Expert Tips on How to Use a Smoker Box

Jim Bob – A long-time contributor to GrillBabyGrill. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
weber smoker box

Photo Courtesy: Weber Smoker Box

Using a smoker box is an excellent way to infuse your meats and vegetables with delicious aromas and tastes to improve every meal. If you’re an outdoor grilling enthusiast, you already know how to cook your meats to perfection, but you can raise your grilling performance to the next level with a high-quality smoker box. 

Smoking boxes enable you to experiment with various flavors, allowing you to match smoky aromas that go best with various food types. You can control the amount of smoke your box produces and get amazing results by following a few simple tips.

1. Preheat Your Grill

The first step to getting the best results using a smoker box is to preheat your grill. Placing the smoker box on an already-hot surface helps the wood chips to ignite more quickly. The quickest way to heat your grill is to fire up all the burners simultaneously and set them to high heat for a minimum of 10 minutes. 

If you prefer to keep your grill at a lower temperature, you can use a reduced heat setting. When you place your smoker box on the grill, the wood chips will take longer to ignite but won’t significantly affect the smoke level during cooking.

2. Prepare Your Smoker Box

Purchase a smoker box with dimensions suitable for your grill. Do not buy a smoker box that is too large, as you may be unable to fully close your grill lid and allow smoke to escape into the outside air.

It’s possible to purchase smoker boxes constructed of different materials, but stainless steel is an excellent option because it conducts heat quickly and effectively.  

If you’re learning how to use a smoker box for the first time, you can create a home-made version using aluminum foil. Simply place your wood chips on a sheet of aluminum foil and seal the wood chips inside by crumpling it into a ball. Use a knife or other sharp object to poke 5-6 holes in the aluminum to allow the smoke to move from the foil into the cooking chamber.

3. Types of Wood Chips

The most critical step in a smoker box is adding the right wood chips. Some wood chip flavors combine well with different food types, allowing you to match complementary tastes and textures. While the final taste of your meal depends on the amount of smoke you produce, wood chips come in a range of flavors to infuse your food with unique flavors. Some of the most popular options include:

Hickory Wood Chips

Hickory wood chips produce a sweet and strong smoky flavor that some outdoor grilling enthusiasts compare to bacon. Hickory makes an excellent addition when grilling red meats or cold-smoking cheese. 

It’s best to start with a small number of hickory wood chips to reduce the risk of adding too much flavor that overpowers the taste of your meats. There is no need to add plain wood chips, although you can if you want to increase the smoke level.

Mesquite Wood Chips

Mesquite is another wood chip type that adds a sweet flavor to your meals. Texas-style cooking uses mesquite to add a bold, earthy taste to meats, such as beef and pork. 

Mesquite wood chips also combine well with chicken and fish, making them a great option when simultaneously grilling a range of meats.

Apple Wood Chips

If you prefer a light smoky taste, apple-flavored wood chips are an excellent option. The subtle tastes complement white meats and desserts without overpowering the natural food flavors.

4. Soak Your Wood Chips

Consider soaking your wood chips to prevent them from igniting too quickly. While this step is unnecessary, it can help your chips last longer. You can also soak them in liquids such as beer or cider to add extra flavor. 

If you do choose to soak your wood chips, it’s best to leave them for at least 30 minutes to allow for moisture absorption, although you can leave them overnight for enhanced results.

5. Place Your Smoker Box on Your Grill


Photo Courtesy: Weber Smoker Box

When your grill is warm and your smoker box is ready, it’s time to place it on the grill to generate smoke. Turn all but one burner off. Place your smoker box over the lit burner and your meat over the unlit burners. This technique is known as indirect cooking because the heat slowly cooks your meat over an extended period.

This slower cooking style enables smoke to circulate your food for longer, increasing the delicious flavors’ absorption.

Close your grill lid, and adjust the lit burner to change the internal heat level. If you can achieve a heat level of around 250°F for red meats, this is the ideal temperature for grilling your meal. 

Increase the temperature to approximately 300°F when cooking poultry. These guidelines can vary depending on meat thickness, so it’s always best to use a meat thermometer to check when food is ready to serve. All poultry meats are safe to eat when they have an internal temperature of 165°F.  

You can raise the grill lid occasionally to check your smoker box is starting to release smoke. If it’s not ready, wait for a few more minutes until the cooking chamber fills with smoke. Most wood chips begin to ignite after around 5-20 minutes, depending on the type and moisture content.

Place your meat over the unlit burners and close the lid to allow smoke to circulate in the cooking chamber. Grilling over indirect heat can take several hours, depending on the meat’s type and thickness, so you may need to add more wood chips during cooking. It’s good practice to check the smoke level every 20-30 minutes and replace the chips as necessary.

Red meat cooks at a rate of approximately 1.5 hours per lb., while poultry cooks faster at around 20 minutes per lb. These times are a guideline, and you should regularly check your meat during grilling. 

When your meal is ready to serve, it will have a delectable smoky flavor.