How to Use a Smoker Box

Using a smoker box is the best way to turn your propane grill into a wood-fuelled barbecue smoker. From wood chunks to grill settings, find out everything you need to know about one of the BBQ world’s best devices.

how to use a smoker box on gas grill

A common question among BBQ fans is “can I smoke on my gas grill?”. The good news is that turning your standard gas grill into your own backyard smoker can be done with just one piece of simple equipment.

The even better news is that it’s easy for users of all skill levels to pull off.

If you want to emulate the competition smoked brisket or baby back ribs that elite pitmasters can cook up, you’ve come to the right place.

The best way to smoke on a gas grill is to invest in a smoker box. These little metallic boxed beauties are a great way to turn a regular propane cooker into your own outdoor smoker.

A smoker box works by transferring the heat from your gas grill’s burners to the wood chips inside. This lets the chunks smolder, releasing smoke through the vents into the grill chamber.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to use them properly, and what types of smoker box are best for what kind of use. Let’s get into it!

rectangle smoker box on grill grates next to pork meat

Types of smoker box

The best smoker boxes are able to sit on your propane grill’s flavorizer bars or deflector bars. As your grill heats up, the bars will transfer heat to the metal of your box, which will in turn result in your chips smoldering and emitting smoke.

These grill accessories can come in different forms, but the important ones we want to focus on are under-grate and over-grate.

Under-grate

These smoker boxes are v-shaped, and are designed to sit between the burner or flavorizer bars, and the grates of your grill. This fit on any propane grill as long as you can remove the grates, and have enough clearance to fit in the space between the bar and the grate. The advantage of under-grate smokers is that their positioning means is easier to direct smoke towards your meat.

Our recommendation: Broil King 60190 Premium. This stainless steel smoker box has adjustable vents to help you control smoke flow, while its dual chambers mean it can simultaneously  double up as a water pan.

Broil King 60190 Premium
146 Reviews
Broil King 60190 Premium
  • The Broil King Premium Stainless Steel Smoker box accessory lets you add the same savory, smoky...
  • Featuring two different chambers, this smoker box gives you options that others don't - fill it...
  • The all-stainless steel design features a hinged lid with engraved Broil King logo and an...

Over-grate

These devices sit on top of the grill grates, and are often rectangular or cubed in shape, although some are also available as discs or tubes. Wood capacity varies between each model, but the main drawback is that their positioning points the vents up and away from the meat next to or below the box.

Our recommendation: Cave Tools. This large smoker box has enough capacity to keep cooking times longer, while its stainless steel build reduces the risk of warping.

Cave Tools Over-Grate
951 Reviews
Cave Tools Over-Grate
  • INSTANT 10% SAVINGS ON PURCHASE OF 2 OR MORE *** 25% THICKER STAINLESS STEEL REDUCES WARPING -...
  • HINGED LID FOR EASY ACCESS - Easily add more wood chips in on the fly
  • LARGE WOOD CHIP CAPACITY - Fits perfectly between flavorizer bars and grill grate or directly...

Choose your wood chips

With your smoker box ready, you need to choose your wood type. Note here that we don’t want other fuels like lump charcoal or briquettes. We just want good old-fashioned, dried wood chunks.

Your choice of smoking wood will depend on what you’re cooking, but here’s a quick guide to the best types and what they pair with.

Hickory

Perhaps the most popular type of wood for barbecue. Rich in aroma and smoke, it goes best with red meat and pork.

Applewood

Sweet and mild in flavor, apple is perfect for poultry and pork. It can also be combined with other woods for a more nuanced flavor profile.

Cherry

Very sweet fruit wood that can be paired with almost any type of meat, except fish. It can coat poultry and pork ribs in a beautiful deep red color.

Mesquite

Perhaps the strongest flavor of all smoking woods, and so important to use carefully. Perfect with beef but will overpower white meat and fish.

Once you have chosen your wood, simply fill your smoke box with it. Avoid packing it in, and instead make sure that there is some room for airflow between the chunks.

Don’t soak your wood chips

Contrary to popular belief, I recommend against soaking your wood chips. There’s a lot of discussion on the matter, but Amazing Ribs have put forward a solid argument on why you shouldn’t do it. And hey, if they’re ok with skipping the soaking stage then I am too.

In short, soaked chips can yield a smoke that has an acidic and bitter taste to it. They also don’t allow us to get the kind of smolder that we want our wood to achieve.

v-shaped under grate smoker wood burner with chips inside and open lid

Set up your gas grill for smoking

To achieve the ideal barbecue cooker, we need to set the grill up for indirect cooking. This requires mentally mapping out two zones on our grate surface. One side will have our heat source and smoker box, while the other side will be for our food.

The basic idea is that with the meat away from direct exposure to the burner heat, it can cook low and slow without burning or drying out.

If your grill has 2 burners, simply turn one on and keep the other off. If you have 3 or 4 burners, try only using one. If you struggle to get your cooking temperature up to 225°F (107°C) you might need to try engaging a second burner. Always make sure that you have a dormant burner at one end over which to place your food.

An example of a 2-zone setup for cooking ribs on a gas grill
An example of a 2-zone setup for cooking ribs on a gas grill. Photo: Grillsportverein.de

Place your smoker box above the burner that’s the furthest away from where your food will be. If your box has adjustable vents, I recommend setting these to halfway open. This should ensure that you have a good amount of smoke yield, without burning through your chips too quickly.

Pro tip: Add water to the chamber. Gas cooking tends to draw moisture out of food more than charcoal or pellets. Use a couple of water pans on the grill grates to add moisture to the cooking environment.

Close your grill lid, ignite your grill, and allow it to come to cooking temperature. If you struggle to get the temperature to settle on around 225°F, you will need to adjust your burners accordingly. Whatever changes you make, ensure that you allow a bit of time for the ambient temperature in your grill chamber to adjust. Good barbecue is all about patience!

By the time your gas grill has come to temperature, your smoker box should have started to smoke. If it hasn’t, just wait for a few more minutes. The good thing about smoking on a propane grill is that it’s quite easy to keep temperatures consistent for as long as you need them to!

Pro tip: When measuring temperature, make sure that you are taking a reading from the side where your meat will sit. Temperatures will be higher closer to your heat source, but what’s important is the temperature at which your meat will cook.

adding new wood chips to broil king smoker box
Photo: AllThingsBBQ

When to add more wood

Just like with smoking in a traditional charcoal smoker, you will need to regularly check in on your wood to ensure that it is still producing smoke. If the smoke looks weak or has stopped altogether, you will need to top up your wood chips.

There are so many variables when smoking, from temperatures, to chamber size, to box vent setting. This means that there isn’t a hard and fast rule for how long it takes until you need to refill your chips. So keep a keen eye on that smoke flow throughout cooking!

Pro Tip: Once your meat has reached 160°F (71°C), you don’t need to add more wood. The absorption rate of the meat will have slowed down, so save your wood chips for another smoke!

When you refill the box, use tongs and gloves to carefully remove it from the grill. Transfer to a table or counter surface, and simply place fresh chips on top of the burned out ones.

Place the box back between your grates and burners, and you’re good to go. Depending on what you are smoking, you might need to repeat the refill a few times.

How to stop wood chips from catching fire

Thanks to the steel build of your smoker box, your wood chips are unlikely to catch fire. However, here are some simple precautions we can take to ensure your safety:

  • Don’t set your cooking temperature above 500°F
  • Be careful with charcoal placement around the box. Make sure none can fall into the smoker box, which could cause embers to fall in and ignite the wood.
  • Replace your box if it suffers any damage or bending. Any warping could prevent you from closing the lid, which could invite burning food or coal in.

If you do happen to see any flames coming from the box, immediately slide the box vents shut to stop airflow. If your box doesn’t have adjustable vents, carefully remove the box from the grill  and place to one side. The box will be very hot, so use tongs and BBQ gloves!


Smoking on a gas grill can be done with just a few easy modifications to your current setup (source), and is a great gateway for newcomers to barbecue bridge that gap to their next smoker.

Have you tried using a smoker box on a propane grill? What advice would you give to beginners? Let us know in the comments below!


FAQ

Can you put charcoal in a smoker box?

If you would like to replicate the aromas and flavors of charcoal smoking, you can try replacing wood chips with a small amount of lump charcoal or briquettes in your smoker box. You will need to use a charcoal chimney first to light the coals before transferring to the box.

How long does a smoker box last?

Wood chips in a smoker box last between 30 and 60 minutes before you need to replace them. Time will vary depending on the size of your box, your grill’s cooking temperature, as well as the vent setting on the smoker box lid.

Last update on 2020-10-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


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