Saturday, October 6, 2012

Smoked Tomato Chili

I've been lucky enough to inherit another gadget from my mom.  She gave me her Brinkman charcoal smoker.  A couple friends and I have been buying and enjoying a rarely stocked brand of smoked tomato hummus.  All summer I kept talking about smoking my own tomatoes, dehydrating and grinding them into powder to use in homemade hummus.  When I finally had the opportunity to get the smoker from Seattle to Boise, I jumped at it!  My friend drove up for a family visit and on the way home she stopped by mom's house to pick up the smoker. 

The best part of my first smoking experience was that mom came down to visit a week after the smoker arrived, and we were able to do the testing and creating together!  We smoked lots and lots of tomatoes, jalapenos, a brisket and a chicken.  We made delicious batches of hummus and salsas with the smoked tomato and jalapeno powders.  I've got some more testing to do before I am satisfied with the hummus and salsa recipes, but one recipe that hit the target the first time out was my smoked tomato chili.
I read all about how to make your gas or charcoal BBQ a smoker, and we've smoked fish on the gas grill in the past, but I was still nervous about doing it on anything but a smoker.  The Brinkman is super easy to use, although now that I've had a look at some of the newer, fancier smokers, if I decide to get really serious about this, I might just have to give mom hers back and invest in a new one. 

We smoked several batches of tomatoes.  We tried organic store-bought tomatoes that were large, and we tried home-grown tomatoes that were relatively small.  Although I'd much rather use tomatoes from my aunt's garden, the small ones easily slipped down through the grill racks, while the large, store-bought ones stayed put. 
After washing and slicing the tomatoes, we removed the seeds and placed them cut-side down on the grill grates that were sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  I simply sliced the jalapenos in half length-wise and put them on cut-side down also, but I think they could smoke whole too.  I left the seeds in the first time, but in the future I think I'll take them out while I'm doing the tomatoes.

The tomatoes smoked for about 3 hours, and since we did several batches we tried different flavors of wood chips, including cherry, apple, mesquite and a combination of mesquite, hickory, oak and cherry.  Our favorite flavor on the tomatoes was the plain mesquite.  After smoking we removed the tomato skins, which mostly just fell off, like when you char a bell pepper in the oven.  Hmmmm..... smoked bell peppers!  :idea:

The smoker can be used with any lighting technique, but mom had bought an electric starter with it, so that's what we used.  I'll be honest, I'm much more comfortable with just another electric gadget than I am lighter fluid and matches.  So, we loaded up the bottom bowl of the smoker with the electric element and a pile of briquets.  The electric element began to glow like an oven or toaster element, and soon the briquettes were glowing and starting to ash over.

When the briquettes were hot enough we removed the electric starter and added either wood chips or wood pellets directly to the briquets.  Then we set in the second bowl above the briquettes and (carefully) filled it with water or another liquid.  You can use any liquid, or combinations of liquid, from water and broth to beer and wine, and even marinades.  We tried several variations over the course of the week.

The fresh garden tomatoes were wonderful, but they were too small to keep from dropping down through the grill grates.  They land in the water bowl below instead of onto briquettes, but I felt like we were losing out on precious tomatoes when it happened.

The organic store-bought tomatoes were large enough to hold their own on the smoker, so we did several batches of those.  I couldn't help but throw on some jalapenos too, just for fun. 

Fun fact: Regardless of my Teflon mouth, biting into a freshly smoked, non-seeded jalapeno was NOT a good idea.  I eat jalapenos with seeds raw all the time!  Why was the smoked one so potent?!  Well, for the first time ever my family got to see me cry from a pepper.  I tamed it with snap peas dipped in buttermilk ranch, but what did my family do?  Laughed their butts off, that's what!

These were our first beef brisket and whole chicken.  With the convenience of two grill racks we could put the meats on the lower rack and continue smoking tomatoes on the upper rack. 

My first perfected recipe creation using our smoked tomatoes is Smoked Tomato Chili

Of course this recipe could be made substituting with smoked paprika or fire-roasted tomatoes, but if you have an outdoor grill at home, I encourage you to try the smoked tomatoes.
For further investigation of the smoking process, feel free to visit the Grilling, Smoking & BBQ Forum at

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TinksTreats by Lorilyn Tenney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License