Smiling Burnese child before surgery for wide, bi-lateral cleft Lip repair. After surgery photo of same child showing the correction!

Smiling Burmese child before surgery for wide, bi-lateral cleft Lip repair. After surgery photo of same child showing the correction! DINING FOR SMILES EVENT PREPARATIONS


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With the goal to repair children’s broken smiles by providing free comprehensive treatment for cleft lip and palate anomalies in under-served areas of the world, Alliance for Smiles,  founded by six members of the  San Francisco Rotary Club, Board member Carl Vahl (Chef Calle) hosted a gourmet, six-course dinner to raise funds for this exceptional cause at the Enchanted Valley Inn.  And SmokinLicious® was right there to lend our support.  We’re going to provide you with a behind-the-scenes look at what goes in to preparing a six-course gourmet meal featuring wood-fired fresh Canadian salmon and wood-fired leg and loin of lamb.

Early Fire Start

Charwood burning in preparation for the grill and food cooking For SmokinLicious®, set up is crucial for a long event that has the menu relying on the perfection of the wood-fired proteins.   That means ensuring plenty of charwood and wood chunks are at the ready.  We keep two chimney starters loaded with charwood to keep a steady flow of hot coals going into the grills.  Since this event’s gourmet menu featured four foods to be wood fired – lamb, salmon, red peppers, and Brussels sprouts –  it’s necessary to get the fires going early so they can burn down to hot coal beds.  That is the key to successful wood-fire cooking.  Don’t cook over flames, only hot coals that will radiate heat throughout the grill.

The Wood-Fired Foods

For this Dining for Smiles event  preparations, we used a kettle grill and small charcoal grill from Stôk®.   Our wood selections included Ash, Sugar Maple, and Wild Cherry to compliment the Chef’s fresh ingredients.  At the ready, digital thermometers, fire gloves, fire extinguisher, ash can, and coal shovel.

Leg and loin of lamb on the grill Chef Calle picked up some sensational rib loins and a leg of lamb for the event.  Since the leg of lamb is the thickest, it will go on the grill about 45 minutes ahead of the loins.  We will maintain a temperature of 300° to 325°F.  My set up includes using a fine steel screen over the traditional charcoal grate to keep the hot coals from falling through.  I also use a disposable drip pan that contains a bottle of Syrah wine, rough cut onion, garlic, and mint leaves.  The leg of lamb will cook over that drip pan so I can collect the drippings for use later.  I probe the leg of lamb as I want to pull the lamb at 123°F internal temperature and rest it in an insulated blanket to the finished temperature of 130°F.


The inside of the Salmon waThe Salmon was stuffed with fresh Thyme, lemon slices and seasoned with a pinch of salt pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil s stuffed Fresh Thyme and lemon slices The fishmonger cleaned and gutted the whole 12lb. Canadian salmon but Chef still needs to cut off the gills and fins, and scale the fish.  After that, time for the fun stuffing!  With fresh herbs, lemon slices, and olive oil, this is ready for the grill.  We do make about four slices into the skin of the fish to allow water to steam out otherwise the fish would shrink.   Yes, it is a big fish for our kettle grill but we’ll get it done!  Once on the grill, we will leave the salmon untouched for about an hour before we flip and add some orange butter to the skin and insides.

The Finish

After cooking the lamb for approximately 2-1/2 hours, to an internal temperature of 123°F, it is removed and wrapped in an insulated sheet, then rested in a disposable pan.  The salmon is given one more rub of the orange butter and then it too is wrapped in an insulated blanket and rested until service.  With a combination of sugar maple and wild cherry woods on the salmon and ash, maple and cherry on the lamb, it doesn’t get any better than this for balanced flavor without being too smoky for our guests.

 Whole organic Red Bell pepper purchased from the local Farmers Market, roasting directly on the smoking embers to add a tasty char flavor! Chef wanted a few vegetable items wood fired as well so we started with red bell peppers right on the hot coals for a char finish.  Next, sweet onion into a pan set on the insert opening of the grill.  Once translucent and starting to brown, in go the Brussels sprouts and carrot.  The plan is the ember roasted pepper slices will be added to the salad course while the Brussels sprout medley will go on top of the rice for a flavorful side to the lamb and salmon.

With 18 invited guests attending this intimate event for a cause, the tables are set with a Fall festive theme.  Wine pairings are at the ready for the six courses as we welcome in our guests at 6pm for great conversation and a pre-dinner cocktail.

The Team

It certainly takes a Team to pull off an event like this. Special thanks go out to the Culinary Team of SmokinLicious® as well as the Kintner family and their business 360Rize who filmed the Dining for Smiles event preparations including the aerial view via drone.  Special thanks to our service team, Monica, Renee, Allison, Ashley, and Jackie.  It’s the giving of time that truly makes events like these.  And of course, to Chef Vahl who composed an unforgettable menu of foods and flavors.

Be sure to see our upcoming series on the six-course meal for Dining for Smiles after the event preparations and how it all was received.

Purchase products:


Wood Chips- Grande Sapore®

Wood Chunks- Double & Single Filet

Additional reading:




Dr Smoke- "This is a great cause and desires everyone's support!

Dr Smoke- “This is a great cause for cleft lip repair and desires everyone’s support!

Spicy-char hummus is made by grilling/smoking the hot peppers and then add to your Hummus! Great way to keep the grill flavors when the weather turns colder! Our photo collage shows the different steps to make spicy-char hummus.

Spicy-char hummus is made by grilling/smoking the hot peppers and then add to your Hummus! Great way to keep the grill flavors when the weather turns colder!



The centuries old Arabic bean dip has gained in popularity substantially over the past few years in United States.  Part of the draw is the fact that hummus is high in protein and fiber, and low in fat.

Give It A Flavor Twist

I thought I’d take this popular snack and appetizer item and give it a new twist by first showing you how to add a wonderful smoky, char flavor to it.

There is nothing like the flavor of peppers on hot coals.  One of my favorite varieties of pepper are Hungarian, especially the hot ones.  That’s why I’ve elected to bring out my kettle grill, specifically, the Stok brand, and char or ember cook Hungarian hot peppers.  Using a chimney starter, I set up hot coals down the center of the charcoal area and add just one chunk of wild cherry wood from SmokinLicious®.  Once the coals are vibrating heat, I will add my cleaned peppers directly to the coals for a quick method of charring.  The time investment is really in the grill set up, not in the cooking, as peppers cook quite fast on hot coals.

A Spicy-Char Hummus Recipe Like No Other

Once the coals and wood have flavored the peppers, I take these charred beauties and make a Smoked Hungarian Pepper Hummus bursting with the flavors of pepper, fresh parsley, garlic, and cumin.  Whether you elect to use hot or sweet Hungarian peppers, this is sure to become one of your favorite humus recipes.

With the charcoal burning down to hot embers, I prepare the Hungarian peppers.  First, a simple wash the peppers and pat dry.  Then I cut off the stem end and pull out the membrane and seeds. Remember, the more membrane and seeds you leave in a hot pepper, the hotter the flavor will be.  Once de-seeded, these peppers are ready to be nestled in the hot coals.

To The Coals For Char & Flavor

With the Hungarian peppers de-seeded and membranes removed, on to the hot coals they go.  I’ve kept some unlit coals banked to each side of the kettle grill just in case I want to bring in more heat.  Plus, this will allow the coals to be used for other food items while the grill is still hot.  These peppers will only take 5 minutes or so on each side.  I do not disturb the peppers when first placed on the coals for at least 5 minutes, then gentle turn them with tongs until charring occurs on all sides.  Don’t be concerned if the skin becomes very black as it can be easily removed.  Plus, for our spicy-char hummus recipe, these charred beauties will be pulsed to a smooth consistency where the blackened skin won’t be revealed.

Once removed from the grill, I take the peppers and put them in a bowl covered with plastic wrap.  This will help produce moisture to remove any skin you don’t want as part of your recipe.  And speaking of recipes, it’s time to gather our ingredients and start assembling our Smoked Hungarian Pepper Hummus.

Traditional Ingredients Meet Char Flavor

We are stepping up the flavor of hummus by featuring our perfectly charred Hungarian peppers.   To make Spicy-Char Hummus, gather the following ingredients:

  • 2 15 ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed
  • 2-3 charred Hungarian peppers, depending on size
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely diced (you can use minced garlic as a substitute)
  • 1 cup Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium green onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 6 tablespoons Tahini
  • 3 whole lemons, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh pepper
  • 1 tablespoon tamari
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • ½ cup oil
  • Hungarian sweet paprika or smoked Spanish paprika for garnish

Creamy Hummus Starts With A Boil

Here’s the secret to a truly creamy hummus consistency: cooking the chickpeas before processing.  Take your 2 cans of chickpeas and rinse well under running water.  Then pour into a saucepan and cover the chickpeas with water.  Place on high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow the chickpeas to soften for 40 minutes.  Add more water if needed to keep the chickpeas covered in liquid through the boiling time.  Then remove from heat, strain the water, and set aside to cool.

Time To Process

To start our spicy-char hummus, first place the rough chopped charred peppers into the food processor.  Add the garlic, parsley, onion and rosemary and process until finely combined.  As soon as the processor starts, you’ll be hit by the strong aromatics in this recipe, which is trademark for traditional hummus.  The total processing time will be just minutes.  Then remove the cover and prepare for the next round of ingredients.

The final ingredients of our spicy-char hummus are added to the food processor: the boiled chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, cumin, olive oil, and tamari.  At this stage, we will process until the ingredients form a thick paste,  which will take about 10 minutes.  I always keep water or oil available to thin down the mixture if it should go too thick.  Remember, you want this to be thick but not to the point where it can’t be easily spread.  Once combined, the flavors will reveal themselves best if you store the mixture in an air tight container for at least 24 hours.

Serving Options Are Endless

After letting the processed hummus mixture that includes charred Hungarian peppers, garlic, parsley, onions, rosemary, chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, cumin, olive oil, and tamari rest for 24 hours, it’s now time to serve this highly aromatic recipe.  If using as an appetizer, I like to put the hummus into a bowl, sprinkle with a sweet or smoked paprika, drizzle with olive oil, and add some finely chopped charred Hungarian peppers to the center. I then surround the bowl with slices of baguette, pita chips or triangles, and vegetables.

This hummus goes with so many different things.  In fact, I love to use it as a topping to an Angus burger, or grilled chicken and fish.  It is so versatile that you’ll be sure to find all types of uses for it.  The best part, you’ll have a satisfying, full of flavor healthy alternative that will make this a favorite anytime of the year.


Additional reading you may enjoy:

-How To Turn Your LP/Gas Grill Into A Smoker

Ember cooked Sweet Peppers


Purchase products:

Wood Chunks- Double and Single Filet

Dr Smoke

Dr Smoke- “Liven up your hummus flavors with the smoking/grilling of the Hungarian peppers, especially on a cool temperature day.”

Add a new twist to your Hummus- grill/smoke the hot peppers and then add to your Hummus! Great way to keep the grill flavors when the weather turns colder!

Wood fired stuffed tomato with Rice!

Wood fired stuffed tomato with Rice!



It’s tomato season!  Boy, do we have a great technique for you to try on your charcoal grill as well as a tasty recipe to make- wood fired stuffed tomato.

Bring 8 large tomatoes in from the garden or purchased at the fresh market, clean out the charcoal grill, fire pit, or fireplace, and give a few hours to a great cooking experience and exceptionally flavorful recipe.

Lighting a Fire for Hot Embers

Coal cooking can be a very easy method of cooking foods once you know how to make and manage the fire.  First, I am going to use only hardwood for my fire as I want to produce as much flavor as I can into the cooking area.  For tomatoes, I am using Beech hardwood in the SmokinLicious® Single Filet Wood chunk.  Once lit, I let the wood burn down to hot embers before even thinking about cooking.  Oh, and the lid stays off my grill – I’m using a kettle from Stok®, while the wood burns down.  I wait until the coal bed shows gray embers on top with hot red spots on the bottom.  I’ve used a mesh screen in the charcoal area, to keep all my coals from ending up in the ash collection area, since many will get to be quite small.

Preparing the Tomatoes for Hot Coals

With our tomatoes washed, it’s time to prepare them for the coals.  First, I cut about ¼ of the way around the top.  I’ll be cooking both the body of the tomato as well as the tops.  Next, I add a high heat roasting rack to my raked coals.  Try to make the coal bed as even as possible to keep the tomatoes balanced.  First cooking time will be about 12 minutes before any turning needs to be done.  You will see bubbling juices in the tomatoes which will makes these red beauties even more flavorful.

Coal Firing to Unbelievable Flavor

After placing the tomatoes on the coal rack and leaving for about 12 minutes, it’s time to turn them.  You’ll see how the outer skin will start to flake.  When I get some cooking time on the entire tomato, I separate the cut top from the body and coal roast the tops separately to get a nice char.  Once cooked through, which takes a total time of about 22 minutes, I remove the tomatoes to a cooling rack.  Once cooled enough to handle, it’s time to take all the wood fired pulp out of each tomato leaving the charred skins as the base to my wood fired stuffed tomato recipe.

Fresh Recipe Ingredients

With our fresh tomatoes coal fired over hardwood, it’s time to start on our recipe.  First, we need to remove all the tomato pulp from the charred tomatoes.  You can do this with a spoon or the way I like to do it – with my fingers.  Place the pulp only in a blender keeping as much of the shell of the tomato as possible for our base in the roasting pan.  Then blend until a puree is formed.  Meanwhile gather the other ingredients needed to make wood fired stuffed tomatoes:

  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 8 medium to large tomatoes
  • 2 anchovy fillets mashed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 small red bell pepper, diced (feel free to use hot pepper as well)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil
  • 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley
  • Fresh ground pepper

Herb Rice Mixture & Anchovy Butter

This recipe allows you to use any rice you prefer.  I like the texture of brown rice for this dish.  As you cook the rice according to the package directions, you can start on the flavor mixture for the cooked rice.  First, combine the 2 anchovy filets with the 2 tablespoons softened butter.  I use a mortar and pestle.  This will be added to the hot rice as soon as it is cooked.  In a bowl, combine the tomato puree, diced pepper, parsley, basil, Parmesan cheese, and fresh ground pepper.  Mix until just combined.

With all the ingredients combined, it’s time to put it all together.  First, to our anchovy butter, brown rice, I add the tomato puree mixture combining well.  Taking the tomato shells, I place them in a roasting pan that has been coated with oil.  Next, comes the rice mixture, layering it in making sure all the tomatoes are covered.  Last, top the rice mixture with the coal fired tomato tops.  Now this pan is ready for a 350°F oven to bake for about 30 minutes.

Preserve the Flavors

After cooking our beautiful tomatoes over hot coals made from 100% beech hardwood, we removed the wood flavored pulp and produced a tomato puree.  To that, we added Parmesan, basil, parsley, red pepper, and fresh ground pepper.  Infusing anchovy butter into hot brown rice, we pour the tomato puree into the rice.  Our wood fired stuffed tomato is made by layering the tomato shells in a roasting pan, then topping with the tomato puree-rice mixture, and the charred tomato tops.  Then bake for 30 minutes in a 350°F oven, this is the perfect dish to serve with rustic bread.  Stock up on your coal fired tomatoes – they can well – so you can enjoy your take on this wood fired stuffed tomatoes.

Now that we spurred your imagination with this recipe, we need your comment and rating, so subscribe and follow us so you don’t miss a thing.   Finally, suggestions are always welcome as well on recipes and techniques you want to learn about.  We are your source for all things wood-fired, providing tips, techniques, recipes, and the science behind the fire.


Related recipes and tips:


Ember cooked Sweet Peppers



Purchase products:

Wood Chunks- Single Filet

Dr Smoke

Dr Smoke- “Tomato lovers will rejoice with our take on a stuffed tomato that’s coal fired.”

Wood ember roasted Tomato stuffed with Rice!

Wood ember roasted Tomato stuffed with Rice!




The bowl of finished ember cooked sweet peppers

The bowl of finished ember cooked sweet peppers

Ember Cooked Sweet Peppers

There’s nothing better than ember roasted sweet peppers in the outside fireplace or pit.


  • An Outside fireplace or pit that is clean of ashes
  • Cast iron skillet, if you prefer to cook in a container rather than directly on the embers
  • Sweet peppers- medium to large size, any color though multi colored ones provide for a better presentation, 10-18 quantity
  • SmokinLicious® Grande Sapore® wood chipsAsh wood or your favorite wood species
  • Herbs – optional
  • Drizzle of Extra Virgin olive oil

Building The Fire

My plan is to roast the peppers directly on the embers in my outdoor fireplace. So first, I need to clean out the fire box from any ash and debris.  Then I select the hardwood for the actual cooking.  I’m going to use Ash wood because it is one of the best hardwoods for producing evenly sized coals and heat level when it burns.

Bed of ember coals from ash woodWhile I am using pieces of the SmokinLicious wood chunks, the Grande Sapore® ash chips will produce the same great results.  In fact, use of the Ash Wood Chips will likely save some time as their pre-ground state would allow for quicker coal build up due to their faster burn rate.  Remember, the need with ember cooking is to ensure that you have a 2-3” buildup of coals so the cooking process is uninterrupted.

The Ember Bed

I now have a bed of coals establish in the bottom of the fire box.  Spread them out to provide a wider cooking area and facilitate an even heat level.  I will be increasing the depth of the coal bed over the course of my cook by maintaining a perimeter of newly lite wood product.   I would suggest using Grande Sapore® SmokinLicious Gourmet Wood chips for the additions as the bed can be built up much quicker and keep the cooking process moving forward.

Adding the peppers on top of the bed of coalsAdding The Peppers

Once the Ash Wood develops into a great bed of coals you’ll understand why I love to use Ash Wood for ember cooking.  The uniformity of the coal bed is so precise! Remember, Ash tree is part of the olive family of trees so it is known for its mild smoky flavor making it an ideal choice.

I begin adding my peppers to the embers with the stem and seeds intact.  It is so much easier to rid the peppers of its seeds once fully cooked so don’t be concerned about them now.  I seat each pepper well into the hot coals to ensure that the base is enveloped in that consistent heat level. As the pepper begin the charring process, you’ll see them wrinkle a bit as this is the sign of the dehydration that takes place in this water rich vegetable.

Ember Cooked Sweet Peppers Technique

Once the pepper are in place, I allow them to cook and char before touching them.  Once I see some char marks develop, I gently rotate each pepper around the coal bed, sliding over some new coals to the cooking area with each rotation.

After about 20-25 minutes of ember roasting, the peppers will begin to tenderize.  Remember there is a lot of moisture in sweet peppers so you may even hear them whistle a bit!  Feel free to pierce them with a knife to release some water/steam.  I like to do that step about ¾ of the way through the cooking process.

Turning the peppers over the embers for complete cookingI want to remind you that this ember cooking technique requires a tempered hand but also some attention throughout the cooking process.  You will need to rotate the peppers frequently to ensure even char.  Remember, our heat generation is developing from the bed of embers and then radiating to the walls of our cooking area as well as the food. Once removed from the heat source, the peppers will have wilted a bit as they enter an immediate change in temperature and humidity.

The Finishing Touch

Once the peppers are completely charred and tenderized, remove them to a mesh or other tray to cool.  Then you can use them in a variety of ways – cut into strips and drizzled with a lite coating of extra virgin olive oil, a hint of salt, fresh pepper and fresh mint.  Or, use these beauties whole as a container for a ground turkey, beef, or lamb stuffing that includes fresh ricotta cheese, parsley, a hint of chili pepper flakes, and a topping of fresh mozzarella.  The recipe options for Ember Cooked Sweet Peppers are endless so start experimenting or look to your favorite cookbook for inspiration!

Bon Bar B Que

Dr Smoke


Purchase Products:

Wood Chips- Grande Sapore®

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Dr Smoke- "This is a fun cooking technique and a great recipe for sweet peppers."

Dr Smoke- “This is a fun cooking technique and a great recipe for sweet peppers.”



Roasted/Toasted Onions over Embers in a fireplace.

Roasted/Toasted Onions over Embers in a fireplace.

Roasted/Toasted Onions over Embers- Fire Place Technique

The one vegetable we can pretty much get all year long is … the onion!  So, why not give this common vegetable a special, no, fabulous flavor infusion. The way to this end? Ember cooking in an outside fireplace or cooking pit.



Fire Preparation

In preparing to roast onions on the embers in a fireplace I need to first clean out the fire box from any ash and debris.  Then I select the hardwood for the actual cooking.  Today, I’ve selected Ash for its great coaling ability and uniformity of coal size while it combusts.

Preparing the bed of embers, keeping extra wood to add during the cooking process

Preparing the bed of embers, keeping extra wood to add during the cooking process

I will begin building the bed of coals with the SmokinLicious® Grande Sapore® Ash wood chips.  Since wood chips are already in a pre-ground state, the process of setting up the fire will be quicker than with just wood pieces or lump charcoal.  It is key to keep a large supply of the chips on hand in order to reach the 2-3” depth of embers needed for the cooking process.


Preparing the Onions for Roast

While allowing the coal fire to build, I begin preparation of the onions, which is rather simple.  Wash and clean the onions leaving on the outer skin covering as it will be needed to protect the heart of the onion during the ember cooking process.


Ember Roasting Process

After building up a bed of coals to 2-3” in depth, we’re ready to add the onions to the coals!  As I position each onion, I gently push down on them to seat them into the coals.   This will allow the coals to completely cover the bottom of the onion as well as allow the heat to radiate completely through the onions.

As the onions cook, you’ll start to see the tops turn brown because I left the outer part of the skin on for protection.  Remember, the outer skin of the onion will char during this process.  I want to protect the inner core of the onion as I plan to use them in my recipes.

It’s important to remember that the coal bed will need to be replenished during the cooking process so a perimeter of additional wood chips should be going at all times up to the halfway point of the cooking process.  Generally, it’s best to keep the additional chips burning at the sides of your ember bed.  You can then easily scoop in additional hot embers to the bed to maintain the heat level and flavor infusion.

The onions are seated into the coals as they begin to cook from their bottoms

The onions are seated on the coals as they begin to cook from their bottoms

Unlike other vegetables like peppers, the onions don’t need to be turned but rather simply rotated so there is even char and cook.  Onions, like most vegetables, have a high water composition.  Don’t be alarmed by the steam trail coming up thru the top of the onions.  This is a sure sign of the convection process occurring.  Once cooking is about ¾ finished, you may want to pierce the tops of the onions to allow the release of the steam.

Scrumptious Ember Roasted Onions

You simply won’t believe how flavorful and tender ember roasting makes the average onion.  We were able to build the bed of coals by using SmokinLicious® Gourmet Wood Products Ash hardwood.  Remember, we left the outer skin on the onions to protect the inner core while we developed that exceptional char. Once the outer skin is peeled back you will see the perfectly cooked onion core that is infused with a mild wood char flavor.

Nicely charred onions over a bed of embers adds a great natural flavor

Nicely charred onions over a bed of embers add a great natural flavor

Now, get ready to use these Roasted/Toasted Onions over Embers in a fireplace and highly flavored onions in the recipes of your choice and prepare for all the questions on what you did to give the dish such fabulous flavor!

Bon Bar B Q

Roasted/Toasted Onions over Embers in a fireplace. 


Purchase Products:

Wood Chips- Grande Sapore®

Dr Smoke

Dr Smoke- “Try Roasted/Toasted Onions over Embers in a fireplace.

Note to visit our @smokinlicious and #smokinliciousmenu on Instagram for audio instructions and other cooking techniques.  

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