My mother-in-law has figured out that a good gimmicky grill item makes a perfect Father’s Day gift.
A few years back, it was a beer-can chicken cooking stand, which I continue to use regularly. I know of no better way to cook a whole chicken on the grill, absent a rotisserie attachment.
This year, it was the intriguing-looking Stainless Steel Smoker Box from Williams-Sonoma ($40).
It’s fairly small, 14″ x 7″ x 5 1/2″ high. I tested it out on my Vermont Castings gas grill, cooking (at different times) about a dozen marinated chicken wings, a couple of brined pork chops, and a seasoned wild salmon fillet.
First you fill the bottom tray with wood chips — I used hickory. You can soak the wood first, but I don’t think it’s really necessary since you only need the wood to burn a half hour tops. Set on the rack of the gas grill, with all three burners on high, it took a good 20 minutes before soaked chips were really smoking. At that point, you put whatever you’re smoking on the perforated tray (it should have some oil on it to prevent sticking), lay that over the smoking chips, and cover the unit with the lid.
To keep the wood smoking, you need to leave the smoker box so that it’s directly above one or more ignited burners. In my setup, the grill’s inside temperature hovered in the 350-375 degree range when the wood was smoking well. So, forget about low and slow cooking — this is a hot smoker that’s best with foods, like poultry or fish, that you’d generally cook quickly. Blogger the Meatist tried to do brisket in the smoker box — you can read his sad tale here.
Wings going into the smoker box
Wings took 20 minutes-plus to firm up and acquire a nice smoky lacquer; I finished them by crisping them up over direct heat for a few minutes, which didn’t dry them out. When checking if I needed to reload wood chips, I discovered one of the smoker box’s design flaws — it’s very difficult to lift the hot perforated tray from the base. The two pieces of metal sit perfectly flush, and it’s very tricky to wedge a spatula or tongs in between them to check your smoke. The tray also buckles quite radically when it heats up, which can make it tough to put the lid back on. These are inconveniences that don’t spoil the fun, but they’d be easy enough to fix in a version 2.o. (We’ll get working on a hack here, too.) One final complaint may have more to do with my grill than the smoker box, but I found that the wood chips burned unevenly in the tray, with those along the perimeter burning well while those in the center barely got smoking.
The pork chops came out nicely with about 10 minutes in the box and a quick turn directly on the grill. The chops had a more pronounced (but not overpowering) smokiness than ones cooked in the grill with a foil pack of chips providing smoke.
The salmon comes out
Salmon in the smoker box was perfect. Cooking fish, I suspect, is this thing’s killer app. First I generously seasoned a really fresh wild salmon fillet (Costco!) with some Hawaiian red sea salt and cracked black pepper. When the chips were smoking, I rubbed the skin side of the salmon with a thin coat of olive oil, put it on the tray, and closed the box. About 15 minutes later, I had awesome fish — smoky, cooked through, but not dry at all. Results were similar to cooking on a cedar plank, but a bit smokier and less dry. I planned to save half to slice and put on a bagel the next morning. It didn’t make it.