How to Use Liquid Smoke

Updated: Nov. 17, 2023

Liquid smoke goes way beyond meat. Learn how to use the shortcut ingredient.

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Beef steak on cast iron skillet with empty space for text
Shutterstock / wideonet

How to Use Liquid Smoke

There’s nothing that quite captures the taste of summer like starting up the BBQ. But how do you get smoky flavor without the grill? Liquid smoke, of course. (What is liquid smoke, anyway?)

While this ingredient can be polarizing—yes, we hear your groans, grilling purists—a few drops of liquid smoke offers a shortcut to all that good wood-grilled flavor that you would get from grilling outdoors. Purchase a bottle or two here.

  • Brush liquid smoke on meats like steaks, burgers or even deli meats to add more depth to the flavor. Here’s the best way to cook a burger indoors.
  • Liquid smoke is concentrated and often very potent. Aim to use 1/4 teaspoon (or less!) in your recipes. You can always add more to adjust to your taste preferences.
  • Try diluting liquid smoke with water or vinegar for a subtle flavor.

Liquid smoke shouldn’t be limited to just your standard meats; it can be used in unexpected ways to infuse dishes and drinks with complex, delicious flavors.

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Barbeque sauce with a basting brush in a jar
Shutterstock / Elena Veselova

Combine with BBQ Sauce

There is almost no sauce that can’t use a little pick-me-up from liquid smoke. Add a few drops to everything from your BBQ sauce to vinaigrette to your ranch dressing—finding how to get smoky flavor in unexpected places will help elevate your burgers, salads, and everything in-between.

Try these must-have DIY BBQ sauce recipes.

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Sliced eggplants with salt in the metal plate on the wooden table top view
Karpenkov Denis/Shutterstock

Make Vegetarian Bacon

Even meat eaters will love this vegetable twist on bacon: with liquid smoke, everything from eggplants to mushrooms to even rice paper can imitate your favorite breakfast. Just mix up a quick marinade with liquid smoke, soy sauce, maple syrup and paprika, coat your thinly sliced substitute of choice, and cook your preferred method.

Psst! Did you know that most liquid smoke is vegan? However, these foods are not.

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Ingredients for different homemade Vegan Carrot Hot Dogs, with fried onion, avocado, chili, mushrooms, tomatoes and beans
Shutterstock / Rimma Bondarenko

Make a Faux Hot Dog

Maybe you’re vegan, or maybe you’re trying to increase your veggie intake (Meatless Monday, anyone?)—whatever your motive, put down the hot dog and reach for a carrot. Seriously. Prepare a marinade with a few drops of liquid smoke, some olive oil, and apple cider vinegar and let the carrots soak in the liquid for about four hours before roasting. Stick it in a bun, and you’ve got the taste of your childhood favorite.

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Raw salmon fillets pepper salt dill lemon and rosemary on wooden table
Marian Weyo/Shutterstock

“Smoke” Your Own Salmon

We’d all love to prepare our salmon on a cedar plank (we can show you how!), but when none is available, liquid smoke is a good substitute. Marinate your fish in liquid smoke, brown sugar, and soy sauce for at least an hour before cooking. The result will be a sweet and spicy dish that will taste restaurant-worthy but be ready within minutes.

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Tomato bagel
Shutterstock / Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH

Fake Your Fish

Not eating salmon? Time to stock up on your produce. Liquid smoke can transform sliced tomatoes into lox’s identical twin; once you boil the tomatoes for about a minute, add the liquid smoke to a marinade with tamari or soy sauce, water and kelp powder to create the perfect accompaniment to your morning bagel.

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macaroni with cheese and bacon on table;

Reinvent Mac and Cheese

We know you shouldn’t mess with perfection, but even the most dedicated mac and cheese aficionados would agree this is a worthwhile upgrade. Add just a few drops of liquid smoke to your cheese mix before baking for a, well, smoky flavor. Toss in some bacon for a truly unforgettable dish.

You can always use it to dress up these boxed mac and cheeses, too! Find out which brand won our taste test.

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Honey roasted mixed nuts with honey on wooden table

Feel Nutty

Roasted nuts are the perfect snack if you’re watching the game or heading on a camping trip. Create some zest by mixing together olive oil, salt, and liquid smoke—paprika and red pepper flakes are good additions as well—and thoroughly coat your nuts of choice in the mixture before roasting. For a sweeter option, sub out the spices for maple syrup and vanilla.

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Smoked old fashioned cocktail garnished with an orange peel on dark wooden background
Shutterstock / Martha Graham

Mix Cocktails

Meet the barbecue you can drink. Rinse a glass with one to two drops of liquid smoke—swirl it, and then dump it out into the sink—and build your cocktail as usual. This works best with tequila or dark liquors, like rum and whiskey (nothing says “five o’clock” like a smoky and sweet brandy old-fashioned) and is a great recipe to keep on hand once colder weather hits.

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Melted caramel with pieces of caramel candy with salt on a wooden table.

Add Depth to Your Candy

Liquid smoke can be added to candy to draw out deeper flavors. Add a few drops while you’re making caramels—the sweetness will be well-balanced by more depth, complexity, and richness. Sprinkle some sea salt on top for an extra crunch. Not sure how to start making candy? These soft chewy caramels are a great place to begin.

Next up: Get more ideas with these liquid smoke recipes.