What is Liquid Smoke Used For? (Recipes and Cooking Methods)

October 25, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Liquid smoke, derived from the condensed smoke of burning wood, offers a versatile and convenient alternative to traditional smoking methods. Its ability to impart a delightful smoky essence to an array of dishes makes it truly special, as it beautifully mimics the taste of slow-cooked barbecue and grilled foods. 

My love affair with this flavoring agent began at cooking school. And since then, it has remained my secret ingredient in various recipes. From enhancing marinades and sauces to elevating soups and dips, liquid smoke breathes a new life into every dish it touches. Stick around, and together we’ll explore the endless possibilities of this flavor bomb.

what is liquid smoke used for

When Should I Use Liquid Smoke?

It depends on the recipe. You can add liquid smoke before cooking for a smoky flavor or use some drops after cooking for a finishing touch.

But it’s best to add liquid smoke before cooking. This way, you’re ensuring that the flavor is distributed evenly throughout your dish. When using liquid smoke in your recipes, you typically add it to the marinade or seasoning mixture before cooking the meat or other ingredients.

Recipes That Use Liquid Smoke

So, you’re curious about this liquid smoke thing, huh? You can use liquid smoke in various cooking methods such as barbecue and grilling, soups and stews, sauces and dips, vegetarian and vegan dishes, marinades and rubs, smoked cheese or nuts, cocktails, and beverages. 

Liquid smoke opens up a world of possibilities with its smoky flavor. Grab a bottle of liquid smoke of your choice and check out some dishes where you can add a few drops to enhance the taste:

Smoky Pulled Pork

If you want tender, juicy pulled pork with a smoky flavor, rub your pork shoulder with a mix of brown sugar and smoked paprika or chipotle powder. Now add some drops of liquid smoke. Hickory liquid smoke, like Wright's Liquid Smoke, is great for this. Let the pork shoulder marinate in the liquid syrup and other ingredients in the fridge overnight. 

Next day, slow-cook it until it’s fall-apart tender. I’ve tried this myself a couple of times. 

Juicy and Delicious Smoky Pulled Pork Sandwich

Smoky BBQ Baked Beans

These beans are not your average side dish – they’re next-level delicious! If you’d like to give this a try, start by cooking up some bacon until it’s crispy. Then, mix in your baked beans. 

Pour in your favorite BBQ sauce and add a few drops of liquid smoke. Let it all simmer together, and that’s it! 

Pot of BBQ Baked Beans

Grilled Smoked Sausages

If you want to take your sausages to Flavortown, fire up the grill and brush the sausages with a mix of BBQ sauce. Japanese barbecue sauce like Bachan's Variety Pack goes well with this recipe, especially if you want it hot and spicy. 

Now add a few drops of liquid smoke and maple syrup. Grill ’em until they’ve got that perfect smoky char. Trust me, that’s how you make sausages fit for a BBQ king or queen.

Grilled Smoked Sausages with Ketchup

Smoked Tofu Stir-Fry

I love all my veggie fans! So, enough of the meat talks for a while. This stir-fry is plant-based perfection, and yeah, liquid smoke goes well with this. After all, the smoke comes from wood. 

Slice up some tofu. Now let it soak in a marinade of soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and yep, you guessed it – a few drops of liquid smoke. Stir-fry with your favorite veggies, and let me know how that goes. 

Homemade Tofu Stir Fry

Smoked Chocolate Pudding

You can also whip up a classic chocolate pudding. But before chilling it, add a hint of smoky flavor with a touch of liquid smoke. This pudding will disappear faster than you can say, “More, please!”

Chocolate Pudding Topped with Fresh Cream and Freshly Baked Cream Buns

How to Make Your Own Liquid Smoke?

Step 1: Light the Charcoal in the Chimney Starter 

Fill a chimney starter with charcoal, light the newspaper at the bottom, and wait for it to ignite. Make sure you handle charcoal and fire with caution to prevent accidents or burns.

Step 2: Soak Your Wood Chips 

Soak your wood chips in water for 30 minutes, then drain them.

Step 3: Place Wrapped Wood in the Grill 

Wrap the chips in foil and place them on the grill away from direct heat.

Step 4: Capture the Smoke 

Cover the grill and position a bundt cake pan over the chimney to capture the smoke.  Use a heat-proof bowl as a lid for the bundt pan to prevent hot steam from escaping and causing burns.

Step 5: Create Condensation 

Use a heat-proof bowl as a lid for the bundt pan and add ice to create smoky condensation. As the smoke mixes with cold air in the unit, condensation or water droplets form.

Step 6: Collect the Liquid Smoke 

Let the wood cook for an hour, allowing the bundt pan to collect the liquid smoke.

Step 7: Transfer the Liquid to a Jar 

Remove the bowl and pan from the grill and transfer the black liquid into a glass jar. 

Ta-da! You’ve just crafted your very own liquid smoke. Just a few drops, like store-bought stuff, and you’ll have that smoky essence enhancing your dishes.

If you need a more detailed guide, check out the video below:

Is Liquid Smoke Safe?

Liquid smoke is safe enough in small quantities – a couple of drops and for not-frequent uses. I’ll explain further…

Burning wood chips always contain the organic compound called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), which can be carcinogenic, according to the CDC. 

Large amounts of PAHs are potentially dangerous. Extended exposures to PAH are unsafe in the long run. But the truth is that the amount of PAHs found in smoking is small. The daily upper safety limit for carcinogens in wood is 47. 

Liquid flavorings made from hickory only produce 0.8 carcinogens per teaspoon. Mesquite has 1.1. So, before reaching the unsafe level, you’d need to gulp up to three or two and a half bottles of hickory or mesquite liquid smoke every day. 

Good to Know: Liquid smoke is, at most, just as unhealthy as conventional smoking. This is because smoke, from whatever source, has some chemicals that contain carcinogens.


1. What Do You Mix Liquid Smoke With?

You can add a little bit of smoke to anything from salad dressings to barbecue sauces and marinades. Liquid smoke also adds a smoky flavor boost to meats, beans, and various dishes.

2. How Much Liquid Smoke to Use?

Start with just a few drops or 1/4 teaspoon per recipe. Add them to your marinades, sauces, soups, or whatever you’re cooking, and taste as you go. You can always add more if you want a stronger smoky flavor, but it’s challenging to dial it back once it’s in there!


Liquid smoke is simply smoke in liquid form and is suitable for everyone who likes the taste of smoked foods. It’s perfect for those who don’t like the idea of spending hours taming smoke in low-smoking sessions outdoors. Now, here’s the deal – liquid smoke is pretty potent stuff. So start small and see how you like it. You can always add a few more drops. But don’t go overboard! It’s a flavor enhancer, not a complete grill replacement. 

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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