How to use a bbq smoker box: get the placement, temp & wood right

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  April 26, 2020
I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more

Smoker boxes allow you to cook a barbecue by smoking the food with real hardwood.

This method of cooking delivers a much richer taste on your dish compared to baking it or grilling it over charcoal.

Unfortunately, many people still have no idea how to use a BBQ smoker box.

In this article, I’ll be sharing some of the best basic tips for using your smoker box for some great results.

Using a bbq smoker box

How to Use a BBQ Smoker Box

You don’t have to be a barbecue expert to know how to use a bbq smoker box properly. Here is the step-by-step guideline you can follow:

  1. Place your dry wood chips or chunks on the smoker box
  2. Close the lid properly. If the woods are overloading the box, reduce some until you can close the lid properly.
  3. Place the smoker box above the grill, inside the smoking compartment.
  4. If you are using charcoal fuel, place the smoker box right above the charcoal, beneath the open grill grate.
  5. Preheat your grill by turning it to a high temperature until the woods start smoking. It is usually around 10 minutes.
  6. Turn the temperature back to medium heat.
  7. Put in the food you want to smoke above the grill in the smoking compartment, side by side to your smoker box.
  8. When the time is up, turn off the heat and open the smoking compartment.
  9. Take out the food and let it rest for five minutes to settle it down.
  10. Put out the fire in the wood inside the smoker box.

Different types of food would require different temperatures and duration to get smoked perfectly. Otherwise, your food might not taste as good as expected if you smoke it.

On the other hand, too high of a temperature might burn your food before it cooks evenly and absorbs all the tasty flavors from the smoke.

Even if you set the right temperature, your food will taste too intense and bitter if you leave it in the smoker for too long.

Chef Tips has some great…..well, tips on using a smoker box:


Smoking Temperature and Duration

To avoid failure with your bbq smoker box experiments, here is the guideline about how hot and how long you should smoke each type of foods:


Most beef cuts require about 6-8 hours to smoke. But, the brisket may need 10-20 hours. Processed beef or smaller cut steak can get smoked well only in less than two hours.

The ideal temperature is around 200 to 250 Fahrenheit, with finished temperature ranging between 165 to 190 Fahrenheit.


Almost all poultry require to keep their finished temperature between 165 to 170 Fahrenheit, but the smoker temperatures might differ for each type.

Chicken and turkey require 275 to 350 Fahrenheit, with smoking duration ranges around 1-3 hours for the cuts and 2-5 hours for smoking the food as a whole. Quail, cornish, and ducks take less than those.


Fish and other seafood require less heat than other types of protein. Around 200-225 Fahrenheit of smoker temperature would be enough if you can manage the finished temperature around 140-145 Fahrenheit.

As these foods are fragile, you should not smoke them any longer than 60 hours.


Some vegetables taste wonderful after getting smoked, such as cherry tomatoes, corn on the cob, bell pepper, eggplant, asparagus, and many other more.

Each type of veggie has a different ideal temperature and duration. But in general, the numbers are ranging between 200-250 Fahrenheit in 1-2 hours.

About Soaking the Wood

It is rather controversial to soak or not to soak the woods before usage. Some people do that to prolong the burning duration, which is indeed effective.

Wood chips can last about 30 minutes longer if you soak them first before burning.

However, experts will not recommend doing such a thing. There are standards for making smoking woods dry to make the delivery smoke optimal.

When you burn wet woods, the heat will work to evaporate the water first before creating the aromatic and flavorful smoke. Hence, your food will be less tasty.

Furthermore, the water-soaked by the wood will bind impurities from the woods. As the water turns to steam and moves up to the food, these impurities will tag along.

As a result, your food will have other extra tastes that you don’t expect.

Prolong the Burning

Rather than soaking your wood, there are a few tricks that you can do if you need to smoke longer than your woodcuts may last.

For example, you need to smoke a whole turkey for hours but all you have are wood chips.

The first trick is by layering the inner side of your smoker box with an aluminum foil sheet. Make sure to cover the bottom and all four sides.

Leave the top surface uncovered because you still need the holes on the lid to let the smoke come out.

This trick might work if you just need a little bit more time than the normal burning duration.

Another solution is by manually refilling your smoker box with more wood. This trick is advisable if you need a lot more extra time.

It might be not easy to do, because you have to open your smoker compartment and smoker box from time to time.

However, this is the most effective solution if you don’t have bigger woodcuts.

Smoking your meat may take longer than baking it in your oven or simply grilling it above a stove.

But once you taste your smoked dish, you will realize that all the extra time spent was worth it.

What is A Smoker Box?

The smoker box refers to a rectangular tool to contain hardwood cuts for smoking.

It is made of either stainless steel or cast iron, including the lid, to avoid rusting and getting burnt.

You put this thing on the grill alongside the meat or anything you want to smoke. Some small holes both on the bottom and top sides of the box allow smoke to circulate.

Without a smoker box, wood can get exposed to too much heat. Unfortunately, the smoke will not be delicious nor aromatic if it burns too hot.

Moreover, higher temperature means a shorter cooking time. The smoker box protects your wood from overheating, allowing it to deliver tastiness and fragrance to the meat.

Smoking your meat without a smoker box can give you burnt meat with no extra delicacies.

What is wood for smoking?

Smoking woods are the cuts of woods you burn to produce smoke for barbecuing your food. They are different from charcoal. Instead, they are solid hardwood.

While charcoal only gives a burnt effect to the dish, hardwoods produce smoke that is rich in flavor and aroma.

Smoking your food with hardwoods will enhance the delicacies of your dish.

Smoking Woods Based on Their Shape and Size

Smoking woods are available in the market with various sizes and shapes to match with different types of smoking.

In general, the bigger the size, the longer it will take to burn, and the longer it will burn.

Both of the last two are the most common woodcuts to use for smoking because they have good quality and perfect burning duration.

People usually use wood chunks for smoking large and thick foods like meatloaf or turkey, because they may take hours to smoke thoroughly.

On the other hand, wood chips are best for smoking something that takes a shorter duration.

Besides those three, there is also something called wood sawdust.

It is a groundwood in the shape of powder.

Wood sawdust can be compressed into wood pellets and wood disks, but they will not work well on barbecue smoking boxes because they burn too quickly and are of low quality.

They are more suitable for electrical smokers.

Types of Smoking Woods

There are many types of hardwoods you can use for smoking. Each type of wood has unique flavors. Some are intense, some are medium, and some types deliver light flavors.

Similar to herbs and spices, some can make a nice pair with specific kinds of protein. You can also combine two or more types of wood to elevate the complexity.

For example, if you like the strong flavor, you can try using mesquite, pecan, or walnut.

However, over-smoking your food with these kinds of smoke might cause it to taste bitter and too intense.

You can either moderately smoke it or combine the woods with lighter-flavored wood to balance the intensity.

If you are new to BBQ smoking, you might want to use the woods in medium or mild flavor. In the medium category, there are plum, hickory, maple, and many other more.

Meanwhile, in the mild category, there are apple, alder, lemon, lilac, and many others.

Smoking woods also carry the taste of the plants. For example: