It’s officially barbecue season, and that means plate after delicious plate of smoked meats. If you’ve never smoked a pork shoulder, rack of ribs or brisket before because of equipment costs or space concerns it’s time to start because all you need is the grill you already have. Whether you’re working with a charcoal or gas grill, you can easily convert it to a smoker with a few simple steps. Here’s how you turn your grill into a smoker.

Collect Your Supplies:

  • Grill / Meat – Obviously
  • Aluminum pans – These will be used as drip / moisture pans to keep your meat moist and help maintain a constant temp
  • Wood chips or chunks – Wood chips are an option, but wood chunks work better because they burn longer, smolder better and don’t require smoking
  • Heat source – Check your propane or make sure you have plenty of charcoal
  • Thermometer – You want to maintain a constant temperature of 225 – 250 degrees Fahrenheit. The thermometer prevents you from having to open the grill every 10 minutes and lose your precious smoke
  • Liquid – Moisture helps with indirect cooking and regulates temperature, but you don’t have to use water. Try experimenting with beer, wine or apple juice

Setup Your Grill:

You need to create a “zoned” grill with separate hot and cool areas. By heating the wood over the fire in the hot zone and cooking your meat over the moisture pan in the cool zone, you create the perfect environment for a low and slow indirect cook that will also keep your meat moist and tender.

Gas Grill:

Remove the cooking grate because you’re going to need access to the burner level. You’re only going to be using one set of burners to keep the temperature low, so find out which direction your burners run. If they’re side-to-side, use the back. If they’re front-to-back, pick left or right. Put your wood in one of the aluminum pans and place it over the heat source. Fill the second aluminum pan about half way with your liquid of choice and place it at the same level on the cool side of the grill. Reinstall the cooking grate.

Charcoal Grill:

There are two schools of thought about the best way to smoke with a charcoal grill: piles of charcoal off to the side, or the snake method. Piles of charcoal is pretty self-explanatory and is similar to when you grill. The snake method involves creating a stacked bead of charcoal around the edge of the hot zone in order to have each piece light in sequence instead of all at once. The pile method is easier, but the snake method tends to produce better results for really long smokes. Once you’ve decided on a plan of attack, remove the grate and setup your charcoal with the wood pieces directly on top. Fill one of the aluminum pans about halfway with your liquid of choice and place it on the cool side of the grill. Check your vents. Make sure both of your vents are partially open to keep the air circulating and position the top vent above the cool side so that the smoke doesn’t immediately escape over the fire.

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Fire Up The Grill:

Now that your smoker is ready to go, it’s time to fire it up.

Gas Grill:

Fire up only the one burner in your hot zone and set it to low. Close the grill. Crack open a beer. Check on the temp (remember: 225° – 250°) and the smoke in about 20 minutes.

Charcoal Grill:

Heat up a separate batch of charcoal and either dump it on top of your pile of cool charcoal, or carefully place the pieces at the beginning of the snake so they’re only touching the pstack of cool charcoal. Reinstall the grate and put the top on the grill with the vent over the cool zone. Put the thermometer in one of the vent holes to start taking readings. Crack open a beer. Check on the temp (remember: 225° – 250°) and the smoke in about 20 minutes.


Once the grill hits the ideal temperature, put your meat (or fish, or cheese, or anything else you want to smoke) on the grate above the moisture pan. Sit back, relax, and resist the temptation to open the grill every 10 minutes. If the temperature is getting low, adjust heat accordingly with more gas or charcoal.


Whether you’re cooking ribs for the average 1hr/lb or brisket for 1.5hr/lb, after a period of hours you’re going to get to the best part: Eating. Enjoy it. Have a beer or two. Marvel at your own handiwork and the fact you didn’t spend a couple hundred or more dollars on a piece of extra equipment you didn’t have the space for in the first place.

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