One of my favorite kitchen tools doesn’t live in my kitchen: It sits outside the front door, looking weathered and well used. It’s both, whether the summer heat has made me abandon the oven or we’re digging it out of a snowbank for a winter meal. I’m talking about an old charcoal Weber kettle grill, handed down and repaired so many times it’s probably had nine lives.
For years it was just a grill, regularly loaded with fish, shellfish, and many kinds of vegetables and fruits. Then we discovered it made an easy, low-tech cold smoker for cheese. Add a few more briquettes, and we’re smoking chilies, beets, nuts, and more.
I got excited about smoking beets after falling for a vegetarian Rueben sandwich created by a local deli. But when I started harvesting my first beets a week ago, we’d already gobbled up the winter’s stash of sauerkraut. Fortunately, smoked beets are delicious with fresh greens and sourdough bread.
Roasted and Smoked Beets
1 pound small to medium beets, greens removed but stems intact
Prepare washed beets for roasting by trimming off all but 1/2 inch of the stem and root. Seal them in a foil packet and roast on a rimmed baking sheet at 425°F for 45–60 minutes, until they’re easily pierced with a fork but not mushy. Plunge into a large bowl of ice water, cut off the tops and bottoms, and rub or peel to remove the skin. Cut large beets into chunks or slices; leave small ones whole if desired. Lay the beets in a single layer on a grill topper or other rack, and set it on the baking sheet until ready to smoke.
Prepare your charcoal grill or other smoking device (see the opening note) as you would to smoke chilies, lighting 12 briquettes and, when coated in gray ash, laying them on the mesh screen on one edge of the grill’s charcoal grate. Add about 1 cup of soaked wood chips, and then slide the cooking grate over them, leaving the hinged part open for access to the fuel source. Lay the grill topper loaded with beets on the cooking grate. Cover the grill with its lid, with the vent on the opposite side from the mesh screen of fuel. Leave this vent open just enough for the smoke to curl through it.
After 10 minutes, check that the temperature is around 175°F; colder is fine, but close the vent slightly if it’s above 200°F. After about 20 minutes, flip the beets, adding another handful of soaked wood chips. Let smoke another 10–20 minutes, until the wood chips stop smoking, and then remove the beets from the grill. Serve immediately on a sandwich (see below), or sprinkle with red wine or other vinegar, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper and serve as a side dish. Serves 4.
Tips & Tricks
- The smoking temperature isn’t hot enough to cook raw beets. You could boil the beets first, but roasting and then smoking ensures the beets are fully cooked and full of flavor. Another option is to cook the beets in foil on a hot grill and then cool it down before smoking.
- You can smoke one or two additional batches of beets—or another vegetable—with this amount of charcoal; simply soak another 1/2 cup of wood chips and continue adding a handful of chips every 20 minutes or so to maintain the smoke. It should take the briquettes about 1-1/2 hours to burn down, but you need the full dozen; you won’t get the grill as hot with fewer briquettes.
- Even though we like all-natural lump charcoal for grilling, it burns too quickly and unevenly for smoking. We’ve found it easiest to maintain a steady low temperature with a combination of soaked wood chips, such as apple, and pressed briquettes.
- Smoked beets make filling, tasty sandwiches, but extras are delicious elsewhere. Add thin slices to your burgers or pizza. Cut them into wedges for salad, or puree and stir into hummus.
Twice as Tasty
Unless you’re a vegetarian, you probably think of vegetables as pretty garnishes on sandwiches—and that’s only if you’re served a well-built sandwich rather than a limp, soggy one. But I see two slices of bread as the way to transport piles of flavors from plate to mouth. I rarely make a sandwich the same way twice, because it draws from whatever happens to be in my fridge and garden: Homemade condiments like mustard and chutney. Fresh greens and herbs, including their edible flowers. Raw cucumber, carrot, tomato, and sweet peppers. Roasted eggplant, mushrooms, and zucchini. Pickled anything. And always cheese.
When I discovered smoked beets, I fell in love with them for sandwiches. They’re moist but not soggy, chewable but not mushy, and so filling even carnivores might not miss the meat (although they can always throw on a couple of slices of beef, turkey, or pork).
4 cloves Roasted Garlic
2 ounces goat cheese
1/4 cup arugula or mixed greens
1/2 pound Roasted and Smoked Beets, sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons Spicy German-Style Mustard
1/2 tablespoon butter, softened (optional)
On two slices of bread, squeeze on the garlic cloves, crumble on the goat cheese, and then spread or press both into the bread using a butter knife. Top each with half of the greens and then the beet slices; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Use a butter knife to spread mustard on the remaining slices of bread; place over the top of the beets, mustard-coated side down.
If desired, grill as you would for Gorgeous Grilled Cheese: Preheat a cast-iron or other skillet over medium-low heat. Spread half of the room-temperature butter over the top of each sandwich. Place the sandwiches, butter side down, in the hot skillet. Spread the remaining butter over what is now the top of the sandwiches. Cook 3–5 minutes, until the underside is golden brown, and then flip the sandwiches and cook the other side another 3–5 minutes. Slice each sandwich in half and serve immediately with pickled snap beans or refrigerator pickles. Makes 2 sandwiches.
Tips & Tricks
- This recipe is one my ultimate homemade, homegrown sandwiches, and you can easily replicate it using other recipes on the blog. But this recipe is just the starting point: build a bigger sandwich or swap out ingredients with whatever is fresh in your garden or at your local farmer’s market.
- I still challenge you to go homemade and homegrown on your sandwiches. Bake some bread or buns. Make up a soft batch of Lemon Cheese. Whip up some aioli instead of grabbing commercial mayo. When you come up with your personal creation, share it with us by tagging Twice as Tasty on Facebook or Instagram.
- I tend to toast homemade bread for veggie sandwiches or grill the entire sandwich. Vegetables can hold a lot of moisture, which they release into the bread the longer it sits. And no one likes a soggy sandwich. But smoking pulls some of the juices from beets, so you can skip the grilling if desired.
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Tried & True
These tools and supplies may help you make the recipes in this post:
- Our kettle grill was a free, well-loved, hand-me-down from friends years ago. If you don’t have such a source, you can pick up a brand-spanking-new one just like ours here and have many, many years to wear it out.
- I like apple wood chips and Kingsford Professional Briquets when smoking most vegetables because of the former’s light flavor and the latter’s short ingredient list. But there are many options, often sold for great prices at summer sales. Just avoid products that are self-igniting (they contain petroleum).
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