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Consumers love barbecue, with one-third eating some form of it every week, according to Chicago-based menu research firm Datassential. Now, creative chefs are adding smoky elements to nontraditional foods and ingredients such as butter, fruit, yogurt, desserts and beverages. Chef Tim Rattray of The Granary at Pearl Brewery in San Antonio describes smoke as another layer of flavor, like sweet, salty, bitter or sour. He notes that smoke shouldn’t be the first thing people taste, but rather an enhancement to any food.
Grocerants can also capitalize on the power of smoke in unexpected places, says Maeve Webster, consultant and founder of Arlington, Vt.-based Menu Matters. “Barbecue is mainstream, so people are ready for these flavors elsewhere; it’s still in the comfort zone. Smoking is a trend on its own, and I love to see how chefs pull these elements into new places, like desserts and beverages, to create new sensory and visual impact,” she says.
For a first step into smoking and charring, look no further than s’more-inspired desserts, where charred, smoked marshmallows are the glue holding chocolate and graham crackers together. Likewise, a grilled piece of fruit can deliver an unexpected dessert flavor, while smoked corn can completely change a salsa.
Using smoke as a flavor note and not just a technique can “really change people’s thinking about these flavors,” says Webster.
- Smoked and charred vegetables and fruit at the salad bar
- Smoked tomatoes for a new twist on pasta and pizza sauces
- House-smoked salt, spices and butter in side dishes and sauces