How to Turn Your Grill into a Smoker

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If you're serious about smoking your wild game, it's probably best to invest in a professional-grade smoker. These units are designed for one thing: to cook food low and slow under a controllable cloud of flavorful smoke. Unfortunately, for either space or financial reasons, owning a dedicated smoker is not always feasible. Luckily, for casual home cooks, it's easy to turn a standard charcoal grill into a smoker for both cooking low and slow or adding smoky flavor to quickly grilled items. This trick works with either a kettle grill or a square one, such as the PK Grill.

The key to smoking on a charcoal grill is setting up a two-zone fire. Do this by pushing the hot coals to one side, then placing an aluminum foil drip pan on the cool side. The drip pan can be filled with water to better stabilize the heat. Set up this way, the covered grill should maintain an interior temperature of 225 to 250 degrees, depending on the amount of coals used.

Nearly all charcoal grills have two sets of adjustable vents on the base and lid. These are used to adjust heat and control the flow of air through the grill’s interior. Open the top vents to allow smoke to pull through the grill, then use the lower vents to control heat. Open vents allow the coal to burn hotter; partially closed vents limit oxygen and cool the fire.

When it comes to creating smoke, grillers have a numbers of options. The easiest method—and the one I use the most—is adding wood chips or chunks directly to the coals. I typically use larger chunks and do not soak them in water. Wet wood creates steam, rather than smoke. Soaking chips or chunks does cause them to burn slower, but if they’re too wet, they can extinguish burning coals. If you do chose soak your chips beforehand, be sure to squeeze the water out of them well so as not to smother your coals.

A great way to create smoke is using wood chips to create a foil pouch. Moisten the chips with a quick soak in water or mist them heavily with a squirt bottle, then wrap them tightly in heavy-duty aluminum foil. There are also a number of commercial smoking devices such as Cabela's Smoker Box or the A-Maze-N Pellet Smoker. These can be placed directly over the heat source for consistent, even smoke.

After the coals are going and the wood is smoking, set the grate over the fire and place your meat on the cool side of the grill, above the drip pan. Cover the grill and let the smoke do its thing. Depending on how long you need to smoke, you might need to add more coals throughout the cooking process. The trick is to monitor both the grill temperature and the internal temp of your meat closely, so invest in a good dual-probe thermometer. From there, it just takes time and patience to turn out a delicious meal of smoked deer, duck, or other wild game.