What Balances Smoky Flavor?

If you’re cooking something and it ends up with a flavor that’s too smoky, don’t panic. The fact is, you can balance the smoky flavor by removing any burnt parts with a knife and adding items such as potatoes to the pan, for example.

What Causes a Smoky Flavor?

Some foods are intentionally smoky. They might contain smoked sausage or another smoked meat, or chipotle peppers which are jalapeno peppers that have been smoked and dried. Maybe the dish contains smoked paprika or another smoky spice. But if you’ve added too much of those smoky ingredients, you might find the flavor too strong and want to balance it out.

Chipotle peppers
Chipotle peppers contribute a smoky flavor to any dish, but how much is too much?

And sometimes the smoky flavor comes from burning. If you’ve left the food in the pan too long without enough liquid or moisture, you can get a smoky taste that’s hard to shake.

There are a few things you can do about it. They’re simple and quite effective.

Add Other Food Items to the Pan

If the food smells or tastes overly smoky, balance the smell and taste by adding other foods and warming it up a little.

Here are a few foods that might work:


Peel a few raw potatoes and cut them up into chunks, then place them in your pan, add some more liquid if necessary, and boil or cook them gently. After a few minutes, remove the potatoes and throw them away. This works because potatoes are amazing when it comes to absorbing smells and tastes from various foods.

Milk or cream

Add a small amount of milk, cream or sour cream to the dish to tone down the smoke flavor you’ve created. Stir it well and it should smooth out that flavor and smell.

Sour cream on top of chili
Try a big dollop of sour cream if your chili is too smoky.


First, rinse the food well with cold water, then steam it in that fresh water with a slice of bread on top. Steam it for 10-20 minutes, then remove the bread. Both the flavor and smell should be better. This works especially well for smoky rice.


Adding something acidic to the pan can cover up the burnt smell. Try adding either white or red wine, or some type of vinegar—either red wine vinegar or cider vinegar. Lemon juice, tomato sauce, or any type of acid-based liquid will do.

Remove Any Burnt Parts From the Food

If you’re cooking meat, you can often take a sharp knife and simply remove the burnt parts. Unless the entire piece of meat is burnt to a crisp, this should work. And if you leave a tiny bit of burntness on the meat, don’t worry because it won’t be enough to make the entire piece taste or smell nasty. In fact, many people actually enjoy this!

Change the Pot or Pan

Sometimes, you can take care of the smoky flavor problem by taking the food out of the pot and transferring it to another pot. A lot of times, the burnt part is at the very bottom of the pan, so if you remove the item from the pan, most of the burnt parts will stay behind. Simply scrape away whatever is burnt at the bottom of the food itself, place it in another pan, and you might be all set.

Burnt saucepan that could impart a smoky flavor

Keep in mind that some of these methods work best if you add a little bit of liquid, such as stock or regular water, then reheat the foods until some of the liquid is absorbed.

Some people embrace the smell or flavor and “rebrand” the dish as a unique food item, but most people do not. After all, a lot of people dislike a strong smoky taste

Now you know how to balance smoky flavor if you’re one of those people.