In our house, summer is barbecue season. And while we enjoy the traditional method of grilling, our smoker has become a great addition to the summertime lineup. Beef, chicken, pork and fish are all challenging to master and delicious in their own way, but this summer I wanted to try smoking something a bit more technical: Cheese. Here’s how I got it done – with a step-by-step guide so you can try it yourself!
Pick Your Method and Gather Materials
I know, I know. Cheese melts and smoke is hot. And because melted cheese isn’t smoked cheese, I knew the traditional smoke method was out. A few Google searches later and I realized the key to my equation was a tube smoker: a small cylindrical device in which smoke could be produced, but the temperature could remain cool enough for the cheese to keep shape. Once you’ve gotten the tube smoker, you’ll also need a regular smoker or outside grill, wood pellets, surface thermometer and butcher paper.
Choose Your Cheese
The next thing you’ll need to do is decide on your cheese or cheeses. Cheddar, gouda, provolone and Gruyere are all common options; even mozzarella is a great pick. Just remember: the harder your cheese, the more it will keep its shape but the longer it will take to absorb the flavor. I chose gouda and cheddar.
Focus on Flavor
Pick a flavor that matches your cheese – soft cheese should have a delicate-flavored smoke (cherry, pecan or apple). Harder cheese can use an equally sharp flavor (mesquite, hickory or oak), but be careful when starting out, as cheese tends to absorb flavor quickly. Of course, if you’re feeling adventurous, don’t be afraid to get creative with the flavors and textures of different woods and cheeses.
Prep and Smoke
Now prep your cheese and start smokin’ by following these seven simple steps:
- Place your smoker/grill in a well-ventilated area.
- Place the tube smoker inside the smoker/grill and light it per the manufacturer’s instruction manual.
- Arrange 3- to 4-inch blocks of room temperature cheese on the smoker/grill grate.
- Adjust the temperature by using a grill surface thermometer. You may also add a disposable tray of ice inside the smoker to keep the inside temperature cooler.
- Close the lid and let the smoking begin!
- Periodically check the temperature – aim to keep it below 90 degrees Fahrenheit and as close to 80 degrees as possible.
- Flip the cheese every 30 minutes until you’ve reached your desired doneness.
Smoking time will vary depending on the consistency of the cheese. Soft cheeses can take as few as 30 minutes. Harder cheeses can take up to 2 hours. As with most things, trial and error are the best teachers.
Store and Set
Once the cheese has finished smoking, wrap the blocks in butcher paper and refrigerate for 24 hours. After 24 hours, transfer the cheese to vacuum-sealed bags and let sit in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. Note: The longer you allow the cheese to age, the better it will taste.