How To: Smoke On A Gas Grill

The "formal" barbecue and grilling season is nearly upon us, and it recently occurred to me that I've never covered how gas grillers can add smoke to their cooking. Given that a lot of my recipes involve smoking, it's long past time for me to help y'all get your smoke on.

Just because you only own a gas grill doesn't mean that smoking is beyond you. While it's true that a gas grill will never give you that true barbecue flavor that you get from charcoal and/or wood, with a little effort you can get fairly close. Here I'll share several ways to take your gas grill to the next level.

First we need to address wood. In a future post I'll cover what woods go best with what foods, but for now you just need to know that chips are your friend. Various kinds of wood chips are readily available throughout the spring and summer months at your local mega-mart or home improvement center. I recommend that you keep a bag of hickory and one fruit wood (apple or cherry) on hand pretty much year-round. Mesquite chips are also great to have on-hand for steaks and other beef cuts.

When using wood chips it's very important that you soak them for a couple of hours before you plan to start cooking. Often it's hard to remember to soak the chips in advance, but they really do need to be soaked for at least an hour. Otherwise you get a very quick burst of smoke that doesn't do much. You want the chips to smolder and, you guessed it, smoke rather than catch fire and burn up quickly.

Next, we need a container that will do three things:
  1. Restrict the air flow (so the chips don't catch fire and burn up)
  2. Contain the ash
  3. Allow you to move the chips so that they don't burn too quickly
There are many ways to handle this. You can go store-bought, or you can go DIY. I prefer the latter.

Here's a smoker box. These are usually made of anything from cast iron (shown here) to cheap metal. If you're going to go this route, spend a little more and go with cast iron or stainless steel.

How To: Smoke On A Gas Grill

You simply fill it with soaked chips and set it on the edge of one burner. As with any of these methods it will take some experimentation to find the best location on your grill.

Next, we go MacGuyver with a couple homemade smoker boxes made from simple cans. Be careful not to use cans that are lined, like those used for tomatoes. These usually have a white interior.

Here we have a version where you cut the top off of a can, punch holes in the other end, and set it in a larger can. You dump the chips in the smaller can, put the larger can on top, flip it over, then set it on your grate.

How To: Smoke On A Gas Grill

Here's a little different twist on the previous can configuration. If you have one of those can openers that cuts the bead around the can, just rinse it out, put the top back on, and punch a few holes in the lid with a bottle opener. Fill the can with soaked chips, put the lid on, and away you go.

How To: Smoke On A Gas Grill

Last, but not least, we have the infamous foil pouch. The instructions to make one of these is usually printed on the wood chip bag, but here goes. It's a really easy one-use option.

Tear off a two pieces of foil about a foot long (one piece if it's heavy-duty). Put one to two cups of soaked chips on one side as shown.

How To: Smoke On A Gas Grill

Fold one half over the other and double-fold each open end to create a sealed packet.

Punch eight to ten holes in the top of the packet using a knife, skewer, or whatever else is lying around that is sharp.

How To: Smoke On A Gas Grill

Lay the packet on top of the flavor bars/burner shield/rocks under the cooking grate (and above the burner). Place it in a corner or far off to one side and not directly under where the food will be.

The great thing about the packet method is that you can easily make various sizes depending on how much smoke you need, and for how long.

Tip: If you are cooking a large cut and need to smoke for a longer time, make an extra packet or two in advance so that you can just put a new one in as needed.

Well, there you have it! Just because you have a gas grill doesn't mean that you have to forego the smokey goodness that is barbecue. With a little added effort and experimentation you will add a whole new dimension to your gas grilling.

I should mention that these methods are also handy on a charcoal grill when all you have is wood chips, or where you just need a blast or whisper of smoke, as I recently did with some pork tenderloins.

Note: I apologize for the poor picture quality. My wife took the SLR to SoCal, so I was left using my cell camera. Ugh! It's an HTC (Droid) Incredible, in case you're curious.

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70 Comments:
Anonymous Anonymous said...
I wondered if you have ever put tea into the smoker box? I have not tried this myself, what do you think?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Nope, I've never tried it either. I've heard of others smoking with tea, but it's never really intrigued me enough to give it a shot.
Blogger Chris said...
John, like I said on the forum, this is the best tutorial I've seen on the subject. This is a must read for gassers. I just posted it on Twitter. With my massive following, that means maybe two more people will see it, ha ha.
Anonymous Kevin said...
Poor picture quality? Dood... I wish my cell phone took pics as nice as this! We have an old char-broil gas grill that I use the foil packet method on. Works great!
Blogger John Dawson said...
Thanks, Kevin. I had to do some lighting and Photoshop fancy footwork to get them to be tolerable.
Blogger Rikki said...
Every time I see the title of this in my RSS feed, I imagine Jerry Garcia sitting cross-legged on my Weber, leaning back against the open lid, calmly smoking a cigar.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
I'm new to the site and to grilling, let me just say that I think you've done a wonderful job. My gas grill has 4 A-shaped burners and i think it would be difficult to try to balance any of these on top of the burners. Any ideas on what I can do?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - The packet method is perfect for uneven surfaces.
Blogger Samitestar said...
How completely brilliant, thank you for this, I cant wait to try it out, no more liquid smoke flavoring for me!
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Gas grills have alot of ventilation, what is the best way to control the smoke so enough actually gets to the meat??
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - You're right, and the grill needs that ventilation, so don't plug any holes for safety sake. The only recommendation I have is to just use more smoke.
Blogger Finandra said...
Thank you so much for writing this article. I'm new to this and have read a few articles saying not to place them on the burner but under the grate. My grill does not have lava rocks so I'm not sure exactly where to place the smoking mechanism. Is it okay to place on the burner or not? Please help.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Do you close the hood when smoking on a gas grill?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - Yes, you should almost always close the lid when cooking on a gas grill. You'll get more even convective cooking and it helps eliminate flare-ups. When smoking it's critical, as it keeps the smoke on the meat longer.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
where exactly is the smoker box placed?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - Just place it off to the far side of one of your lit burners.
Anonymous Tawny Press said...
Great information. We just moved to Texas and have a nice new gas grill built into our patio kitchen. The Texans have said we need a smoker, but your information proves them wrong. Thank you, I am going to try each of these and see what works best for me.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Got a silly question...do you put these pouches directly ON the burner below the grilling grate, or on the grate ...just want a little clarification. I would think if it were ON the burner it would burn up fast and make a mess
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - You want to place it on top of the flavor bars/burner shield/rocks under the cooking grate (and above the burner). Place it in a corner or far off to one side and not directly under where the food will be.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Question:

I am now on my third try of smoking on a gas BBQ - the first two actually were both great - one was pork ribs, the second a pork loin. Now I am trying salmon and trout (both).

The first try produced lots of smoke, it was great, I use a foil pouch and store bought chips. The second one, however, and this one today, is not producing much smoke ~ although the second one was very smoke-flavorful (have not tried today's yet).

Do I need the smoke itself? The chips were black when it was done on the second one, just not much visable smoke. How do I get more smoke? I wet the chips first, put a little water in with it - and set it for 200 to 225.
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - Yes, you most definitely need the smoke. If you're doing the same thing each time you should get very similar results. Keep in mind that you don't want a lot of white/gray billowing smoke. You want a very thin blueish smoke. Perhaps that's what's going on.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Yes, maybe. Today I am trying again with less chips in the foil pouch and leaving the ends more open so more air can get through to the wood. On the first one, I did have more white smoke so maybe it was too much?

I will report back!

Thanks for the hints, John.

Michael -
Blogger Dave Moran said...
I'm having a similar situation to the last poster, where I'm not seeing a lot of smoke. I have a Weber Genesis gas grill, front/middle/back burner set up, and I'm not seeing a lot of smoke. I did a foil packet and set in on top of the flavor bar over the front burner (which was the one I was using). All I got was minimal thin blue smoke, which I know is the type I'm looking for. Now, I know for sure that I was cooking too hot (after doing some more research), but I was expected way more smoke, as this is typically the sort of picture you see associated with BBQ. Any suggestions? I'm hoping to do a nice smoke for a 4th of July party tomorrow. I'm also wondering if perhaps there's not enough airflow getting to the chips to get them smoking properly. Someone else suggesting using a disposable pie pan with no top to allow smoke to flow more freely than with the foil packet.
Blogger John Dawson said...
Dave - As I mentioned in a previous comment, thin blue smoke is all you need. However, if you want to fill your patio with smoke, just add more packets. I'd also encourage you to experiment with other methods. That's part of the fun of BBQ.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
As for the burners themselves on a gas grill, when using the smoke method, I noticed that if I use all of the burners, even at the lowest level, the temperature rises too high. I tried using only one burner, it worked for the temperature, but cooked the ribs under faster.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
The longer the chips soak the better? Or is there an upper limit on the soaking?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - No, there is a point of diminishing return. The goal is to simply get them to smolder and to keep them from burning quickly.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Thank you!
Anonymous Anonymous said...
OK I just got the wood chunks, I was going to use indirect heat meaning lighting the front and back burners but leaving the middle burner off and putting the chunks in the foils in the middle section..will this work ya think????
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - Yes, I think that will work, but use chips, not "chunks".
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Alright, I am giving smoking a try tomorrow for the 1st time using my gas grill - 13.5# of pork spare ribs. I have a 5 burner gas grill so I plan put foil packets over far left and right and meat in the middle. I plan to put mustard, then rub on ribs and cook for 4-5 hours @ 225 deg. Do I mop or not? If so, when and with what? What about wrapping in foil? Any/all suggestions appreciated!
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - I would start with the basic 3-2-1 method and tweak as necessary.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Used the aluminum foil method. Three hours and never got any smoke. Packet was directly over lit burner on low. What did I do wrong?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - I sounds to me like your heat was too low.
Anonymous Brian said...
I have a two burner infrared gas grill with no open burners. Only a v shaped metal shield under the grates. Where would I place the packets?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Brian - Just set it on the metal shield.
Anonymous Brian said...
OK. Thanks John. I just found your site by accident, but now it is bookmarked.
Blogger Lauren jonczak said...
I just bought my boyfriend a nice gas grill with 2 gas grill covers for his birthday and I wanted to surprise him with a nice meal. He loves to smoke things so I figured I would try that but I am far from a griller. This was very helpful. What would be the best kind of wood chips to use for steak? Thanks so much for sharing.
Blogger John Dawson said...
Lauren - I very rarely use smoke wood for grilling, but if I were to, I would use a little mesquite for steaks.
Blogger joel carbone said...
OK. What about lighting a charcoal burquet and placing one or two under neath a large can full of saoked wood chips, and then placing the large can within the gas BBQ not directly ontop of the plate but rather on the grill?

Im going to give it a shot. Let you all know what I find out.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
I have a peach tree that has broken large limbs from too any peaches this year. Have you ever tried smoking with peach wood?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - Peach wood is used very widely in barbecue, and by some of the winningest teams on the competitive circuit. Just make sure that it's good clean non-diseased wood.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
I have a three burner gas grill. Where di I place the wood chip packets?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - You'd put it where I mentioned in the post, "on top of the flavor bars/burner shield/rocks under the cooking grate (and above the burner)."
Anonymous Anonymous said...
I need some clarification?...what's a flavor bar? My gas grill has three long burners..where would I place the foil packets? I have 5 approximately 7 pound pork blade roasts that I want to smoke to make pulled pork for my husband's 50th birthday party...how long do I smoke them for and at what temperature? do I smoke all five roasts at once, or a couple at a time?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - It's pretty simple, you need the packets to be on top of the heat source (so it heats and smoulders), but below the cooking grate. Most gas grills have a metal shield over the burner tube. Put them there.

Here's a pulled pork how-to.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Very good!
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Want to smoke some pork but it is 17f can you smoke pork in this temp. on a gas grill? Thanks
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - Propane and natural gas still ignite at 17*, so yes you can smoke at that temperature. :-) It's just going to take longer.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
would you recommend soaking chips in wine or brandy?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - Yes, wine, whiskey and brandy can add a nice touch. I'm a big fan of the Jack Daniels chips, especially for poultry.
Anonymous Morgan said...
Well, you've done it again - another terrific post! The simple methods you have outlined in your article are easy enough for any outdoor chef to duplicate. Although you can't quite duplicate the flavors of a traditional smoker, the
alternative meat smoking method you have outlined comes pretty darned close to the real thing. Looking forward to more wonderful articles such as this one. Kudos to you and your staff.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
this tutorial is great, it gives you the basic knowledge to get started. i must say i am surprised at the number of specific questions, it seems no one has the time these days to invest in a little bit of trial and error. i'm currently smoking two pork hocks that have just hit the 5 hour mark. i'm using a mix of hickory and cherry chips and so far everything seems to be going well. the pork came from a friends hobby farm, they were fed goat's milk every day so the perfume of the cherry mingling with the sweet lactic tang coming out of the fat is pretty special. my dog is just going nuts. can't wait until i'm having some smoky collard greens. thanks for the information!
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - Specific questions? What specific questions? :-P Some folks just need some extra help, like where to find foil in a grocery store. :-) Thanks for checking in and sharing your experience. I'm very glad that you found the information clearly understood and helpful.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
I,m going to try the packet method. How long do you smoke baby back ribs for, and what temperature?
Stumbled in today. Never been here before and finding everything to be a treat. Now only if you lived closer lol. Well now I am wanting to try smoking in the gas grill just for the heck of it. So well thanks for the inspiration and thanks for the info.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
I'm in UK gonna try smoking a pork joint tomorrow long and slow I think is best, I'm rubbing the pork first then indirect cook with a foil pie dish of chips soaked in cider, sounds good hope so
Anonymous Anonymous said...
I came across your site because i found a recipie that calls for smoking. I dont have a smoker and wanted to see if i could on my gas grill. Your instructions are very helpful but the one thing i dont know is where to put the meat. Does it go direcrly on the grill or in a pan of some sort to catch the drippings?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - You can do either.
Blogger Jim Chorzempa said...
I have a Genesis 3 burner ...front, middle and back burner. Where is the best place to put a stainless steel smoker container. Which burner, right or left side?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Jim - A burner is a burner, so it doesn't matter. Just put it somewhere away from your food.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
I am smoking 4 large pork back ribs. how long does the tin foil method last before u have to put another one in. I will be smoking them for 4 hours.
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - It depends on what size pouch you make.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Please confirm/comment

1. Even though I have a good mesquite source (large tree with dead branches previously trimmed) I must used commercial chips and not chunks
2. Place soaked chips or chunks in the foil over grill flavor bars and don't ignite them (gas heat level will ignite for smoke purposes during cooking)
3. Add additional foil packets as smoke diminishes - how much for how long ? I want to smoke for 6-8 hours @ 200
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - Here you go:
1) Commercial? No. You can chip the wood you have.
2) Yes
3) There's no way to answer this, as it depends on the quantity of chips, how densely they're packed in the foil, etc. You just have to experiment.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Wow - thanks for the quick response - as to the wood size, what I meant was - do I have to get smallest sizes such as in bagged (commercial) wood chips or can I just chunk up the branches etc to something a little smaller than an egg? Or do they have to be smaller to work?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - They have to be about the size of typical chips. Chunks won't work.
Blogger John Dawson said...
P.S. That's why the process calls for "chips". ;-)
Anonymous Anonymous said...
I will be smoking ribs using the tinfoil method. they are 1.5lbs each. how long or the ideal temperature and time to cook these ribs pls
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - I don't know what exactly you mean by "the tin foil method", but I would cook them at 275* until a toothpick glides easily between the bones. I'd guess that they'll take about 2 1/2 hours, but time is just a guideline.

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