Friday, January 15, 2010

Recipe: Dr. Deke's Cast Iron Smoked Spice Mixture

We use this spice mixture to flavor pinto beans primarily, but it's great as an addition to just about any Mexican or Southwestern dish.  It's smoky, flavorful, and has a nice, well-balanced heat.  The secret to that balanced heat is the black pepper. 

The smoking portion of the recipe tends to freak some people out, but here are two thoughts to ease your worried mind:
  1. Once you try Weber kettle smoking, you may never go back to the culinary life you knew before.  It can be habit-forming.  I have yet to find a meat or vegetable that isn't outstanding when smoked.  This mixture is really easy to smoke... so it's a great place to start your addiction. 
  2. If you don't have access to a Weber kettle or other smoking apparatus (or just happen to have a life), you can simply add a dose of smoked hot sauce to whatever recipe you're cooking, and scale back on the black pepper in the spice mixture.  Should you choose this path, I can't recommend my favorite smoked hot sauce highly enough:  Uncle Brutha's. He's got two varieties. They are both the nectar of the gods.

The mixture goes something like this:
  • 3 parts chili powder
  • 3 parts kosher salt (or 1 ½ parts table salt)
  • 1 part cumin
  • 1 part garlic powder
  • 1 part ground black pepper
  • 1 smidge each of ground celery seed and crushed red pepper
To smoke the mixture, start by soaking some mesquite wood chips in water for a good hour.  These days, you can find smoking woods chips at most grocery stores.  Of course, you can also use actual hunks of wood whacked into chips or splinters.  I prefer mesquite wood chips, but you can use hickory, apple, alder, or any other common smoking wood.  

While the wood chips are soaking in water, light the smoking fire in a Weber kettle (or other grill that you can cover to trap the smoke).   I use hardwood charcoal chunks over charcoal briquettes to keep coal dust and God-knows-what-else out of my spice mixture, but regular old briquettes will do in a pinch.  Use a chimney fire starter to kindle the fire—you don't want lighter fluid making your spice mixture taste like an oil refinery.

While your wood chips are soaking and your fire is heating up, you've got the 30 seconds you need to prep the smoking mixture.  Mix all ingredients together in a medium cast iron skillet, and stir things around thoroughly. 

Once the fire is ready (which will probably take something like 20 minutes), bank all of the coals against one side of your grill.  Add your soaked mesquite (shown at right in the glass bowl) on top of the banked coals, and then put the cooking surface (the round grill on which you'd normally place burgers and dogs) in place.

Set the cast iron skillet (full of smoking mixture) on the far side of the grill (away from the fire), and re-cover the grill. Smoke the mixture for 2-3 hours—mixing every half hour or so to achieve an even smoke.  Keep the heat low (using the vents), and turn the skillet 180 degrees with each mix to make sure the side facing the fire doesn't get too hot.

Obviously, a longer smoke leads to a smokier flavor... and a shorter one will result in a milder mix.

The key to this whole recipe is:  Don't worry too much about it. Keep the heat low so you don't burn the mix... and pull it out if you think it might be burning. You can always let the fire cool and toss it back in after things calm down.

The basic smoking technique in this recipe is the same one you can use to make awesome smoked chicken, smoked prime rib, smoked salmon, and even smoked pizza.  Guess I need to write up those recipes...


  1. Sounds great. I can't wait to try it with some pinto beans. Thanks! :)

  2. Hi Carol,

    Please let me know how it turns out. Thanks!



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