heads of elephant garlic

Elephant Garlic Adds an Umami Boost to Dishes with Smoky Flavor

Named for its gargantuan size, elephant garlic has characteristics of both the garlic and onion family. Elephant garlic is technically an onion, falling under the genus Allium, but it also produces allicin, the compound in garlic responsible for its rich and savory aroma. Elephant garlic’s flavor profile thus contains the strengths of both garlic and onions, with a sweet and mild palate and savory umami fragrance and finish.

While elephant garlic is mild enough to eat raw in salads, smoking it will enhance its sweet and savory notes while adding a wonderful smoky flavor. Smoked elephant garlic has a complex burst of earthy umami akin to a porcini mushroom, with a caramelized sweetness. Smoking is a slow-roasting process that will transform elephant garlic into the richest, most complex paste to spread over or blend into countless dishes. You will need a grill or a smoker and wood chips to properly execute the smoking method. 

If you don’t have a smoker, you can place the wood chips over hot coals on the grill for the same effect. For a gas-fired grill, you can create a smoker by using a foil-covered tin pan to smoke your wood chips. Similar to roasting garlic, you’ll cut the top off of a head of elephant garlic, drizzle it with olive oil, and wrap its exterior in aluminum foil, leaving the top exposed. Then, place the garlic in the smoker or on the grill, cover it, and smoke it for an hour between 325 and 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Great flavors and pairings for smoked elephant garlic

Close-up of roasted garlic bursting out of it's papery skin

When you smoke elephant garlic, you’re not only imparting a smoky flavor, but you’re also adding distinct notes from the wood chips you use. Mesquite and hickory are commonly used with heavy red meat dishes like barbeque, with robust sweet, and earthy aromas. Their fragrance would also work well to enhance and complement elephant garlic’s sweet and savory roasted flavors. For fruity notes, applewood or cherrywood are subtle yet fragrant options. Maple, walnut, oak, and pecan also lend well-balanced smokiness and richness to elephant garlic.

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After slow-roasting over smoky wood chips, elephant garlic becomes a sumptuous paste with a creamy consistency that you can squeeze into soups, dips, and sauces. It would add complexity to any cream or roux-based soup as well as a velvety white bean soup. Blend it with butter for a sweet and savory addition to mashed potatoes or to spread over steak or grilled portabello mushrooms.

It’s also delicious as a spread for grilled meat, vegetables, sandwiches, and bread. You could even spread it over grilled bread and top it with sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. It would also taste delicious with aioli on a brioche bun for burgers or fish sandwiches. Or, you could blend it with lemon juice and fresh herbs to spread over a filet of fish or grilled chicken.

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