12 June 2014

Cold Smoking Beyond Meat Chicken Free Strips

One of the hottest new vegan products recently has been Beyond Meat Chicken Free Strips and Beefy Crumbles.  I hesitate to say that it is difficult to tell them from 'the real thing', because the point of Beyond Meat seems to be to make people reconsider what they think of as 'the real thing'.

As good as this stuff is, I like smoked stuff...  So, I smoked it.  And here's how I do it.

Obviously, you can light up your regular grill and cook this over a hot grill with some wood chips.  But, this is an already cooked product.  So, if you want it smoky to use in another dish, grilling it or hot smoking is basically cooking a cooked product, then cooking it a third time in another dish.  This can dry or toughen the product.  Cold smoking eliminates that second 'cook'.

But mostly, it just tastes great.

I use a cold smoker from Mac's BBQ in the UK.  When I bought mine, it was shipped by Smokinlicious in the US with a sample pack of their smoking dust.  I used their dust for a while, and liked it, but now use a different product.

The dust I now use is from A-Maze-N Products from Burnsville MN.  Their dust comes in larger packs, either 1 lb or 4 lbs, ships fast, and includes free shipping over $29.  So, if you order your summer's dust all at once, you can probably get free shipping.  They also sell their own cold smoker, but I haven't tried it personally.  From my dealings so far with them, these seem to be some good people to trade with, so if you need info, I'm sure an email will get you any help you need.  As I write this, they also have a Father's Day discount going, so ask about discounts if you order.

A cold smoker has uses other than just Beyond Meat.  You can also smoke things like Daiya cheese wedges, salt, rice, or even your quinoa.  Smoking Daiya would be somewhat similar to doing the Beyond Meat, but smoking hard, dry product takes much longer.  Rice, salt  and quinoa get a full smoker load, about 8-10 hours.  But trust me, smoked quinoa is a treat.  I also cold smoke my own home-made seitan.

OK, we start with frozen or partially defrosted Beyond Meat Chicken Free strips (which I'll just call chicken from now on).  Why frozen or only partially defrosted?  Well, meat BBQ pit masters say that cold meat absorbs smoke better than warm or hot meat, so I'm guessing the same applies here.  In any event, it saves you the trouble of defrosting it...

A cold smoker generates very little heat.  Any BBQ or outdoor grill you have with a lid and air vents should work for the container aspect.  I suspect you could poke some holes in a cardboard box, and that would work as well. You just need it all covered and air flow.

First step is to fill the cold smoker and light it.  For this application, you only need enough dust for about 90 minutes, so here's how I fill mine.

It will start burning from the lower right corner, and I want it to burn the outside row, which will take about 90 minutes.  I fill the inner row next to it as well because, from experience, I've found this helps keep it burning perfectly.

This cold smoker can be started with a tea candle.  As shown, I attach a piece of masking tape to the bottom.  This makes it easy to pull the candle out and douse it when the smoke starts.  A tea candle burns for hours, and I don't want that residue in my food.

Next step is to prepare the chicken.  First up, I take a cazuela and fill it with ice.  Since the cold smoker generates almost no heat at all, anything will probably work, including plastic containers.

Then I take a grilling sheet and put that on top of the ice.

Load that with the chicken, and you're good to go.

Why the ice, you ask?  Reason one, as mentioned, is the theory that cold stuff takes smoke better, so keeping it cooler should increase the smokiness.  The main reason, though, is to add a little food safety protection to the process.

When keeping food in the 'danger zone' (between 40 °F and 140 °F), there is a possibility of bacteria growing.  While I suspect this problem isn't as much of an issue with vegan products, it is better to be safe than sorry.  The ice keeps the immediate area around the chicken cooler, and therefore, probably safer.  We've already started with only partially defrosted product, so it should stay safe for a while.

The ice needs to be changed probably every 30 - 60 minutes, depending on how warm the day is.  Remember, the air temp might only be 80F, but most grills are black and meant to hold heat, so the temp inside could easily be much higher. I would also suggest not doing this in direct sunlight in the summertime, to keep the inside temps lower.

The USDA says:

Keep Food Out of the "Danger Zone"
Never leave food out of refrigeration over 2 hours. If the temperature is above 90 °F, food should not be left out more than 1 hour.
  • Keep hot food hot — at or above 140 °F. Place cooked food in chafing dishes, preheated steam tables, warming trays, and/or slow cookers.
  • Keep cold food cold — at or below 40 °F. Place food in containers on ice.

And, the temp inside your grill is what matters, not the air temp.  You can read more at the link on USDA above.

Now, to the smoker.  Mine is a Weber Smoky Mountain smoker, but, as mentioned, pretty much anything with a lid and ventilation will work.

If you have a large grill surface, the cold smoker and food can go on the same lever.  On mine, they won't fit, so the cold smoker goes on the level below.  Notice, though, that the food is not directly over the cold smoker, but offset.  You don't want your melting ice causing condensation that drips down on your dust and puts it out.

Put the lid on, make sure there are some vents slightly opened, and wait 60 - 90 minutes.  Check ice every 30 minutes or so.  Since the chicken is already cooked, you can sample it off the grill to see if it is as smoky as you want it.

After 90 minutes or so, dig in.  It's difficult to not just eat the whole batch right off the smoker...  Here's my finished batch.  You can't tell from the photo, but it does have a slightly darker appearance.

And here is Juno, after gobbling her smoked chicken sample down, and hoping for more.

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