From Kentucky’s beloved burgoo to Virginia’s Brunswick stew to cowboy chili, America has a long history with soups cooked over live fire. And yet, mention grilling soup to nearly anyone, and they’ll look at you like you’ve ingested too much smoke—and not necessarily the kind generated by hardwoods.
If you spent any time with your grill or smoker this past year, you surely grilled or smoked meat and charred vegetables for a salad or side dish. So it’s not a leap to imagine using one or the other or both to create a fire- or smoked-kissed soup.
It’s a terrific way to add color, texture, and character to your favorite soups—perhaps cream of potato using smoke-roasted potatoes and home-cured bacon; beer, brat, and cheese soup; smoky tomato soup; even charred broccoli and cheese soup. You can grill or smoke individual components, and then combine and finish in a Dutch oven (preferably cast-iron so it can go on the grill) or in a large pan on a side burner or stove-top.
In the meantime, here are a few of our favorite grilled soups (and chilis) to get you started.
Charred Poblano Bisque Shooters
This recipe is flexible enough to satisfy any palate or serving need. You can serve it cold or hot, in bowls or ladled into shot glasses (to make soup shooters!), and seasoned to taste including an optional teaspoon of sugar or honey if sweetness is desired. Simple ingredients of cream (or yogurt), the character of charred peppers, and pureed vegetables makes it a delightful appetizer for any gathering. (Remember, Super Bowl Sunday is only a few weeks away.)
Blurring the lines between soup and stew, this chili will become your go-to recipe after the first taste. It calls for brisket, but if you’re a traditionalist and you want to make a ground meat chili, you can use it! You’ll still get plenty of smoke flavor thanks to cooking it in the smoker.
Smoked Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
A bowl of “Gumbo Ya-Ya” at Mr. B’s Bistro in the French Quarter of New Orleans inspired our version, which features a mahogany-colored roux, smoked chicken, andouille sausage, and the thickening power of file powder (sassafras root) and fresh okra pods. “Gumbo” is shorthand for the African word “ki ngumbo,” aka, okra. Make a batch now and another when Mardi Gras rolls around—March 5 this year.
Smoked Shrimp and Corn Chowder
This recipe is easier to prepare than you would think—smoke 1 pound shrimp for 30 to 60 minutes at 300 degrees F, add chicken stock, potatoes, cream, corn and a few other simple ingredients and voila! You are ready to enjoy a hearty, flavorful chowder. The smoky essence of the shrimp enhances the soup and takes this chowder to another level.
Barbecue University Chile Verde
An abundance of fresh fire-roasted chile peppers (including poblanos, jalapenos, Anaheims, etc.) inspired this recipe for chile verde, now the “official” chili of Barbecue University, the workshop Steven hosts each year at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs for lovers of live-fire cooking. With this recipe, you can make replicate it at home. But don’t forget to add a generous pinch of camaraderie!
Pork Barbacoa with Avocado Leaves (with Consommé)
For this dish, you cook a 5-6 pound pork shoulder in a consommé that leaves the meat fall-off-the-bone tender. The consommé makes an amazing soup to accompany the pork—after stirring in chopped cilantro and chipotle to add a kick. Served with warm tortillas and salsa, it’s the perfect meal for a large family or to serve to guests.
Gazpacho is Spain’s culinary lifeblood, a cool and refreshing puree of vegetables that toes the line between soup and salad. (It’s perfect for warm weather climes, but not a wintry day in say, Chicago.) Grilling adds a smoky dimension that transforms this warm-weather soup from the realm of refreshing to unforgettable.
Francis Mallmann’s Braised Chorizo with Carrots, Fennel, and Creamy Polenta Stew
Francis Mallmann, the author of the celebrated books Seven Fires and Mallmann on Fire, is the reigning star of food television in the Spanish-speaking world and the most famous and popular chef in South America. In this recipe he takes fresh chorizo sausage (a staple on the grill in Argentina and Uruguay) with grated carrots and tomatoes to make a hearty stew, served over soft polenta. The carrots slowly cook down into the sauce to lighten it, and grilled fennel, incorporated at the end, adds texture and an anise-y flavor. Best when made over a wood fire.