How to Use a Smoker Box on a BBQ Gas Grill


A smoker box is a useful addition to an outdoor grill or gas grill to enhance the flavor of the meat or vegetables to be grilled up.  

Admittedly, using a smoker box on a BBQ might be new to you. We find that’s often the case, so below is our explanation on how to use a smoker box to make it clearer.

Smoker Box

How to Use a Smoker Box?

To use a smoker box with your grill requires a small amount of preparation first.

Here’s what you should do:

  • Preheat the grill either through using charcoal or lighting the gas burners for 10+ minutes.
  • Add wood smoking chips or chunks to your smoker box. Spread them out evenly. Aim to be two-thirds to three-quarters full – but not 100%.
  • Position the smoker box over the heat source (charcoal or gas burner). Either use a shelf below the grill designed for this or place the smoker box directly over the heat source. Most smoker boxes are made from cast iron and handle the heat perfectly.
  • Once the smoking chunks or chips begin to smoke, your grilling can shortly begin.
  • Monitor the cooking temperate inside the grill. For charcoal, it burns hot, but the introduction of the smoker box will capture some of that heat. For a gas grill, aim for at least 225℉ and possibly up to 250℉.
  • If the smoke is insufficient or the heat is, then add more charcoal, or smoking chunks in the smoker box, or both until the grill is at the right temperature for safe cooking.
  • Once ready, place the meat and/or vegetables on the grill to cook while soaking up the smokey flavor.

Note: For gas grills, it’s common to use one side or the other for grilling leaving space to slide the smoker box onto the cooking grate.

Why Use a Smoker Box?

A smoker box is used for two main reasons:

  1. Reduce the heat level in the grill to avoid overcooking the meat. Gas grills have better temperature control. Charcoal gets hotter with its heat far less controllable. By adding a smoker box, the generated heat is better contained allowing for a more consistent barbequing experience.
  2. Add a delicious smokey flavor. The smoking chunks or chips generate the smoke which quickly rises to the grilling level. The smoke flavor infuses the meat or vegetables on the grill with a richness that sauces alone cannot provide.

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Where is the Best Position for a Smoker Box?

A smoker box can be placed on a designated shelf or ledge below the grill sitting above the charcoal or gas flame below it.

Some well-designed grills already have a place for one even if a smoker box wasn’t supplied with the grill. However, it’s common that any smoker box supplied was too basic and many wear out over time requiring a replacement.

When there isn’t a convenient place to slide the box into, another option is to place it directly on the barbeque grate alongside where the meats and/or vegetables will be cooking. This will successfully circulate the smoke more than adequately, especially with a grill lid closed some of the time to better contain it.

Should You Soak the Smoking Chunks or Chips Overnight?

There is some debate amongst people who love to BBQ whether it’s a good idea to soak smoking chunks or chips in water for a few hours or overnight? The thinking is that it adds to the smoke when using them later.  

The reality is that water evaporation occurs near or above the boiling point which is 212℉. However, the wood itself won’t burn until it reaches around 500℉.

How does this affect wet smoking chunks?

First, they put out water vapor at a lower heat level. Not smoke!

Second, the wood burns at a higher temperature level and generates the smoke.

Soaking smoking chunks or chips slows down how soon the smoke will appear. People often get confused between water vapor and smoke. To the untrained eye, they can look similar. However, only the latter will give you that smokey flavor!

So, on the soaking smoking chunks debate, we’d side with the people who use their wood chunks dry. This way, the grilling session will require less time and deliver the same results.

Can You Add More Smoking Chunks During the Grilling?

Should you discover that the smoke level is reducing because some chunks are no longer producing any, it’s possible to add more. This is where leaving space inside the smoker box is useful.

Here’s how to add more smoking chunks or chips:

  1. Put on some heat-resistant protective gloves.
  2. Pick up a pair of special tongs.
  3. Lift the top lid of the smoker box using the tongs.
  4. Add some chunks to the smoker box as a new top layer.
  5. Carefully close the lid.
  6. DO NOT touch the box or lid with any part of your body – it’s extremely hot!
  7. Wait a minute or so for the smoke output to noticeably increase.

Any Alternatives to Using a Smoker Box?

Whether you want to know how to use a gas smoker box or you’re dealing with charcoal, the heat levels are pretty high. So, you need to be careful about what you’re doing.

It’s possible to use an aluminum tray or some other ad hoc alternative as a smoker tool. However, they won’t have a cover with slots to let the smoke escape and rise to the grill level. Because of this, they’re generally far less effective.

Also, most trays will struggle to not burn up under the intense heat. You don’t want a metallic burning smell adding to your tasty meal to come.

In Conclusion

A smoker box is easy to use. Reliable cast iron boxes retain their heat allowing smoking chunks to smolder. The smoke escapes through the holes at the top of the smoker box to the grill above or to the side of it.

Smoker boxes are an excellent addition to a grill master’s setup. Fortunately, it’s easy to learn how to use a smoker box too.

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Tyler Lachance is a cookout professional. His expertise on cooking grilled food, creating marinades, formulating sauces and matching his food with the perfect drink is unrivaled.

Born and raised in a family that has a long history of cookout, he has treated this activity as a part of his culture and who he is.