The Art of Asian Tea Smoking on your Grille or Barbecue/Smoker

looseleaf_teaMost of us have grown accustomed to smoking with our favorite wood, but for something truly different, I highly recommend the Asian technique of smoking with loose tea.  The tea provides a relatively mellow, herbaceous taste, and has the advantage of working with any style of outdoor cooker from a covered hibachi or bullet-style grille to a large smoker.  It works best if you set your grille for direct heat.  Temperature and times will be the same as you would use when smoking with wood.  You have two options here, either sprinkling loose tea directly onto your coals or heat source, or you may concoct your own tea-spice blend to wrap in a perforated foil packet.  Virtually any full-flavored black or green tea will work here.  If your palate is reasonably good, you WILL be able to taste the difference.   Use a good quality tea, one that you would want to drink on its own, much like cooking with wine.   It’s fun to experiment with different varieties of tea  for subtle differences in results. Because it is a surprisingly delicate flavor that the tea imparts in the smoking, I find that this technique works best for smoking poultry , fish or pork, rather than red meats.  Working with direct heat, with a quicker cooking time, you have the option of choosing leaner, as well as more marbled meats.   Also, because of the relative delicacy, this technique can work well in a small smoke chamber.   One of my favorite recipes utilizing  this technique is for tea-smoked chicken thighs, which I then dip in a ginger-sesame-soy sauce.   Have your grille preheated and ready to go.  The preparation goes as follows:

Ingredients:   2 ½ lbs. chicken thighs

For the tea smoking mixture:

  • ½ cup white rice
  • 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • ¾ cup loose tea
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. five spice powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

For the dipping sauce:

  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1-2 Tbsp. chopped fresh ginger  (to your taste)


Wrap the tea-spice mixture in a double layer of aluminum foil and roll into a package.  Set directly on coals in your grille and cover.  Let heat for a few minutes until you see smoke beginning to come out of the grille.   Set the chicken thighs on the grille and smoke, covered, for 15-20 minutes, until the thighs are a dark mahogany brown color.  Meanwhile, blend the ingredients for the dipping sauce in a blender until the ginger is liquefied.  Dip the smoked thighs in the dipping sauce and enjoy.  Great with rice and vegetables or grilled vegetables.  I believe that chicken thighs are a much under-appreciated and under-utilized part of the bird, especially for us barbecue fanatics.  Rich in taste and meaty, they stand up well to a smoking technique.  While many people like to buy the boneless, skinless variety, for reduced calories, the full thigh stands up much better to this technique.


Richard Mezoff is a Louisville-based chef who owned the highly-regarded Tastes Restaurant, as well as Big Mama Mezoff’s Sauces.  He is afflicted with “hickorophilia dementia,” an intense addiction to hickory smoke, a malady curable only by the consumption of healthy quantities of barbecued meat and veggies.

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