I’m SO excited I can hardly contain myself – guess what I just bought? A pressure smoker
! I’ve been “lusting” after these for a year, but in specialty catalogs at regular prices, they can be a bit pricey. Mentioned on a discussion forum that I longed for one, and the very next morning, someone posted to tell me it was featured on Amazon Daily Deals
for that day. I doubted I’d ever be able to beat that kind of discount again, so I immediately pounced! We got one for Dad for Father’s Day, too. And apparently I wasn’t the only one, the pressure smoker rocketed up to #1 in both the Smokers and Kitchen & Dining categories on Amazon. (I got the pressure smoker, and paid for the 4 year Square Trade kitchen appliance warranty, too – always get an extended warranty for electric pressure cookers if you can get one.)
The pressure smoker is a combination smoker and pressure cooker – you can hot smoke ribs, sausages, turkey legs, brisket, pork shoulder, bacon, etc. (the pressure cooker will cook them in a fraction of the time and make even the toughest cuts tender) and you can also cold smoke nuts, cheese and fish. I can’t wait to review it and share my new recipes!
Unfortunately, the special deal on the pressure smoker only lasted a day and its over, but there are several Third Party Vendors on Amazon Selling the Emson Pressure Smoker for a pretty good price (well below the MSRP) that’s almost as good as the deal I got (and probably the best deal anyone’s going to get going into Father’s Day). I promise to keep monitoring the daily deals and prices and I’ll post here if the pressure smoker should show up in the Daily Deals again.
Well, the pressure smokers arrived really quickly. I ordered mine Saturday, and our Father’s Day present later that same night, and they both shipped from Phoenix, Arizona and both arrived here in California on Monday. Someone I know on the East Coast ordered theirs the same day and got it on Monday as well, so Amazon seems to be shipping the smokers from multiple locations. Got mine right in time for a terrible heat wave, and then I caught what appears to have been a mild case of the flu, and I didn’t want to tackle a new appliance until I was feeling better. I’ll write up a proper review once I’ve done enough different recipes, but that’ll take a while, so I’ll give you some general impressions and information to go on in the meantime.
How the Emson Pressure Smoker Works. The Emson pressure smoker is basically constructed like a regular electric pressure cooker (if you already have an electric pressure cooker its going to be very familiar to use) with a few key differences. Inside the inner pot, there is a charring element that sticks out into the pot. The inner pot has a power connection on the other side of the charring element that in turn connects to the machine’s power supply. There are two red dots, one on the inner pot and the other on the lip of the machine to show you how to align the pot up correctly so the power supply to the charring element is properly engaged, but at least on my unit, they were off by about an 1/8 of an inch, and in any case I found it easier to hold the inner pot with the power supply plug facing me, the outer pot on the counter with the corresponding receptacle on the side facing me, and to just guide the inner pot down into the machine visually. If you have the machine plugged in, the pressure smoker will beep when you’ve properly inserted the inner pot into place.
You insert the charring element through both holes in the Charring Cup, place a few small wood chips (meaning 3 – 5, it uses very few wood chips) in the charring cup, propped on top of the charring element, put the lid on the charring cup, place your superstack rack inside the pot, adjust the racks as needed, and layer in the food. The rack completely disassembles, so you can adjust the height of the racks, the number of racks, and it makes it much easier to clean. (Based on the Amazon reviews I read, I did two additional things: I wrapped a small amount of tin foil around the Charring Cup Lid and I wrapped some more tin foil around the leg of the Charring Cup, since one or two users mentioned the leg had scratched the inner pot, wrapping it in tin foil should prevent that problem.)
If you are cold smoking, no water is needed. If you are hot smoking, or doing a combination of cold and hot smoking, you add a little water. Lock the lid on top of the machine. If you are hot smoking, you need to place the weighted knob on top of the valve stem, if you aren’t, it isn’t necessary. You punch a button on the front control panel to indicate if you want to hot or cold smoke and then select the number of minutes with an up and down control pad, and then hit start. If you want to both cold and hot smoke, select cold smoke, then the number of minutes, then press the button for hot smoke, then select the minutes, and hit start. Its that easy. If you are doing multiple steps, you’ll know you’ve programmed the pressure smoker correctly, and which step the machine is on according to the lights: if the machine is currently cold smoking, the cold smoking light will be solid red and the machine will display the number of minutes remaining, and the “hot smoking” button will be flashing red to show that that mode is pending.
Now unlike regular pressure cookers, if you are hot smoking, the built-in timer starts counting down immediately, not after it comes to pressure, so if you’re developing your own recipes, you need to take that into account (this may explain in part why the cooking times are longer than regular pressure cookers). If you are cold smoking, you can remove the lid anytime you need to, if you are hot smoking (that is, the unit is under pressure), you will need to lift the weighted knob to release pressure so the unit will unlock the lid. The Emson user manual doesn’t indicate if the machine will depressurize naturally, and since Lorna Sass recommends using natural pressure release for whole roasts, among other things, I’ll investigate this and get back to you. When you are finished smoking, you’re supposed to soak the chips in water before discarding them, an old tin can would work well for this purpose.
Smoked Hot Dogs. For my initial trial runs I tried two things, neither of which are in the Emson pressure smoker manual, but I wanted to go for it anyway since Memorial Day and Father’s Day are right around the corner, and my Dad loves both: smoked hot dogs and smoked corn.
For my first trial run, I used a 14 oz. package of Nathan’s Beef Franks (there are 8 hot dogs per package, so they’re 1.75 ounces each). I was easily able to fit all 8 in the 5 quart model, if I needed to, I could probably have fit another 4 – 8 franks in there with no problem. I added a ½ cup of water, and 4 small hickory chips. I cold smoked them for fifteen minutes, hot smoked them for an additional 5 minutes, and used quick pressure release. Couldn’t have been easier.
Operational Observations: I read every single review on Amazon before buying this pressure smoker, so I’m pretty familiar with the observations and complaints made by others regarding the machine. There were some remarks about the smell of smoke, and the user’s manual confirms that when cold smoking (and presumably when opening the pot after hot smoking), there will be some release of smoke smell. I found this to be extremely minor, and it was confined to the kitchen (which was not well ventilated). My father and I actually enjoyed the aroma, mother did at first, but after a while (we smoked several dishes in a row) grew tired of it, so we opened a window and the smell dissipated. A couple of wood chips just aren’t going to produce a particularly strong smell, though the stronger the wood’s aroma/taste in general, the stronger any lingering aroma will be.
: I’d pressure cooked hot dogs before, so I knew I would like the cooking method in general: briefly pressure cooking beef franks – or more accurately, pressure steaming them – is a great way to get your hot dogs piping hot, evenly cooked, and to do so without having to babysit them on the stove, or to heat up boiling water on the stove. (In the summer, pressure cooking is a great way to cook hot dogs and corn without heating up your kitchen like a steam sauna.) I’ve also found the pressure cooker is also an excellent mechanism for rendering fat out of meat, which comes in handy. My father loves Nathan’s, but they’ve got quite a high fat content, and judging by the amount of fat that fell into the cooking liquid, the hot dogs lost some of their fat content, and dad never missed it.
In retrospect, I would probably lightly prick each beef frank a couple of times with a fork to allow hot air and fat to escape more easily, because there was some minor splittage, but the franks were all intact and they had a deeper, richer color to them. We ate them with a minimum of condiments so as not to distract from the smoked flavor: mom had hers plain, dad had a little mayo and some fresh sweet onion, and I had just a light smear of mustard. They were delicious. We really liked them and the three of us ate all of the franks. The general consensus was that the smoke level was just about right, we liked the smoked hot dogs better than the originals, though next time I think I’ll increase the cold smoking time by a few minutes and reduce the hot smoking time to 2 – 3 minutes. It was a very successful first attempt. We loved the food, we ate up everything, and we intend to make smoked hot dogs again. (I should have a full recipe, with demonstration pictures, for you shortly.)
Smoked Corn on the Cob (Sweet Corn)
. The next thing I smoked was corn on the cob. Those of you who have read my blog before will probably know that I make Pressure Cooked Corn on the Cob
, so sweet corn was one of the first things I wanted to smoke. I hadn’t ever smoked corn, however, so I did some research, and I couldn’t find any consensus: some smoked their corn husk on, some off, some basted, some not, and the length of time varied wildly. Even the most conservative time estimate for those large smokers seemed excessive, I was concerned about how much extra room the husk would take up in the pressure smoker, or whether the husks might present a fire hazard, so I decided to remove the husks and silks. I recommend you choose small ears of corn, preferably those with the smallest diameter: you won’t lose much in the way of corn kernels, and you’ll be able to do more ears at one time. I was able to fit about five small ears in the 5 Quart Emson Pressure Smoker
; no doubt you could fit more in the 7 Quart Model
My first attempt at smoked corn on the cob was not as successful as it should have been, but that was because of human error, not Emson’s fault. I had no idea how quickly the wood chips would be used up, and didn’t check first, and added the corn to the pressure smoker right after smoking the beef franks, without adding new chips. Turns out, the chips were too spent to produce a good amount of smoke and color. I cold smoked the corn for 15 minutes, then hot smoked it for an additional 5 minutes. The corn was well cooked in my opinion, but the smoke taste was very light, the sweetness of the corn was far more pronounced than the smoke flavor. I also found out (see picture) that any food put on the racks too close to the lid of the charring cup would be on the receiving end of some extra heat and smoke. So either make sure that there is enough space between the rack above and the charring cup, or arrange the food so as little as possible is immediately above the charring cup.
My second experiment with pressure smoked corn was to cold smoke it for 30 minutes and then hot smoke for an additional 5 minutes. This produced a really good smoked flavor and aroma (in fact, the smoked corn cobs still had the smoke aroma for hours after the corn itself had been eaten, and the smoke aroma might have lasted longer than that, the trash was taken out at that point). As you can see from this photo, the corn took on a darker golden appearance, and the ear above the charring cup got a darker color in that spot as well. The taste wasn’t noticeably different in that spot, the color was just more intense (likely from proximity to the heat). You can always avoid this additional coloration by arranging the ears so none of the corn is immediately above the charring cup. The smoke taste was delicious, and had completely masked the “sweet” notes from the extra sweet corn.
For my third experiment, I cold smoked the corn ears for 25 instead of 30 minutes, and I hot smoked them (under pressure) for 5 minutes. This time, there was still a good smoked flavor, but you could still taste some of the natural sugar taste. It was definitely a more balanced flavor. The corn cobs also didn’t smell as strongly of smoke, so that’s probably a good indication how deeply and strongly the smoke flavor and aroma are permeating the ears of corn. (Its actually quite remarkable how just a couple of wood chips can produce such a strong smoky flavor, and the difference five minutes of cold smoking one way or another can make.) I think this is the recipe I’m going to go with. I could try cold smoking the corn for longer to get a really deep, strong smoke flavor, but that would require adding more wood chips and the longer you smoke the ears, the more smoke flavor, and the less corn flavor. This was a quite tasty balance.
Smoked Rib Eye Steaks
. My next experiment was smoking rib eye steaks, another project that isn’t in the Emson user’s manual. This requires a little explanation. When you hot smoke food, the smoker actually cooks under pressure, just as a regular pressure cooker would. While pressure cookers are awesome, and cook many cuts of meat fantastically, quick cooking cuts of meat, and cuts of meat like steaks where you’d want to cook them to medium rare, are not amongst them. Rib eye steaks should be pan fried or grilled. That means to add the smoke to them, you should cold smoke them, then cook them as you normally would. Now normally I dry brine steaks with coarse kosher salt at least 24 hours before I cook them, this gives the salt time to permeate the meat, seasoning it, but it also helps denature the proteins (which makes the cooked meat softer) and it helps the steak retain its moisture during cooking. But someone really wanted their steak that night, so I skipped brining this one time.
The rib eye steaks I used were bone-in (cooking meat with the bones adds flavor), of normal thickness (approximately ¾” thick), and were about a pound each. I was able to fit two within the 5 Quart Emson Pressure Smoker
, you could probably fit a third in the 7 Quart Model
. Since these were big steaks, in order to fit them into the pressure smoker in such a way that there was air space around each edge (to allow smoke to settle on all exposed surfaces), and to keep the meat from getting too close to the charring cup, I did remove the bones from each steak. (I still smoked the bones, and then cooked them with the meat.) As it turned out, this was fortuitous, since we’ve never seen the dog go so crazy as she did over the smell of these smoked steaks. She just stood there, sniffing the air, licking her chops over and over again, never stopping, with pleading eyes, and so we gave her one smoked/cooked bone. I don’t think I’ve seen her enjoy any bone so much as she did that smoked steak bone. She was in Nirvana.
I cold smoked the two steaks using four Hickory chips (approx. 1″ x 1″) for 30 minutes. I then lightly patted the steak exteriors dry and pan fried the steaks.
Observations. My first recommendation would be to start with cold steaks. We smoked ours straight after returning from the grocery store, and between the time they were in the shopping cart, and the time it took us to return home and unload the groceries, they had warmed up considerably. The term “cold smoking” is a bit of a misnomer in this case, because there is some heat generated by the burning of the wood chips in the charring cup, as you can see from the photo. There were actually “grill” marks from the superstack rack on one side of the steaks, and there was some shrinkage of the fat around the edges from the heat. Starting with a cold steak could eliminate problems with premature cooking. The steaks had definitely taken on a deeper color because of the cold smoking.
After cold smoking the steaks, I gently patted them dry (moisture on the surface could keep the steaks from browning properly), sprinkled a pinch of baking soda on each side of the steaks, and pan fried them over medium high heat. The smoke already gives the steaks a darker color, but the baking soda does two things to improve the steak: they give it an even richer color, and more importantly, they make the surface of the meat more alkaline, and reducing the alkalinity enables the Maillard reaction (which produces not only a rich brown color but also creates hundreds of flavor compounds) to take place at lower temperatures, thereby increasing the total number of flavor compounds that are created during the cooking process. After consulting my copy of The Flavor Bible
to select spices that would work with my side dish, a few minutes before they were finished, I added cracked rosemary, fennel seed, a little celery seed, salt and coarsely ground black pepper to each side of the steaks. Let rest for 5 – 10 minutes before serving.
I served the smoked steak with my rosemary garlic mashed potatoes (recipe to follow) and a green salad with a light vinaigrette. Initially, all my taste testers, the self dubbed “Guinea Pigs”, thought the smoke level was perfect, and we were really enjoying the smoked steaks. As we progressed, the level of smoke grew increasingly strong. This wasn’t because the steaks were unevenly smoked. Perhaps we just ate too much of a good thing (it was delicious, after all, and the steaks were quite big) or perhaps its cumulative: maybe the smoke flavor and aroma lingers in the mouth and nose even after each bite is consumed. I’ll have to research that. When I prepared the leftover steaks several days later, I started with cold steaks directly from the refrigerator, and I cut the cold smoking back to 20 minutes. This was much better: there was no curling of the meat because the fat cooks faster than the meat, and no “smoke fatigue” before the steaks had been finished.
Smoked Beef Back Ribs
. I was more than a little surprised when I went through the Emson pressure smoker user’s manual and there were two pork rib recipes and a whopping five salmon recipes, but no beef rib recipes. That is, until I actually tried it. That’s not to say you can’t make delicious beef ribs in the pressure smoker, because you can, but the problem with beef back ribs is that they’re long and curved, which makes them hard to fit in the machine. You’d either have to use the smaller end ribs, have your butcher cut the rib rack in half width wise (and then cut the individual ribs apart yourself), or use beef short ribs instead. With the rack, I was able to fit five of the smaller end ribs in my Emson 5 Quart Smoker
for my first round, and only three of the larger ribs in the second round. (Actually, now that I think of it, in my next attempt, I’ll leave the superstack rack out altogether, and stack the ribs in standing upright, or leaning against the sides of the pot. I can probably fit a few more in that way.) This was the 1st time I wished I had the 7 Quart Model
Observations. For my first experiment with smoking beef back ribs, I put as many of the smallest ribs I could fit in the pressure smoker, without seasoning (I wanted to gauge the smoke level of the meat without spices), added ½ cup of cold water, 4 hickory chips, and hot smoked them for 20 minutes. Sorry I don’t have an actual picture for you, it was getting dark, and I was getting tired, and I forget to take pictures. For my taste, the smoke taste was a little wanting, and there was a little too much fat. If you like your ribs to have a little “tooth” they would probably have been perfectly cooked, for my taste, I decided to pressure cook them longer next attempt.
For my next attempt, I pre-seasoned the ribs with kosher salt, coarsely ground pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, ground cumin and coriander. I placed the three ribs I could fit in the smoker, added ½ cup of water, four hickory wood chips, and hot smoked them for 30 minutes.
After the ribs pressure smoked, I allowed pressure to release naturally. For those who aren’t familiar with Lorna Sass, the Queen of Pressure Cooking, let me quote her third key to success for pressure cooking meat from her fabulous cookbook, Pressure Perfect
: “The third and final key to success is understanding the effect of the pressure release on texture and tenderness. When you use the quick-release and the pressure drops almost immediately from 15 pounds per square inch to zero, the meat fibers compress, toughen, and become stringy and dry. Though the meat relaxes somewhat after a resting period, it is never as tasty and tender as when the pressure comes down naturally.”
After pressure released, I placed the ribs on aluminum foil, then cooked them in a 400° F oven for 15 minutes just to give them a darker brown color and give them a little crust (pressure cooking will cook meat, but it will not brown it or give it a crust like an oven or frying pan would).
Observations. I wasn’t sure how the spice crust would hold up inside the moist interior of the Emson smoker, and sure enough the “crust” was moist, but it had adhered to the meat, so that was good news. The additional ten minutes of cooking under pressure (hot smoking) had imparted a better smoke flavor, tenderized the meat a little more, and rendered more of the fat (pressure cookers are GREAT at rendering fat out of meat). Because the crust was moist and wouldn’t have been particularly attractive “as is”, I cooked the ribs in the oven as mentioned above. That crisped up the crust, gave the ribs a nice brown color, and rendered even more fat out of the ribs. I need to perfect the rub recipe, it was reasonably good, but it didn’t wow me, and in future I’ll place the ribs on a rack so the rendered fat falls away from them, but so far, so good. I want to experiment with other wood chips, see if I like something other than hickory better.