Three fish fillets smoking on a piece of aluminum foil placed in a black frying pan on a stovetop.

Complete Guide to Tea Wok Smoking Food

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Writer / Enthusiast / Meat Curer / Forager / Harvester | About Tom

For decades, immersed in studying, working, learning, and teaching in the craft of meat curing, now sharing his passion with you through eat cured meat online resource.

Wok smoking tea mixture
Wok Smoking Tea Mixture in the Kitchen

When I started smoking food in a wok with tea and wood, it was awesome to try out all kinds of flavor combinations. Because you can do this inside without a smoker, many people can give it a go.

Fish fillets turned out amazing, but then I realized there were so many other options available for light smoking. So I have tried chicken, trout, shrimps, salmon and pork belly.

Just remember this is a simple form of hot smoking, which is cooking the food with some smoke around it. It happens quickly because it is directly heated. I tend to use small pieces of food so it is a quick intense cooking and smoking session.

How To Make Tea or Wood Smoked Food in a Wok

  1. Quick salt brine the meat (not necessary if non-meat)
  2. Refrigerate to form pellicle for 60 minutes (for meat)
  3. Line the wok with foil, place tea or wood mixture on foil/rack
  4. Heat on high until mixture begins to smoke
  5. Place food on foil, steamer basket or frame, turn down the heat
  6. Cover with tight lid or tin foil and smoke until cooked through
  7. Finish cooking with baking if necessary

It looks like quite a few steps, but really it’s an easy way to get quick smoking flavor into the food. You can think of it as fast hot smoking. It’s a similar method often with a portable smoker when catching fish in the wild. If you want more info on fast hot smoking, I wrote a beginners guide, you can find it here.

I like the direct heat smoking compared to the low and slow smoking style. You heat the smoking mixture directly from below, the heat and smoke goes up toward the food, cooking it. This is one of the many techniques you can use. I always wanted to find a online resource that had all the different styles of curing and smoking, could never find it. So I just started this site to cover all things cured.

Some interesting flavor ideas I have tried and combinations are below the “how to”. First I will break down each step of the process for you.

Equipment Needed:

  • Wok or deep pot or deep saute pan with the right dimensions to fit a steam basket.
  • Tin foil /aluminum foil
  • Tight lid for sealing in the smoke as an alternative to tin foil
  • loose leaf tea, smoking sawdust or small woodchips

Alternatively, to see a video on you tube I did, find it here.

Smoking in Detail

1. Quick Salt Cure the Meat (not Necessary if non-meat)

I have learnt over the years, when it comes to adding smoke flavor for fast smoking you really want to do a salt cure. You can even salt brine really easily.

Quick Method

Will focus on the meat curing first, it’s all dependent on the meat whether it is dense or lighter.

Fish

For a 1/2 inch thick fillet of fish, I would use about 1 teaspoon of raw sea salt & 1/2 teaspoon of raw sugar. Just lightly sprinkled over the fish. Then I put it back in the fridge uncovered for a few hours.

Chicken & Pork Belly

For small cuts of chicken like chicken drums, wings & thighs, you want to keep the meat refrigerated all the time for safety, being denser meat I like to leave it in the fridge for at least 2 hours curing. With the same proportions of salt and sugar.

Duck Breast

Getting that perfectly cook duck with this method is challenging, if you like the duck slightly blooming with pinkness.

It’s a super classic way of tea smoking, definitely worth having a go. Some recipe books use a marinade to get lots of flavor embedded before the smoking. They seem to always miss out on the drying / pellicle formation for some reason.

Over-night Method or a Few Hours

A quick brine,

50 grams or 1.8 oz of sea salt to 1 litre / 1 quart of water

Mix the salt until it has dissolved (finer salt with dissolve easier).

Then submerge the meat and refrigerate, I find 2 hours is enough up to 8 hours. If you do it for 8 hours I would suggest thoroughly rinsing under fresh water to get the salt off it. This is the easy method of any meat that works well.

Vegetables

For lightly smoked vegetables, no need to salt cured or brine. I had successfully tried corn & mushrooms straight in the wok smoker.

2. Refrigerate to Form Pellicle for 60 Minutes (for Meat)

Forming a pellicle so very important for fast smoking methods creates a dry tacky surface on the meat so that the smoke vapors can adhere to it.

It’s a simple as leaving it uncovered in the fridge for at least 60 minutes for most meat.

If you want to read more about pellicle on meat, what they are and why they are great, please find a full post here.

3. Line the Wok with Foil, Place Tea or Wood Mixture on Tin Foil/Rack

All you need to do is a double lining of tin foil and place it on the bottom of the wok. It will help protect the wok from any burning and combustion given off by the wood or tea mixture.

Once lined, place the smoking mixture on the tin foil ready to go.

Types of Mixtures

The basic mixture I like to use is:

  • 1/2 cup white rice
  • 1/4 cup Black tea leaves or green tea
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

This combination above is very aromatic and quite different from the wood smoke flavor, more subtle. I always find the green tea leaves have a very distinctive flavor definitely toward Chinese flavors. When I smoke fish this way, it matches many Asian flavors like bak choy and watercress dishes.

The sugar in the above mix also seems to bring out a caramel flavor.

4. Put on High Heat Until Mixture Begins to Smoke

Turning up the heat initially will help get some smoke happening, a relatively high heat is necessary at the start. Once it starts to smoke, then you want to turn it down to low and add the food.

5. Place Food on Top

Once, you get some smoke happening it’s time to get the food on.

You want to create a small amount of distance between the mixture and the food.

YOu can curl the tin foil inward, if you want you can just carefully place the fish on the tin foil. You just need to make it relatively flat. I like to poke a few holes in the top of the curled tin foil for the smoke.

Using a steamer basket or cooling rack can work well. This will allow the smoke to come through and flavor the food too.

6. Cover with Tight lid or Tin Foil and Smoke Maximum 10 Minutes

Definitely, time to turn on the extractor fan! Be warned, you may get a bit of smoke curling around the room. Could be a good idea at this stage to turn off the smoke alarms if they are sensitive.

I have found it sometimes depends on the mixture, less tea and I don’t get as much smoke.

As long as you can get a tight fit on top and lock in the smoke you should be fine.

You will find its always better to under-smoke food rather then over-smoke. If it gets too smokey, it can lead to bitter tastes. I have experienced this a few times when I wanted more smoke flavor, so I just used more chips. My advise, is to go easy on the tea or wood.

Finish Cooking with Baking if Necessary

Sometimes I have found the meat get some smoke flavor, I turn off the heat and just let the meat absorb the smoke flavor for a few minutes until the smoke has slowed down. It is only needed to finish the cooking for super thick chunks of meat I have found.

As simple as popping it in the oven on a hot temperature and finish off the process.

Flavor Ideas for Tea Smoking

Here are some option combinations that can work really well together:

  • fruitwoods mixed with tea for salmon or trout
  • basic mix + adding citrus rinds or cinnamon flavors
  • basic mix + Spices like cloves and coriander
  • umin Seeds and Cardamom pods
  • Even tried pistachio shells (very nutty)

Other Quick & Easy Smoking Methods

If you want to get into more smoking goodness, it doesn’t have to be complicated like with BBQ charcoal smoking. I have found both the portable smoker and electric smoke great assets for entertaining.

Portable Smoker

Basically a metal box that mimic’s the wok method above. It has a small grill inside to separate the wood from the meat.

This is what I call a fast hot smoker. Remember though, this is for an outdoor heat source like a propane burner or BBQ grill. Wouldn’t want to do this inside your home. A porch or balcony would be fine though, my mum uses her’s on the apartment balcony.

Electric Smoker (& Gas Smoker)

If this works out well, you might want to look at something simple and cost-effective to start the longer buy convieient low & slow style This was the next step after I started smoking and got a bit more confident with it.

These are truly set & forget options, easy if you get one with a thermostat built in, its really hassle free. You can really get some great smoke flavor without having to manage things closely.

If you want to read more about easy smokers, please find a post here.

Either Wood chips or Classic Tea Leaves

When it comes to the smoking wood, there are a few simple rules you need to know to make sure you have smoky good outcomes.

After I got a few people asking about types of wood, I wrote a post that highlights the most universal for many smoking projects, please find that post here.

You can try and exotic tea blends and really play around with flavor. Lapsong is one tea that works really well with salmon.

Related Questions

Can I Smoke Fish in a Oven?

Smoking in an oven is not a good idea. The kitchen extractor fan will not remove the excess smoke. To smoke, you need a level of control over the heat or airflow. This can not be achieved in an oven.

What is the Best Wood for Smoking Fish?

Fish is a less dense meat which has a much more subtle taste to red meat. Using lighter more subtle smoking woods leads to better outcomes. Many deciduous hardwoods suit this. Such woods as apple, cherry, oak, pear and pecan are very suitable.


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