The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Smoked Stews

In 2009 I’d discovered the wonders of grilled soups as documented in my 2009 blog entry SOUPS ON. It has been a year or so since I made some soup on the grill, but circumstances forced me to find a good one pot meal that could go on the road. You see my mother and father had both suffered unrelated injuries which made it difficult to get in and out of the car. Rather than cancel our regular Saturday afternoon dinners, I said I would figure out something to make that I could bring over to their house. All they had to do was sit down and eat, I would take care of all of the food. Grilled soups immediately came to mind. I could make them and bring them over in the pot and if needed, continue to heat them on the stove. My parents don’t have a grill or smoker in their backyard, but everyone has a stove or oven. Yes I did say oven, more on that later. As it turned out instead of grilled soups, I began making stews using the smoker. I managed to find a bunch of stews and one soup that were different enough from each other our meals didn’t turn into too much of a good thing. This blog will describe what I’ve learned about the wonders of smoked stews and stews in general. Some it will be old news to folks who regularly make their own soups, but perhaps you’ve never used your smoker to make a great thing better.

At the time I found out I was going to have to make meals to go and bring them over to my parents house, I had been making a series or recipes from Adam Perry Lang’s Serious Barbecue. The recipes had been wonderful with many levels of flavor. I had spotted a recipe in Serious Barbecue called Moroccan Lamb Stew that was on my short list of things to make anyway. This solved several problems for me. First: It was a one pot meal. In the past I’d brought roasts over to my parent’s house and used the roast’s 15 to 30 minute rest time to make the 10 minute trip over. But in the past my mother would take care of the sides on her end. This wasn’t possible with one or both of my parents on the mend, so I had to bring the whole meal from my end. A soup or stew solved the one pot meal nicely. I could make some rolls to bring with me while I was working on the stew. Second advantage was that I could make the stew ahead and keep it warm at my parents house while I set the table and finished up. It also gave me flexibility because I could make the stew a day or so ahead of time and simply have a reheat on Saturday. Stews usually improve when they are stored overnight in the fridge - so Win-Win. The beauty of soups or stews is you are dealing with a very flexible done time. A little more time on the stove only improves them. A third advantage to a soup or stew is it is easy to make a double sized batch and use the second to bring and share with friends or family at their house. I can also easily leave leftovers for people. This was a wonderful solution to several problems and some excellent eats to boot.

The first smoked stew I made was Moroccan Lamb Stew from Serious Barbecue. It was unlike any other stew I’ve ever had. I love Moroccan food with it’s wonderful blend of herbs and spices. This recipe was no exception. The lamb was cubed and coated with a 10 spice rub. This is actually a simple rub compared to some Moroccan recipes I’ve made. The lamb was placed out on the smoker for for one hour to take on smoke flavor. One nice thing about an hour long smoke is you can do this with just the coals from your charcoal chimney. Or if you make it ahead, like I did, you can place it on the smoker while you are smoking something else. The meat came off the smoker and went into a Dutch Oven along with a bunch of sliced onions, whole garlic cloves, butter and fresh herbs. The Dutch Oven went into a 225 degree (105 C) oven and stayed there until the meat was fork tender about three hours later. It was interesting because there was very little liquid that went into the pot with the beef. There was a stick of butter and a cup of beef stock. But after three hours the onions had broken down and released all of their liquid to form a broth that smelled wonderful. When the stew came out of the oven you added some fresh squeezed lemon juice and some more fresh herbs. This soup was absolutely amazing! It had many complimentary flavors and tasted unlike any stew I had ever tasted. My dad, who traditionally is not a lamb person, was still talking about it weeks later.

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I learned several things from this stew:
  • An hour on the smoker was enough to give the meat a nice blast of smoke that was not overpowering.
  • Cooking the stew in a Dutch Oven or oven safe pan was a simpler and easier way to cook the stew. You set the desired temperature and forget it. On the stove you often have to start with a higher heat and keep turning it down to maintain your simmer.
  • You could smoke the meat a day or two ahead of time when you have something else smoking anyway.

The next stew I made was Brunswick stew. This is a traditional barbecued stew which is meant to be made with smoked meat. In the past it might be made with smoked rabbit or squirrel, but the modern version I made called for smoked chicken and pork. You could also use beef. Every recipe I found for Brunswick stew called for slightly different ingredients. There was a certain core group of ingredients and then each recipe had a few “wildcards”. I hand picked my “wildcard ingredients” from three different recipes. Once again with this recipe I smoked the pork shoulder and chicken breast ahead of time. Since I didn’t have any smoked meat on hand so I cubed the pork shoulder and chicken and smoked it for an hour on Friday. On the Saturday I needed the stew, I gathered the smoked meat and other ingredients and placed them in my Dutch Oven. Or at least I started too. This recipe supposedly served 6-8, but I soon discovered that I had way more than would fit in my 5 quart Dutch Oven. I pressed the largest pan of my Calphalon pans, an 8 quart pot, into service. It was off to a 225 degree (105 C) oven for a 3 hour simmer. There was so much in the pan that it took nearly three hours to get it to a simmer. This put me off my original schedule by an hour but I simply transported the pan to my parents at 4:00PM as originally planned, but I heated it for an additional hour over there. I was two for two with this stew. It too was unlike any other soup I had tasted with a wonderful smoked flavor, spiciness and a unique blend of flavors that changed with every bite. It was even better the next day when it had thickened a bit and the flavors had deepened. I’m not sure what the people who wrote this recipe were smoking when they actually wrote it, but instead of serving the 6 to 8 people like they said this recipe made 28 servings.

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BRUNSWICK STEW - What I learned
With this stew I learned a couple of new lessons:
  • A large recipe takes quite a bit of time to heat in the oven. This one took 3 hours to come to a simmer.
  • But heating these soups low and slow is worth the extra time, just be sure to leave plenty of time. Once again remember that more time with stews is even better.

Next on the list was Hungarian Goulash, which is essentially a Hungarian beef stew. It is a simple, but very hearty stew served over egg noodles. A couple of the lessons I’d recently learned were reinforced with this stew. The recipe I followed was from Cook’s Illustrated magazine. I was a little worried about smoking it, because Cooks Illustrated specifically warned not to use smoked paprika. They said the smoke flavor would overpower the paprika flavor. Many Hungarian Goulash recipes besides this one actually called for the use of smoked paprika, so I figured I would risk smoking the meat. I’d already learned that one hour of smoking laid on a nice smoke flavor without being overpowering. After the meat came off the smoker, it was added to the pot together with a homemade paprika paste, a bunch of sliced onions, some carrots and a small amount of beef broth. This time I wasn’t worried about getting a broth because of the large amount of onions present. Sure enough after the 2 1/2 hours time was up I had a very thick broth as desired. The recipe suggested the goulash would be even better refrigerated overnight and reheated the next day. This is exactly what I did. I started reheating the goulash in Dutch Oven in my oven and finished it at my parents house while the noodles were being cooked. The first bite confirmed my instincts about smoking the beef were correct. The smoke added immensely to the great flavor of the soup, while not detracting from the paprika flavor. This simple stew was long on flavor and was surprisingly spicy. I’d used regular paprika, not even spicy paprika, and the stew had what often call stealth spicy. You aren’t aware it is particularly spicy when you first bite into it, but several minutes later you become aware your mouth is burning a bit.
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At this point I knew I had the smoking the meat for soups or stews down pat.
  • 1 to 1 1/2” (2.5 - 3.7 cm) cubes smoked for 1 hour was perfect.
  • This stew also confirmed a large amount of onions will make their own broth without a whole lot of other liquids being present.

The next smoked dish I made was actually a soup not a stew, onion soup to be specific. I had started making some recipes from the classic book Smoke & Spice and I spotted this recipe called Better Than French Onion Soup. I’d wanted to try my hand at a homemade onion soup and this one had the added attraction of smoking the onions. I was able to add on the onions during a smoke where I was making up some chicken breasts for another meal. The onions piggy-backed on this smoke for two hours. I refrigerated them overnight and continued on with the soup on Saturday. The soup was a traditional onion soup with two exceptions. The first was the smoked onions. The second was the use of a homemade barbecue sauce as one of the ingredients. I made the barbecue sauce and then added it plus all of the other ingredients into my 8 quart pot. I was a little worried about slicing the soft onions with the mandolin slicer. I was afraid they might crush and not slice, but my fears were not realized. This went into the oven for 45 minutes. When it came out of the oven I took the soup, some freshly grated Gruyere cheese and a French baguette over to my parents house. I had made the bread the day before so it was a little stale. Once I was set up at my parents house I simmered the soup while toasting the baguette slices. After the baguettes were toasted I served out the soup, topped them with 2 slices of the baguette and then melted the Gruyere cheese in the microwave at 70 percent power for 2 minutes. The 70 percent power kept the cheese from turning rubbery. When it came time to try the soup it threw me a bit of a curve. It was a much more flavorful soup than normal onion soup. This was the contribution of the barbecue sauce. The second item was the smoke flavor-or more specifically the lack of it. Everyone else loved the soup from the first spoonful. I eventually came around. I often find I can’t taste the subtleties in food when it is too hot. Once the soup cooled a little I could actually taste the smoke flavor, which was more subtle than i expected. The extra flavor from the barbecue sauce became more agreeable to me as I got used to it.
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SMOKED ONION SOUP - What I learned
The onion soup taught me several new things:
  • That my mandolin slicer was up to slicing soft veggies. It wasn’t a particularly expensive model so i had my doubts.
  • This onion soup recipe is quick to prepare other than the smoked onions. The soup only takes about an hour to make plus 45 minutes for the barbecue sauce. The barbecue sauce can be made ahead of time and refrigerated and the same is true with the onions. You can smoke them several days in advance when you are smoking other foods.
  • While this soup is tasty enough to be the main course, you can also make the onions and barbecue sauce up ahead of time and whip up a batch of the stew to serve as an appetizer served in cups.
  • You need to let this soup cool down a bit to appreciate the smoked flavor. When it is too hot, you simply don’t taste much smoke flavor.

The last stew I made was called a Middle-East Style Stew. The recipe was from the website. It wasn’t a traditional recipe, but was a recipe that used traditional ingredients and spices found in Middle Eastern cooking. While it did use beef, it was not a beef stew. It was a vegetable stew with beef as just another ingredient. I decided to smoke the beef as well as the sweet potatoes. This stew also had veggies like onions, bell peppers and garlic that I could grill. There were a lot of other ingredients involved here and in this way it reminded me of the Brunswick stew. After the various ingredients were smoked and grilled everything went into my 8 quart (7 1/2 L) pot which was to be cooked low and slow in the oven all day. After making the Brunswick stew I knew this would take a real long time to come to a simmer. To make up for this, I started out with the oven at 250 (121 C) and once the stew started to simmer I reduced the temperature down to 235 (113 C) and then 225 (105 C). I brought the stew over to my parents house and the last step was to add the diced sweet potatoes. I wanted them to be warmed so after I added them to the stew I kept it on the stove over low heat for 30 minutes. The soup was good and my parents REALLY liked it. My reaction was luke warm. The taste of the broth was a mix of smoked flavor and cumin which wasn’t bad and there were lots of flavors happening. I came around somewhat as I tried more, but there was something missing. One thing that was a bit surprising was the beef was not as tender as I expected. I’d made a double batch of this stew and I planned on using it again on Sunday. My only fear was with regards to the sweet potatoes. Where the recipe had you add them right at the end, I wasn’t sure if they would stand up to being in the pot overnight or a second heating. I am not sure if it was the overnight rest or additional reheating or both, but the stew was substantially better the second day. The broth had gotten thicker, the flavors were well blended and the beef was extremely soft and tender. I had been worried that the sweet potatoes would break down but this wasn’t the case.
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This stew reinforced several lesson I’ve already learned and I learned a few new things too.
  • The first is most stews improve with age, even this one with the sweet potatoes. Next time I will make it a day ahead of time.
  • The diced sweet potatoes aren’t as fragile as I feared.
  • I will have to decide the best course for the sweet potatoes. I could always add them after reheating the stew, but I may just try adding them just before I refrigerate the stew overnight. This will let some of the flavors blend.
  • The one hour smoking time for the beef is perfect for imparting a touch of smoke flavor.
  • The eye of the round roast was perfect for this dish where the roast beef was supposed to be just one of the ingredients, not the main event. This roast was virtually fat free and cubed up very nicely. It’s milder beef flavor fit the need for the beef being just part of the ingredients.

If you haven’t experienced the greatness of smoked stews or soups, I urge you to try. It makes a good thing even better and with the short smoking times involved it can be piggy-backed with another smoke. I think once you try it and see how great they are you will be hooked like me.


Here are the links to the picture entries for the Smoked Stews described above.
  MOROCCAN LAMB STEW Soups & Stews Picture Entry
  BRUNSWICK STEW Soups & Stews Picture Entry
  HUNGARIAN GOULASH Soups & Stews Picture Entry
  SMOKED ONION SOUP Soups & Stews Picture Entry
  MIDDLE EASTERN STYLE STEW Soups & Stews Picture Entry


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