a glass with smoked sugar around the rim.
The recipe called for mixing the beverage in a shaker by adding all the booze and ice, then adding smoke, capping the shaker, and stirring or gently shaking until mixed.
Despite having enjoyed smoked drinks made by professional bartenders, I couldn't taste the smoke in the two sidecars I made, and a third drink made without smoke seemed to taste identical.
However, I could taste the smoked sugar on the outside rim of the glass, and it was delicious. Even without smoking the liquor itself, the smoked sugar really added something nice to the cocktail and was worth the effort.
By that time, I'd had three sidecars—so I gave up experimenting, left the Smoking Gun on the counter, and went to bed. As it turned out, I had made a huge mistake.
When I woke up the next morning, the Smoking Gun still reeked of smoke. I figured such a compact device wouldn't need a thorough cleaning after only a few uses, but boy was I wrong.
I cleaned it enough to store it, but no matter how much you scrub the screen it will always stink still until you change it. Having smoked meats a plenty, I can say with authority that no amount of scrubbing would rid the screen of the smell of a fall campfire. If I had a garage, that's where I'd store it.
Overall, the Smoking Gun proved adept at making some cool recipes that would otherwise be impossible, but don't ever confuse it with an actual smoker—or even liquid smoke, for that matter.
This Smoking Gun won’t help you solve the Case of the Missing Wintertime Barbecue—but it sure was fun to experiment with it.