Want to try smoking food this grilling season? You don’t need to invest in a smoker to do it; just use your gas or charcoal grill. We’ll show you how to make a smoker using tools you have on hand, so you can enjoy deliciously home-smoked recipes all summer.

By Andrea Beck
July 05, 2019
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Smoked food is in its own unique category of deliciousness. Thanks to all that smoky flavor, it’s not quite the same as regular barbecue and cookout meals from the grill. Luckily, when you’re craving those juicy, tender, smoky elements, you don’t have to run out and invest in your own smoker or limit yourself to the smoked menu offerings at a local restaurant. We’ll show you how to make a smoker-grill combo using your gas or charcoal grill with just a few modifications. If you need a DIY smoker box, we’ve got tips to help with that, too. Just follow our instructions for how to make a food smoker at home using whichever kind of grill you have, and you’ll be digging into home-smoked ribs in no time.

Illustration by Edwin Fotheringham

How to Make Your Charcoal Grill a Smoker

Want to know how to make a smoker out of a charcoal grill, like Weber's Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill ($165.00, Walmart)? It’s as easy as adding a drip pan and wood chips! Here’s how to do it.

  • Bank the briquettes on one side of the grill grate and ignite them.
  • When the coals are ashy and glowing, place a foil drip pan (use one that’s about the same size as the food you’re smoking) filled with ½ to 1 inch of warm water opposite from the coals.
  • Place a couple of wood chunks on the coals, or scatter soaked wood chips over the coals.
  • When there’s a steady stream of smoke, place your food on the cooking rack over the drip pan to start smoking.
Illustration by Edwin Fotheringham

How to Make Your Gas Grill a Smoker

If you’re working with a gas grill, like Char-Broil's Tru-Infrared 2-Burner Gas Grill ($199.99, Walmart), you’ll need a smoker box to hold your wood chips—but you can follow our instructions below for a DIY foil-pack version. Follow these directions for how to make a smoker out of a gas grill.

  • Place soaked wood chips in a smoker box or a foil pack on the burners under the cooking rack.
  • Replace the cooking rack and ignite the burners only on the side with the smoker box or pack.
  • Leave the remaining burners off (this will be your cooking zone).
  • Adjust the heat according to your recipe.
  • You don’t have to use a drip pan with water for shorter smoking times on a gas grill (30 minutes or less), but for a longer smoking time, place a pan of warm water on the cooking rack over direct heat.
  • When there’s a steady stream of smoke, place your food on the cool end of the grill to start cooking.

Tips for Controlling Smoke and Heat

For evenly smoked food, controlling the heat and smoke your grill produces is key. Once you’ve learned how to make a smoker and converted your grill, follow these tips for the most successful smoked recipes.

  • When you first start smoking, begin with the vents of your grill open. If the temperature rises too quickly, close the vents slightly to reduce the amount of oxygen fueling the flames. If the temperature starts to fall again, open the vents to bring it back up.
  • If your grill temperature has fallen below 300°F and opening the vents doesn’t work to bring it back up, add more lit coals around the edges of your already burning coals (if you’re using a charcoal grill). If you don’t have more coals ready to go, just add another wood chunk to boost both the heat and the smoke.
  • Make sure you start with clean grill grates! This might seem obvious, but dirty grill grates will produce sooty smoke, which can impart off flavors to your smoked food. Clean grill grates help ensure a steady stream of white smoke.
  • You can also control how much heat and smoke wood chunks produce by moving them to hotter or cooler parts of the grill. If you’re using wood chips, be prepared to replenish them as needed to keep up a steady stream of smoke.

How to Make a Smoke Box

If you’re turning a gas grill into a smoker, you’ll need a smoke box to store your wood chips or chunks. While you can certainly buy one, if you’re new to smoking and not sure if you want to invest in a reusable smoke box, you can make your own with foil. All you need to do is wrap about 2 cups of soaked wood chips in a double-thickness of foil. Fold the edges all the way around to seal, then cut slits or small holes in the top to allow the smoke to escape.

Buy It: Cave Tools Smoker Box for BBQ Grill Wood Chips, $21.99, Amazon

Once you’ve got the basics of how to make a homemade smoker down, your barbecue and cookout possibilities are endless. You could start with a classic by making smoked pork or smoked salmon, begin with the appetizers by smoking fruit and cheese, or reward yourself for a job well done by creating a smoked cocktail. No matter where you start, you’ll be able to enjoy your DIY smoker throughout grilling season.

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