Smoking Food

The basics for smoking food are right here: how it works, how to set up a smoker, tips, and more.
Smoking Basics
indirect grilling pan with chips for smoking

Smoking uses low temperatures, 180 to 220 degrees F, and long cooking times to cook and flavor foods.

How Smoking Works

  • Low heat makes smoke as wood smolders, rather than burns, to impart the smoky flavor.
  • Water-soaked wood chunks, chips, and/or aromatics are distributed among the coals to enhance the flavor.
  • Grill is covered to allow heat and smoke to slowly penetrate and cook the food.

Types of Smoking

  • Dry Smoking
    Dry smoking uses indirect cooking with a low, smoldering wood fire to slowly cook foods while infusing smoke flavor.
  • Wet Smoking
    Wet smoking, or water smoking, is more commonly employed and uses a pan of water to maintain moisture and tenderness.

Tips for Smoking

  • Keep water pan full, replenishing as needed with hot tap water.
  • The water helps to maintain temperature and adds moisture to keep food tender.
  • Don't peek! Heat and smoke escape each time the lid is lifted, sacrificing aroma and flavor and increasing cooking time.
  • Start with small amount of wood to see if you like the flavor, adding more for more intense smoky flavor.
  • Make wood chips last longer and prevent burning by bundling wet wood chips in a foil packet with holes. Place the packet directly on the coals.
  • Smoke only those foods that can handle the assertive smoky flavor: beef, lamb, pork, poultry, oily fish, and game.


  • Add an aromatic dimension by tossing fresh leaves, stems, or herbs onto the coals.
  • Bay leaves, rosemary, grapevine cuttings, fruit peel, or cinnamon sticks are examples of aromatics.
  • Generally aromatics with higher oil content provide stronger flavor.
  • Soak branches and stems, which otherwise burn quickly.

Food & Wood Pairing

Try experimenting with different foods and woods to find the flavor combination you like.

  • Alder, delicate: Pork, poultry, especially fish
  • Apple, delicate, mildly sweet, and fruity: Veal, pork, poultry
  • Cherry, delicate, mildly sweet, and fruity: Veal, pork, poultry
  • Hickory, strong, hearty, smoky: Brisket, ribs, game, pork
  • Mesquite, lighter, sweeter: Most meats, vegetables
  • Oak, assertive, versatile: Beef, pork, poultry
  • Pecan, similar to hickory, more subtle: Pork, poultry, fish
  • Seaweed, tangy, smoky: Shellfish

Continued on page 2:  Setting Up the Grill