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How to Smoke on a Gas Grill

Contrary to a popular belief, a gas grill isn’t just for quick and hot grilling of burgers or steaks.

With the right accessories, you can turn a gas grill into a decent smoker. Some gas grills are equipped with a dedicated smoker box resting right above the burner.

It is a container where wood chips are to be put, then the burner below it is to be started. After a few to about a dozen minutes, the wood will start producing smoke, giving the food an authentic smoky flavor.

All you need is the right accessories and understanding of the basics of smoking. Below I have described step by step how to smoke on a gas grill using different methods.

Basics of Smoking on a Gas Grill

You need to understand the principles of cooking with indirect heat as well as prepare the things, let’s start with the essentials.

You’re going to need:

  • Metal or custom Smoker Box
  • Wood chips or chunks
  • Water container
  • At least two burners

Besides the essentials, you need to be able to operate a grill and control temperature. The key in smoking on a gas grill is to properly utilize the burners in order to achieve a cold and a hot zone.

For that purpose, you need to adequately start and set the burners, this looks differently depending on the number of burners which is why I will show an example based on a three burner grill.

Each of the three burners is responsible for a different zone. Your task is to achieve an entirely cold zone where the food rests and a warm zone responsible for maintaining a stable, low temperature.

Such configuration makes it possible to cook with indirect heat.

For that purpose, the first burner is to be left entirely off, this is the place where you put the food. The middle burner is also off whereas the last one, located across from the first one, is to be left on.

In the warm zone (above the running burner) you leave a water container, which helps stabilize smoking.

How it looks exactly can be seen in the picture below, further in the post I will explain step by step what to do after in order to start smoking food.

Wood chips vs chunks – what to choose

It is simply wood that differs in size.

What does it mean for you? Wood chips are finer which means they will burn much faster, generating a large amount of smoke in the meantime.

Chunks also generate a lot of smoke but the bigger pieces are characterized by a longer burning time which makes them better for long smoking.

When choosing between them, take into account whether your container is large enough to fit bigger pieces of wood.

How to use dedicated smoker box

smoker box for gas grill

Certain models of gas grills, usually the more expensive ones, are equipped with a smoker box with a separate, dedicated adjustable smoker burner underneath.

The method of use for a smoker box is simple, all you have to do is fill the container with wood chips and place it directly over the smoker burner. Then start the burner, adjusting it adequately depending how fast you want to generate smoke and how much of it.

Once the production of smoke stops, it means that the wood is all burned down now. In such situation, refill the container with new wood chips and repeat the whole procedure once more. Warning, make sure to use solid grilling gloves so that you don’t get your hands burned with a hot container.

How to make a own smoke pouch (an alternative method)

If your grill has no smoker box and you haven’t decided to buy it separately then you have one more tested solution left.

With use of everyday materials, you can build your own wood chips container that will work the same. For that purpose, you’re just going to need two bigger pieces of tinfoil, almost everyone has it in their kitchen.

The upside here is that this method is easy and just as effective as with a smoker box. The downside is durability of such tinfoil and the necessity to often make a new smoke pouch from scratch.

If you smoke often, there’s another downside, using large amounts of tinfoil is simply not cost-effective. It is much better in such situation to simply buy a metal or cast-iron smoker box that doesn’t cost a lot and the investment is for years to come.

smoke pouch

A smoke pouch is easy to make.

Prepare a single thick sheet of tinfoil (if the foil is thin, better use two). Then fold the foil to form a small pouch/container with a hole on one side.

Pour in wood chips and close the whole pouch carefully so that it is 100% sealed. Then in the middle, on the outer part (facing upwards) make a small hole for the smoke to go through.

Now you have made a smoke pouch that you then place directly over the burner.

After a short time (up to about a dozen minutes) you will see smoke coming out of the small hole in the tinfoil.

One smoke pouch can last for as long as 25-30 minutes which is why I suggest making two if you’re planning longer smoking.

HOW TO CONVERT GAS GRILL INTO A SMOKER

Now you already know the basics of smoking on a gas grill, you know how to use a smoker box, or even how to make your own. Now I will show you step by step how to start smoking on a gas grill using all the knowledge gained so far.

The instructions below are based on a three-burner grill. In case of a different burner configuration, it might look a little different, but pretty alike.

Step 1 – Preheat the grill

Start the burner at full power and monitor the internal temperature until reaching about 200 degrees. Once you reach the target temperature, turn down the burner appropriately in order to easily achieve and stabilize a perfect temperature for smoking (usually between 225 and 250 degrees), it requires knowing your own grill.

Step 2 – Setup your grill for smoking

After achieving the right temperature and stabilizing it, it’s time to divide the heat zones into the warm and cold one. For that purpose, just leave one of the burners (like the leftmost for example) on, and the other two off. That way you have created perfect conditions for cooking with indirect heat (smoking).

Step 3 – Place the smoker box and pan with water

Once you have your burners adequately set up and your perfect temperature, you can put the smoker box directly over the burner and right next to the water container, which helps retain moisture and stable temperature.

Step 4 – Start smoking your food   (put the meat on and start monitoring the temperature and the amount of wood chips)

Once you place the smoker box, wait for a moment until the temperature of the grill normalizes and the wood chips themselves start generating smoke. When it comes to the smoke, you usually need a few to about a dozen  minutes. When both of the above conditions are met, you can place the meat and start smoking.

Tips:

Use a digital thermometer with a probe to precisely monitor the temperature at the grill grates level (the thermometer on the lid shows inaccurate figures).

Be prepared for having to watch over the grill until you figure it out very well. By knowing your grill, you will be aware when and how much burner power to use in order to achieve the desired temperature.

The wood chips container won’t last for that long, in case of long smoking of thick pieces of meat it will be necessary to use new wood chips.

Other tips

Below I featured some more general tips that will certainly come in handy when smoking on a gas grill.

How long do wood chips take to smoke?

It usually takes from a few to about a dozen minutes, it depends on the type of smoker box as well as the burner power and temperature. You can make the process faster at first by using a bigger burner power and then lowering it to the minimum once you see the first smoke.

How to stop wood chips from catching on fire?

There are several options depending on the situation. Plenty of people get the wood chips wet half an hour earlier so that they don’t catch on fire and can generate smoke for a longer time.

In practice, it’s about not exposing the wood chips to direct flame or mega intense heat. Use a smoker box that doesn’t have holes in the bottom that the wood would catch the flame through.

If you still have a problem with that then build a smoke pouch that will eliminate the contact with flames down to zero or simply find an airtight metal container.

Don’t overdo it with smoking

When smoking on a gas grill, you will have to replace the wood in the container once in a while. Remember that you shouldn’t smoke with wood throughout the entire cooking process as the meat’s flavor might turn out to be too bitter and overwhelming.

Keeping it moderate is the key if you want to have the best results of smoking possible.

For that purpose it will be the best if you use wood for smoking only for 30-60 minutes during the first smoking. You will know how the meat tastes after such time, during the next smoking you can try to make the smoking time longer or shorter depending on whether you want the flavor to be stronger or weaker.

Of course a lot also depends on the type of wood which is why I will repeat that only practice will provide you with answers to all your questions and allow you to achieve better results.

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