How To Add Wood Smoke Flavor on the Barbecue Grill

Wood smoke adds a distinctively rich flavor to any grilled food, whether you’re grilling up steak, a whole chicken, or vegetables. With the right tools, you can easily add smoke wood to any gas, charcoal or electric grill.

Turning your grill into a smoker, whether you have a gas or charcoal grill, is easier than you might think. Some gas grills come with built-in trays for wood chips, while others may require a separate smoker box. If you have a charcoal grill, all you need to do is toss the prepared wood on top of the coals and you’re good to go! Easy, right?

The hardest part about using your barbecue grill as a smoker is choosing the right wood. There are 2 main things to consider when choosing wood for smoking:

  1. Wood size: Should you use chips, chucks, or logs?
  2. Wood type: What smoke flavors go best with your meal?

Once you’ve selected the proper wood size and type, you can begin preparing it for the grill. Keep reading to learn how to choose the right wood, how to prepare it, how to smoke on a gas grill with chips, and how to turn a charcoal grill into a smoker.

Wood Sizes: Chips, Chunks, or Logs

You can choose from three different wood sizes for your barbecue grill: chips, chunks, or logs.

Chips are wood scraps and shavings. They are the most popular wood size sold in stores and are available in a wide variety of wood types. Due to their size, wood chips smoke quickly and are easy to manage. Wood chips work best with gas and charcoal kettle grills.

Chunks are roughly fist-sized pieces of wood. Wood chunks take much longer to start smoking than chips do, and work best with smokers and charcoal grills when you need to smoke for a long period of time.

Logs are full pieces of wood that are used in a fireplace or for building a campfire. Due to their size, logs are typically not used in household grilling as they will take a long time to start producing smoke when grilling.

Type of Wood for Smoking

After picking the right wood size, you’ll need to choose the type of wood you want to use. Chips will usually have more variety in stores due to their popularity.

Almost any hardwood can be used for smoking on your barbecue grill. However, avoid adding any plywood or pressure-treated wood since they might contain toxic chemicals.

The type of wood that you choose will have a great effect on how the food tastes. Different varieties of wood can be sweet, nutty, light, or heavier in taste. For this reason, certain types of wood flavor will complement the food pairing better than others. You can also try to mix and match different woods together to experiment with different tastes.

Here’s our suggested wood pairing table:

How To Prepare Wood for Smoking: Soaking the Wood (for wood chips only)

Wood chips should always be soaked before tossing them onto a gas or charcoal barbecue grill. This will prevent them from burning too quickly before the smoke flavor can be delivered to food. It’s not necessary to soak wood chunks or logs since they don’t burn quickly and doing so will only make the smoking process take longer.

While it’s perfectly okay to soak the wood chips in just water, you can also soak them in wine or beer to add even more flavor. Add enough water, wine, or beer to cover all the wood chips to a pan or a bowl, then add the wood chips and let them soak for 30 to 60 minutes. Once they’ve soaked, you can toss them onto the coals, or into the built-in smoking tray or your smoker box and pop the box onto your barbecue grill.

How To Smoke on a Gas Grill with Chips

While gas grills technically aren’t built for smoking meat, it’s very easy to use your gas grill as a smoker. If your gas barbecue grill has a built-in tray for wood chips, you can fill it with soaked wood chips whenever you want to add an extra smokey flavor to your meal. If your grill doesn’t have a built-in tray, all you need is a smoker box to hold your wood chips.

Smoker boxes are an easy way to add a unique smokey flavor to grilled foods. Simply add wood chips into the smoker box and place them onto a pre-heated grill over direct heat. Keep the lid on your grill shut. If you don’t want such a strong smoke taste to your food, add the smoker box halfway through the cooking time.

You can also toss the soaked wood chips into a foil packet made with aluminum foil. Just be sure to poke some holes with a fork on the top so that the smoke can escape! Whichever method you use, try not to overfill your foil packet or smoker box since it requires air circulation to create the smoke.

If you are using a low-and-slow smoking method, you’ll have to add more wood chips every 30 to 45 minutes.

How To Smoke on a Gas Grill with Chunks

To set up a gas grill for smoking with wood chunks, you’ll want to create direct and indirect heating zones.

When you’re smoking anything, the temperature should never exceed 300 degrees and your food should never be exposed to direct flame. The best way to control the temperature over a long period of time and prevent your grill from getting too hot is to use a two-zone heating method that includes both direct and indirect heating zones. Simply place your wood chunks over direct heat, and grill your food on the unlit side using indirect heat provided by the adjacent burner.

GRILL SPOT TIP: A grill thermometer can help you monitor temperature more accurately than the temperature gauge on your grill’s lid so you can keep it steady while you grill.

If you aren’t grilling low and slow, you don’t have to worry about temperature as much as you would with a low and slow recipe. Just be aware that you’ll get more smoke flavor the longer your food is on the grill, which is why most smoked recipes typically call for longer cooking times at lower heat levels.

How To Turn a Charcoal Grill Into a Smoker

Charcoal grills are easy to turn into a smoker—all you have to do is add the chips directly on top of the coals!

The right way to create wood smoke on a charcoal kettle grill depends on what size of wood you’re using:

  • Chips – If you are using wood chips, toss a handful of the wood chips right on top of the lit coals. If you are using a low-and-slow smoking method, you’ll have to add more wood chips every 30 to 45 minutes.
  • Chunks – If you are using wood chunks, just place one or two chunks right on top of the lit coals.

Tips for Wood Smoking on a Barbecue Grill

  • You can also try adding some herbs into your foil packet or smoker box for more seasoning.
  • Try not to lift the lid until the food is ready. A sealed grill will keep the smoke in to help flavor your food.
  • Avoid adding too much wood since over-smoked food tastes bitter and acrid.
  • Remember that the weather can impact your smoking setup. If it’s very windy, rainy, or cold, your grill will act differently than it would on a still, sunny day. It might take longer to grill, you may need to replace the wood chips more often, or the smoke flavor may be less pronounced.

Smoking on a BBQ

With the right tools, it’s easy to add wood smoke flavor using a gas, electric, or charcoal grill. Once you’ve selected the right wood size and type, all you need to do is soak the wood and load it into the built-in smoking tray or smoker box or toss them right onto the coals, and you’re ready to grill!

Shop smoker boxes, wood chips, and chunks: