Electric food hookah

I have a friend who grills practically every meal on her backyard barbecue, even in the middle of January. Admittedly, she’s got it down to a science, and the food she makes — between dashes back into the kitchen to warm up — is truly outstanding.

But I’m not that tough. When cold weather arrives, there’s not much that can convince me to spend much time outdoors. Which is why, as the season chills, I’m loving another kind of backyard cuisine: the electric water smoker.

It’s not a new concept — smoking food has been around longer than smoking tobacco. But it wasn’t until the past year or so that you could walk into your local home improvement superstore and buy a garbage can-sized ticket to gourmet bliss for less than $100.

If backyard grills are about getting food singed quick, electric water smokers are about mellowing out your food in a bath of warm, moist smoke. Think of giving your meal a nice hot sauna before you eat it.

The principle is simple. After you plug it in, elements, like those in an electric oven, heat up at the bottom of the smoker. You put water-soaked hardwood chips (hickory, mesquite, oak, whatever) on the elements, and they kick up more smoke than you’ll find in a crowded dance club on Saturday night. Above these, you place a basin of water, seasoned, if you like, with a little wine, vinegar, marinade or even beer (in other words, if some of your drink splashes in while you’re getting everything set up, it’ll just add to the flavor).

Above the basin, you suspend the dead animal products of your choice — ribs, chicken, fish, even roasts work well — and put the lid on. Go inside, because that’s where we’d all rather be on a chilly afternoon.

Then, forget about the food. For hours on end, in fact. Obviously a little advance planning is needed if you don’t want to eat dinner at midnight. The food will be done anywhere from two to six hours later, giving you ample time to relax, go grocery shopping, prepare side dishes, watch a movie, do some chores and maybe even take a nap.

Count on at least two hours for the most succulent salmon you’ve ever tasted. Ribs to die for take about five hours. A whole chicken takes about six, but it comes out looking perfect — the skin is shiny, lacquered and a perfect reddish-brown, like something from a Boston Market commercial. I’ve also heard you can do a whole turkey — think I’ll be starting that a few days before Thanksgiving.

In any case, use a reliable meat thermometer to make sure you’ve got your food cooked all the way through. I’ve found a digital one to be much more reliable than the old-fashioned dial kind.

That’s all there is to it. The results are extraordinary: polished, tender, juicy and infused with a smoky fragrance that can’t possibly be good for you, but at least nothing gets singed like it does on the grill. You’ll be spoiled for anything else. Can hardly wait to see what my gourmet friend does with one. —Alisa Gordaneer


Celebrate election day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, at the 10th annual Single Malt Scotch Tasting sponsored by Merchant’s Fine Wine. It takes place at the Excalibur Restaurant (Northwestern Highway at 12 Mile in Southfield) and costs $50 per person. Call 313-563-8700 for reservations. … Donate to the 2000 Michigan Harvest Gathering, an annual food drive sponsored by the Michigan Health and Hospital Association. Drop off canned and other nonperishable foods until Nov. 10 at St. John NorthEast Community Hospital, 4777 E. Outer Drive, Detroit. Got a food tip? Write to Eaters Digest c/o the MT, or e-mail

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