If you’re a fan of smoked beef liver, why not try making your own? The task requires a fair amount of skill, but that’s no reason to be daunted by it. Our guide will tell you all you need to know about smoked liver, including how to make it properly.
The key to smoking beef liver is to take it off the heat before the internal temperature climbs above 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Overcooked liver has an unpleasantly gritty texture, which is probably why so many people claim to dislike the dish. Set the smoker to 250 degrees and carve the liver into slices before you begin.
Before we get into the specifics, let’s get one thing out of the way: Liver is definitely an acquired taste. We know a few people who’ve loved it since childhood, but that’s pretty rare. As far as meat goes, it may be the most polarizing one we’ve encountered.
In case you couldn’t tell by the name, liver is an organ meat. It has a bold flavor and a distinctive texture (which we’ll discuss in more detail later on). The texture is what turns most people off, but if you can get past that, the flavor is excellent.
Beef liver is one of the most popular types, and the foundation of the comfort food staple “liver-and-onions.” When the organ comes from cows that are more than one year old, it’s classified as beef liver.
Calf liver, or veal liver, is taken from cows that have not yet reached their first birthday. The flavor is similar to beef liver, but it’s much more tender.
Though it’s not as popular in most of the US, pork liver is also available. It’s more prevalent in Germany, where it’s a key ingredient in liverwurst. Liver aficionados find that the flavor is more bitter than that of beef liver.
You’ve probably heard of the dish “chopped liver,” even if you’ve never tried it. This dish is made from chicken livers, which can also be deep fried, as in a traditional southern dish. Chicken liver is milder in flavor than beef or pork liver.
Have you ever tried foie gras? If so, you’ve eaten goose liver, even if you didn’t realize it at the time. Duck livers are sometimes used to create this delicacy as well.
Health Benefits and Drawbacks
Liver is a great source of iron and protein. It also contains high amounts of B vitamins, as well as vitamin A. In fact, a single serving of beef liver contains 100 percent of the daily allotment of vitamin A that’s typically recommended by the USDA.
As if that weren’t enough, liver is also a good source of potassium, vitamin C, and phosphorous. All in all, it’s one of the most nutrient-packed foods you’ll encounter. As such, it can lower the risk of anemia and overall nutrient deficiency, as well as improving bone health.
Be aware, though, that these same vitamins and minerals can pose a hazard for people with certain preexisting health conditions, at least when consumed in large doses. It’s also high in cholesterol, so that’s one key factor to be aware of.
If you consume too much vitamin A, your own liver won’t be able to process it quickly enough. This can lead to what’s known as “vitamin A toxicity.” Keep this in mind before you decide to make liver a regular part of your diet.
Moreover, some prescription medications—such as the ones commonly prescribed for psoriasis—can interact with vitamin A. If you have any concerns about this, check with your doctor.
Smoked Liver: How To Get It Right
There’s a reason why smoking liver is such a tricky process. While smoked meats like spare ribs, pork butt, and beef brisket need to cook to high internal temperatures in order to achieve the right texture, taking this approach with liver will ruin the meat.
Why is that? It’s because liver cells are smaller and more heat-sensitive than the muscle fibers that make up those cuts of meat. And while the reticular fibers that hold the cells in place are made of the same protein as collagen, they don’t break down as easily.
If you cook the liver to an internal temperature higher than 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the water content in the cells will become depleted. This will cause them to shrink, giving the cooked liver a chalky, gritty texture.
For optimum results, try not to cook liver past 130 degrees. This will allow it to retain a firm, juicy texture reminiscent of a good steak. What’s more, the mineral flavor will be less pronounced, allowing the smoky taste to take center stage.
What To Serve With Smoked Liver
Have you ever tried putting barbecue sauce on beef liver? If not, you’re missing out on an unsung delicacy. Don’t forget to stock up on your favorite type of sauce before you start cooking.
Which sides you choose are up to you, but there are some dishes that go perfectly with liver and onions. Here are a few of our favorites.
The mild greens will offset the rich flavor of the liver and add even more nutrients to your meal. Try dressing the spinach with a light vinaigrette and toss with toasted walnuts, dried cranberries, and goat cheese.
Biscuits and Gravy
The gravy for this dish is traditionally made with browned sausage, but you can eliminate that part and swap in smoked liver instead. A good flaky biscuit is the ideal vehicle for soaking up every last bit of delicious sauce.
Cucumber and Yogurt Salad
When you toss cucumbers in yogurt with fresh dill and mint, you have the perfect summer salad. Salting and draining the cucumbers beforehand will keep them from becoming too soggy.
Stir-Fried Broccoli and Mushrooms
It only takes a few minutes to stir-fry a few vegetables, and they’ll add color as well as nutritional value. Use a neutral oil for the stir-fry, then add a few drops of sesame oil just before serving.
Tips on Making Smoked Liver
—When smoking beef liver, aim for a smoker temperature of 250 degrees. If you carve the liver into slices, it should reach the ideal temperature within an hour.
—Use a foil pan instead of putting the liver directly on the cooking grate. That way, you’ll be using indirect heat, so the liver is less likely to overcook.
—Add butter to the foil pan before putting the sliced liver on top.
—You can experiment with various seasonings, but a simple blend of kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and minced garlic is a great place to start.
—Try draping slices of bacon over an upper cooking grate and using the lower grate for the liver. That way, the bacon fat will drip down onto the liver as it cooks, giving it a nice little flavor boost. You can serve the bacon with the liver afterward.
—For a smoking wood, select a robust flavor such as oak or hickory. You can also experiment with mesquite if you’d like. Since the smoking process is relatively short, the flavors shouldn’t be too overpowering.
—While the liver is smoking, saute some sliced onions so you can serve up a twist on traditional liver and onions when the meat is done.
The Bottom Line
Smoked liver might not be everyone’s favorite dish, but if you enjoy it, you should learn how to get it right. You might just end up making believers out of friends and relatives who claim they don’t have a taste for it.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!