The better half’s dad is fan of all things whiskey- and bourbon-related, so this year we decided to make him something special for his birthday: smoked ice. (Not a drug reference — get out of the gutter, Dear Reader.)
The basic process is pretty simple: freeze a big block of ice, put it over a catch pan in a low-temp grill or smoker, use lots of wood smoke which infuses itself into the melting water, filter, then bottle or freeze for your favorite drink. Once re-frozen, the ice will not only chill your cocktail, but slowly release a subtle smokiness. We decided to make her dad three varieties of infused ice, because part of the fun is pairing different smokes to different drinks.
Pretty simple stuff needed to get this project underway. Half-gallon containers of spring water, wood chips or chunks, cheesecloth and coffee filters, plus some kind of apparatus for collecting the meltoff.
Now there’s no reason you have to use a half-galon container. In my case it was simply convenient. But anything that will freeze a shoebox-sized block of ice will work just fine, provided you can peel off the mold once the block is frozen. A half-gallon paper milk container would probably work great.
One of the downsides of my half-gallon jug plan showed itself when I realized those things are pretty full. Rather than risk the expanding ice from splitting the jug, I went ahead and sucked off some of the excess with a cheap meat injector, then plugged the hole with packing tape. The other advantage in doing this was that I could freeze the jug on it’s side with the handle facing up. This avoided making a frozen handle that would require extra cutting later on to get the ice block free of the mold.
I learned to give this much water a full 48 hours to freeze solid. On one round I pulled the ice out after only about a day and there was a significant amount of unfrozen water in the core of my block. But once you have a nice, solid chunk of ice to work with, remove from the mold and it’s time to fire up the grill!
I opted to use my large 26.75″ Weber for smoking the ice. Aside from the extra pace needed to make everything fit, it’s easier to keep the temperatures down. Using too hot of a fire will melt the ice too quickly and the smoke won’t infuse as deeply as a slow burn does.
°To keep the smoking temperature nice and low, I made sure to do this project in cool weather. The ambient temperature was less than 50° F outside, which helped the process a lot. I was also careful not to use too much fire. In the shots below, you can see I arranged some lump charcoal in a “snake” around the perimiter of the grill, trying to keep it only a couple coals deep with soaked smoking chips liberally applied. I then got about 5 golf ball-sized chunks of lump going in the starter chimney and dumped them on one end of the snake so the coals would slowly burn and ignite each other down the line — kind of a modified minion method.
I used a cheap stainless bowl and an old roast rack to hold my ice block. The darn thing was pretty slippery and I was afraid that as it melted it may slide right off the end of the rack, so I used some metal shish-kabob skewers on each end to hold it in place. The rig was tall enough I left the cooking grate out and put the bowl right on the charcoal grate. For those without the luxury of a large grill, I’m sure you can get similar results in a shallower pan.
It took about 3 hours to collect enough smoke-infused melt for my purposes. I’m guessing another hour would have sufficed to smoke the whole block. Throughout the smoking time, I kept the lower vent wide open and used the upper vent for temp control, keeping the grill between 100° and 150° F the whole time. Plus, closing the lid vent helped keep the smoke inside and swirling around the ice, which I imagine helped it infuse the runoff more deeply.
The result was a nice amber / honey-colored water that made the whole kitchen smell like a campfire in a wonderful way.
There was a bit of debris in the water, bits of ash and grit from the grill, so we filtered the water twice — once through cheesecloth and a second time through a spaghetti strainer lined with a coffee filter. After those two rounds the water looked very clear, even on close inspection.
This is the point where most of us would simply freeze the results into cubes or another block ready for an icepick. But since this was a gift, we decided to bottle the water and let Cindy’s dad do his own freezing. This made transportation a lot easier, plus it offers the opportunity to mix-and-match varieties, or dilute down the infusion with clear water before freezing if the smoke flavor was a bit too strong. Some recycled whiskey bottles seemed to fit the bill, and the chalkboard labels were one of Cindy’s finds in the canning section at Cost Plus / World Market. Match with a silicone ice tray that produces whiskey-ready 2″ square cubes and we have a gift fit for any whiskey lover!
We ended up dong this process three times and learned a bit along the way. First, briquettes + wood chunks do a better job staying lit and producing smoke using a “minion snake” than lump and wood chips (which worked fine, just required more fire-tending). And even though I usually don’t bother soaking chips, it did seem to help this time around, even if it only helped keep the temperature in the Weber as low as possible.
Hope this inspires other to give the process a try. If so, share your results! As always, thanks for looking!