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6 Steps to Smoking Cheese

smoking cheese, smoked cheddar cheese recipes6 Steps to Smoking Cheese on a BBQ

Smoking Cheese? Yes, indeed! One of the GrillJunkie team’s favorite things to prepare on the grill is smoked cheese. This is especially fun during early spring and late fall for some reason. Smoking cheese imparts an incredibly earthy, nutty, smoky flavor that is quite unlike any fresh cheese. Inspired by our BBQ brethren at https://www.meadowcreekbbq.com, we share these 6 Steps to Smoking Cheese to encourage you to “Fire Things Up” a bit. Because cheese can sweat, melt and ooze at temperatures above 90 °F (32 °C), you’ll need to use a “cold smoke” method. You can purchase cold smokers for this purpose, but doing it with available tools can be as easy as adding a pan of ice.

First Up: What is Cold Smoking?

Cold Smoking is basically producing good, clean smoke with little or no heat to infuse and penetrate cheese that produces earthy, nutty, smoky flavor, aroma and texture. The last thing you want is the temperature high enough to melt the cheese. That’s also why we wait until it is a bit cold outside to smoke cheese. Even the ambient air temp can cause influence your grill temperature.

Smoking Cheese – Methods and How to’s

To produce just the right amount of cool smoke, it doesn’t take many coals. We start with 6 coals arranged in a small pile. To make it easy, place the coals in a charcoal chimney or tin can for cold smoking. Since you don’t need a large fire only one of the coals needs to be lit. Simply start another small pile of coals in a separate chimney then use tongs to transfer a hot one to the cold smoking smoking_cheese, cold smokingpile. The target smoker temp for cold smoking cheese is 90 degrees.

Only a small piece of wood is necessary for cold smoking. We find that milder woods like sugar maple, cherry, or apple produce a great taste and nuttier aroma. The stronger wood flavors can overpower cheese very quick. Any type of cheese can be smoked, some favorites are sharp cheddar, Swiss, Colby and pepper jack. You can use the block cheese from the super market but if you have a source for good cheese… go for it!

For the smoking process you’ll need an aluminum pan and a wire cooling rack. Unwrap the cheese and let it come to room temperature for about 15-20 minutes. Fill the aluminum pan with ice cubes and place it on the rack in your smoker. Place the wire cooling rack over the pan and then place the cheese on the rack. The ice acts as an insulator from any heat that is produced from the small fire.

6 Steps to Smoking Cheese

Smoking Cheese Instructions:  How to Smoke Cheese on a BBQ

  1. PURCHASE – Get the cheese. You can smoke about any kind of cheese, including Gouda, Colby, Swiss, cheddar, provolone, mozzarella, cheddar, and muenster. Cheddar is a GrillJunkie team favorite. See the Smoked Cheddar Mac n’ Cheese recipe below from Adrianna Adarme She writes the blog A Cozy Kitchen
  2. CUT – Cut the cheese into blocks about 4” x 4” x 2”. Some people say to use 1” blocks, and some even use large blocks. We think somewhere around 2” thick is the perfect size for a short smoke period and consistency throughout.
  3. ADJUST – Let your cheese adjust to room temperature for at least one hour. This is optional, but putting cold cheese in a warm smoker can attract condensation, and you’ll get the best results if your cheese surface stays dry during the smoke.
  4. Pair Your Cheese with complementary woods. Just as you would pair your meat with complementary wood flavors, you should pair your cheeses with woods that enhance their taste. For soft and mild cheeses, try delicate woods like cherry, pecan, or apple. For hard and strongly flavored cheese, try rich and pungent woods like oak and hickory. You can even mix things up with nutshells or dried tea leaves.
  5. LOAD – Load the grate. Put the cheese on the grate, spaced at least one inch apart.
  6. SMOKE – Smoke the cheese. If you maintain a steady moderate smoke, three hours should do it. You can always adjust it the next time to suit your taste. Keep the smoker under 90 degrees F so the cheese doesn’t melt.

Smoking Cheese: Tips

  • Smoke Your Choice of Cheese for the Right Amount of Time. Cheese tends to absorb smoke flavors quickly and easily, taking on an acrid, overpowering taste when it’s over smoked. The length of the smoke depends on the type of cheese you’re smoking and your taste preference. Cheese can smoke anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours with longer sessions developing stronger flavors. In addition, any moisture on the cheese will cause it to collect a larger amount of smoke particles. It’s recommended that you test out a variety of cheeses with varying smoke times and then determine which you enjoy most. Many pro cheese smokers learn to distinguish smoke times based on the finishing color of the rind. Keep in mind that softer cheeses generally require a shorter smoke.
  • Wait for a cool day. Cheese must be “cold smoked,” to prevent melting. This is easiest to accomplish if the air temperature is no higher than 60 °F (16 °C), even with the methods we’ll use to keep temperatures low.  If you do try this on a warm day, start with a small batch to minimize mess and lost cheese from melting. A store-bought cold smoker method is best for warm days.
  • Cut a cheese of your choice. Any cheese can be smoked, unless it is so soft it will fall through the grate. Gouda, cheddar, and Gruyère are all common options. For fully smoked cheese, use pieces no larger than 4″ x 4″ by 2″ (10cm x 10cm x 5cm), so the smoke can penetrate the entire piece of cheese.  If you prefer cheese with a smoky rind and soft interior, use larger pieces.
  • Dry the cheese and bring to room temperature. Unwrap your cheese and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. Remove from the refrigerator the next day and leave it until it reaches room temperature. This will cause some moisture to evaporate, making it easier to develop the smoky rind. Wipe off moisture from the cheese surface using a paper towel.

There’s some disagreement among cheese-smokers over this step. Some people prefer to keep the cheese chilled or even frozen before smoking. Others dislike the texture changes that come with freezing, and may even prefer the convenience of skipping the refrigeration step and just leaving the cheese out at room temperature for one or two hours.

  • Consider buying a cold smoker. You can purchase a “cold smoker” attachment or adapter for your hot smoker, or a standalone cold smoker. These range in cost from about $35 to well over $100. However, once the cold smoker is set up, smoking is simple and risk of melting the cheese is low.

 

Smoked Cheese Recipe: Smoked Cheddar Black Pepper Mac ‘n Cheese

Smoked Cheddar Black Pepper Mac 'n Cheese recipe

The pairing of black pepper and cheddar is one that is longstanding, and for good reason—it’s special! It goes back to the days when I used to come home from school and make myself mac n cheese from the blue box. And always, always was there tons of black pepper cracked Smoked Cheddar Black Pepper Mac 'n Cheese recipeinto the pot and even more on top for garnish. I used to sit in front of the television so content, watching a half hour or so of TV before it was time to do my homework.

Homework is the one element of school life that I do not miss. Sometimes I wonder if it was really needed, if it made the difference in my education, or if that time after school would’ve been better spent doing more artistic things that would have developed my mind in other ways. Perhaps I’m a little hippie-dippy in my thoughts but I think I would’ve benefited from doing more art as a kid and teenager. And not just tragic arts and crafts for my parent’s fridge, but sculpting, ceramics, painting, dance.

Regardless of what my after school agenda could’ve been, I guessing my love for blue box mac n cheese with lots of black pepper would’ve been the same. This is somewhat of a grown-up version. It uses smoked cheddar, so good! The smokey flavor works wonders with a teeny bit of Dijon mustard, dried thyme and black pepper. The bread crumbs on top give you that needed much needed, super delightful texture. I opted to put them in little cast iron pots for a personal serving size experience, but feel free to transfer it to a baking dish for an old school style. Either way will result in a cheesy, decadent, peppery experience with lots carbs. My favorite!

Smoked Cheddar Black Pepper Mac 'n Cheese recipe, smoking cheese

Smoked Cheddar Black Pepper Mac ‘n Cheese

This Smoked Cheddar Black Pepper Mac ‘n Cheese recipe is a grown-up version of a childhood favorite. (Recipe Credit: Adrianna Adarme of the Fresh Tastes blog)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound pasta (Orchechette works well)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoon, all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 8 ounces smoked cheddar, grated (about 4 cups)
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon of salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bring a medium pot full of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until very al dente, per the package’s instructions. Drain and set aside. 
  2. In a large saucepan, set over medium heat, melt the butter. Once melted, stir in the flour and cook for about a minute, until it’s thoroughly incorporated. Pour in the whole milk and whisk until it’s distributed throughout the milk. Keep stirring, scraping the bottom and edges of the pan, for a few minutes until the sauce thickens, being sure not to let it reach a full boil. Once it’s thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, turn off the heat and stir in the smoked cheddar. Add the thyme, black pepper, mustard and mix once more. Add the salt and give it a taste. You may need to add more (this will all depend on how salty the cheese you’re using is). Stir in the drained pasta. Give it one more taste and adjust the salt once more. 
  3. Transfer the mac and cheese to six 4-ounce baking dishes or a large 11×8-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the panko bread crumbs and a few extra turns of black pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes if you’re using the small baking dishes and 25 minutes for a larger baking dish. If there’s not enough color on top, don’t be shy to throw it under the broiler for about 2 to 3 minutes until toasty and golden brown. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4-6 servings


Adrianna Adarme - PBS Food Fresh Tastes BloggerAdrianna Adarme is a food blogger and author living in Los Angeles, California. She writes the blog A Cozy Kitchen, where she shares comforting, everyday recipes from her kitchen. She recently authored her first cookbook, PANCAKES: 72 Sweet and Savory Recipes for the Perfect Stack. She’s a lover of breakfast, pie (and sometimes even pie for breakfast), corgis and cute things. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

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