Smoking has long been a popular cooking method for creating delicious, tender, and flavorsome meals. And although I certainly prefer to use a smoker, it is possible to end up with delicious smoked food even if you don't have one.
Fortunately, you don't need expensive equipment or special skills to master the technique - all you really need is this overview from my many years of BBQ experience.
Let’s get into it.
- You can use a charcoal, gas grill, or oven to smoke your food.
- Smoking food with alternative methods might not yield perfect smoking results.
- Smoking on a charcoal grill is the closest thing to using a genuine smoker.
Alternatives to Smoking Food without a Smoker
Over the years, I’ve learned that you can get the smoky flavor of your food by using these seven alternative methods.
1. Charcoal Grill
The most conventional and popular method of smoking food without a smoker is to use a charcoal fuel grill.
This grill can provide the same intense smoke flavor as a dedicated smoker, or even more so if you use hardwood chunks.
Here are my detailed instructions:
- To set up this grill for smoking, you will need a large kettle grill with a chimney starter, lump charcoal, and wood chunks or chips. Start by filling the chimney starter with charcoal and lighting it. Once the coals are hot and covered in ash, pour them into one side of the grill.
- Place a pan filled with water, beer, or apple juice on half of the grill opposite the coals. This will serve to catch drippings, maintain a constant temperature inside, and keep the meat moist.
- For a smoky flavor, use a good quality, natural lump coal. For the wood chips, use a species of wood that complements the meat you are cooking, such as apple wood for poultry or hickory for beef.
- Soak the wood chunks in water for at least 30 minutes to prevent them from burning too quickly, then place them directly over the coals and let the heat get the chips smoking.
- Once the coals and wood chips are in place, place the meat on the grill grates above the drip pan to get indirect heat from the coals. To start smoking, cover the grill and regulate the temperature by adjusting the vents.
- Aim for a low heat of 225-250°F, which is ideal for slow-cooking meat . Every hour, check the meat and add more coals and wood chips as needed.
Pro tip: Grilling over high heat is not recommended, as this will result in tough meat that does not have much smoke flavor.
Maintaining the temperature and smoke levels is crucial for producing tender, juicy, and flavorful smoked meat. To control the temperature, adjust the vents as needed. To increase the smoke level, add more soaked smoking chips. Keep the lid closed as much as possible to trap the smoke inside the grill.
Read More: Best Charcoal Grills
2. Gas Grill
Another popular method of smoking food without a smoker is to use a gas grill. A gas grill can provide good smoke flavor, but it won't be as intense as what you would get from a charcoal grill or smoker.
- To set up the gas grill, you will need one with a lid, wood chips, and aluminum foil. Start by preheating the grill to 225-250 °F.
- Next, wrap your wood chips in aluminum foil, creating a pouch, and poke several holes in the pocket's top to allow the smoke to escape. Place the pouch of wood chips on an aluminum pie pan directly on one of the burners and close the lid to trap the smoke inside the grill.
- If your device has flavorizer bars, you can put the wood chunks between those, and they will smoke as the burners light them.
- In this case, to control the temperature, you simply need to adjust the heat levels on the burners. To increase the smoke level, add wood chips to the foil pouch.
It is easy to smoke meats in an oven, and this is an accessible way to enjoy these dishes without needing to invest in a smoker. All you need is a roasting pan with a roasting rack, a baking sheet, aluminum foil, and wood chips.
- First, preheat your oven temperature to 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place your meat on the rack of the roasting pan and the wood chips in the pan area. Cover the wood with enough water so they do not stick through.
- Tent the entire rack and meat with aluminum foil and place it in the oven on the lowest oven rack.
- Close the oven door and smoke food until it reaches the desired internal temperature. The foil will keep the smoke next to the meat and away from the heat source.
"Smoking is one of the most rewarding ways to cook food. It adds a unique flavor and complexity that cannot be achieved with any other cooking method."
- Gordon Ramsay, British Chef
4. Dutch Oven
The large pot or Dutch oven method of smoking food works well for camping or other times when you want to smoke ribs over lit coals or an open fire. It also works as a stovetop smoker.
Here’s how to do it.
- Place a single layer of wood chips in the oven's bottom. On top of these, place a wire rack, steamer basket, or trivet, so you elevate the meat away from the wood chips.
- Put a layer of aluminum foil over the rack but puncture it in multiple places so the smoke can come through.
- Preheat this campfire or stovetop smoker until the wood smokes.
- Then, place your meat in the oven on top of the steamer insert and foil, and position your oven over the burner or fire.
- Put the lid on tight and cook the food as you usually do with coals below and on top.
5. Smoking Gun
Using a smoking gun is excellent for getting a smoky flavor on foods without going through the whole process of setting up a smoker.
These guns are small handheld devices that enable you to infuse smoke into any dish or drink.
They create smoke from wood chips, herbs, and spices and then release it through a hose.
This is the best way to smoke food using a gun:
- To prepare your food, first cook your meat as desired, then place it in a plastic bag or pan you can cover with plastic wrap.
- Fill the gun with your desired wood chips, turn on the fan to draw in air from outside, and then switch on the gun's heating element. This will heat up the wood chips and release smoke.
- Place the end of the gun's hose inside the plastic, close it tightly, and turn on the device for a smoking time of 3 to 5 minutes to infuse your food with a smoky flavor.
Note: The longer the gun is on, the more smoke it generates.
6. Wood Plank
Another way to smoke meat on a grill is to use a wood plank.
- Start by soaking a cedar or other hardwood plank in water for about an hour before getting started.
- Preheat your grill and place the soaked wood plank on it. Wait until the wood starts to smoke and crackle, then place your meat on top of the plank.
- Close the grill lid and cook.
- Monitor the temperature using a meat thermometer.
Note: Always have a spray bottle at hand in case the plank catches flare-ups.
If you can’t work with any of the other methods, you can get the delicious flavor of smoked fish, spare ribs, or pork butt by using a dry rub before simply cooking the meat in the oven rather than an actual smoker.
Rubs often have salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and many other spices in them. This way, you can make your pork shoulder, pot roast, fish, chicken, ribs, and other meats taste smokey without ever having to burn a fire.
Of course, this is not really smoking, and you won’t get that delicious smell from your stove or the top grate of the grill.
But, the food will have a smokey flavor without much effort or a prolonged cooking time.
Read More: How to Season Meat?
Should You Use a Water Pan When Smoking Meat?
Yes, you should use a water pan when smoking meat. A water pan helps to keep the cooking environment moist, and the hot water helps to maintain a consistent temperature in the smoker.
Is It Better to Smoke Meat in a Sheet Pan or on a Rack?
It is better to smoke meat on a rack than in a sheet pan because it allows the smoke to reach all sides of the food, resulting in an even flavor. The rack also allows the fat and juices to drip away from the meat in the stove, so it doesn't become too greasy or soggy.
Can You Smoke in a Paper Bag?
Yes, you can smoke in a paper bag. This method works best with smaller cuts of meat, such as chicken wings or pork ribs. Place the meat in three or more layers of soaking-wet paper bags and place it on the grill. Then close the lid and cook.
Is Smoking Meat Without a Smoker a Good Idea?
As you can see, there are quite a few ways to smoke meat without traditional smoking equipment. From the oven to the Dutch oven, smoking gun to wood plank, there are plenty of options for achieving that smoky flavor.
However, nothing beats the taste of meat cooked in a genuine smoker. It may seem intimidating at first, but it is easier and gives better results than any non-smoker method.
If you have no idea where to start, check out my list of the best smokers for beginners that will help you navigate the process of finding the right one for your needs.