How To Use A Charcoal Grill As a Smoker

Smokers are expensive. And there is probably no point in getting one if you already have a good charcoal grill at home.

While a grill has certain limitations, you can still whip out amazing smoked ribs or wings.

Today, let’s see how to use a charcoal grill as a smoker. We’ll check out both hot and cold smoking techniques, then I’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions on the internet. But first, let’s see if your grill is suitable for this task.

Can I use any grill as a smoker?

Any charcoal grill, yes. Though some are better than others for this job.

Kettle grills are great because their shape promotes air circulation. Also, you want the vent to be to the side. If it’s on the top of the grill, the smoke will rush out quickly.

Space is also good. Not only because you can smoke bigger cuts of meat, but also for air circulation.

Do I need special equipment for smoking on a charcoal grill?

No, but investing in a simple chunk of metal could make this task easier.

In almost all stores that sell grilling and smoking equipment, you can buy a perforated metal cylinder called a smoke tube. They come in various sizes with differently shaped perforations. There’s no clear advantage between the shapes, so pick whatever suits your grill and budget.

The smoke tube will hold your wood chips as well as ensure that the smoke is spreading evenly throughout the grill. Plus, it will make cleanup easier.

You don’t have to use the smoke tube at all. Get one of those disposable aluminum pans to hold the wood chips.

How To Use A Charcoal Grill As A Hot Smoker

Smoking on a grill is not too different from grilling any other large piece of meat. You’re only introducing smoke into the mix.

Prepping the food

This is the easy part. Use your favorite marinade and seasoning to prep the food. There’s no shortage of recipes online, but your family’s signature rib recipe will work as well.

The size matters though. Since we will keep the food off the direct heat while still providing some space between it and the grill walls, you will have to pick a cut that fits your grill.

Prepping the smoke

If using the smoke tube, fill it with wood chips. Each tube will have a rim that you can use as a guide.

Then, light the chips. The best tool for this job is a blow torch. Light the top and the sides as well. Leave it to burn for at least 5 minutes, then extinguish with a quick blow. If you need more than one, that’s fine. Just don’t make it one continuous blow since that will feed the flames.

If using a disposable aluminum pan, add the chips to it and light with the blow torch as well. Leave that one as well to burn a few minutes before extinguishing.

Turn on the heat

Place the coal on one side of the grill, opposite the lid vent. Light as usual.

Once you have consistent heat going, place the smoke tube or the aluminum pan on top of the cooking grate and directly over the coal.

Take the thermometer out

Take out your favorite meat thermometer. You want one that will allow you to monitor both the core temp of the food as well as what’s going on inside the grill.

If you are in the market for a new gadget, you can get thermometer probes that connect to apps that can provide you with all that info no matter where you are.

Air Circulation

When you put down the lid, open the vent a tiny bit. This will promote air circulation and will help wrap both heat and smoke around the food.

Cook until the core temp of the food says that it’s done. As long as they have consistent heat under them, wood chips should go for hours.

Some experts recommend changing the chips every 5 to 6 hours. However, if you’re using an aluminum pan, you can simply add one or two cups of new chips around that time.

If there is some smoke still going, you can kill the heat and use it to smoke some cheese to go with those ribs. Or learn how to use a grill as a cold smoker below.

How To Use A Charcoal Grill As A Cold Smoker

When smoking salmon or cheese, keeping it cool is the way to go.

When cold smoking, the biggest challenge is keeping the smoke going without introducing more heat.,

Pick the right ingredients

Since the biggest issue with cold smoking is that you can’t keep the smoke going very long without heat, you’ll have to pick the right food and the right size.

The best things to smoke at home with this setup are fish and cheese, though you can also use the same technique to add some smokiness to other finished products like deli meats or veggies.

Have you heard of the Smoking Gun by Breville? Pretty much a lot of recipes that work with that gadget could work in your charcoal grill.

Another issue is the size. things can’t be too big or sliced too thick. It’s best to keep everything at around 2 inches for the best results.

Light the smoke tube

Light the smoke tube per the instructions above. Don’t forget to wear gloves at all times.

Place it on the cooking grate and close the lid. Open the vent a little bit to promote the distribution of smoke.

By the time you come back with the food, the smoke tube should cool down a little. Still, place the food as far away from it while still keeping some space between the food and the grill walls.


Close the lid and close the vent and smoke. Most of the smoke tubes will last about 3 to 4 hours without additional heat. Still, check the situation after 2 hours if cold smoking for the first time.

It’s fine if you have to relight the tube again. This will take another 5 minutes at most. Just keep the lid of the grill closed so as not to lose all that lovely smoke inside.

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