Dehydrating food is possibly the best way to make it last longer, while smoking food helps to enhance the taste and adds a subtle touch. The processes of dehydration and smoking are very similar, and it might almost seem as if they accomplish the same purpose. But are the processes really that similar, and is it even possible to dehydrate food in a smoker?
While smokers can dehydrate almost any type of food, there are only a few where it significantly improves the taste. This is because smokers dehydrate food while infusing it with additional flavor, which doesn’t always work for all kinds of food. Therefore, it’s best to dehydrate foods that the taste won’t be affected.
Dehydrators and smokers are similar in many ways since both serve to dry out food to delay the inevitable day when it will spoil. But their approaches and techniques could not be more different, making smokers the worst choice for many food types.
Let’s look at how smokers work to see what is safe to dehydrate in a smoker and what isn’t.
Can You Dehydrate Food In A Smoker?
A smoker is designed to dehydrate foods. Although any form of heat will do the trick, even a stove top – after all, burnt food is simply food dehydrated too much. And that’s the catch.
Dehydrating food is easy, and you can do it with almost anything. But dehydrating it appropriately and ensuring it’s edible isn’t always easy, and a smoker may not be your best bet.
How Smokers Dehydrate Food
Contrary to popular belief, smokers actually cook food. Many people believe that smokers only imbue food with a smokey flavor without cooking it, but this isn’t true, at least in most cases.
Instead, smokers indirectly supply heat since the food isn’t placed directly over the heat source.
This means that your food is slowly cooked by indirect heat while the smoke imbues the food with a different flavor.
Heat always removes moisture from the food, so if you do it correctly and long enough, you will eventually end up with a dehydrated food product.
Why Dehydrating Food In A Smoker May Not Be The Best Idea
The catch lies in how the smoker does its job. A significant factor in smoking food is to get the smokey flavor into it. The type of wood, charcoal, or pellets you use will determine the flavor, smell, and taste you will get from the food you’re smoking.
Smoked bacon, for example, is a delicacy that many people enjoy eating “raw,” mainly because of the great smokey flavor.
The problem is that the smoke flavor doesn’t go well with all kinds of food. For example, imagine eating an apple that tastes like bacon. Most people would not find that appealing.
Some foods simply won’t go well with the smokey taste that a smoker inherently creates, and there’s no way to change this taste and still call it a smoker.
Which Foods Can You Dehydrate In A Smoker?
In some ways, this all comes down to personal taste. Even with the example of apples tasting like smoked bacon- which most would find revolting- there are still people who enjoy that particular flavor combination.
These sorts of differences in taste make life more exciting.
But there are three foods that most people agree taste great if you dehydrate them in a smoker.
Jerky, especially beef jerky, is a frontrunner for food that can be smoked and dehydrated. Let’s think about it—jerky is dried meat, and any type of meat tastes better when infused with an earthy, smokey flavor.
It makes total and unconditional sense that dehydrating jerky in a smoker produces the best results than any other method.
Most people who have tried smoked beef jerky agree that smoking is the best way to make jerky since you can’t get the same kind of flavor in any other way.
Tomato: the fruit that should be a vegetable. It is often regarded as one of the most versatile food products on earth since you can eat every part of the fruit, use it in any kind of dish, drink the juice (if you want), and even use it after it’s spoiled (in other words, Ketchup; please don’t eat rotten tomatoes).
But tomatoes taste great when dehydrating, especially in a smoker.
Most people prefer to eat a tomato with something added to it, even if it’s only spices, and it turns out that a smoker’s woody, smokey flavor adds a terrific touch to tomatoes.
Fresh or dehydrated, chilis are a delicious global favorite. Why? Their crispy consistency and fiery taste make for an unforgettable experience. These qualities intensify when they’re dried.
When a smoker passes the woody smoke over the chilis and the flavors mix with the chilis’ natural flavor, it bonds to create a spectacular feast.
Smoke-dried chilis can add a broader dimension of flavor to any meal.
Any Savory Food That Can Be Dehydrated
The general guideline is that any food item which can be dehydrated and savory by nature should be fine to dehydrate in a smoker. This includes the majority of vegetables.
Carrots, for example, aren’t commonly dehydrated in smokers, but those who’ve tried them love them. The same goes for butternut and many other variations of pumpkin.
How To Use A Smoker To Dehydrate Food?
There are two vital elements to dehydrating food in a smoker: temperature and time. These elements will depend on the type of food that you want to dehydrate.
Meat, for example, is more than 70% water, so dehydrating it will take a long time. Some vegetables also have high water content, so you should always consider this. Higher water content means a longer process.
If you want to dehydrate your food without overcooking it, keep the temperature low throughout the process. The temperature should be high enough to kill bacteria and evaporate moisture but not so high that it “cooks” the food in the traditional sense.
Your smoker’s temperature should never exceed 200°F if you want to dehydrate food.
If the temperature exceeds 200 degrees, the exterior will cook before the interior has time to dehydrate, leaving your food dry. Aim for a sweet spot between 160 and 180 degrees for optimal results.
For this reason, pellet smokers or electric smokers are ideal since you can easily set the correct temperature and not worry too much after that.
However, time is also crucial. It could take 12 to 72 hours to complete the entire process, depending on the food you’re dehydrating and the temperature you set.
Remember that you must let your food dry out to make it last truly. Any residual moisture can quickly become a breeding ground for bacteria, which will eventually cause your food to spoil and could also lead to health problems.
If you don’t want to spend so much time dehydrating your food, you can get similar results in fewer hours. Leave your food in the smoker for about three hours to get the smokey taste. Then move the food to an electric dehydrator.
The resulting flavor may not be the same, but it will save you a lot of time.
You can safely dehydrate food in a smoker. Some food will improve exponentially from the taste of the smoke, while others won’t benefit from the process at all. You might want to play around with some unconventional options.
For best results, cook slowly at lower temperatures. Who knows? You might make something unforgettable.
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