WRITER | MEGAN WESTERS
PHOTO| CHRIS SARKOWSKI
Whether you’re smoking meats at home or buying smoked cheeses or seafood at a restaurant, there’s no doubt that the popularity of smoked, well, everything, is on the rise. You’re probably only asking why if you haven’t had anything smoked before, because if you have, you know the flavors speak for themselves.
For people like Troy Martin, a controls engineer by day and smoking enthusiast by night, it’s about two things: the flavor and the process.
“Each time you smoke something, it turns out differently, and you get different flavors,” said Martin, a Michigan native who resides in Ingham County. He explained how the choices that he makes impact the flavor in big ways, from the marinades, rubs, and sauces he uses to what wood chips are used in creating the smoke – it all influences the end result.
“It’s all about flavoring preparation, time, and heat; all of that influences and produces a different flavor. You can mix and match to create what you want,” he said. “That’s the cool thing; there’s a flavor combo out there for everyone, you just have to find it.”
Martin first got into smoking about four years ago while on an annual camping trip with his family. At the time, they had a tradition where each family member or friend who attended brought something to fry, calling it Deep Fry Night. While on that camping trip, he and his wife were on a walk and met some people who were smoking meat at their campsite.
“We got to talking, and they actually ended up giving us a taste of what they were smoking,” said Martin. “It was so good; we knew we had to try it.”
Shortly after that experience, he purchased a small smoker for about $170 and began experimenting with rubs, marinades, wood chips, different meats, seafood, vegetables, herbs, and more. While it has become a hobby that he really enjoys, he does acknowledge that it isn’t for everyone.
“It’s definitely not about convenience,” said Martin. “Smoking takes a long time and a lot of patience.”
The difference between smoking, grilling, and barbecuing, is time and temperature. While grilling is quick over very high heat (400-550 degrees) and barbecuing is somewhere in the middle, clocking in at only a few hours on a lower heat setting (190-300 degrees), smoking is a long, drawn-out cooking process that can take anywhere from an hour to two weeks, cooking over a very low temperature (68-176 degrees).
After buying a smoker, Martin decided to experiment with making his own out of a 55-gallon drum. His most recent project is his cold smoker, which he crafted from a 30-gallon trash can.
“After I felt good about smoking meats, seafood, and vegetables in a regular smoker, I wanted to try other things like cheeses, making my own bacon, and things like that. I read up on it and found that to do it, you need a cold smoker. So I made one.”
Just as in other retail circles, more and more consumers are demanding items that are crafted, handmade, and unique; people enjoy a product with a story. Craft beer, for example, is brewed in smaller batches and often has much more flavor than some of the mass-produced light beers. But while people like the flavor, what many are drawn to is the fact that there is a person or people behind the product rather than a factory. According to Martin, smoked meats, cheeses, and other foods have the same appeal.
“You know, when I was younger, we always grilled out on a gas grill because it was quicker. Now I won’t use anything but charcoal. It’s a more relaxing, slowed down pace, it gives much better flavor, and I enjoy doing it. The same concept applies to smoking,” he said. “The world is getting too fast; we want to slow down and enjoy it.”