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Rethinking Smoked Almonds

johnmeyer

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I smoke a LOT of almonds, more than any other food. However, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the results. For almost two years, I have been trying variations on Todd's smoked almond recipe that comes with his AMNPS smoking tray. They are tasty, but there is no way to avoid the sticky gooey coating (the recipe uses butter, honey, and brown sugar). What's more, they don't keep well because the considerable sugar used in the coating absorbs moisture (they are hygroscopic).

So, I started poking around for a better alternative, and ended up starting from scratch.

Boy, am I glad that I did.

I left the security of this forum and searched the Internet for ideas of how to make a different almond product that would be less sticky and which would also showcase the smoke flavor. Ever since I started using the AMNPS in my "mailbox mod," the smoke flavor is much cleaner and more pleasant, but even with this "better smoke," the almonds never came out quite right.

What I found in my searching is that a lot of people brine their almonds. What's more, I came across one guy who did a LOT of research and performed many trials, and what he found is that you only need to brine for ten minutes. Wow, that is quick prep! I figured I had nothing to lose, so I tried his recipe, without any variations.

I instantly fell in love with the technique and the results.

I then began to experiment. I brined for twenty minutes, but found that the almonds became soggy (exactly what he had warned) and that the sogginess never came out. I tried adding other ingredients, but found that even with some pretty strong spices, not much ended up in the almonds. I then tried spraying them a few times during the smoke, using sugar water to try to make them sweeter, but found that this too made them a little soggy.

After a dozen attempts, I have now settled on the world's simplest almond recipe. I have made it almost a dozen times and have given away quite a few of these to people to whom I previously gave my sugary, sticky almonds. To a person, they all like this newer recipe better.

So here it is: a new (to me) way of smoking almonds. Make sure you have a way to monitor and regulate the smoker temperature, because it is easy to burn almonds if the smoker gets too hot.

1. Prepare the brine using two cups water, 1/3 cup table salt, and 1/3 cup sugar. I also use three shots of Jack Daniels (two into the brine, and one for me). Stir until dissolved.

2. Place 1-1/2 pounds of almonds (half of a Costco bag of almonds), along with the brine, into a Baggie, remove the air, seal, and let stand for ten minutes. Resist the urge to let them soak longer.

3. Drain the almonds, reserving the brine (unlike marinades for meat, I think it is OK to re-use this 2-3 times, keeping it in the fridge).

4. Spread the almonds out on a Qmatz (I got these from Todd).

5. Place the almonds in the smoker preheated to 160 degrees. Smoke for 45 minutes. Remove the almonds, move them around a bit, rotate the trays, and put the trays back in the smoker using a different shelf order (important in my MES because it has hot spots). Smoke for another 45 minutes.

6. After this 1.5 hours of 160-degree smoking, increase the heat to 230 degrees. Cook for one more hour, turning halfway through (and exchanging the shelves).

7. Let cool down on the cooking racks for as long as you can (if I smoke them in the morning, I don't put them away until the evening). You want as much moisture to escape as possible. I have a salt grinder that I use to sprinkle salt on them as soon as they come out of the smoker. Don't jostle them after you've added this salt, and you'll find that a surprising amount of this extra salt will stick or get absorbed.

[edit - October 2019] You can also add salt and other spices to the wet nuts after you've spread them on the Qmatz in step #4. This seems to be the best way to add additional flavor.

I just did some more of these yesterday, and I cannot stop eating them.

I'll be interested in hearing from others whether they like this product.
 
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cmayna

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Do you have pics of your process (before and after)?
 

GaryHibbert

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I'm gonna try this method. Ive never had any luck brining and smoking nuts.
Thanks
Gary
 

SmokinAl

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I've tried smoking almonds too, without much success.
I'm gonna give this a try!
Thank you for sharing!
Al
 

xray

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I just got a big batch of pellets from Todd. I’ve been wanting to smoke some nuts for the holidays.

This sounds good, any pictures?
 

cmayna

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John,
What flavor wood do you use?
 

johnmeyer

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Do you have pics of your process (before and after)?
I just got a big batch of pellets from Todd. I’ve been wanting to smoke some nuts for the holidays.

This sounds good, any pictures?
John,
What flavor wood do you use?
These pics answer all the questions, including the wood (Todd's "Pitmaster Blend" in my AMNPS which I put inside my "popcorn mod").

I start with a 3# Costco bag of almonds.



After the ten-minute brine I smoke them per my earlier post. This shows the color change between the raw (on the left) almonds, and the finished, smoked product. Because I am using an external smoke generator, the color change is subtle.


This shows some of the finished product, along with the bag of Pitmaster Blend (Cherry, Hickory, Apple) smoking pellets.
 
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crazymoon

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JM, I will try this method as my previous results always end up with the seasonings falling off the almonds. Thank you .
 

noboundaries

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Great step by step!

I've had mixed results with my almonds. I always did the 10 minute brine, but after smoking they weren't consistently crunchy. The coatings I used stuck nicely, adding great flavor. The smoke was great too, but sometimes the almonds lacked that crunchy bite we all love.

I read something recently about how to solve that problem. Haven't tried it yet, but here's what I read. If home smoked almonds lack crunch, zap them in the microwave for a minute at a time until they are crunchy. It makes sense because the microwaves excite the water molecules inside the nuts, causing them to escape as steam. I think I'll pick up some almonds on my next trip to Costco and give it a try.
 

johnmeyer

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I've done several dozen almond smokes in the two years I've been doing this. The things that affect the "crunch" seem to be:

1. Coating. Pretty much anything that puts a coating on the almonds will trap moisture. The recipe I started with two years ago (Todd's recipe) used butter, honey, and brown sugar, and it completely covered up the almond. They were never very crunchy.

2. Cooking time and heat. This one is obvious (more heat --> less moisture --> more crunch), but getting the almonds "done" without burning them is not easy. Also, the less moisture you have on the surface the less smoke gets absorbed (at least I think that is the way it works). I verified this when I tried sparying them during the smoke, and that additional moisture definitely sogged the nuts (and you don't want your nuts sogged), even though I quit applying the spray an hour before the finish. My solution at this point (and I think there has to be a better way) is to expose them to smoke at a lower temperature (160), but then raise the temperature (225) to actually do the cooking. I may experiment with a much higher temperature (like 275, which is as hot as my MES will go), but for a shorter time, and see if that works better.

3. Time immersed in the brine or honey goop. I actually did this experiment and there was a gigantic difference between ten minutes in the brine and twenty minutes. I didn't note any more taste with the longer soak, but I definitely noticed that the almonds were a little spongy.

I look forward to hearing from anyone who tries this out, or who has had other experiences that I can learn from.
 

johnmeyer

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Are you using raw almonds or are they roasted and salted?
I showed a picture of the bag of almonds I am using in post #7 above. Take a look.

I'm pretty sure they are not roasted or salted. I don't think you'd want to use nuts that had already been flavored or roasted.
 

SonnyE

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First, Thank You John for sharing your story and the recipe. I've done a couple of batches of almonds in the past and they came out good nuff, but always interested in how others do it.
Second, I think you might need some sort of an Almond Intervention. Your avatar looks like you have too much alum in your diet and it's got you awful puckered up. ;)

I'd like to make some smoked Almonds for our Christmas get together at the Daughters house. So great timing for your post!
All this brining business is new to me, but I found a great deal of success with my last batch of salmon with a very basic Salt and Brown Sugar cure that melts down into a brining.
At first I thought "Dang! 3 shots of Jack?" But was glad to see it can be reused a couple of times. I think pourin the brine down the sink would bring a tear to my eye knowin some turd at the sewer plant would be partyin on those shots.
I like Fireball Whiskey, do you think that could be tried for a variation? Or in your opinion would the cinnamonyness be yuuki? I'm apt to try it anyway. Might not do anything.
I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to print out your recipe and put it up in my liquor cabinet by the Fireball. It's just for me.
Does the folks eating these Almonds have to be 21 years old?

Oh, Edit In: I like smoking with Hickory. Think that'd be OK?
 

johnmeyer

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I don't think the wood makes a huge amount of difference for almonds, unless you were to go with something really strong, like mesquite (I don't think that would be good). There used to be (thirty years ago) a saying in business that "no one got fired for buying IBM equipment," meaning that their stuff was always pretty good. I think the same is true of hickory: no one gets upset if the food is smoked using hickory.

The brine is on the almonds for such a short time that the flavoring from the booze is quite subtle. It is definitely there, but it doesn't hit you over the head, like actually drinking the stuff. If you use something else, you'd want something with a pretty strong flavor, such as Captain Morgan's Rum, which appears in many recipes in this forum.
 

SonnyE

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Thanks John, I mentioned the wood because I tend to like the smoke stronger than it appears others do.
(For instance, most I read of does not suggest using Hickory for fish, but I like using it for my Salmon. I reminds me of the taste a grew up loving. Different fish, same wonderful smoky goodness. But even still, I'm still finding my way.)
So I find that Smokey goodness flavor with Hickory. I have, however, been running Alder of late, and trying to "do it right". And it is a 'sweeter' taste. For lack of a better term. LOL.
But when I get some almonds, I definitely want to follow your recipe.

If I had my druthers, I'd druther have Gentleman Jack in my cupboard. But that stuff seems to evaporate almost as fast as my smoked larder. But I'll try the Fireball for a test, and get a bootjack of Jack Daniels for another batch test.
OK, now you introduced Captain Morgan into the equation, IIRC, there is light and dark. I would suspect dark would impart the most flavor. But I imagine some of both should be included for proper research.

Maybe I should get two bags of almonds? ROTFLMAO!
I found a bottle of Grand Marnier, and some Russian stuff that tastes like scotch. :eek: Shivver.
Anything that tastes bad could be washed down with the Saki....

20171219_215220[1].jpg

Smoking nuts has given me a hangover!
 
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cmayna

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johnmeyer,
Once you have removed the almonds from the brine, do you rinse them? Also do you room dry before going into the smoker? If so, how long?
 
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johnmeyer

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I definitely do not rinse: with a short soak, you want as much of that salt as possible to stay on the nut. Also, I think that a surface which is slightly damp will absorb a LOT more smoke, so you definitely do not want to dry it.

So, just drain (I re-use the marinade which, for nuts, I think is OK to do), put the wet nuts on a Q-Matz or similar thing, and smoke.
 

isitdoneyet

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Made a batch of these yesterday and man are they good. Right amount of salt and smoke, with a good crunch. Thanks for the recipe Johnmeyer.
Will be making these again.
 

johnmeyer

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Hey, thanks! It took about twenty tries to get to that recipe. I just completely cleaned my 2+ year old MES 30 and am re-seasoning it right now, after which I'll be making ... almonds!
 

wnctracker

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I didn't lookup how to smoke almonds before I just tried it one day. I've never brined but maybe I'll try a batch and see. I have this stuff that call magic dust that I use on stovetop popcorn.

6 Tbs kosher salt
2 Tbs black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 Tbs cumin

Put this all in coffee grinder and grind and shake grinder for a minute. This makes a powder that sticks to everything (sort of like a non liquid brine I think).
I usually mix some melted butter 1 lb of almonds and 2 tsp of the salt powder and then smoke away. They are nicely salted. A little of the salt powder goes a long way.
 
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