If sweet onions stuffed with bacon, jalapeños, barbecue sauce, and cheese sounds like paradise, here’s your hymnal. The preparation is infinitely customizable: You can substitute chorizo or another sausage for the bacon; use diced pickles instead of jalapeños; and pour on any favorite barbecue sauce, or one from my book. Want honey instead of barbecue sauce? A different cheese on top? It’s all up to you.
This recipe uses a hot-smoking method. Use a hardwood of your choice, enough for 3 hours of smoking. I recommend a sweet onion, such as ‘Vidalia,’ ‘Walla Walla,’ or ‘Texas Sweet.’ To keep the onions upright during smoking, use grill rings or twisted, crumpled rings of aluminum foil. Yield: 4 onions.
• 4 large (12 to 14 ounces each) sweet onions, peeled
• 3 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
• 4 strips artisanal or made-from-scratch bacon, cut crosswise into 1⁄4-inch slivers
• 4 jalapeño peppers, seeded and diced (for spicier flavor, leave the seeds in)
• 1⁄2 cup barbecue sauce
• 1⁄2 cup grated cheddar or pepper jack cheese (optional)
Using a sharp paring knife and starting at the top of the onion (opposite the root), cut an inverted cone-shaped cavity about 2 inches across the top and 2 inches deep in each onion. (The core should come out in a cone-shaped plug.) Chop the pieces you remove. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a medium-sized skillet. Add the chopped onion pieces, bacon, and jalapeños, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 4 minutes. Place a spoonful of this filling into the cavity of each onion. Divide the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into 4 pats and place one on top of each onion. (The onions can be prepared several hours ahead of this stage. Place them on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.)
Set up your smoker following the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the wood as specified by the manufacturer. Place the onions on grill rings or in a shallow aluminum-foil pan. Smoke until gently yielding when squeezed on the sides, about 2 hours.
Place 2 tablespoons of the barbecue sauce on each onion, and top each onion with 2 tablespoons of the cheese, if using. Continue smoking the onions for another 30 to 60 minutes. To test for doneness, squeeze the sides of the onions — they should be soft and easy to pierce with a metal skewer. Transfer the onions to a platter or plates for serving.
For more smoker recipes from Steven Raichlen and more about hot-smoking and hay-smoking, read Season of Smoke: An Introduction to Smoked Foods.
This excerpt from Project Smoke, copyright 2016, is courtesy of Workman Publishing. Steven Raichlen hosts PBS shows, including “Primal Grill” and “Barbecue University.” Find Project Smoke and Planet Barbecue, and Raichlen’s latest book, Barbecue Sauces, Ribs, and Marinades, are available in our online store.