I cooked red beans for a party recently and made a separate vegetarian batch. A friend of mine asked me how to get veggie beans to have a smoky flavor without the addition of ham hocks or smoked sausage. I told her I used liquid smoke, which she had heard of but always avoided. I used to avoid liquid smoke as well, due to the common misconception that it is a nasty synthetic concoction. In reality it’s a great seasoning created by a natural and ingenious method.
Liquid smoke is created by capturing smoke from wood chips in a chilled container which caused the smoke to liquify. This liquid then runs through various filters to remove impurities. Wright’s is the original but I have always used Colgin. Colgin ages their liquid smoke in oak barrels and seasons it with vinegar and molasses.
The key with liquid smoke is not to use too much! Like bitters in a cocktail, liquid smoke’s flavor is extremely concentrated and can easily overpower what it is seasoning. Putting liquid smoke on baked, sautéed or grilled meat is no substitute for true smoking but it definitely can add some flavor. It also great in bbq sauce and soups. So give it a try, but mind your pour.