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Adding smoke to cocktails has been a trend in craft bars for more than a minute now, but it’s not just a gimmick. It’s a method that can add some serious flavor to drinks. Although the technique might seem a bit intimidating for novices, it’s actually quite simple if you have the right tools. If you’re going to try it, remember using cold smoke is key, because hot smoke from a grill or a barbecue smoker can actually cook the drink. Most bartenders use a gun-style infuser and a cloche, or the like, to impart a dose of smoke to mostly-complete drinks before serving. However, there are a few other methods.
According to Sean O’Connell, bartender and brand ambassador for Australian whisky brand Starward, you want to “build the cocktail with dilution first.” He goes on to explain, “Then smoke the cocktail before you add the last bit of ice. The last step should be ice and garnish."
Another option, according to O’Connell, is to smoke individual ingredients first because it increases the surface area for the smoke to penetrate. Also, as you experiment, consider smoking the garnish or the water you use to make ice for a more subtle experience. We love smoked salt mixed with a modest amount of chipotle pepper on the rim of a margarita.
As you experiment, sometimes less is more. Start off using a modest amount of smoke until you sort out the level of smoke you and your guests find pleasing. Most folks don’t want their cocktail to taste like it was served in an ashtray.
Here we bring you the best cocktail smokers.
Best Overall: Breville Smoking Gun Pro
Highly versatile, Breville's the Smoking Gun Pro may be designed for those with elevated culinary skill sets, but it’s also great for those who want to embark on some playful experimentation. Powered by four AA batteries, the massive burn chamber makes it easy to load and gives the user enough material to smoke several cocktails in one go. The flexible silicone hose makes it easy to point the smoke where you want it, and variable speeds allow the home bartender to add a gentle whiff up or increase the smoke level to a more intense setting. Both the stainless steel barrel and the burn chamber are dishwasher safe and pop out for easy cleanup.
If you are making several drinks at once, it is possible to smoke big-batch cocktails. O’Connell recommends pouring all ingredients into a steam pan and covering it with foil. Peel a corner of tin foil back and fill the pan with smoke using the smoking gun. Then, wrap the whole thing tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how much smoke suits your taste. Batches without fresh juice can sit longer.
Best Showpiece: Crafthouse by Fortessa Cocktail Smoking Box
Sure, the smoker tech is cool, boasting ample power and capacity to impart a ton of smoky flavor. But this collaboration between renowned bartender Charles Joly’s brand Crafthouse Cocktails and tableware maker Fortessa is simply a stellar way to present drinks—either for your enjoyment or to add some serious drama when serving a cocktail to a guest. The glass box is hemmed in with stainless steel, creating a showpiece that will elevate the look of any home bar.
Best Low-Tech: Smoke Boards Smoked Cocktail Kit
Smoke Boards' kit uses a different, low-tech method to add smoke to a cocktail. The user takes some of the wood chips—the kit includes pecan, apple, and cherry—and places them on a wooden board. Then the drink maker fires the chips with a torch (you’ll want to be careful here and don’t let your children see where you store it after you’re done). After the chips begin to combust, you place a large mason jar over the burning wood to collect the smoke and then mix your cocktail in the jar.
Best Starter Kit: MITBAK Portable Handheld Cold Smoking Gun with Dome Lid and Woodchips
This cold-smoking kit from MITBAK is affordable and contains everything you need to start smoking cocktails right off the bat. In the box, you’ll find a smoking gun that fires up with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, a domed cloche, wood chips, and a detachable hose, as well as a charging cable and a tweezer to help remove debris from the burn chamber, which is detachable for easier cleanup. The smoke infuser fan blows at three speeds to control the amount of output. While the kit does include a cloche, it can’t accommodate tall glasses. So if you want to do a cocktail in a stemmed glass, you’ll want to pick up one with a bit more height.
Best for Advanced Smoking: 100% Chef Super-Aladin Professional Food Smoker
While the 100% Chef’s Super Aladin looks more like something you might find in the closet of a college dorm room rather than a high-end commercial kitchen, this smoker is a chef’s dream. Featuring a large combustion tank for a longer smoking time, you can whip up a large batch of drinks in one go. It also features an inner chamber, allowing you to add aromatics that will enhance your smoke with extra flavor. The brand also offers its own Jack Daniels-infused wood chips and various-sized cloches for different applications.
Breville's the Smoking Gun Pro (view at Walmart) is a powerful and versatile smoking gun that's perfect for home bartenders looking for high-quality, smoke-infused cocktails, and it works great for home chefs, too. If you're looking for a complete kit that includes everything from the smoking gun to the cloche to the wood chips, we recommend the MITBAK Cocktail Smoker with Dome Lid (view at Amazon).
What to Look for in a Cocktail Smoker
The least expensive smokers tend to be powered by simple AA batteries, but some can connect via USB and others have rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. The power source will have likely factor into how long you can work with the smoker before it needs a charge.
If it's important that you can take the smoker on the go with you, whether it's to use at a friend's house or take on vacation, you'll want one that's easy to pack up and carry. Other models are more about presentation and are probably best left behind the home bar, to pull out produce with a flourish that suits the dramatic process of smoking.
Smokers with variable speeds will enable you to control the amount and intensity of the smoke that comes puffing out over your cocktail. Other smokers come with all the accessories, and some don't. You might also consider whether or not how easy it is to take it apart to clean it, and whether or not it needs to be washed by hand or it can go in the dishwasher.
Are cocktail smokers worth it?
For the serious home bartender and cocktail enthusiast, a smoker is a nice thing to have; it also makes a great gift. You can buy a cocktail smoker at a relatively inexpensive price, or you can easily find more sophisticated models if that's your preference, too.
What do they put in cocktails to make them smoke?
The smoke is created most commonly by burning wood chips of various types, but other ingredients play a part in the process. You can use tea, citrus peels, or even cinnamon to add a little diversity to the aroma and flavor of the cocktail by infusing the smoke with these elements. Don't forget ice, of course, which creates a subtle smoky effect once it melts.
What are the best cocktails to smoke?
Cocktails with whiskey are the most popular cocktails to smoke, but lots of other cocktails with spirit bases other than whiskey also work well, too. Try an old-fashioned, a Manhattan, or even a mojito. A smoky martini is worth a sip, and a bloody Mary benefits from a little bit of smoke, too.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Nicholas McClelland is a spirits writer whose work has appeared in Men’s Journal, Fatherly, and InsideHook. His bar is deep with rare single malts, hard-to-find bourbons, and ryes, but he doesn't believe there's anything too precious to share with friends.