How to smoke meat on a Charcoal Grill: Can you smoke meat on a BBQ?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  April 29, 2022

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If you have read about smoking meat, but you don’t have your own meat smoker, then what can you do?

Can You Smoke Meat In A BBQ?

If you are strapped for cash or room, then you might be looking at your barbecue and thinking: can I smoke meat on that?

The answer is yes! You can smoke meat on any type of charcoal barbecue. The trick is to build the fire the right way, without flames, and then add some wood chips for flavor. You can use aluminum foil to seal in the smoke from your grill and make it similar to a smoker.

If you follow our steps below, you’ll be able to smoke your meat with the same precision and thoroughness that you would do with a smoker explicitly designed for the task.

Keep reading to get delicious smoked meat from your charcoal grill!

What do you need to smoke with your grill?

There are a few things that you will need to get started turning your grill into a smoker:

How do you turn your grill into a smoker?

1. Start by prepping your wood chips or pellets. If you are using wood chips, soak them in water for 30 minutes before getting started. This will help to create more smoke.

How to buy a bbq smoker video
How to buy a bbq smoker video

2. Next, you will need to set up your grill for indirect cooking. This means that your coals will be on one side of the grill and your food will be on the other. This setup will help to prevent your food from burning.

3. Add your wood chips or pellets to the coals.

4. Place your drip pan or roasting pan under the grilling grate on the side where your food will be cooking. This will help to catch any drippings and prevent them from making your food soggy.

5. Place your food on the grilling grate and cover your grill with aluminum foil. Make sure that the foil is tight so that no smoke can escape.

6. Cook your food according to your recipe or until it reaches the desired internal temperature.

7. Remove your food from the grill and enjoy!

I have some great smoking recipes here to get you started!

Controlling the temperature

The easiest way to keep control of the temperature inside the grill is to use a digital thermometer.

For smoking, you’re not using high temperatures and instead need to keep the temps in the barbecue between 230 – 266° F or 110-130°C.

If the BBQ gets a bit too cool, you can add more coals.

In case it gets way too hot because heat rises, don’t worry because if you add some cooked-down charcoal, the water evaporates and lowers the temp.

The trick is to keep the drum closed most of the time. There’s no need to add more than a handful of coals per hour when smoking.

After all, the goal of smoking food is to bring the meat to about 190-195 degrees F.

The smoking wood chips will produce smoke and it can seem as if the grill surface is too hot but don’t worry, the smoke coming from the wood chunks doesn’t necessarily make the grill hotter.

The temperature of the meat tends to plateau at about 155-160 F (70°C) for a while but this is a normal part of smoking.

How do you get the wood chips to smoke?

If your grill doesn’t have a smoker box, you can wrap the wood chips in aluminum foil.

Just make sure to poke a few holes in the top of the foil so that the smoke can escape. You can also place the wood chips directly on the coals.

The advantage of the special smoker grills is that these devices have smoker boxes so you get an ideal amount of smoking coming out.

Smoking tips

If you want to add some extra flavor to your food, try using different types of wood chips or pellets.

Fruit woods like apple or cherry can add a sweet flavor, while hickory or mesquite will give your food an earthy and savory Southern-style barbecue flavor.

Step 1 – Create a fire in your barbecue

Before we start, make sure that you’ve got a fire going in your barbecue. This means that you should have some coals underneath the cooking grate.

The easiest way to do this is by lighting a few pieces of lump charcoal. Once they’re lit, place them under the grill.

You may also want to add some wood chips.

These are great because they add flavor to the food without adding too much extra weight. They won’t burn down as quickly as charcoal.

You should allow the fire to burn down until there are no flames. This is because the fire will char the meat, which is not what you want when you are smoking.

Step 2 – Preparing the barbecue

Now that your fire has gone out, it’s time to prepare your barbecue.

The first thing you’ll want to do is remove the lid from the barbecue. This will help to expose more surface area to the heat.

You’ll want to scrape the charcoals over to one side.

Next, you’ll want to add some hardwood to the space where the charcoal used to be. This helps to give off more smoke, so you’ll want to use oak, maple, hickory, etc.

Once the wood is burning, you’ll want to cover the barbecue again. This will protect the meat from the direct heat of the fire.

You might want to soak the wood in water first so that it will not burn too quickly.

Learn more on how to build the fire inside your grill so you can use it as a smoker here.

You can also watch this video for more information:

Step 3 – Adding meat to the barbecue

Once everything is set up, it’s time to add the meat. Make sure that you cut the meat into small enough chunks so that it fits on the barbecue.

On a small grill, you are not going to be able to fit a whole brisket or a rack of ribs, but you could try smoking sausages or delicious haddock (a great fish for smoking).

For more ideas check out these 10 tops meats that you can smoke in under 4 hours.

Once you’re ready, add the meat to the barbecue.

You’ll want to leave plenty of space between each piece of meat. This allows the smoke to circulate around the meat.

Make sure that the meat is opposite the side of the grill that you’ve scraped your coals to. This will ensure that the meat will be smoked but not grilled.

It’s better to let the meat sit in the smoke for longer periods of time.

If you notice that the meat isn’t getting any darker, then you should add another layer of wood. This will increase the amount of smoke and help to keep the meat moist.

Learn more about how to keep your meat juicy and tender while smoking here.

And how do you know when the meat is cooked? Read my guide on the best smoking temperatures here.

When you’re ready to take the meat off the barbecue, just lift the lid and pull it away. Be careful not to touch the hot metal.

Step 4 – Maintaining the temperature

It’s important to maintain the right temperature during the entire process.

When you first put the meat on, the temperature should be somewhere around 266 degrees Fahrenheit (130 degrees Celsius).

The water in your wood should keep the hardwood at the optimum temperature.

You should use a temperature gauge to make sure that the barbecue does not get too cold. If it does, then you should add more coals to it.

You shouldn’t try to mess with your barbecue/smoker too much. The general rule is that you should add six pieces of coal for every hour.

Learn more about how often to check your smoker here

Step 5 – Cleaning up

When you’re done cooking, and you have enjoyed your smoker’s feast, you’ll want to clean up.

Remove all of the wood from the barbecue. Then, wash the barbecue thoroughly. Use soap and warm water. Rinse well.

When you’re finished, dry the barbecue completely. Once it’s dried, you can store it in a cool place.

Every now and then, you should also re-season your grill to keep it in good nick

Smoking on a BBQ? What you need to know

The first thing that you need to know is that smoking takes longer than grilling.

So, you will need to be patient! It can take anywhere from 1-5 hours to fully smoke your food.

Next, you will need to choose the type of wood that you want to use.

There are many different types of wood, each with its own unique flavor. Some of the most popular include hickory, mesquite, and apple.

Just make sure that you avoid using pine or cedar, as these can give your food a bitter taste. Some woods are not suitable for smoking.

How to create the perfect smoky flavor on a grill

Smoking meat is all about giving it that rich smoke flavor and using the low and slow method to cook food. But, can you do it with a regular grill?

Some people say there’s a difference in flavor when you smoke on a real smoker compared to when you smoke using a normal bbq.

Others say that as long as you use the right wood and the correct method, you can get that perfect smoky flavor no matter what type of grill you’re using.

The truth is that the pork butt, brisket, or ribs can turn out just as tasty if you smoke them on the bbq as on a pricey Weber smoker.

If you’re planning on smoking on a grill, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind.

First, it’s important to soak your wood chips or chunks in water for at least 30 minutes before adding them to the grill.

This will help to prevent them from burning up too quickly and creating an unpleasant flavor.

I know some pitmasters say you don’t need to soak the wood chips first, but if you’re a beginner using your grill as a smoker, this step makes it easier to create the perfect thin blue smoke.

Next, you’ll need to create a two-zone fire. This means that you’ll have one side of the grill with hot coals and the other side with no coals.

This will help to prevent your food from getting too much direct heat and will also create a more even cooking.

To do this, simply push all of the coals to one side of the grill before adding your wood chips or chunks.

Now it’s time to add your food to the grill! Make sure that you place it on the side of the grill without any coals.

This will help to prevent it from cooking too quickly on the outside while the inside remains raw.

Now, close the lid of your grill and let the smoking begin! Check on your food every hour or so, and add more wood chips or chunks as needed.

When your food is cooked to perfection, it’s time to enjoy it! Serve immediately and enjoy the amazing flavor that smoking has to offer.

Grill vs smoker

There are two main types of smokers: the grill and the smoker. Grills are typically used for cooking food over an open flame, while smokers use indirect heat to cook food slowly.

The most common types of smokers are:

Both methods can produce delicious results, but each has its own unique set of challenges.

Grilling is a quick and easy way to cook food, but it can be difficult to control the temperature.

You can end up with a lot of temperature fluctuations or too much heat which creates a hot zone where there’s a risk you’ll burn the meat.

Smokers take longer to cook food, but they give you more control over the final product. Once the food reaches the target temperature in the smoker, you know it’s ready.

Can you hot smoke or cold smoke on the grill?

As you know, the best way to make smoked meat is using the low and slow cooking method.

But yes, you can hot smoke or cold smoke on the grill.

However, it is best to use a smoker for hot smoking and a separate grill for cold smoking. This will help prevent your food from becoming overcooked or burnt.

FAQs

Can you smoke meat on a regular charcoal grill?

The answer is yes! Smoking meat on a charcoal grill is easy and only requires a few supplies.

First, you’ll need a good-quality charcoal grill. Look for one that has a lid and vents to control the airflow.

You can totally use an old grill you were about to get rid of – there’s no need to waste a BBQ.

You’ll also need some wood chips or chunks for smoking. Soak these in water for about 30 minutes before using them.

Now it’s time to get started. Build a small fire in your grill and let it burn for about 15 minutes.

This will help to create an even cooking temperature. Place your wood chips or chunks on the coals and put the lid on the grill.

Check the temperature of your grill regularly.

What’s the best type of grill for smoking?

A kettle grill is the best type of charcoal cooker that you can use for smoking.

For the best results, stack the charcoal 2 or 3 lumps high and then light it.

A foil tray of water next to the coals is a good idea if you plan to cook for more than 30 minutes which is the case for any smoked food, even fish or seafood.

Place the cooking grill on the charcoal and open the bottom vents completely. Make sure the top vent is fully opened so that a good amount of air can be drawn in.

After about halfway through the cooking process, add a handful of wood chips to the charcoal and close the lid.

Conclusion

We hope that our guide to transforming your barbecue into a smoker has helped you to get that wonderful smoky flavor at your next grilling session.

Next, check out the Top 10 BBQ Smoker Recipes Out There | From ribs to veggies

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.