Late spring into early summer is by far my favorite season for cooking and eating. The grill is fired up at least 7 times a week (sometimes more). And all my favorite foods are at their peak (like soft shell crab and peas). But it doesn’t get any better here on the East Coast than the week or two at the end of June or beginning of July when the cherries reach prime sweetness.
If you know me, you know I can’t resist a deal – especially when it comes to food prices – and during that two week period, there’s an added bonus. The period between the time when the kids finally get out of school and the Fourth of July, cherries usually come down to a price we can all afford. (I scoff terribly at the folks who buy the early season Bing’s that are $7.99/lb or more, especially because they’re not nearly as tasty as the later season ones that are $2.99-$3.99/lb.).
But my madness for buying mass quantities of cherries whenever I set foot into a store that has them below 4 bucks a pound leaves me with a lot of cherries. Over the years I’ve found many uses for them. For a while my favorite use was to brew cherry wheat beer with my friend Dave. However, the beer-making process is a long one and in it you lose out on that meaty and juicy yet sweet bite that one gets from sinking their teeth directly into the flesh of the cherry.
My new favorite (and somewhat unusual) use of the cherry is to smoke it. (Think smoke like a Brisket; not like a joint.)
The process is quite easy, even if you don’t have a smoker (which I don’t). You can eat them by themselves or you can use them in a ton of recipes such as:
- Smoked Cherry margarita
- Smoked Cherry Bacon Scones
- Smoked Cherry Pie
- Smoked Cherry Chocolate Chip Pancakes
And once you smoke your cherries they seem to keep in the fridge for a few weeks.
To make smoked cherries:
- Pick cherries that are as plump and sweet as possible. I like the late June/July Bing cherries.
- Wash and dry your cherries and then pit them. My OXO cherry pitter makes it super easy, though I don’t recommend wearing a white dress shirt.
- If you have a smoker, use it. If not here’s what I do:
- Go to home depot and look in the grill section for smoking wood chips. I like hickory for my cherries but you can also use mesquite or any other wood that’s commonly used for smoking. I suppose you could even use cherry wood though I haven’t tried it.
- If you prefer to buy your smoking wood from a higher end source, feel free, though I find that Home Depot sells them at an exceptional price.
- If you’ve got an extra $11.48 burning a hole in your pocket, you’ll also want to pick up a smoker box.
- Soak a handful of wood chips in warm water for 30-45 minutes.
- Fill your smoker box with a combination of wet and dry chips.
- Set your smoker box in the grill directly on the burner or as close to it as possible.
- Turn the burner on high and let it heat until the chips start to ignite and/or smolder and smoke pours out your grill.
- Now turn the burner as low as possible and set your cherries on the other side of your grill (so they are not directly on top of a heat source). I find that putting them on a wire rack and putting the rack on top of your grill grate ensures the cherries stay safe and are easy to remove from the grill.
- You can smoke your cherries for as little as 30 minutes or as long as a few hours. The amount of time varies depending on how well your smoker is working but I find that somewhere between one and two hours is usually good. I judge doneness by (a) tasting a cherry and (b) taking them out before the cherries are cooked so much that they are mushy, though they should be somewhat shriveled – almost wilted.
- Let your cherries cool and then refrigerate for up to a few weeks.
Smoked Cherry Margarita
- Smash 3-4 cherries in the bottom of a glass using a muddler or other blunt object
- In a shaker combine:
- 1 oz Cointreau
- 0.75 oz fresh lime juice
- 1.5 oz quality tequila (I like Patron Silver)
- 1 tsp. agave
- Shake vigorously with ice
- Pour cocktail over smashed cherries
(Optional: Rim glasses with smoked sea salt.)
Lime Basil Rum Drink with Smoked Cherry
- Combine 2 oz light rum, 2 oz lime juice and 0.75 – 1 oz simple syrup with 6-8 basil leaves in a blender. Blend. (Optional: For extra cherry flavor, add 2-3 smoked cherries.)
- Empty contents into an ice-filled shaker and shake vigorously.
- Pour over ice.
- Add two or three smoked cherries (on a toothpick, if preferred) into the glass and enjoy.
A few additional thoughts from my notebook:
- Some argue that you can’t effectively smoke anything using a gas grill because of the water vapor that is created when the propane or natural gas burns. The theory goes that that water vapor coats the food being smoked and prevents the smoke from really penetrating the target. I have no idea if this is true but I can assure you my cherries are quite smoky and tasty. I’d love to see an experiment or some research to prove or disprove this theory.
- The large wood chips can be hard to get smoking and keep smoking. I just bought some smoking “sawdust” from Amazon and intend on trying my luck with it. The sawdust is generally used for cold smoking rather than this process which is hot smoking or smoke-roasting. See this Wikipedia article for more.
- An alternative (quicker) approach might be to use a Polyscience Smoking Gun. I own one but based on my experience with it, I think my method above produces better results.