A Complete Guide: How to Use a Smoker Box on a Gas Grill

August 22, 2022
Written by Kristy J. Norton

I always use a smoker box when smoking on a gas grill. It is the only way to get that beautiful smoke flavor. Thus, over the years, I have become something of a pro.

This puts me in the perfect position to show you how to use a smoker box on a gas grill. Let’s begin!

How to use a smoker box on a gas grill

Step by Step Guide to Using a Smoker Box

These are the guidelines that you should follow for using a smoker box with gas grills.

Step 1: Preheat the Grill

The first thing that you need to do is to preheat the grill. The quickest way to do this is to turn all your burners on at the same time and set them to High. Leave them like this for 10 to 15 minutes.

The reason for preheating the grill at such a high temperature is so that the wood chips in the smoke box will ignite faster. In turn, it will begin to smoke at earlier rate, infusing your food with that delicious smoky flavor that much sooner!

Step 2: Prep the Smoker Box

If you are using a new smoker box, I would suggest cleaning it out first. This way, you get rid of any grime or residue that can affect the taste of the food. Make sure that the smoker box is completely dry, though.

Then, place the wood chunks or wood chips inside. Don’t fill up the smoker box completely. If it is going to be a longer cook, then top it up to three quarters of the way. For a shorter one, only pack in the wood chips to two-thirds of the way.

Once you are done, close the cover on the box.

Vegan food on the grill next to meat

Step 3: Set Grill Up for Indirect Cooking

The smoking process involves low and slow cooking. As such, you need to set up two zones – one with a direct heat source and another with no heat at all. The heat from one zone will heat the other, but not too much, allowing the food to start smoking.

Setting up your grill for indirect cooking will depend on the make and model. This is why it is a good idea to check your user manual to find clear instructions on how to manage this.

If you have three burners, then you can turn the one on the far end and leave the other two off. For a four burner you can set the two on the far sides on and leave the middle ones off.

Step 4: Place the Smoker Box

Place the smoker box on the lit burner. Don’t worry, most smoker boxes are made from either cast iron or durable stainless steel. As such, they have no problem withstanding this kind of heat.

Close the lid and give the box time to start producing smoke.

Before you can put the food on the cooking grate, you need to lower the temperature of the chamber. It is a good idea to set it to around 225 degrees F or 250 degrees F. This works for most red meats and poultry.

Remember that it can take a while for the smoker to readjust to this temperature so don’t add any veggie or meat items just yet.

Step 5: Smoke the Food

Once the smoker box starts smoking and the cooking temperature has reached the desired point, you can place the food on the unlit burner.

Then, shut the lid and let the smoking begin. Depending on the type of meat and the size of the cut, this can take anywhere from an hour to several hours. Indirect cooking is naturally going to take a longer period of time.

The best way to keep track of this outdoor cooking process is to use a thermometer. This will show you what the internal temperature of the poultry or red meat is at all times.

Each type of red meat, poultry, and other meat have ideal internal temperatures that they need to cook too. Research what this temp is for your particular dish and follow the numbers on the thermometer accordingly.

Make sure to place the thermometer at the deepest or thickest part of the meat. This should provide the most accurate reading. Keep the probe at least an inch away from the bone, however, as bone tends to heat up faster and feel provide a false reading.

Step 6: Keep the Smoke Going

The wood chips or chunks in the smoker box aren’t going to last forever. As the fire keeps going, the wood chips are going to burn up and will require switching out. Make sure to stay on top of this.

If you find that the smoker box isn’t producing as much smoke as you like, add more chips to the box and this should help to produce more smoke.

As much as possible, keep the lid of the gas grill closed. Every time you open it, you are allowing smoke and heat to escape. This can cause fluctuations inside the chamber, messing with the overall cooking time.

The Angliss Glazed Ham

Tips for Choosing a Smoker Box

It isn’t enough to know how to use a smoker box – you also need to be aware of how to choose the best one for you.

I know that some people prefer to fashion a DIY smoker box using a foil pan and aluminum foil. However, I would say to choose a premade one. Yes, they may cost a bit more money but these have been precisely designed to produce a better result and a greater amount of smoke.

Not to mention, they can be used over and over again without any issue at all.

The first thing that you need to pay attention to is durability. Look for boxes that are made from either stainless steel or cast iron. The former heats up faster while the cast iron smoke box will retain heat for longer. Either way, make sure to choose a good quality one.

The other thing to consider is size. As I have mentioned, for the best smoking results, you need to keep the lid of your grill closed for as much of the cook as you can manage.

However, if your smoker box keeps needing to be replenished, this can be tricky to manage. Thus, if you tend to smoke larger cuts like brisket or roasts, I would suggest buying a larger box as well.

Last but not least, look for a box with a really tight lid. The more compact the wood chips and chunks are, the greater the amount of smoke produced.

Wood Chips vs. Chunks – What Should You Use?

There is something that you should be aware of when choosing between wood chips or chunks for your smoker box.

Wood chips are more commonly used because they catch fire more readily. As such, they are able to begin smoking more quickly. Chunks, on the other hand, take longer to light but they do blaze for longer.

Wood chips are great for shorter cooks as you will not need to swap out the ash for new wood chips as much. Wood chunks are a better option when smoking for longer periods of time.

Of course, you don’t have to choose between the two if you don’t want to. You can use a mix of wood chips and chunks in your smoker box. This way, you get the best of both worlds.

Always use high quality wood for the box. These can be more expensive but you will be rewarded with a higher quality of smoke.

You should also take care to store your wood chips properly. Keep them in a cool, dry space. If they get wet, they can’t be used to produce smoke.

Grilled Sausages

Choosing the Wood for Smoking

If you have only primarily used gas grills, then the concept of choosing wood for smoking may be a foreign one for you.

Now, the wood that you choose will determine the exact smoke flavor that your food is infused with.

Although all wood chips are made from hardwoods, they are several kinds. On the one hand, you have fruitwoods like apple, cherry, and peach. These produce the mildest of smoke flavors. They also have a hint of sweetness.

Then, you have maple and pecan. They too are mild and sweet.

Hickory and mesquite are favorites but you have to keep in mind that these woods can be rather strongly flavored. The smoke produced is quite potent.

Oakwood falls somewhere in the middle.

Before deciding which one to use, you should consider the meat that you are smoking. Poultry and pork tend to be rather delicate. This is why it is best to stick with fruitwoods or maple and pecan.

Beef, on the other hand, is more strongly flavored. As such, this meat can withstand the stronger flavors of hickory and mesquite.

Despite this, I would suggest using these woods sparingly. Use only a handful or less and then top up the rest of the smoker box with either fruitwoods or oak. Using too much of the strong woods can result in a bitter flavor.

Wrapping It Up

Well, there you have it – this is how you should use a smoker box with your gas grill. Read through all the steps, instructions, and tips that I have provided here.

It may take you a couple of tries to get the hang of using the smoker box but you are sure to catch on soon enough. Then, you too will be able to use this device every time that you smoke, producing a better quality of food for your friends and family members. Good luck!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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