How To Smoke With a Gas Grill

Tasty, smoked foods aren’t something you can only get at a restaurant or buy pre-smoked at the grocery store. There are all kinds of foods you can smoke yourself in your own backyard.

Fish, meat, cheese and even yogurt are some of the foods you can smoke yourself.

All you need is your backyard grill, a handful of wood chips and these steps on how to smoke with a gas grill.

When smoking with a gas grill, you should know:

  • You can cold smoke or hot smoke using your gas grill.
  • Use a hot plate or tube smoker.
  • You’ll need wood chips, soaked or not soaked.
  • Get a thermometer to measure the internal temperature of your food.

Flavor, flavor, flavor is to food, what location, location, location is to real estate. It’s become the mantra of our daily lives. We spend so much time talking about food that we’ve tried and loved, or sometimes hated or often felt is unimpressive.

Smoking food is a way to bring out intense flavors. Most often, though, we have other people smoking our food for us. Maybe it’s the barbecue restaurant down the street. Or perhaps your favorite butcher or even a national food chain. 

But what if we could easily and safely smoke our own food just using an ordinary gas grill? Wouldn’t that be awesome? 

Well, if you’re curious, here’s everything you need to know about how to smoke with a gas grill.

Grilling vs. Barbecuing vs. Smoking

Let’s be sure we’re on the same page here when it comes to the differences between grilling, barbecuing and smoking. 

Grilling refers to cooking over a fire, fast and hot. The lid of the grill is usually open, and the temperature is around 350 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s great for smaller cuts of meat.

Barbecuing refers to the slow cooking of larger cuts of meat. The temperature is lower than grilling, and the lid is usually closed.

And then there’s smoking. The temperature is lower than both barbecuing and grilling. And of course, the cooking times are much longer—hours and hours in some cases. There’s also the addition of wood chips or pellets that add flavor through the smoke. 

How To Smoke With a Gas Grill infographic
rethinking fire

Cold vs. Hot Smoking

You can add a smokey flavor to your food in two ways: with hot or cold smoking. The difference is that with hot smoking, you’re cooking while you smoke. With cold, you’re just smoking for flavor. 

Cold smoking is more common with already prepared food. A perfect example is cheese. Cheese is already a ready-to-eat food, so smoking at a cold temperature is fine.

But you can cold smoke some meat as well. If you’re cold smoking meat, and it’s typically pork, you have to cure or brine the meat first. Curing and brining remove the moisture from the meat, which is a breeding ground for bacteria. With the moisture gone, so is the possibility of bacteria growth. 

Curing meat safely is a little complicated. For our purposes today, let’s just say we’ll only cold smoke foods that are ready to eat. And let’s hot smoke raw meat, poultry and fish. 

When you’re ready, a great place to start cold smoking fish is cold smoked salmon. Cold smoked salmon is safe to eat, but you have to follow some guidelines. 

Getting To Know Your Gas Grill

Before we get into the details of how to smoke with a gas grill, it’s important that you get to know your grill. 

Take a look at your grill and answer the following two questions. 

Does Your Gas Grill Already Have a Smoker?

This is usually a long rectangular metal box that sits inside your grill on the left side. Often, it’ll have a dedicated burner. You simply load it full of wood chips and turn on the burner. 

Does Your Gas Grill Have a Single or Multiple Burners? 

The easiest way to check this is to look at how many dials are on the front of the grill. You can also look inside and count them. They typically look like long metal rods. 

The number of burners is important because you’re going to need to have two areas in your grilling chamber: the hot and the not so hot areas. 

How Do You Use Wood Chips on a Gas Grill?

Here’s where there are a few decisions to make and maybe some inexpensive equipment to buy. 

But first, let’s break it down between hot smoking and cold smoking.

Hot Smoking

Unlike cold smoking, your grill will be your heat source for creating smoke and for cooking the food. 

The key here is getting the correct temperature—which is 225 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s considerably lower than the one you use for full-on grilling. 

In order to hit that sweet spot of temperature for smoking on your grill, you have to experiment with your grill.

Multiple Burner Grills

When you’re hot smoking, you’re going to want to hit that perfect temperature of 225 degrees Fahrenheit. One way to do this is by just lighting one of your burners and keeping it on medium. 

The area above the lit burner will be higher than what you need. But it’s the temperature of the unlit area that you want to watch. 

Or maybe you need to put two burners on low to reach that perfect temperature. As I said, you’ve got to do some experimenting to find out how your grill works. 

A tool that’ll help you here is a grill surface thermometer. They’re relatively inexpensive and will work to tell you the actual temperature of the grill surface. The thermometer on the outside of your grill will only tell you the temperature of the grilling chamber. 

So try it out with different combinations of one or two burners set at different heat levels. Eventually, you’ll find a way to reach 225 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Single Burner Grills

Hitting that perfect smoking temperature is a little more difficult with a single burner grill. But it’s certainly not impossible. 

You’re going to have to put a large and sturdy, heat resistant pot on the grate of your grill. On top of that, you’ll need a metal rack of some kind. This will keep the food you’re smoking away from the heat of the burner.

For the sake of safety, make sure the pot and rack are on the grate and NOT directly on the burner. 

Once you’ve added the wood chip packet to the burner at the bottom, your food will be far enough away from the heat to get smoked and cook slowly.

If you have a surface thermometer, place it on the rack next to the food. Keep this at 225 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Once you’ve got that temperature right, it’s time to add the wood chips. 

Putting the Wood Chips on the Grill

You can use the smoker box already on your grill, a smoker tube or a handful of wood chips wrapped up in tin foil. 

A pellet smoking tube is a stainless steel, perforated cylinder that you can buy pretty cheaply at any hardware store or online. It allows you to burn smoking pellets in your gas grill. 

You set the tube on the grate right above one of the burners. Put the burner on high, close the lid, and in 10 minutes, the pellets should be smoking. You then have to cool the grill down to 225 degrees Fahrenheit to begin smoking. 

If you don’t have a smoker tube, just put the wood chips in a tin foil packet and follow the above directions. Don’t forget to poke some holes in the tin foil.

Once you have smoke and your grill is at the right temperature, put your food on the other side of the grill, away from the smoking device. 

Cold Smoking

If you’re choosing to do a cold smoke, there are a few things you need to know. 

First off, you shouldn’t do cold smoking on hot days. You don’t want the summer sun to start heating your food. 

Also, when cold smoking, you won’t turn your grill on. The heat from your grill will be too much for the cheese or whatever it is you’ve decided to smoke. You’re going to need a different heat source to produce the smoke.

You can use a smoker tube or a hot plate. 

Smoker Tube

You can use the same smoker tube that I mentioned above. 

It’s pretty simple. You just fill it with your favorite wood pellets, lay it on the grate of your grill and light it. A blow torch works well for this.

Keep your food as far away from the smoker tube as possible. You’ve got to keep the food cool. 

Using a Hot Plate

For cold smoking, you can place a small hot plate inside your grill to provide heat for your wood chips. Don’t light your grill when using this method. 

First, you have to wrap your wood chips in tin foil or in a disposable foil plate. Poke a couple of holes in that tin foil to let the smoke out. 

Next, place the wood chip packet directly on the burner of the hot plate. Turn the hot plate on medium. Once you see smoke coming out of the wood chip packet, you can reduce the heat a little and close the lid. 

You’re ready for your cold smoke. 

Place your food on the grate as far away from the hot plate as you can. You don’t want the heat to contact your food in a cold smoke. 

Don’t go too far away from the grill. You’ve got to keep an eye on the smoke. If you don’t see any smoke coming out of the grill, you have to check if there are still wood chips in the packet. Refill with more wood chips if there aren’t. If there are still chips in the packet, you could try turning the hot plate up a little. 

What Chips Are Best?

The chips that are best depend on your personal taste and on what you’re smoking. 

Hickory and mesquite are both thought of as bold-tasting wood chips. These go with meats that are already flavorful, like beef. Milder chips won’t stand up against a really flavorful meat.

Use alder for fish. It has a mild sweet taste. 

Pecan and maple are also mildly sweet, and I’ve had success using them with poultry, pork and cheese. 

The fruit wood chips, like apple and cherry, are delicate and great with poultry, pork and aged cheddar cheese. With these, you’ll get a real sweet taste. 

Red wood chips ready for smoking.

Soaking Wood Chips vs. Not Soaking 

For years people have been soaking their wood chips in water before smoking. Lately, there’ve been fewer and fewer serious grillers who suggest this. 

One reason not to soak is that soaking your wood chips will create steam instead of smoke. Another reason is that soaked wood will lower the temperature of your smoker. 

Many people suggest smoking your wood chips for 30 minutes. The truth is it would take up to 24 hours for the wood to absorb the water. 

Is Smoking Food Safe? 

If you’re new to smoking, you may wonder about the safety of it. 

Scientists have discovered that smoke can slow down the growth of some bacteria in food. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it isn’t an exact science. Or, more precisely, it’s too much exact science. 

Figuring out how much smoke and which bacteria it works on is best left to scientists. I wish I could simply say that smoke kills all bacteria in food. I can’t—but it does help. 

So, when it comes to hot smoking, the key to safety is that internal temperature. You can’t go wrong if you stick to the smoking temperature of 225 degrees F and only eat food that you have cooked to the correct internal temperature. 

Cold smoking is safe when you are smoking food that is already safe to eat. A good example is cheese. Other safe food items include pre-cooked ham, tofu, nuts, vegetables, hard-boiled eggs and even olive oil. 

Once you’re ready to learn about curing and brining, you can move on to cold smoking salami and salmon.

A backyard chef removing smoked ribs from a grill.

The Last Word

There’s something very earthy and outdoorsy about smoking our own food. It appeals to the side of us that wants to go back to basics. Back to a time where we started our cooking with raw materials and made them into something truly delicious. 

Now that you know how to smoke with a gas grill, there’s nothing stopping you from trying it out. Remember, it’s all about experimentation, while sticking to a few simple rules. 

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