With Summer grilling in full force and smoke-tinged cocktails taking the helm at bars nationwide, the food world has been singing the virtues of liquid smoke. But what is this mysterious substance, and how does it obtain its trademark taste?

A concentrated flavoring used to duplicate the essence of smoked wood, liquid smoke is literally the flavor of smoke captured in water. Wood chips or sawdust are burned in a controlled environment, producing tiny smoke particles held in water vapor. Chilled air is introduced, causing the particles to condense into liquid. The liquid is then aged in oak barrels.

Liquid smoke is usually made from smoked hickory, mesquite, pecan, or apple wood, and can be applied to a gas grill to add a charcoal flavor, added to a meat marinade or curing solution, or used on soft cheeses and meatless proteins such as tempeh.