Smoking Food

Ready to learn how to smoke food? Once you try it, you may never go back to plain burgers on the grill again. We'll show you how to prepare wood chips for smoking and how to make a foil packet for smoking, and we'll share some of our best tips for safely smoking food. Plus, we have a few mouthwatering recipes for you to try using this technique. It's time to fire up the grill!

An easy way to give your food lots of flavor? Smoke it! Here'€™s how -- without the expensive equipment.

How Smoking Foods Works

  • Smoking uses low temperatures (180°F to 220°F) and long cooking times to cook and flavor foods.
  • 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.
  • The grill is covered to allow heat and smoke to slowly penetrate and cook the food.

Get the Grilled Ribeye Steaks with Smoked Tomatoes recipe.

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 common and uses a pan of water to maintain moisture and tenderness.

Get the Plank-Smoked Salmon with Grilled Pepper Relish recipe.

Tips for Smoking

  • Keep the water pan full, replenishing as needed with hot tap water. (Water helps maintain temperature and adds moisture to keep food tender.)
  • Don't peek! Heat and smoke escape each time the grill lid is lifted, sacrificing aroma and flavor and increasing cooking time.
  • Start with a small amount of wood to see if you like the flavor, adding more for a 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.

Get the Memphis Dry Ribs recipe.

Prepping Wood Chips for Smoking

Start by soaking the chips. Dry wood ignites quickly, but wet wood will smolder and create smoke. Place 1 to 2 cups of wood chips and enough water to cover them in a container. Let the chips soak for at least 1 hour before grilling. Soaking the wood chips in apple juice, beer, or wine adds another layer of flavor.

How to Make a Foil Packet for Wood Chips

Drain the wood chips after soaking and place them in the center of a double-thick piece of heavy-duty foil. Tightly seal the edges of the foil. Using a fork or a skewer, poke numerous small holes in the top of the packet to allow for ventilation.

Creating Smoke with a Foil Packet

Preheat the grill and place the packet, pierced side up, on top of the heat source under the grill rack. With the grill lid closed, turn the heat to high until smoke begins to escape from under the lid (about 10 minutes). Use caution because the foil pack may ignite briefly at first.

Using a Smoke Box

If you love smoking food on the grill and do it often, you may want to consider using a stainless-steel smoke box. It is placed on the rack directly over the heat source. The hinged lid opens so you can add soaked drained wood chips, and the perforated top lets out smoke once the wood ignites. If smoking is your favorite way to grill, a reusable smoke box might be easier than creating a new foil packet every time.

How to Smoke Food on a Plank

  • Soak the plank in water for at least 1 hour before grilling. A sheet pan with tall sides works well. Weight down the plank so it is completely submerged.
  • Place the plank over ash-covered coals until it starts to char and crackle. Smoke creates flavor.
  • Sear in flavor by grilling food just long enough for grill marks to form, then transfer to the plank. Cook planked food over indirect heat. Cooking directly over fire may cause the plank to burn or create more smoke than necessary.

Get the recipe for Plank-Smoked Peaches and Goat Cheese.

Add Aromatics to Smoked Food

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

Get the Smoked Macaroni and Cheese recipe.

Flavored Wood

Use different woods to find the flavors you like best. Try some of these most common food and wood pairings:

  • Mesquite: This Southwestern wood burns hot and slow, infusing foods with the most intense flavor of all the woods. Described as sweet and earthy, mesquite smoke is a must for cooking a Texas-style brisket.
  • Hickory: Use this Southern barbecue favorite to add strong flavor to pork, beef, and lamb.
  • Maple, Oak, Pecan, and Walnut: All four of these woods make wonderful smoke. Milder than mesquite and hickory, they bring balanced flavor to any meat.
  • Fruitwoods: Choose from apple, cherry, peach, plum, orange, lemon, grapefruit, and more. These mild woods infuse meats with just a hint of the fruit the trees bear, making them great for smoked fish and chicken.
  • Alder and Cedar: Native to the Pacific Northwest, these mild woods are traditionally used to smoke salmon, but also add delicious flavor to poultry and pork.

Get the Smoked St. Louis-Style Ribs with Two Sauces recipe.

Setting Up the Grill for Smoking

  • Soak wood chips and chunks in water for at least 1 hour.
  • Soak aromatic twigs for 30 minutes.
  • Drain and shake off excess water before adding soaked wood to the fire.
  • Use long-handle tongs to arrange hot ash-covered coals around foil pan that is filled with 1 inch of water.
  • Add presoaked chunks, chips, and/or aromatics to coals.
  • Place food on grill rack and cover.
  • Check food, temperature, and water pan once each hour, adjusting as needed.
  • Do not add additional wood during the last half of smoking on charcoal or a vertical smoker; too much exposure to smoke imparts a bitter flavor to food.

Get the Plank-Smoked Portobello Mushrooms recipe.

Tips for Smoking with Gas Grills

  • Soak wood chips and chunks in water for at least 1 hour.
  • Soak aromatic twigs for 30 minutes.
  • Drain and shake off excess water before adding soaked wood to the fire.
  • If equipped with a smoker box attachment, before firing up the grill, fill water pan on attachment with hot tap water.
  • Place presoaked chunks or chips in compartment as directed by manufacturer's directions.
  • If you do not have an attachment, use a foil pan (separate from the water pan) or a foil packet with holes punched in the bottom. Place pan on rack directly over heat source.
  • Place food on grill rack and cover.
  • Check food, temperature, and water pan once each hour, adjusting as needed.

Get the Double-Smoked Salmon with Horseradish Cream recipe.

Tips for Smoking with Charcoal Grills

  • Monitor temperature and add additional fresh briquettes as needed to keep temperature consistent.
  • Do not add "instant-start" charcoal briquettes during the cooking process.

Get the Smoked Tomato Po'Boy Sandwiches recipe.

More Smoking Recipes and Tips

Now that you know all of the ins and outs of smoking food, it's time to try it yourself! Choose one of our smoked recipes to taste-test, or check out some of our other tips for smoking and grilling.

Texas-Style Beef Brisket

Maple-Smoked Salmon Fillets

Smoked Turkey with Apple Stuffing

How to Smoke a Turkey

How to Cook Brisket


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