Smoked Cherries

Twice as Tasty’s birthday month seems the perfect time to share my newest favorite way to enjoy tart cherries. Get home-smoked recipes at
I’m keeping an impatient eye on my sour cherry tree, waiting for the green fruit to ripen, just so that I can pick, destem, pit, and smoke the fruit. That’s right—smoked cherries. Although my cherry tree is still stubbornly green, Twice as Tasty’s birthday month seems the perfect time to share my newest favorite way to enjoy the tart fruit.

We expanded our smoking repertoire last year after having had such success turning smoked chilies into a spicy paste and enjoying roasted and smoked beets on numerous sandwiches, including Vegetarian Smoked-Beet Reuben. Broccoli and asparagus both received the flavorful treatment, and we continue to smoke an array of store-bought and homemade cheeses. But cherries became the icing on the cake—or should I say, the garnish of the cocktail.

Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You just need cherries and a way to smoke them; we use an old charcoal Weber kettle grill.
1. Add soaked wood chips to hot briquettes.
2. Add the cherries and let smoke.

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Smoked Cherries

  • Servings: 3 cups
  • Difficulty: 2
  • Print
We do all of our grilling and smoking on an old charcoal Weber kettle grill, so the low-tech, do-it-yourself instructions that follow are geared toward that tool. You may be able to smoke cherries on a gas grill or in a smoker if you can keep the temperature below 200°F; before starting, check the manufacturer’s heat levels—or better yet, place a heatproof thermometer inside while you fire up the unit to ensure you can sustain a low-enough temperature.
1 pound tart or sweet cherries, stems removed and pitted

Spread the cherries in a single layer on a grill topper or other rack, and set it on the baking sheet to collect any dripping juice.

Prepare your charcoal grill or other smoking device (see the opening note) as you would to smoke chilies: Light 12 briquettes and, when coated in gray ash, lay 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.

Set the grill topper loaded with cherries 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 20 minutes, check that the temperature is around 175°F; colder is fine, but close the vent slightly if it’s above 200°F. If the wood is no longer smoking, open the lid and add another handful of soaked wood chips; replace the lid. Let smoke another 25 minutes or so, adding a similar amount of wood chips whenever they stop smoking, and then remove the cherries from the grill. Makes about 3 cups.

Tips & Tricks
  • Although you can leave in the stems on and pits in if you plan to use the cherries as garnish (see below), both stems and fruit will lose color and soften. If you intend to cook with the cherries, it’s easiest to pit them while fresh.
  • You can smoke about 4 pounds of cherries with 12 briquettes. It should take the charcoal about 1-1/2 hours to burn down, but you need the full dozen to get enough heat. After the cherries have finished, you could smoke a second quadruple batch or switch to smoking roasted beets.
  • 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 alder, and pressed briquettes.
  • Smoked cherries can be used in any recipe that calls for fresh or frozen cherries, but I’ve fallen in love with them in cocktails (see below). They’re a natural fit for Smoky Sour Cherry–Tequila Salsa (adding both the smoked cherries and the juice collected on the baking sheet) but are also delicious in sour cream scones.

Twice as Tasty’s birthday month seems the perfect time to share my newest favorite way to enjoy tart cherries. Get home-smoked recipes at

Twice as Tasty

Twice as Tasty’s birthday month seems the perfect time to share my newest favorite way to enjoy tart cherries. Get home-smoked recipes at I smoked the cherries, I had no doubt about what to do with them: drop them in bourbon. Although I enjoyed the occasional maraschino cherry–garnished Shirley Temple as a kid when my family went to out for Chinese food (a beverage-and-food pairing story for another time), I disliked the sickly sweet, bright pink fruit and have never been willing to drop it into alcohol. Luxardo cherries, the real-deal adult equivalent, come with a hefty price tag, often commanding upward of $20 for a small jar. If I’m going to spend that kind of money, I’d rather it went toward alcohol than cherries and sugar.

Bourbon makes a perfect pairing for the smoky flavor of cherries, although I’m equally partial to rye whiskey. Even though the alcohol gets diluted with water and sugar for a light syrup, I choose the same quality of alcohol that I would drink neat so that I can spoon that syrup into a beverage for bonus cherry flavor.

Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You just need the cherries and bourbon plus some sugar and lemon juice.
1. Make the syrup.
2. Fill the jars with cherries.
3. Pour in the syrup and refrigerate at least a month before enjoying.

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Bourbon-Infused Smoked Cherries

  • Servings: 2 12-ounce jars
  • Difficulty: 1
  • Print
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh or bottled lemon juice
1/2 cup or more bourbon
1 pound Smoked Cherries

In a small saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and let the syrup sit for about 30 minutes, until it has cooled to room temperature. Add the lemon juice and bourbon, and stir to combine.

Divide the cherries between 2 12-ounce jars. Ladle the syrup over the fruit. If needed, add extra bourbon to cover the cherries so that they are submerged but the brine is about 1/2 inch from the jar’s rim.

Screw on a nonreactive lid and refrigerate the cherries for 4–6 weeks before using them in cocktails or desserts; they’ll keep in the refrigerator for at least 6 months. Makes 2 12-ounce jars.

Tips & Tricks
  • Either sweet or sour cherries work in this recipe; I prefer sour ones for cocktails. You can always skip the smoking step and use fresh cherries; just let them simmer gently for 5 minutes in the syrup.
  • For a top-to-root treatment, you could make another batch of syrup or infuse straight bourbon with the cherry pits, which will impart both cherry and almond flavors. Just be aware that the tiny kernels nestled inside the pits, called noyaux and used to flavor almond extract, contain amygdalin, a precursor of cyanide. Instead of messing around with the kernels, just make sure the pits you use are whole and uncracked.
  • Bourbon pairs well with the smoky flavor of sour cherries, but rye or another style of whiskey or even brandy can be substituted.
  • I like to keep the syrup simple so that I can stir it into a range of cocktails, but you can add other flavors, such as a vanilla bean pod, cinnamon stick, wedge of whole nutmeg, or even just some lemon zest for additional zing. Avoid ground spices, which will become sludgy over time, and be prepared to strain zest or small pieces of broken spices before using the syrup.
  • Garnish cocktails, such as a Manhattan, with bourbon-soaked cherries, or use both syrup and fruit for a twist on an Old Fashioned or Boulevardier. You can also use the syrup to flavor whipped cream and then substitute fresh and/or bourbon-soaked cherries into Strawberry Shortcake with Lilac Cream or another Twice as Tasty birthday dessert.

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