The Simple Hack To Turn Your Gas Grill Into A Smoker

There's nothing that brings the heat at a cookout like presenting a platter full of delicious ribs that have spent the last five hours reaching tender perfection in a smoker. But smokers can be expensive, with a professional-grade smoker costing several hundreds of dollars, and you may not have room to store one even if you have the cash. So how do you get that characteristic smoky taste if all you've got in your backyard is a standard grill?

Smokers are used for slow-cooking meat by continuously circulating low heat (usually between 200 and 275°F), which interacts with moisture inside the smoking chamber to lightly steam your meat over the course of several hours. The burning charcoal or wood pellets used to power the smoker will make your ribs or salmon delightfully smoky without drying them out. But you can achieve nearly the same effect with a simple smoker box.

How to use a smoker box

According to Griller's Spot, it's easy to turn your gas grill into a smoker by buying (or making) a smoker box. Smoker boxes are generally made from stainless steel, and look something like a metal shoebox with holes punched in the top.

To use your smoker box, preheat your grill to around 225 to 250°F. Fill your smoker box with wood chips and place it over the direct heat source on your grill. Within about 15 minutes, the box should start to smoke. Add the meat you wish to smoke around the box, close your grill lid, and let the box work its magic.

If smoking larger pieces of meat like brisket or steak, which take longer to cook, you may want to add a water pan with at least two inches of water and place it over the direct heat source in your grill. The moisture will create the same steaming effect as an actual smoker, and prevent unwanted temperature changes.

Where to get or make a smoker box

Plenty of grill and barbecue accessory brands make smoker boxes, which will probably cost around $30 to $50 depending on the brand. Weber, Cave Tools, and Grillaholics all make popular stainless steel smoker boxes, but you can also get a cast iron smoker box from brands like Char-Broil.

If you don't want to buy a smoker box, you can DIY one by covering a foil tray filled with wood chips with heavy-duty aluminum foil, then poking holes in the foil. More wood chips will need to be added as the old ones burn out, about every half-hour to an hour. That's the tricky part because ideally, you wouldn't want to open the lid too much as it releases the smoke, but with the smoker box under the lid, you will need to open it to keep replenishing the wood chips. Still, it doesn't seem to be a big issue, just something to be aware of. 

These homemade smokers aren't built to last, though, so if you really want to commit to winning that cook-off against your least-favorite in-law, go in and invest in a well-made smoker box that will make you the toast of the company picnic.