Smoke ’Em If You’ve Got ’Em
Ask most Americans about their first food memories, and they probably conjure up peanut butter or maybe bologna and cheese. For Stuttgart, Germany, native Barbara Lahnstein, it’s the tang of smoked fish. “My favorite food in the world when I was a kid was sprats,” she enthuses. “They’re like sardines. It was, like, better than chocolate.”
Lahnstein carried that taste for the rich, complex flavors of smoked food throughout her childhood and across the Atlantic to her adopted hometown of Baltimore. Now 47, she spends her days stoking a hulking red cast-iron smoker tucked away in the back corner of North Baltimore’s Belvedere Market for her Neopol Smokery (529 E. Belvedere Ave.,  433-7700). The bright display cases that ring the kitchen show off slabs of still-moist salmon, bursting smoked cheese pies, smoked sausages, even smoked shellfish. But you won’t find any falling-apart pork shoulder or spice-rubbed baby backs—Lahnstein works in the European tradition of smoking her food for a short period of time to imbue intense flavor, rather than marathon American barbecuing. “This smoking is entirely different,” she stresses.
Lahnstein took up smoking food as a serious pursuit while pregnant with her son, now 23; she had cravings for the savory treats of her childhood and nowhere to buy them. She researched techniques as well as area suppliers that could provide ingredients up to her exacting standards. “I was looking for locally grown food in the ‘80s,” she says. “I grew up on local food, small batches—all that to me was familiar. It’s funny to me how fashionable it is now.” With a partner she soon began smoking salmon and other delights to sell at local farmers’ markets and, eventually, at a now-defunct Penn Station-area restaurant dubbed Metropol. Solo, she started Neopol in 2003.
Being a smoker hasn’t always been easy. Before she bought her current smoker from a manufacturer in Texas, she made her food in a rudimentary self-designed smoker outdoors in one Baltimore County field or another, sometimes spending hours regulating the fire with a garden hose in the dead of winter. “Nobody in their right mind would do it,” she says. Fortunately, her food has won a small but avid following, and she still finds new smokables to get excited about—most recently, sea salt and peppercorns. And, luckily, she doesn’t mind the smoke itself. “I have it everywhere—I go home and it’s in my clothes,” she says. “But it’s a pleasant smell.”
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