Liquid smoke is a powerful and flavorful cooking ingredient that you can add to meats and other foods to give them a smoky barbecue flavor. It is possible to make your own liquid smoke at home, but you do need a chimenea, smoker, or grill that has a chimney on it. The process is very simple, but it does take quite a bit of time. The trick is to capture the smoky condensation that’s released when you smoke wood chips on the grill, smoker, or fire.

Part 1
Part 1 of 3:

Setting up Your Fire Source

  1. You can also use a gas grill to make liquid smoke. Push in the knob, turn it to ignite, and press the starter. When the flame is lit, set the temperature to high and let the barbecue preheat to about 500 °F (260 °C).
  2. You can also use a dedicated meat smoker to generate the smoke for this project. Get a chimney starter full of charcoal burning. When the charcoal has burned and the coals are red hot, transfer the coals to the smoker. Spread out the coals on the charcoal pan and let the smoker heat up to high heat, or about 300 °F (149 °C).
    • Smokers typically cook foods at a lower temperature than grills, because they are designed to cook through smoking rather than direct heat.
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  3. Place a piece of newspaper in the bottom of a chimney starter, which is a metal container used to start charcoal fires. Stuff the rest of the starter with charcoal. Light the newspaper in the bottom and wait for the charcoal to ignite, burn, and turn gray.[1] Pick up the chimney starter with tongs, pour the hot coals into the bowl, and spread them out under the center of the grill.
    • Leave the grill to preheat for about 20 minutes, until it reaches about 500 °F (260 °C).
  4. Remove the lid from the top of the chimenea, which is a freestanding fireplace you can use outdoors. Place crumpled newspaper in the bottom of the chimenea. Crisscross a handful of dry twigs on top of the newspaper. Ignite the newspaper in multiple places. When the twigs are burning, add one or two small logs.[2]
    • When the fire is established, add a couple of larger logs to get the chimenea nice and hot. Wood fires typically reach temperatures around 500 and 600 °F (260 and 316 °C). Let those burn down so you're left with a bed of hot, glowing coals.
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Part 2
Part 2 of 3:

Smoking the Wood Chips

  1. You can use just about any wood you like for smoking and making liquid smoke. Some of the most popular woods include apple, cherry, peach, birch, hickory, oak, pecan, maple, and mesquite.[3]
    • Mesquite and hickory woods will have the smokiest taste of all the wood types, while the fruit woods will impart a slightly sweet and fruity aroma.
    • Oak is a very popular choice for many professional and amateur home cooks. It offers a much more uniform flavor.
  2. Wood chips are small and can ignite easily, so it’s important to soak them before smoking. Transfer about 2 cups (180 g) of chips to a large bowl and cover the chips with water. Let the chips soak for half an hour. Larger wood chunks don’t have to be soaked prior to smoking.[4]
  3. Transfer the chips to a colander. Leave them in the colander for about five minutes to allow excess water to drain out. This will help the wood heat up faster.
  4. Transfer the drained chips or chunks into the center of a large piece of aluminum foil, and fold up the sides of the foil to make an open pouch to hold the chips.
    • You can use a wood chip smoker box instead of the foil if you have one. Place the chips in the box and put on the lid.
  5. Use a pair of barbecue tongs to pick up the package of wood chips, making sure the foil doesn’t open up. On a charcoal or gas barbecue, place the pack of chips directly on the grill, to the side of the charcoal or flame. In a smoker, place the chips on the grill above the charcoal. In a chimenea, place the foil directly on the hot embers.
  6. You can cook meat, vegetables, or other food on the smoker while you're capturing the liquid smoke.[5] Not only will this make the most of the hot smoker, but it will also impart a unique flavor to your liquid smoke.
    • Cooking and making liquid smoke at the same time works best with a smoker, because you don’t have to disturb the smoke-catching assembly to flip or test the food until the end.
    • You can cook food on a grill when you're making liquid smoke, but you'll have to carefully remove the Bundt pan, mixing bowl, and ice from the chimney to flip or check the food. Protect your hands with oven mitts or silicone gloves before touching the Bundt pan.
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Part 3
Part 3 of 3:

Capturing the Smoke

  1. Close the lid on the smoker or grill. Slide the Bundt pan over the top of the chimney, so the chimney is venting through the hole in the middle of the pan. On a chimenea, place the pan on the grate at the top of the chimney.
    • A Bundt pan is ideal for this job because the hole in the center of the pan will allow heat and moisture to rise through the middle.
  2. Find a heat-proof metal bowl that’s the same diameter as the Bundt pan. Turn the bowl over and use it as a lid to cover the pan below. Now the heat, smoke, and moisture that rise through the center of the Bundt pan will be trapped by the bowl and collect in the pan below.[6]
  3. Place a few frozen ice packs on top of the upside-down metal bowl. The difference in temperature between the hot smoke and the cold bowl will cause a smoky condensation to form on the top of the bowl. This will then drip down into the Bundt pan as liquid smoke that you can collect.[7]
    • Instead of ice packs, you can also use a bag of ice or a freezer bag filled with ice.
  4. You'll know they're done when the food is cooked, or when the coals burn out. An hour will give the bowl and Bundt pan setup enough time to collect at least a few teaspoons (several milliliters) of liquid.
  5. When the coals have burned out and the wood chips have released all of their smoke, carefully remove the bowl and Bundt pan from the chimney. Protect your hands with gloves, as the metal may still be very hot.
  6. Remove the bowl from the top of the Bundt pan. Place a funnel into a small glass jar and pour the contents of the Bundt pan into the jar. Remove the funnel and seal the jar with an airtight lid. Store the liquid smoke at room temperature until you're ready to use it.
    • Liquid smoke can be used to flavor barbecue sauces, marinades, beans, and other foods.
    • For the best results, use the liquid smoke within 6 months.
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Expert Q&A

  • Question
    How do you use liquid smoke on ribs?
    Julian Beer Company Julian Beer Company is based in Julian, California. Established in 2011 by BBQ Expert and Business Operator, Jeremy Marsaglia, the Julian Beer Company specializes in handcrafted beers and barbecue. Restaurant Guru named it #1 Barbecue in Julian in 2020.
    Julian Beer Company
    BBQ Experts
    Expert Answer
    Liquid smoke can be applied directly to barbecue sauces and marinades for ribs either pre-cooking or during the cooking process. It can also be applied in some fashion to the actual wood chips.
  • Question
    How do I store this (counter, fridge, etc.) and how long is it good for?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    Shouldn't need refrigeration. Smoke is antibacterial (even liquid smoke).
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Warnings

  • Only consume liquid smoke (and especially the homemade version) in moderation, as it contains a number of carcinogens.
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Things You'll Need

  • Charcoal grill
  • Newspaper
  • Chimney starter
  • Charcoal
  • Tongs
  • Lighter
  • Wood chips
  • Large bowl
  • Water
  • Colander
  • Aluminum foil
  • Bundt pan
  • Metal mixing bowl
  • Ice packs
  • Funnel
  • Small glass jar

Expert Interview

Thanks for reading our article! If you’d like to learn more about barbecuing, check out our in-depth interview with Julian Beer Company.

About This Article

Julian Beer Company
Co-authored by:
BBQ Experts
This article was co-authored by Julian Beer Company. Julian Beer Company is based in Julian, California. Established in 2011 by BBQ Expert and Business Operator, Jeremy Marsaglia, the Julian Beer Company specializes in handcrafted beers and barbecue. Restaurant Guru named it #1 Barbecue in Julian in 2020. This article has been viewed 289,862 times.
49 votes - 80%
Co-authors: 21
Updated: July 13, 2023
Views: 289,862
Categories: Food and Entertaining
Article SummaryX

To make liquid smoke, you'll need to have a smoker, a chimenea, or a grill with a chimney on it. Whichever fire source you use, start by lighting it up and adding some wood chips that have been soaked in water and wrapped in aluminum foil. Once your wood chips are heating up, put a Bundt pan over the chimney so it's venting through the hole in the middle of the pan. Then, cover the pan with a mixing bowl, place a bag of ice on top of the bowl, and let the wood chips smoke for 1 hour. Finally, remove the Bundt pan and pour the liquid smoke into a jar. To learn how to choose the best wood chips, scroll down!

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