Most people would not associate a gas grill with smoking, but it can be done.
A gas grill will not rival the best dedicated gas smokers, and – In my opinion – the flavor won’t be nearly as good as what you’d get from a wood-fired or charcoal grill, but the results are great nonetheless.
It will require a little work to get a gas grill to act as a smoker. To get great results, there will also be a larger learning curve compared to using a dedicated smoker. You have to get familiar with your particular grill to know what temperatures it will generate in various weather conditions and burner settings.
And then there’s how to add wood in order to create the smoke, setting up a water pan to help regulate the heat, and all in a cooker that wasn’t really designed to do the job.
But it can be done, it isn’t too hard to achieve, and in this article we’re going to show you exactly how to turn a gas into a smoker.
Smoking Using a 2-Zone Setup
One of the standards of expert grilling, the 2-zone method creates separate temperature zones inside a grill.
This allows you to put your meat through a 2-stage cooking process, one to cook low n slow off the heat, one to finish with a direct high heat sear.
On a gas grill, you’ll turn burners on one side off to create an indirect zone, and burners on the other side set to medium or high for direct high heat grilling.
For smoking, the wood and water pan are on the direct heat side. There’s a great diagram of this in the article on 2-zone setup on AmazingRibs. In the article, he stresses the importance of dry runs and calibration to ensure you’re getting the temperature needed to smoke your food(s) properly.
Having multiple burners means playing with combinations of settings to achieve the best 2-zone setup for your grill.
The goal is to get the smoke as close to the food as possible. You’ll want to take into account the air vents at the back of your grill as well as placement of the smoke tools discussed below.
A Box of Smoke
A smoker box is a metal container with holes which is filled with wood to produce smoke. The holes should be of sufficient size to allow the wood to smolder but not catch fire. These boxes come in one of two ways:
In-built boxes are attached to one side of the grill grate, atop their own burner.
Freestanding smoke boxes can be placed anywhere – on the grate or under it, between the heat diffuser bars or on the ceramic briquettes. There is also a V-shaped model designed to sit in between the bars. The folks at HowtoBBQRight think this is the best position for maximizing smoke flavor.
If your grill is equipped with rotisserie holes, you can opt for something like The Smoke Chief, a gadget that looks like a metal version of a large condiment dispenser – with a 110-volt cord.
It features a small side pipe which goes into one of the rotisserie holes. In minutes, the grill is filled with beautiful blue smoke. A full load will last 3 hours.
For all models, features you’ll want to look for:
- Metal (stainless steel or cast-iron) construction for durability
- A lid allowing easy addition of wood
- A means of keeping ashes from escaping and sticking to the food
Click here to see a selection of the best smoker boxes on the market today.
Disposable Smoking Tray
Use an aluminum serving tray to cut down on the number of times you’d have to replenish the wood. Weber recommends:
- Fill with wood chips (soaked wood chips is optional – we don’t bother to soak them.)
- Securely cover with foil
- Poke holes in the foil
- Place pan directly on burner(s), preferably in a corner of the grill
- Put grate(s) into grill
- Turn burners to high
- When the chips produce smoke, adjust the temperature
Foil Pouches – Cheap, but Effective
A simpler method for adding smoke only requires folding foil around some wood. You’ll want to make multiple pouches; these burn out quickly so you’ll need more than one.
- Lay out a few sheets of foil
- Place wood chips or pellets in the center
- Completely enclose the wood chips on all sides
- Poke holes in the foil
- Place on direct heat side (assuming you’re doing a 2-zone setup)
- Replace every half hour to 45 minutes
Stainless-steel mesh envelope-style pouches can also be purchased for multiple smoking sessions. When shopping, compare the mesh size. The finer the mesh, the better the smolder.
Primal Approach to Smoking
Just put a hunk of wood on the burners or ceramic briquettes.
Use a Water Pan
Minimize temperature fluctuations as much as possible to ensure your food is well-smoked.
The weather (temperature, humidity, wind) will affect what goes on under the grill lid. To regulate the temperature inside the grill:
- Fill a 2 – 3” deep pan to within a half inch of the rim with hot water.
- Place pan on the grate over the pan.
- If you only have a single grate, place the pan on the burners or use a wire baking rack to create a two-level setup. A broiler pan will also work.
- To prevent the meat from steaming, be sure the oven temperature remains below 225° F.
Water has more thermal mass, the ability to absorb and retain heat, than cement or brick, having a pan of water inside the grill will help to stabilize the temperature.
The water will also create a moist environment which will enable the smoke to better stick to the surface of food, imparting flavor.
Video: How to Turn a Gas Grill into a Smoker
In the following, detailed 5-minute video by Alaska Granny, you can see what it takes to set up a gas grill for smoking, including:
- Turning burner down to a lower setting
- Turning the tank down to nearly off, choking back the gas, so the burner burns steadily at its lowest possible temperature
Why Use a Remote Digital Thermometer?
The best smoking is done in the 225 to 250° F temperature range. The only way to know where your grill’s temperature has settled is to measure it.
This is much easier with a remote digital thermometer.
As discussed elsewhere, these allow managing both grill and meat temperatures.
There are even smart bbq temperature controllers that can adjust airflow inside the grill, and will also sound an alarm if wide temperature fluctuations occur.
If the grill is too hot, food will cook rapidly and dry out, or, if a water pan is present, boil. And, without the right mix of temperature, humidity, and gases (nitric oxide and carbon monoxide), you can kiss goodbye any hopes of getting a good smoke ring.
Invest in a good thermometer.
Gas grillers rejoice!
If you or someone you know may be having second thoughts about moving from charcoal to gas, now you know authentic smoked food can still be within your reach, and the information above is the basis for doing so.
What have you found to work for you? Please share in the comments below. And if you have any questions, please feel free to ask!