Nothing says fall desserts like an apple crisp. The changing season, the falling leaves, the sweaters, the chill in the morning air, they all point to harvest and to apples and to warm meals with friends. What’s more, Steven Raichlen’s amazing smoked apple crisp recipe gives you an excuse to fire up your smoker and smell and taste wood smoke again this fall. It has bourbon. It has bacon. What’s not to love?
For this project, we heat our smoker hotter than we would for, say, a brisket, because we’re not looking for any low-and-slow enzymatically-induced collagen destruction in muscle fibers. We are just looking to cook some apples and gelatinize some starches. And get some smokey crisp topping, too.
Apple Crisp: A Tale of Two Temperatures
One of the challenges with apple crisp is that we need two different temperatures to do two different things to make the perfect dessert.
The butter in the topping needs to melt and the crust needs to experience Maillard browning. That only happens at temperatures above 310°F (154°C). The proteins and sugars break down and rearrange themselves into ring-like structures. Flavor and aroma compounds are created, not just the brown color. We’ll get the smoker up to 400°F (204°C) before introducing the crisp. This will give us plenty of browning on top while the apples come up more gently to temperature.
While the crust needs temperatures above 310°F (154°C) to get crisp, the apples inside the crisp need to be kept below a critical temperature.
As the filling reaches 183°F, we reach a critical point. This is the temperature at which pectin begins to break down. When the mortar in a brick building beings softening, there’s suddenly nothing holding the bricks together. Cells collapse, liquid gushes out, and you’ve got apple sauce on your hands.
—J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
Apple pectin breaks down at about 183°F (84°C), turning the apples into applesauce. We want there to be some apple structure for our crisp, so we should shoot for a temperature below that. Combine that with the fact that the starch in the flour that will be thickening the sauce will gelatinize between 120°F-140°F (49°C-60°C), and we’ve got a target temp for our apple filling.
The filling will be insulated by the crust and take longer to rise in temperature, of course. We’ll be shooting for a pull temp between 140°F and 180°F (60°C-82°C) and no higher in the thermal center. To get this right we’ll be periodically checking our crisp with a Thermapen Mk4®.
Smoked Bacon-bourbon Apple Crisp Recipe
*Recipe from Steven Raichlen’s Project Smoke
- 2 strips high quality bacon
- 3 pounds crisp, sweet apples like Honeycrisp or Gala
- ⅓ cup packed brown sugar, or to taste
- 1 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch of salt
- 3 tablespoons bourbon
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into ½” pieces and well chilled
- ½ cup crushed gingersnap cookies (this is what we used) or granola
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- Pinch of salt
- Ice cream, for serving
- Prepare the grill for indirect cooking and heat it to 400°F (204°C).
- We used a small cast iron pan and an IRK-2® to make sure our temperature was where it needed to be. The IRK-2 comes with a circle laser so you can be sure you are measuring just the surface of the cast iron pan and not sampling the grill grates and the fire behind the grill grates as well (for more on this, see our post Infrared Thermometer Basics & Best Practices).
Make the Filling
- Fry the bacon in a small skillet over medium heat until crisp, about four minutes (this can be done in the same skillet you will use to cook the whole dessert).
- Drain bacon pieces.
- Peel and core apples.
- Cut them into 1” pieces.
- Combine the apple pieces with the bacon, sugar, flour, zest, cinnamon, and salt.
- Stir to combine, then add the bourbon and stir again. Taste for desired sweetness.
- Spoon into a cast iron skillet.
Make the Topping
- Combine butter, crumbs/granola, flour, sugars, and salt in a food processor.
- Pulse to combine to a sandy, grainy texture.
- Sprinkle over top of the apple filling in the skillet.
Smoke the Apple Crisp
- Check your grill temperature using an the IRK-2, and if you’re at 400°F (204°C), get roasting!
- Add wood chips (apple is best for this recipe) to the coals, put your crisp in, and cover the grill.
- Smoke roast the crisp until the topping is browned and crispy and the filling has hit our target temperature ( 140°F – 180°F [60°C-82°C]). The edges of the sauce will be bubbling at a higher temp, but our center should be in that range. Poke an apple piece with your Thermapen Mk4’s probe. It should be soft enough to penetrate easily. The cooking should take 45 minutes to an hour.
- Remove from heat.
- Top with ice cream, serve, and enjoy the compliments!
Luscious sauce and soft-but-not-mushy apples are yours with this unique recipe if you keep an eye on your internal temperature. The smoker’s higher heat works to crisp the topping while the apples have their starch gelatinized without destroying their pectin between 140°F and 180°F (60°C-82°C).
Project Smoke by Steve Raichlen
“The Food Lab’s Apple Pie, Part 2: Perfect Apple Pie Filling” by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee