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8 BEST Liquid Smoke Substitutes – I Try Them All

I’ve personally tried and tested a range of different liquid smoke substitutes to find the best one, whatever your reason for needing a substitute is and whatever dish you’re cooking.

Here’s the quick answer.

The best liquid smoke substitutes are bacon, smoked paprika, and grilling your food with wood. You can also try smoked ham hocks and smoked salt. Canned chipotle peppers are great if you don’t mind adding heat. Or you can try making your own liquid smoke.

Ready? Let’s jump right in.

The Experiment

I whipped up a basic mac and cheese and tried out eight different liquid smoke substitutes.

Liquid smoke is what you get when you capture the smoke from burning wood and condense it into a liquid substance. 

It’s widely used to add a smoky hit to processed food like hotdogs and cheese, and it’s also used to make home-cooked food taste like it just came off the grill. But it’s far from a pantry staple, so what other options are out there?

Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:

Substitutes1 teaspoon liquid smokeVerdict
Bacon1 slice of bacon8/10
Smoked paprika½ teaspoon smoked paprika 9/10
Grilling/smoking with wood2-3 handfuls of wood chips for an hour of smoking; add more if needed8/10
Smoked ham hocks1 piece8/10
Smoked salt½ teaspoon smoked salt7/10
Ground chipotle peppers½ teaspoon ground chipotle peppers or 1 teaspoon adobo sauce 8/10
Lapsang souchong1 teaspoon6/10
No substituteNone5/10

It’s pretty laborious, but grilling/smoking with wood chips will give your dishes pure smoky goodness.

The rest of the substitutes will give you smokiness but with added savory, salty, or spicy flavors. 

Common dishes and their substitutes

Here are some common dishes that use liquid smoke and the best substitutes:

  • Meat, vegetable, and pasta dishes – bacon, smoked ham hocks, cooking with wood, smoked paprika, smoked salt, ground or chipotle peppers
  • Soups and stews – bacon, smoked ham hocks, smoked paprika, smoked salt, chipotle peppers
  • Marinades and spice rubs – smoked paprika, smoked salt, adobo sauce from chipotle peppers, lapsang souchong
  • Desserts and cocktail drinks – smoked salt


Bacon is the easiest substitute for liquid smoke in dishes like mac and cheese or soups. Just make sure you’re using a smoked variety!

It’s widely available anywhere, and if you’re a meat eater – chances are you have some in your fridge or freezer.

And if you’re vegan, there are some great plant-based bacon brands to choose from nowadays.

The smokey flavor wont be that strong though, so you might want to combine this with another one of the substitute options to double up on the smokey notes.

Taste and texture
The smokey flavor wasn’t anywhere near as strong as with liquid smoke, but who doesn’t love bacon?
1 teaspoon liquid smoke = 1 slice of bacon

Smoked paprika

Can’t have meat? Smoked paprika is an excellent vegan substitute for liquid smoke (again, making sure you get the smokey variety, not just straight paprika). 

It’s widely available and you can easily add it to any dish – from mac and cheese to veggies, and even steak rubs and marinades. 

Watch out when using it, though. 

Its smokiness comes with a background of sweet and spicy notes. Add the paprika in small quantities, tasting as you go until you get the flavor just right.

Taste and texture
It gave my mac and cheese a nice smokey note and turned it a brilliant reddy-orange color!
1 teaspoon liquid smoke = ½ teaspoon smoked paprika

Grilling/smoking with wood chips 

If you have a grill, some wood chips, and time you can make your own liquid smoke.

It’s a bit of work because you have to set up the grill, but trust me – the smokiness the right kind of wood imparts is unbeatable.

According to Chad’s BBQ, the rule of thumb is hardwoods are best used with red meat.

Lighter woods are recommended for fish, chicken, and dishes like mac and cheese. 

Taste and texture
This is the perfect substitute in terms of flavor, but not very accessible.
1 teaspoon liquid smoke = 2-3 handfuls of wood chips for an hour of grilling – add more if needed

Smoked ham hocks

Smoked ham hocks are another meat product you can use instead of liquid smoke. 

They’ll give your dishes a hint of smokiness with an added savory, salty bite. 

They’re typically sold after they’ve been cured or smoked, but you can also buy them raw and smoke them yourself. 

A small caveat is you have to slow-cook the ham hocks before using them in your dish to make them tender.

Taste and texture
You get a mild smokey flavor, but this substitute will only work with certain dishes.
1 teaspoom liquid smoke = 1 handful smoked ham hock 

Smoked salt

Smoked salt isn’t a household staple, but it’s a really great substitute for liquid smoke if you have it. 

It’s made with regular salt that’s undergone a smoking procedure to infuse it with a fragrant and smoky flavor.

And the great thing about this substitute is its versatility. You can use it in savory dishes, desserts, and cocktails. 

Pro-tip: if you’re using more than a dash, don’t also add regular salt.

Taste and texture
Its flavor is more subtle than liquid smoke and you can’t add too much or the dish will be overly salty.
1 teaspoon liquid smoke = ½ teaspoon smoked salt

Ground chipotle peppers 

Chipotle peppers are jalapeno chilies that have been smoked and dried.

They’ll add a rich, smoky twist to your dishes, along with a prominent fiery kick. 

Pro tip: if you want less of that spicy flair, skip the ground peppers and use chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.

You can take less of the peppers and more of the adobo sauce which isn’t as spicy.

Taste and texture
My mac and cheese was slightly too spicy for my liking after adding these peppers, but if you like spicy food, you’ll love this substitute.
1 teaspoon liquid smoke = ½ teaspoon ground chipotle peppers or 1 teaspoon adobo sauce

Lapsang souchong

This special black tea has a sweet, smoky flavor, making it an excellent substitute for liquid smoke. 

You can crush the leaves to mix them with your seasoning blend or steep them and add the tea directly to your dish. 

Due to its herbal notes, this substitute is best for meat rubs and stews. 

Note: certain varieties of this tea are banned in some countries due to health concerns, so make sure you’re buying a trusted brand like Twinings.

Taste and texture
It was really hard to find! But the smokiness was reminiscent of liquid smoke, just with sweet herbal undertones.
1 teaspoon liquid smoke = 1 teaspoon lapsang souchong

Skip it

If you can’t find a substitute that works, you can always skip the liquid smoke. 

It’s not a necessary ingredient, just a flavor enhancer. 

If you stick with the rest of the ingredients and recipe, your dish will turn out fine. Especially if you play around with other seasonings to compensate for the loss of flavor.

Something like a splash of soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce won’t add smokiness, but will add extra depth to a dish.

Taste and texture
Your dish will stay the same but lack a smoky bite.

Homemade liquid smoke

Making your own liquid smoke is admittedly not practical. But if you have the time and equipment, why not give it a try?

Carnivore Style has a great step-by-step recipe you can follow.

It’s an intensive and complicated process, but it’s also lots of fun!

Other options to explore

Here are a few other liquid smoke substitute options I didn’t try.

  • Use a smoke gun – a fancy gadget that burns wood and directly pumps it into your covered dish to infuse it with pure smokiness. It’s popular in cocktail making and you can get it on Amazon.
  • Burnt bread powder or crumbs – this is easy and quick to make, and has a nutty, smoky flavor. See the recipe here.
  • Smoked beer – smoked beer will add a hint of smokiness to dishes but comes with a prominent yeasty flavor that can be divisive.

8 Best Liquid Smoke Substitutes

We test out 8 different liquid smoke substitutes to find the best one.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Ingredient
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Total Time: 13 minutes
Servings: 1 person


  • Smoked bacon
  • Smoked paprika
  • Grilling with wood chips
  • Smoked ham hock
  • Smoked salt
  • Chipotle peppers
  • Lapsang souchong
  • Skip it


  • Cook your meal according to the recipe.
  • Add your chosen liquid smoke substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
  • Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.


Serving: 1tsp

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