How To Use A Charcoal Grill As A Smoker

When most people think of cooking on a charcoal grill they are usually are thinking about grilling burgers, dogs or steaks. However, with a few minor modifications, many charcoal grills can double as a smoker. Learning how to smoke on a charcoal grill is actually pretty easy once you understand the basics.

The difference between grilling and smoking

Grilling, by definition, is cooking directly over high heat for a relatively short period of time. Smoking is all about applying a lower temperature indirect heat to your food for a longer period of time. If you try to grill a cut of meat that should be smoked, you will up with something dry and tough.

The key to smoking is indirect heat

Most charcoal grills are designed so that the bed of hot charcoal is directly below the cooking surface. The first modification we need to make to the charcoal grill is to find away to separate the hot coals from the cooking area.

First, the larger charcoal grill you have, the better. It’s much easier to modify the grill for indirect cooking when the grill is large enough to create some space between the meat and the coals. It’s virtually impossible to try to smoke on a charcoal mini-grill designed for tailgating or a hibachi.

Mini-grills are great for direct heat grilling, but not so much for smoking.

Creating an indirect heat source inside a charcoal grill

To get an indirect heat source in a charcoal grill we need to put the coals behind some material that can act as a heat deflector.

Fire bricks that are made for stoves and pizza ovens make an ideal deflector. Pavers and bricks that you can purchase at your local hardware store appear similar to fire bricks, but they do not have the same thermal properties. These bricks/pavers can contain trapped moisture that causes them to crack and potentially explode when exposed to extreme heat. It’s not worth the risk.

If you have a classic Weber Kettle grills, there is an even more elegant solution for indirect cooking. The Smokenator line of conversion kits are designed to fit perfectly into 21 inch and 26 inch Weber Kettle grills. We have a complete review of the Smokenator conversion kit here.

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