Here’s How to Make a Smoker With Your Grill

Looking for a shortcut to smokey, authentic barbecue? We'll show you how to make a smoker out of your grill and some wood chips.

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Summer is on its way, and ’tis the season for backyard barbecues with family and friends. Having a smoker would take your average ingredients like ribs, chicken and even salmon to the next level by creating distinct, powerful flavor and a fall-apart texture. (Like with this applewood-smoked chicken. So good!) But when you’ve already got a gas or charcoal grill, who wants to invest in another backyard appliance?

We’ve got you covered–here’s a step-by-step guide on how to turn a grill into a smoker. Let’s get started:

Essential Tools:

In addition to a grill, here are some tools you’ll need to create your own smoker.

  • The Original MEATER ($69) is a wireless meat thermometer that connects to your smartphone. This hands-off temperature gauge lets you keep an eye on your meat without having to lift the lid and lose that tasty smoke.
  • Keep your wood chips in one place with this smoking box ($20). The box can be used with charcoal or gas grills and is made of durable cast-iron.
  • Find which wood smoke you like best with this chip sampler pack ($21) from Wildwood Grilling. This sweet pack comes with wild cherry, alder and maple wood chips while the smoky pack comes with hickory, mesquite and a blend of chips.

1. Soak the Wood Chips

You’ll want to soak the wood chips in water for at least 30 minutes. Flavors range from hickory to pecan to spicy apple, so be sure to choose a flavor that complements the dish you’re cooking. (For example, this Smoked Honey Peppercorn Salmon calls for hickory chips.) The wood chips can be strong and pungent and will add great flavor; soaking helps increase the amount of smoke.

2. Fire Up the Grill

While you soak the wood chips, take a moment to preheat your grill. Whether you’re using a charcoal grill or gas grill, the temperature should hit around 225 degrees for most barbecue recipes. If you’re using a charcoal grill, start by filling a chimney starter about 1/3 of the way full with charcoal. Once the coals are hot, pour the charcoal off to one side of the grill, and let them burn down until the optimal temperature is reached. Preheating the coals could take anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour, so be patient and have a thermometer ready.

3. Dump the Chips

Once the temperature you’re looking for has been reached, go ahead and strain the wood chips. If you’re using a charcoal grill, dump the damp chips directly on to the coals. If you’re using a gas grill, wrap the coals in foil and poke tiny holes to allow steam to escape. Lay the package of wood chips directly on the unlit cooking grate, and then fire it up again. You’re ready to get started once you see smoke!

4. Start Smokin’

Just add your meat to the grill and relax! (We recommend the Louisiana-style barbecue brisket, smoked shrimp or Santa Maria roast beef.) Smoking could take anywhere from 1 to 6 hours, so be patient and have some yard games ready. If you’re using a charcoal grill, be ready to add more coals every hour or so to maintain the desired temperature.

Turning your grill into a smoker is a pretty easy, hands-off process. That said, here are some tips from our Test Kitchen experts:

  • Avoid softwoods when smoking; they’re full of sap with can make your food taste strange and can even make you sick. Stick to rich hardwoods like hickory, cherry, mesquite, pecan or oak.
  • Try not to add too much wood. When you’re going for a rich, smoky flavor it can be easy to want to add a few extra pieces of wood to the grill, but don’t! Too much wood can result in a bitter flavor.
  • Make sure to open a vent. Create an airflow that evenly smokes your food and keeps the coals hot by opening the vent above the meat (which should be on the opposite side of the coals and wood).
  • Keep meat moist by adding a water pan to the grill.
  • Don’t go overboard on the seasonings. Heavy seasonings or globs of BBQ sauce can mask that smoky flavor you spent hours achieving, so try to add these flavorings with a light hand.

All you really need are wood chips, some killer recipes and a beautiful day to spend outside with family and friends!

Side Dishes You Can Throw on the Grill
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Laura Denby
Laura is a New York-based freelance food writer with a degree in Culinary Arts from the Institute of Culinary Education and a degree in Journalism from Penn State. Her work has appeared in Taste of Home, Chowhound, the Culture Trip and Patch.
Caroline Stanko
As an Associate Digital Editor, Caroline writes and edits all things food-related and helps produce videos for Taste of Home. When she’s not at her desk, you can probably find Caroline cooking up a feast, planning her next trip abroad or daydreaming about her golden retriever, Mac.