The art of salt smoking has prompted more inquiries than any other subject I have posted on the Rouge Gourmet - I have received emails from both professionals interested in marketing their own smoked salt and amateur home smokers interested in making up a batch after having tasted the unique flavors offered by smoked salt.
After experimenting for several years and making up a few batches of really great salts, as well as a few total failures I thought it worth starting up the Salt Smoking Discussion Forum.
This is the place - the webs only salt smoking forum - please join us! post your questions, experiences, methods, photos or how to videos. This discussion board is here to help.
A Salt Smoking Primer
Before we get started on the "how to" there are six basic recommendations I have for the first time salt smoker outlined below. if you follow these basics you should have decent luck making up some great salts.
1. Use Long Smoke Times
2. Use Cool Heat, and Always Cool Your Salt in the Smoker
3. Soak Your Wood
4. Use Coarser Salts
5. Resist the Urge - Smoking Salt when Your Smoking Other Foods is Not a Good Idea
6. Store Your Product in an Air Tight Container
Equipment - Setting up a Smoker:
The first thing you are going to need to smoke salt is a smoker. Smokers pretty simple to build - in fact there are DIY guides on building basic home smokers from everything from metal garbage cans to flower pots. Pretty much any smoker that can effectively smoke meat or fish can smoke salt. I built my smoker out of junk I found around town - an old weber kettle grill, a copier stand, a piece of galvanized sheet metal and some woodstove gaskets. I love it - I built it real early on Thanksgiving morning and smoked two, yes two, 25 pound turkeys on it by dinner. I have been smoking with the unit for over a year now and it works great - especially considering it was basically free. Of course you can also spend big bucks on a smoker - it's up to you, but as long as your rig can perform as a smoker is supposed to you should be able to smoke salt.
The only special equipment I use for salt smoking is a screen - a stainless steel mixing bowl (when I am using a boil pan - I don't always), and heavy duty aluminum foil .
I find that the best way to get my salt evenly smoked, without having to mess with it too much, is to channel the smoke directly through the salt (see figure 6). I do this in my smoker my wrapping foil around the outside of my grill grate, leaving a hole in the middle of the grate roughly the size of my screen (see figure 1.). In fact I usually leave it a bit smaller, so that I can overlap the screen a bit and make sure that little smoke escapes around the edge. If I am doing several types of salt I will skip the foil step, it still works, but I have to stir up the salt more, as the smoke tends to go around the salt more - the smaller the grain of your salt the more this is true (see figure 7).
After I have the grate wrapped and screen in place, I slide the wrapped grate into my smokers extension and pour the salt over the screen. (see figures 2 and 3)
I usually get my fire started in a chimney style charcoal starter (about half full) - I generally use Kingsford charcoal, and chunk wood of whatever type I am smoking with - in this case it was mesquite. I place my mixing bowl filled about halfway up with water in the center of the grill and pour the burning coals around the outside of it and then add my soaked wood chunks (see figure 4).
Next I slide the center smoking chamber into place - I have it sized so that it fits right in place on the Weber (see figure 5). I put the lid on and smoke - generally overnight. I keep an eye on the smoke, and when it starts to fade (usually about an hour and a half or so, I remove the top portion of the grill mix the coals and add more wood, and water if it is needed. I try to keep the temperature below 110° by adjusting the air intake on the bottom and the top of the grill. I use a remote sensor thermometer with a temp alarm, so I can go inside I set it at 115° so I know if I am getting to hot. Ultimately you want to keep a very small fire going - I do this by carefully controlling the air intake, that way I can add more fuel (coals and wood) while keeping a low heat smoldering fire - this way I have to tend it less often.
I look for color and aroma in the finished salt (see figure 8) to determine "doneness" when it gets where I want it, I stop feeding the smoker fuel and over an hour or so it burns itself out, and an hour or so later has cooled off. Then I remove the salt and put it in an airtight jar right away.