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Liquid smoke (aka pyroligneous acid, wood vinegar, natural condensed smoke, smoke flavoring) is a cheap, convenient, and flavorful food additive that imparts a smoky flavor to meat and other foods similar to if they had been barbequed over a wood fire.
What Is Liquid Smoke?
This smoky-tasting liquid was first commercialized within the United States of America by E. H. Wright in the late eighteen hundreds. He was a chemist who worked out how to condense the hot smoke from a wood fire and produce a smoke-flavored essence. He marketed this as Wright’s Liquid Smoke. His product is still sold to this day.
Liquid smoke is a natural by-product of burning wood. The exhaust of a wood fire is basically smoke and steam. Fire produces water in the form of vapor, and this vapor, when condensed through coiled tubing, captures the smoke.
This liquid is distilled into a concentrate and filtered of its impurities (soot and ash). What is left is a yellowish-brown substance that is liquid smoke. Most brands of liquid smoke are inexpensive and have a shelf life of around two years.
You can use liquid smoke in various dishes to impart a smoky flavor. The condensed wood smoke is mixed with several food additives such as molasses to create a bottle of modern-day liquid smoke. A variety of woods are used to create different flavor profiles. These include hickory, applewood, pecan, and mesquite.
How Liquid Smoke is Used
Barbeque lovers may swear that they will never “cheat” by using liquid smoke, but many people unwarily use it. Most liquid smoke that is produced will not be found in bottles labeled “Liquid Smoke.”
Instead, it is used as a flavoring in bottled barbeque sauces, packaged marinades, hot dogs, bacon, and smoked sausages. Even products like smoked cheese contain it. You didn’t really think the cheese was wood-smoked, did you? Manufacturers are allowed to label a food “smoked” if they have added liquid smoke.
How to Use Liquid Smoke at Home
Liquid smoke is water-soluble and can be used when grilling, making sauces, making cocktails, brushing meat cuts, and baking things like cheese and bacon muffins. Liquid smoke is an easy alternative if you don’t have a grill or smoker but love that wood-fired flavor.
Brush a few drops directly onto your chops, fish, or whatever before grilling in the oven. Alternatively, mix a few drops into your marinade recipe or add some to a sauce. It works particularly well with cheesy dishes like macaroni and cheese.
Bear in mind that liquid smoke is highly concentrated with a strong flavor, so never use more than a quarter of a teaspoonful at a time. For a milder taste, dilute it in a cup with vinegar or water before brushing it onto your meat.
Does Liquid Smoke Expire?
Liquid smoke expiration date
Because you will be using it in such small amounts, a bottle will last a long, long time, so that you might be wondering about the shelf life.
Most commercially produced bottles of liquid smoke will have an expiration date two years after their production date. However, theoretically, an unopened bottle of liquid smoke shouldn’t have an expiration date because liquid smoke is not a perishable cooking ingredient – pathogenic and spoilage bacteria can never survive inside a bottle of liquid smoke.
Care to Make Your Own?
Creating a spoonful of liquid smoke is extremely easy. Home production only requires a BBQ grill, a condenser, and some wood chips. Be sure to use non-poisonous wood.
Hickory is the most popular. Of course, big companies use commercial-grade smokers and condensers to create liquid smoke. On a commercial level, liquid smoke is filtered to remove harmful toxins and mixed with food additives to impart extra smoky flavors.
Liquid smoke, which is basically a bottle of flavored water infused with wood smoke, is a non-perishable product, and as such, doesn’t require any refrigeration for prolonged storage. Even though it’s unlikely for a bottle of liquid smoke to get spoiled, the liquid smoke inside an opened bottle will lose its smoky flavor after a long period of storage. This will probably happen after around 2 to 3 years.
The expiration date written on a bottle of liquid smoke is not a safety date. It’s a date within which the liquid smoke will remain in peak condition – a best-by date after which it starts to lose its smoky flavor.
Ways to keep a bottle of liquid smoke in peak condition
There are a few ways to maximize the shelf life of a bottle of liquid smoke. We have listed all of them below:
- Liquid smoke is fluid, meaning it can evaporate. When kept in a sunny place with the lid off, the liquid smoke inside the bottle will start to lose its smoky flavor long before the expiration date.
Make sure you store the bottle of liquid smoke inside a cool dark cupboard. Keeping the bottle away from the sunlight will maximize its shelf life.
- Close the liquid smoke bottle lid properly after every use. A closed lid will prevent evaporation, and as a result, will keep your bottle of liquid smoke in the best condition.
- Keep the bottle of liquid smoke away from a heat source. Heat, as mentioned above, will evaporate the liquid smoke inside the bottle. Evaporation will lead to a bottle of oddly-flavored liquid with zero smoky properties.
- Dump your bottle of liquid smoke if it develops an odd smell, appearance, or flavor.
- There is no need to keep it in the fridge after it has been opened.
We hope this short article has inspired you to use up that bottle of liquid smoke that’s been languishing on your shelf for months. It’s a healthy, low-sodium, low-fat substitute for bacon and imparts delicious smokiness to many dishes. Plus, it’s cheap and lasts for ages. What more could you ask?