How to Use a Smoker Box (5 Simple Steps)

Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: February 9, 2024

The art of grilling never grows old. I have been smoking meats for nearly eight years and can attest to the transformative power of the smoker box. Through it, it has been possible for me to try out different flavors, elevating my dishes to another level.

However, as simple as it may look, many people still ask me how to use a smoker box to advance their culinary craftsmanship.

I’ve put together this easy 5-step guide to show you exactly how to use a smoker box to smoke food and get a tasty smoke flavor for grilled meat. We have some tips for gas grills Too.

Quick Summary

  • Using a smoker box includes preheating the grill, filling the box with specific wood chips for different meats, and adjusting the burners once the box is smoking.
  • Cooking slowly with the smoker box allows for delicious smoked flavors in the meat, with specific temperature guidelines for poultry and red meats.
  • According to the 2013 study by USDA, adding about 1/2 cup of soaked hickory, apple, or maple wood chips can greatly enhance flavor [1].
  • The quality of the meat you grill also matters. I usually source my meat from reputable services, like Butcherbox.

How to Use A Smoker Box

Using a smoker box involves more than just adding a smoky flavor. It entails manipulating the heat and smoke distribution, proper timing, and choosing the right type of wood for your meat.

Here is a step-by step process of using a smoker box efficiently:

1. Preheat the Grill and Clean the Grate

Warm up your gas grill for 10 to 20 minutes by turning the burners on high. This speeds up reaching the ideal grilling temperature.

Smoking your food is simple; a smoker box is all you need and it fits perfectly beside your grill. Preheating the grill ensures it smokes quickly once you put it in the smoker box. A stainless steel grill brush is perfect for scrubbing the cooking grate clean. You should try to keep your grill brush clean at all times.

2. Fill up the Box With Smoking Chips

smoking chips

Fill your smoker box over half full with dry wood chips or chunks for a slow, steady burn.

Choose from various wood chips like hickory or pecan for red meat, or cherry and apple wood for a sweet touch on chicken and pork. For a bold taste, go for mesquite on red meats, or oak for a classic beef flavor. Some might soak chips for 30 minutes to avoid flare-ups, but it's not a must—most smoker boxes keep chips away from direct flames. Soaking can delay the smoking start.

No smoker? No sweat! Just pack a foil pan with wood chips, cover the grill with foil, poke holes, and you've got a makeshift smoker box.

If you want to get serious, get a wood-fired smoker.

- Derrick Walker, co-owner of Smoke-a-holics BBQ in Fort Worth, Texas

3. Place the Smoker Box on the Grill

If you're using a gas grill , lower the smoker box on top of a burner. For charcoal grill users, make sure to put your box on top of the coals, and always use the best-rated charcoal for smoking.

You need the smoker box to be as close to the heat source as possible.

Don’t pile too much charcoal close around the smoker box when using it, as embers from the fire can fall low in through the holes on the top of the box and set your chunks on fire. For electric grill users, cover the box with foil where you will poke a few holes in it.

If your gas grill burners are not already on the highest setting, one way is to get them going high up, so your smoker box will get hot enough, and the chips will start smoking better.

It's easier to create smoke this way. In case you've run out of gas and need to replace your gas tank, be sure to check out our guide on how to remove the propane tank from your grill safely.

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4. Turn off the Burners Once the Box Is Smoking

Once you see more wood chips smoking, as explained in a 2000's study by ResearchGate, it is recommended that you turn down the burners on your gas grills to the typical cooking temperature of 225 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit [2]. This is designed to especially set up your gas grill for indirect cooking.

You can keep using the gas grill burner with your smoker box on and turn down the others so that wood smoke continues to be produced throughout the cooking process.

5. Place Meat on the Grill and Close the Lid

Pop your food right on the gas grill's grate over an unlit burner and shut the lid. Cooking times differ based on whether you're grilling beef, fish, or ribs. Let it simmer slowly to infuse the subtle smoky taste—typically, this technique takes about 1.5 hours per meat pound. For poultry, aim for a temperature between 160 and 175 degrees Fahrenheit. For red meats, crank it up to between 190 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit [3].

If the smoking chips fizzle out, no sweat. Just crack open the grill, grab the smoker box with heat-proof tongs, and refill it.

Factors to Consider When Using A Smoker Box

Using a smoker box adds flavor to grilling, but it's important to know about curing meats. According to a 2016 study by Science Direct, curing involves soaking meat in a mix containing salt (10–20%), nitrate (0.1%), nitrite (0.01%), and other stuff for about a week [4]. While using a smoker box is one way to elevate your grilling experiences, you need to consider several factors to satisfy your grilling needs.

Here are some points to take note:

  • Use smoker box that is compatible with your grill.
  • The type of material also matters. There are a variety, including stainless steel smoker boxes and cast iron smoke box.
  • Use wood chips with a flavor profile that you prefer. This can be Hickory, Applewood, or Mesquite, among others.
  • The smoker box should support the wood chips you intend to use. Unlike softwood, hardwood tends to burn slowly, hence ideal for long smoking sessions.
  • How you place your smoker box also matters. Decide how you’d like to put the box, whether directly on the burner, grill grates or under the grill gates, then go for one that fits your needs.
  • Consider the positioning of the vents, smoke dispersion, and oxygen supply to ensure proper ventilation and air follow.
  • Choose a smoker box with an ideal temperature control mechanism. You should be able to adjust the heat levels as appropriate.
  • Prepare your meat correctly in advance to get a flavorful and well-cooked dish.
  • Use heat-resistance gloves when grilling and properly extinguish the wood chips when done.
  • Empty the smoke box and clean the residues correctly before storing to optimize its durability.


Will Wood Chips Catch Fire in the Smoker Box?

Yur wood chips will not quickly catch fire in the smoker box. The flashpoint of wood is 482 degrees Fahrenheit or 250 degrees Celsius. The typical temperature range used for the gas grill smoking process is around 220 degrees Fahrenheit or 104 degrees Celsius.

Should You Use Soaked Wood Chips in a Smoker Box?

You should not use soaked wood chips inside the smoker box as they take longer to smoke. The heat is used to evaporate the water into steam which slows down the rise in temperature of the smoking chips within the gas grill smoker box.


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About the author

Timothy Woods
CEO / Co-Founder
Timothy is a professional chef and the main man behind Carnivore Style. He’s an advocate of the carnivore diet, an athlete, and a pure health enthusiast. Timothy believes that a good steak is a great conversation starter, and his love for food eventually brought him to start Carnivore Style, a website designed for meat lovers and all things meat-related.
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