Smoker Box: What it is and Why You Need One for Your Next BBQ

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 1, 2022

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What is a smoker box and how does it work? It’s a container that holds wood chips or chunks and is placed near the heat source in a grill or smoker to produce smoky flavor to foods. It’s a great alternative to liquid smoke.

In this article, I’ll explain more about smoker boxes and share my favorite recipes.

What is a smoker box

Discovering the Wonders of Smoker Boxes

A smoker box is a small, rectangular or square-shaped container made of metal, typically steel, designed to hold wood chunks or chips. It is placed directly on or near the hot coals or heat source of a standard grill or barbecue to produce smoky flavor to foods. The bottom of the smoker box is solid, while the top contains a uniform pattern of punctured holes that allow the smoke to escape and flavor the food.

Types of Smoker Box

There are different types of smoker boxes available, depending on your needs and preferences. Some of the most common types include:

  • Standard smoker boxes: These are rectangular or square-shaped and typically measure around 8-10 inches in size. They are designed to hold wood chunks or chips and are positioned directly on or near the heat source.
  • Smaller smoker boxes: These are designed for people who prefer a smaller, more compact smoker box. They are usually around 5-6 inches in size and can be placed directly on the grill grates.
  • Electric smoker boxes: These are designed to be used with electric grills and smokers (or one of these top combos). They are pretty convenient and allow for additional control over the smoking process.
  • Built-in smoker boxes: Some grills come with a built-in smoker box, which is a nice feature for those who enjoy having the ability to smoke their foods without having to buy a separate smoker.

How to Use a Smoker Box

Using a smoker box is pretty easy and takes just a few simple steps:

1. Let the smoker box heat up for a few minutes before adding wood chunks or chips.
2. Add the desired amount of wood chunks or chips to the smoker box.
3. Let the smoker box sit for a few minutes to allow the wood to begin smoking.
4. Position the food on the grill grates, close the lid, and let it cook until it reaches the desired temperature.
5. Check the smoker box periodically to make sure it hasn’t run out of wood or that the wood isn’t drying out.
6. Once the food is done, turn off the heat and let it rest for a few minutes before serving.

Smoker Box Care

Taking care of your smoker box is important to ensure that it lasts longer and works correctly. Here are some tips for caring for your smoker box:

  • After each use, let the smoker box cool down before cleaning it.
  • Use a wire brush to remove any leftover wood or ash from the smoker box.
  • If the smoker box is particularly dirty, you can soak it in warm, soapy water for a few minutes before cleaning it.
  • Make sure the smoker box is completely dry before putting it away to prevent rusting.

Find Your Perfect Fit: Types of Smoker Boxes

Smoker boxes come in different materials, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Here are the main points to keep in mind:

  • Steel smoker boxes are usually the most affordable option, but they may not be as durable as other materials.
  • Cast iron smoker boxes are more expensive, but they are built to last and can withstand high temperatures.
  • Stainless steel smoker boxes are the premium option, offering both durability and style. They are also easier to maintain and clean.

Size and Capacity: Small, Large, and Adjustable

When choosing a smoker box, you want to make sure it fits your grill and your smoking needs. Here are some things to consider:

  • Small smoker boxes are perfect for gas grills with limited clearance, while large smoker boxes are ideal for charcoal grills with more space.
  • Adjustable smoker boxes allow you to control the amount of smoke and heat that is emitted, making it easier to achieve the perfect flavor.
  • Smoker boxes with a high capacity are able to hold more wood chunks or chips, which means you won’t need to refill them as often.

Direct or Indirect Heat: Single or Double Vents

The way your smoker box heats up and emits smoke can affect the flavor of your meat. Here are some features to look for:

  • Smoker boxes with single vents allow smoke to flow directly onto the meat, resulting in a stronger smoky flavor.
  • Smoker boxes with double vents allow smoke to circulate around the grill, which means the smoke is more evenly distributed.
  • Some smoker boxes come with a deflector or flavorizer bar, which helps transfer heat and  smoke to the meat (like these best cuts) without burning it.

Water and Accessories: Premium Features

If you want to take your smoking game to the next level, consider these premium features:

  • Smoker boxes with a water tray or reservoir can help regulate the temperature and add moisture to the meat.
  • Smoker boxes with accessories like adjustable grates or heat shields allow you to customize your smoking experience.
  • Some smoker boxes are designed to fit directly onto the burner or grates of your grill, which means you don’t need to clear any space.

Price and Availability: Different Options for Different Needs

The actual price of a smoker box varies depending on the brand, material, and features. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Smoker boxes are usually available at most hardware stores, home improvement stores, and online retailers.
  • If you’re on a budget, a steel smoker box may be the best option for you.
  • If you’re willing to invest in a premium smoker box, you’ll have access to more features and a higher build quality.

Why You Should Consider Using a Smoker Box for Your Next Barbecue

When you’re cooking with wood, it’s important to protect both your wood and your food. Placing wood chunks or chips directly on the hot coals or grill grates can produce too much smoke, which can result in bitter or over-smoked food. A smoker box allows you to add smoky flavor to your foods without hitting them directly with the smoke. The box is designed to hold your wood chips or chunks away from the direct heat, which creates a nice, steady smoke that will bring out the natural flavors of your foods.

Control the Smoke

Using a smoker box also allows you to control the amount of smoke that your food is exposed to. This is especially important if you prefer a lighter smoke flavor or if you’re cooking foods that need to be on the grill for a longer period of time. The smoker box enables you to turn the smoke on and off, which makes it easier to control the final flavor of your foods.

Choose the Correct Type

There are different kinds of smoker boxes available on the market, each with its own features and benefits. Some are made of metal, while others are made of stainless steel. Some are designed to be positioned directly on the grill grates, while others are designed to stand on their own. Some are rectangular in shape, while others are smaller and flatter. When choosing a smoker box, it’s important to decide which type will work best for your needs.

Start Learning with an Electric Smoker Box

If you’re just starting out with smoking and aren’t sure if it’s worth investing in an expensive smoker, an electric smoker box is a great way to get started. It’s a pretty inexpensive piece of equipment that allows you to add smoky flavor to your foods without having to buy an entire smoker. Electric smoker boxes are also great for people who live in areas where it’s not possible to use a standard barbecue due to fire restrictions.

Check the Size and Positioning

When using a smoker box, it’s important to check the size and positioning of the box. The box needs to be positioned close enough to the food so that the smoke can reach it, but not so close that it dries out the food. The size of the box should be chosen based on the amount of wood you want to use and the size of the area you’re cooking in. A larger box will allow you to add additional wood, while a smaller box will be easier to position correctly.

Get the Best Smoky Flavor on Your Standard Grill with a Smoker Box

  • Look for a smoker box that is made of durable metal to withstand high heat and production of smoke.
  • Choose a smoker box that fits your grill and grate size.
  • Consider the type of wood chips or pellets you want to use for smoking. Different types of wood produce different flavors, so choose the one that complements the dish you’re cooking.

Preparing the Smoker Box

  • Soak the wood chips or pellets in water for at least 30 minutes before placing them in the smoker box. This will help them produce smoke and reduce the chance of burning.
  • Remove the cooking grates from your grill and place the smoker box directly on the heat source, such as the flavorizer bars or the burner.
  • If your smoker box has vents, make sure they are fully open to allow proper airflow and smoke production.
  • Close the lid of your grill to let the smoker box heat up and start producing smoke.

Placing the Smoker Box and Cooking Your Food

  • Once the smoker box is producing smoke, place your favorite dish on the cooking grates and close the lid.
  • Make sure to leave enough room between the food and the smoker box to prevent direct heat and burning.
  • Check the smoker box every 15-20 minutes to make sure it still has enough wood chips or pellets and to adjust the vents if needed.
  • Depending on the type of wood and the dish you’re cooking, smoking usually takes 30 minutes to 2 hours.
  • To add more wood chips or pellets, remove the smoker box from the grill and let it cool down before adding more.
  • If you want to reduce the smoky flavor, crank up the heat or open the lid to let more oxygen flow and reduce the smoke production.

Cleaning and Maintaining Your Smoker Box

  • After using the smoker box, let it cool down before removing it from the grill.
  • Remove any remaining wood chips or pellets and dispose of them properly.
  • Clean the smoker box with warm water and a mild detergent, or follow the manufacturer’s instructions for specific cleaning.
  • Make sure the smoker box is fully dry before storing it away for your next outdoor grilling adventure.

Note: Using a smoker box on a gas grill is a good way to discover the unachievable smoky flavor that you love from charcoal grilling. However, the process depends on the equipment you have and the type of wood you choose. Make sure to measure the amount of wood chips or pellets you need and don’t overfill the smoker box, as it can cause it to catch fire and create a direct flame. Always be careful when working with hot equipment and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safety.

Refilling Your Smoker Box: When and How to Add More Wood Chips

Refilling your smoker box with wood chips is necessary when you notice that the smoke is no longer coming out from under the lid. This typically happens halfway through the cooking process, so it’s important to keep a watchful eye on your smoker box. If you want to create a nice smoky flavor for your foods, you need to add more wood chips.

Why Is Refilling Your Smoker Box Important?

Refilling your smoker box with wood chips is important because it allows you to continue cooking your food with the desired smoky flavor. If you don’t add more wood chips, the smoke effect will quickly burn out, and you won’t get the best results. Refilling your smoker box also gives you the ability to create a low and slow cooking process, which is typically best for grilling and smoking foods.

What Do You Need to Refill Your Smoker Box?

To refill your smoker box with wood chips, you will need the following items:

  • Heatproof gloves
  • Tongs
  • Smoker box
  • Wood chips
  • Grill grate
  • Fire-proof surface

Important Note for Refilling Your Smoker Box

It’s important to note that refilling your smoker box with wood chips can have a commission cost effect on your grill. The flame may turn blue, and the temperature may drop slightly. However, this is normal and should not be a cause for concern. Just make sure to wear protective gloves and use tongs when refilling your smoker box to avoid any accidents.

Smoker Box Maintenance: Keep Your Box in Top Shape

  • Steel smoker boxes are prone to rust, so it’s important to keep them dry.
  • Store your smoker box in a dry place, away from moisture.
  • If you notice any rust on your smoker box, use steel wool or sandpaper to remove it.
  • Apply a thin layer of vegetable oil to the box to prevent further rusting.

Choosing the Right Wood Chips

  • Different types of wood chips yield different flavors, so it’s important to select the right type for the meat you’re cooking.
  • Apple wood chips are excellent for pork and chicken, while cherry wood chips are great for sweet and smoky flavors.
  • Red oak and hickory wood chips are best for beef and lamb.
  • Soak your wood chips in water for at least 30 minutes before using them to prevent them from burning too quickly.

Using Your Smoker Box Effectively

  • Place your smoker box directly on the grill grates, typically on the lower heat zone.
  • If using a gas grill, turn on the burners on one side of the grill and place the smoker box on the other side to generate smoke.
  • If using a charcoal grill, surround the smoker box with charcoal and allow it to preheat before adding your meat.
  • Poke holes in a covered foil to allow smoke to escape and transfer to your meat.
  • Don’t bury your smoker box in the charcoal, as this can cause it to overheat and burn your wood chips too quickly.
  • For best results, cook your meats at a high temperature (around 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit) for a long time (typically 4-6 hours for a 3-4 pound piece of meat).
  • Remember to refill your smoker box with wood chips as needed to ensure that the smoke lasts throughout the cooking process.

Keeping Your Smoker Box Clean: Essential Tips for Longevity and Better Performance

Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning Your Smoker Box After Use

Maintaining your smoker box is crucial to ensuring its longevity and continued function. Here are the steps to follow when cleaning your smoker box after use:

  • Allow the smoker box to cool completely before attempting to clean it.
  • Remove any remaining wood chips or pellets from the box. Use a scraper or brush to remove any buildup that may have accumulated inside the box.
  • Check the area underneath the smoker box tray for any remaining ashes or wood chips. Dispose of these properly.
  • Rinse the smoker box with warm water to remove any remaining debris. Avoid using soap or any cleaning solution that may affect the quality of the smoke produced by the box.
  • If there is any buildup that is difficult to remove, soak the smoker box in warm, soapy water for a few minutes before rinsing thoroughly.
  • Use a rust remover solution if there is any rust on the smoker box. Rinse thoroughly and dry completely.
  • Use a damp cloth to wipe down the smoker box and remove any remaining debris.
  • Dry the smoker box completely before storing it. A thin layer of oil can help prevent rust buildup.
  • Store the smoker box in a dry place, away from water or moisture.

Tips to Help You Clean Your Smoker Box

Here are some additional tips to help you clean your smoker box:

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and label when cleaning your smoker box.
  • Use a brush or scraper to remove any buildup inside the smoker box.
  • Avoid using water to clean the smoker box if possible. If you do use water, make sure to dry the box completely before storing it.
  • Use a rust remover solution if there is any rust on the smoker box.
  • Choose the right type of smoker box for the type of grill you have.
  • Use different types of wood chips or pellets to produce different flavors of smoke.
  • Keeping the smoker box clean helps to ensure better performance and a longer lifespan.


So, there you have it- everything you need to know about smoker boxes. They’re a great way to add extra flavor to your food and can be used with almost any type of grill. So, don’t be afraid to give them a try! You might just find a new favorite way to cook!

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.