BBQ guides icon.BBQ Guides

How to Use a Smoker Box on Your Gas or Charcoal Grill

Did you choose a gas grill for convenience? No room for more than one piece of equipment in your outdoor space? Smoking food may seem like an unachievable dream to you. Not anymore! Discover how to use a smoker box to take your backyard grilling game to the next level.

Jim Wright profile picture
Written by:
| Reviewed by: Mark Jenner

Last Updated: February 27, 2024

A silver smoker box on the grates of a portable gas grill.

Here’s how to use a smoker box, including how to season it before first use, step-by-step instructions to smoke foods, how to clean it when finished, and tips for ongoing care and maintenance.

I’ve owned and used hundreds of pieces of BBQ equipment over the years as part of my job here writing and testing equipment for FoodFireFriends. This has included over 20 different grills and a handful of varying smoker box designs.

I’ve used smoker boxes on gas and charcoal grills dozens of times, smoking everything from hot and fast chicken wings to multiple racks of spare ribs.

When I got my first smoker box, of course, I had a lot of questions. I didn’t know whether to use chips, chunks, pellets, or dust? Where was I supposed to place the box on the grill? I kept reading about people soaking their wood chips: Should I be doing this?

Well, I’ve figured it all out, and in the next few minutes of reading, you can benefit from my years of experience getting it right, using smoke boxes to turn any standard grill into a bona-fide smoker effectively.

Key Takeaways

  • Adding a smoker box to a gas grill allows you to achieve a smoky flavor similar to cooking over charcoal or wood fires.
  • Smoker boxes can also be used on charcoal grills to release smoke slowly over a longer period of time.
  • Depending on the wood chips and box size, a smoker box can produce smoke for 30 to 60 minutes. So it may need refilling.
  • Before the first use, clean the smoker box to remove any residue from the manufacturing process.
  • After washing, preheat your grill and place the smoker box on the grate, flavorizer bars, or charcoal to burn off any industrial oils or residue that may remain.
  • Do not soak wood chips as it’s unnecessary and simply delays how long it takes to create smoke.
  • Fill the smoker box with chips loosely. Do not overfill or pack them tightly to allow for at least some airflow for proper smoke production.
  • Place the smoker box on the flavorizer bars or heat deflectors of a gas grill or on the edge of the charcoal bed of a charcoal grill.
  • Once smoking, reposition the smoker box away from vents to ensure that smoke fills the cooking chamber and doesn’t simply exit the grill.
  • Keep realistic expectations about the more subtle level of smoky flavor a smoker box can produce compared to a dedicated smoker.

How Does a Smoker Box Work?

An empty smoker box with lid open, on a wooden cutting bo.

Smoker boxes, typically made from steel or cast iron, are metal containers designed for use in gas grills to infuse grilled foods with smoky flavor. They feature a solid bottom and sides but a perforated lid and hold wood chips that, when heated by the grill’s burners, smolder without fully igniting due to the low-oxygen environment inside.

This smoke circulates around the cooking chamber and food, imparting a rich, smoky taste similar to cooking over a charcoal or wood fire.

Your typical smoker box can produce smoke for between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on the wood chips used and the size of the box.

While gas grills provide the ultimate ease of use and convenience in outdoor cooking, they cannot provide the authentic smoky flavor you achieve cooking over charcoal and wood fires. Adding a smoker box to your gas grill helps to bridge this gap, allowing you to add smoky flavor to anything you can cook on your gas grill.

I keep mentioning only gas grills. Although primarily marketed as the solution for smoke on gas grills, smoker boxes are also useful for charcoal grills because wood can burn up quickly in a charcoal fire. In contrast, a smoker box slowly releases smoke over a more extended time.

So that’s how they work. Let’s get into what you came here for and how to use them effectively.

How to Use a Smoker Box — on a Gas or Charcoal Grill

Metal smoker box sitting on the grates of a gas gr.

I’ll now walk you through using a smoker box on a grill. Most of this applies to both gas and charcoal grills, but I’ll give you specific instructions where necessary.

Season Before First Use

If this is a brand new smoker box you’re using, there may be residue from the manufacturing process clinging to it, like oils and other chemicals. These will burn off, but you don’t want that mingling with your smoke while you’re cooking.

Before the first use, clean your smoker box with mild dish soap and rinse thoroughly. Crank your barbecue up to high and then place the smoker box on the grate, flavorizer bars, or charcoal — wherever the manufacturer recommends. I suggest leaving the lid open, or else any chemically infused smoke emanating from the box will collect inside your grill lid.

Leave it in place for about 20-30 minutes to burn off all the industrial detritus (there’s your word of the day). To be thorough, flip the box over to be sure the lid heats up, too.

Preheat and Ready Your Grill

Prep your grill and crank up the heat — you’ll need high temperatures to get the wood to start smoldering.

For a gas grill, this means turning one burner all the way up. For charcoal, open up the vents to let in as much oxygen as possible.

Should You Soak Your Wood Chips?

No, for the love of Pete, don’t soak your chips. All that happens is you need to boil off all that water before the chips can start smoldering. There’s no benefit to soaking.

There are no holes in the bottom of a smoker box, so the chips or smoking wood pellets are never exposed to direct flame. This means they won’t burn; they’ll smolder. So again, no soaking is necessary.

If your chips do catch fire, then it is WAY too hot in your barbecue! Remove the smoker box, put out the fire inside, and reduce the temperature in your grill before trying again.

Filling With Chips and Readying for Use

smoker box filled with wood chips, sitting on a cutting bo.

Measure out the chips you want to use for your smoking session. Do not overfill the box because packing chips tightly will reduce smoke production by preventing air flow between the chips, starving the chips of all oxygen.

So never fill up your smoke box to more than 80% maximum. And don’t press and pack them down, just throw them in and let them settle loosely.

Now close the lid fully, and you’re ready to put your smoker box on the grill.

Placing on Your Grill

Because we want the wood chips to smolder, not to catch fire and burn quickly, we must carefully choose where to place the smoker box. We want it over or near the heat source, not directly touching it.

Exactly where you need to place the smoker box depends on the fuel type of your grill.

Gas Grill

The best place for a smoker box on a gas grill is directly on the flavorizer bars or heat deflectors above the burners. This is close enough to the heat source to get things going quickly, without being so close that the chips will burn.

Here is where I place it on my Weber genesis II E-310 gas grill:

Smoker box on the flavorizer bars of my Weber genesis E-310 gas grill.

However, not all gas grills have flavorizer bars, or there may not be room underneath the grates. In this case, you can simply place the smoker box on the grates above a lit burner.

Here is where I place a smoker box in my Napoleon travel BBQ that has no flavorizer bars. There is room under the grate for the box, but I do not want the box directly on the burner, otherwise the chips will burn.

Napoleon TravelQ Pro 285 with a square, metal smoke box sitting on one of the grates.

Charcoal Grill

Instead of placing the smoker box directly on top of the hottest part of the charcoal, position it on the edge of the charcoal bed or on the grate close to where the coals are burning, but not directly above them.

This indirect heat approach will cause the chips to smolder in the way we need and not make them so hot that they will ignite and burn quickly.

Head shot of the editor, Mark jenner Editor’s Note

Some smoker boxes do not rely on the burners or charcoal for heat to create smoke. Instead, you light the chips or pellets with a lighter until they start to smoke. Gradually, the smoldering spreads to other chips, creating a long-lasting source of smoke. For this type of smoker box, do not position it over any kind of direct heat. The manufacturers instructions will tell you how to light it and where to position it.

— Mark Jenner

Wait for Smoke to Start Generating

With the smoke box on the flavorizer bars or sitting next to burning charcoal, it will typically 5 to 10 minutes for the box to start generating smoke. With the box sat on the grate either above a gas burner or hot charcoal, it will take 15 to 20 minutes for the box to start generating smoke.

Reposition the Smoking Box, and Set your Cooking Temperature

Once the smoke is generated, you want to reposition your smoker box. All grills have vents, and you want to place your smoker box as far away from these vents as possible so the smoke fills the cooking chamber and doesn’t simply flow out of the vents.

There is typically an inch or more gap on gas grills right along the whole rear of the lid, where it attaches to the grill body. So, you want to position the box at the front of your grill. On a charcoal grill, it varies, so just place it as far from the upper vent(s) as possible.

You might also need to reduce the temperature on a gas grill. You will have had a burner or two on high heat to get the wood chips smoking, and the cooking chamber may be too hot for your cook. So now turn things down and get it settled into the required cooking temperature.

Smoking usually takes place at around 225 to 250 °F, but for roasting with smoke, you’ll want to be more around 350 °F. Turn down the burner or close up the vents until you hit the target cooking temperature.

It’s Time to Smoke Your Food!

You’re now ready to let heat, smoke, and time work their magic on your food.

Place your food on the grate, close the lid to trap the smoke, sit back, and wait. Oh, and monitor your food with a good grill or smoker thermometer to be sure you cook it to perfection.

Refilling With Wood Chips

You may find it necessary to refill your smoker box with chips partway through your cook session. If you don’t see any smoke leaking out from under the lid, it may be time to reload!

Wearing heatproof gloves and using tongs, retrieve the smoker box and set it down on a fire-proof surface. (The grate works if there’s room.) Open the lid and refill with chips. Close the lid and, again with the tongs, return the box to its position over the coals or burner.

You’ll want to do this as quickly as possible to avoid losing too much heat and extending your smoking time.

Have Realistic Expectations

A smoker box is a way to add smoke flavor to grills where there otherwise would be none. So you have to be happy with what you can get. You simply cannot expect to get the same results as you would from a full-sized, dedicated smoker.

Smoker boxes produce a more subtle smoky flavor compared to dedicated smokers. In fact, it’s not even close. If you have had properly smoked foods before, you will not be able to recreate that. This is because the amount of smoke generated is less intense and more controlled.

However, while the smoky flavor might be less intense than that produced by a dedicated smoker, it still allows for at least some smoke flavor, and believe me, it is an excellent enhancement that can raise many dishes to new heights.

Over the years, I have advised a few friends with only gas grills to invest in a smoker box. I showed them how to use it, and we have eaten lots of food grilled with a smoke box in use together. It’s an excellent and easy way to elevate dishes and get a little closer to BBQ excellence. They’ve been suitably impressed!

I will say one last thing: You can play around with different smoking woods for the most pronounced smoky flavor possible. I have a guide to the different flavor profiles of smoking woods you can check out. Pick a stronger one like hickory or apple if you want a more pronounced flavor.

Cleaning Your Smoker Box After Use

Allow your smoker box to cool completely before attempting to empty it or clean it. Any unused chips or pellets can be removed and stored for use another time. Dump ash into a metal can for disposal for absolute safety.

Never try to rinse the ash from a full smoker box, or you might end up with a box of very stubborn sludge on your hands. Keep ashes away from your drain to avoid clogging your pipes. Better to rinse out your mostly empty smoker box with the garden hose.

Once it’s more or less cleaned out, wash it with warm water and mild dish soap.

Smoker Box Care

Here are a few simple tips to extend the life of your smoker box:

  1. Thoroughly dry with a cloth after washing to prevent rusting.
  2. Store indoors between uses.
  3. Season cast iron smoker boxes with cooking oil (as you would a skillet) to inhibit rusting and stop ash from sticking.
  4. Use non-stick spray or a light coat of cooking oil inside stainless steel smoker boxes to make ash removal a breeze.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know how to use a smoker box, you’ll find it’s a fun way to add a new dimension to your outdoor cooking experience.

Gas grill owners, in particular, will love the ability to add real smoke flavor to their food without the need to learn about charcoal, vents, and dampers. It’s a low-cost piece of gear that gives a great return on your investment!

Happy grilling!

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating / 5. Vote count:

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

As you found this post useful...

Follow us on social media!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?

Jim Wright profile picture

Written By: Jim Wright

Hi, I’m Jim! I’ve been grilling for over 20 years over charcoal, wood, and gas. Now I’m happy to share my experience and discoveries with you.

When I’m not writing about barbecue, I’m usually writing about food anyway, at a food marketing agency: Aside from my family and the perfect steak, my passions include travel and all things Disney.

Leave a Comment

Required fields are marked *


  1. Avatar for Thomas Phillips Thomas Phillips says:

    I have a Brinkmann smoker I brought with no book of how to use plus they went out of business and can’t get a book I don’t know if you can help me but if you can I sure would appreciate it thank you.

    1. Avatar for Mark Jenner Mark Jenner says:

      Hi, Thomas. Depends what smoker it is, what fuel it uses, any tech that it has. What model of smoker is it?

      Also, there are many repositories on the web with old manuals, have you had a good search?

  2. Thanks Jim for the tips, tricks & how to use the smoker box to get the best smoking flavor. I have a charcoal smoker. Using hickory chips for a 25 lb turkey.

More From BBQ Guides

Close up of the membrane of pork ribs being removed by being pulled off gripped with paper towel.

How to Remove the Membrane from Ribs — And Why You Should do it!

Rib membrane is tough and chewy, even after a long smoke when the meat is tender, and it spoils the presentation of the final cooked product. Some people like it, most don’t, so let’s get rid of it. Here’s how to remove rib membrane before cooking, in a few simple steps.

Overhead view of charcoal snake set up in a weber kettle grill with smoking wood on the snake.
BBQ Guides

The Charcoal Snake Method: Smoking on a Grill — In a Few Easy Steps

The charcoal snake method of fire management is one you need to learn if you want to do low n slow smoking on your standard kettle-style grill. It’s an easy-to-use, reliable, and highly effective way to smoke food controllably for many hours. So, brisket and ribs, here we come!