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A Smoker Box Filled with Wood Chips for Smoking on a Gas Grill

You’ve got a problem: you love the flavor and aroma of smoked meats, but due to budget constraints or the size of your outdoor space, you only have a gas grill, not a standalone smoker.

The solution? The humble smoker box.

Smoker boxes are basic tools that can help you use your gas grill just like you would a smoker, with the smoke, scent, and flavor you can only get from smoking your food with real wood chips.

We’re huge fans of smoker boxes because not only are they an affordable way to elevate your outdoor cooking capabilities, but they’re also incredibly easy to use, no matter your level of cooking skill. 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about what a smoker box is and how to use it, as well as how to choose the best type of wood chips for your particular recipe. 

We’ll also dispel some common myths about using smoker boxes (to soak or not to soak your chips?) and offer tips and tricks that will help you master these handy tools in no time.

All that stands between you and delicious, smoky goodness is reading this guide, so let’s get started!

What Is a Smoker Box

A smoker box is a nifty BBQ accessory designed to infuse your food with the flavorful, smoky aroma typically associated with traditional smoking methods.

Constructed from stainless steel or cast iron, this compact container holds wood chips or pellets and is placed directly on your grill’s burners or grates. As the grill heats up, the wood inside the smoker box begins to smolder, releasing aromatic smoke that engulfs your food.

Perfect for gas grills where achieving a natural smoke flavor is otherwise challenging, the smoker box is a must-have for enthusiasts with no actual smoker required.

Here are some great examples for quality smoker boxes: Smoker Box

What Are the Benefits of Using a Smoker Box on a Gas Grill?

Using a smoker box on a gas grill presents several advantages when cooking on a gas grill.

Here are some key benefits:

  • Authentic Smoky Flavor: A smoker box helps impart a rich, smoky flavor to your food, reminiscent of charcoal or wood-burning grills.
  • Versatility: With a smoker box, you can experiment with a variety of wood pellets or chips, such as hickory, cherry, mesquite, or applewood. Each wood type offers a distinct flavor profile, allowing you to customize your grilling experience.
  • Efficiency: Gas grills heat up quickly, and when combined with a smoker box, you get the best of both worlds – quick heating and smoky flavor.
  • Space-Saving: Smoker boxes are compact, ensuring they don’t occupy much of your grill’s space, allowing you to smoke and grill simultaneously.
  • Cost-Effective: Instead of investing in a dedicated smoker, a smoker box provides an affordable way to achieve similar flavors on your existing gas grill.
  • Enhanced Moisture Retention: The smoke generated helps retain the moisture of the food, ensuring your meats remain juicy and tender.

The best part? They’re cheaper, easier to use, and easier to clean up than an actual dedicated smoker is!

How to Use a Smoker Box on a Gas Grill

Preheat and Ready Your Grill | Prep the Smoker Box | Set the Grill up for Indirect Cooking | Placing the Smoker Box on the Gas Grill | Wait for Smoke | Smoke the Food | Refilling Your Smoker Box

Adding smoky flavors to food cooked on a gas grill is now easier than ever with a smoker box.

These simple tools help replicate the more authentic smoky flavors of using wood or charcoal.

So you’ve got your smoker box and your wood chips of choice, and you’re ready to start smokin’. So where to start?

Dive in and discover the step-by-step process to unlock a world of flavor.

Preheat and Ready Your Grill

First up is preheating your grill so the wood chips in your box start smoking faster.

To do this, turn all of your burners on and set them to high. Close your grill’s lid, and let it preheat for 10-15 minutes.

Prep the Smoker Box

While your grill preheats, measure out enough of your wood chips to fill the smoker box about ⅔ to ¾ of the way, depending on how long of a cook you’re anticipating.

Don’t load your box all the way up, however, since this can prevent oxygen flow between the chips — ¾ of the way should be plenty for a long cook.

Load your box up, and close its lid.

Set the Grill up for Indirect Cooking

Smoking requires low and slow cooking, so we’ll need to set our grill up for that.

That means utilizing two-zone cooking, where one zone will have a direct heat source, and the other will have no direct heat at all. The side with no direct heat will be where your food sits during cooking.

How you set your grill up for indirect cooking depends on how many burners it has.

If you have two burners, keep one on and turn the other burner off.

For a three-burner grill, keep one burner on the far end of your grill and leave the other two off.

If you have a four-burner grill, turn on the burners on the ends and leave the two in the middle off.

Placing the Smoker Box on the Gas Grill

Typically, the smoker box is positioned directly atop the flavorizer bars or the heat deflector, right above the burners. If your grill does not have either of those, position it directly over a burner to facilitate the heating and eventual smoking of the wood chips inside.

If space is tight between the burners and the grate, just leave that section of the grate off, or you can place the smoker box on top of the grate. Close the lid.

As the grill heats up, the wood chips inside the box will begin to smolder and produce smoke.

Wait for Smoke

Now we wait another 10-15 minutes for the smoker box to start producing smoke.

Once this happens, you’ll need to reduce your grill’s temperature to around 225°F-250°F, or up to 350°F if you’re roasting with smoke.

To achieve this, turn down your burner or burners until a probe thermometer registers your target temperature.

Smoke the Food

Once your grill is at the right temperature and your smoker box is producing smoke, you can place your food over your grill’s unlit burners. Then close the lid, and wait for the magic to happen!

Depending on what you’re smoking and how much of it you’re smoking, this could take anywhere from an hour to several hours.

Our preferred way to keep an eye on this process is with a wireless probe thermometer, which provides a reading of your food’s internal temperature without needing to open the lid.

Refilling Your Smoker Box: When and How

Since smoking requires a lot of time, eventually the wood chips in your smoker box will burn up and need replacing.

You’ll know it’s time for this when you no longer see any smoke leaking out from under your grill’s lid.

To refill your smoke box, put on heatproof gloves and grab a pair of tongs. Open up the smoker box and set it on a heat-proof surface (if there’s room on the grill grates, that’s fine). Open the box lid, add in more chips, then close it up and put it back over the burner.

You’ll want to do this as quickly as possible to reduce the amount of time your grill lid is open. The longer the lid is open, the more of that valuable heat and smoke you’ll lose.

You can check out my favorite heat-resistant grilling gloves for this part here: Dragon Knuckle Heat Resistant BBQ Gloves Review.

What Type of Smoker Box Is Best?

There are a variety of different sizes, shapes, and materials you’ll find when shopping for a smoker box.

The top choices are:

  • Stainless Steel: You’ll most commonly find boxes made from stainless steel, which is great for heat retention, and resisting rust, corrosion, and staining. If you’re opting for a stainless steel box, look for the thickest one available — it’ll be less likely to warp over time.
  • Cast Iron: Cast iron smoker boxes are less common and more expensive than stainless steel, but they’re incredibly durable and fantastic at retaining heat and producing long-lasting smoke. However, they do require more maintenance and take longer to heat up, so you won’t get to cooking as quickly.
  • Disposable Aluminum: Disposable aluminum smoker boxes are also available, but these should only be used once or twice. They’re lightweight and should not be placed directly on the heat source, as they can warp and even melt easily.

In terms of shape, most often, you’ll find rectangular smoker boxes. There are also cylinder-shaped boxes available or V-shaped ones that can fit between your gas grill’s flame deflector bars for intense smoke.

Should You Use Wet or Dry Smoking Chips?

Wet Smoking Chips | Dry Smoking Chips | Which to Choose?

A great debate among smoker box enthusiasts is whether you should soak your chips before placing them in the smoker box.

While some people claim soaking the chips doesn’t impact performance or flavor, the fact of the matter is wet chips will create more steam than they do smoke and take way longer to actually burn.

Instead, load your smoker up with dry chips for the most intense flavor. If your smoker box is placed properly, the chips should never be exposed to the flame, so they shouldn’t burn, which is what wet chip champions claim soaking helps prevent.

If your wood chips do end up catching on fire, that likely means your grill is way too hot. Take out your smoker box, extinguish the fire, and start over again when your grill’s temperature is lower.

I’ll go into more detail about the effects of using wet vs. dry wood chips and when to use them below:

The decision to use wet or dry smoking chips depends on your desired outcome and the type of smoking you’re doing.

Here’s a comparison:

Wet Smoking Chips:

  • Slower to Ignite: Wet chips take longer to begin smoking since the water needs to evaporate first.
  • Steam: Produces more steam than smoke in the beginning which can make it tougher to maintain the temperature of the grill.
  • Cooler Burn: They produce a cooler smoke, which can be useful for certain recipes.
  • Consistent and Prolonged Smoke: Once they start, wet chips provide a steadier and often more prolonged smoke.
  • Less Intense: The smoke is generally milder, which can be ideal for delicate foods.
  • How to Use: Soak the wood chips in water for about 30 minutes to an hour before placing them in the smoker box.

Dry Smoking Chips:

  • Quick to Ignite: Dry chips heat up and begin smoking relatively quickly.
  • Hotter Burn: They produce a hotter smoke.
  • Short-lived: The intense, fast burn will require you to replenish the chips more frequently.
  • Stronger Flavor: Dry chips can impart a more robust smoky flavor, which can be desirable for certain dishes.
  • How to Use: Simply place them in the smoker box without any pre-treatment.

Which to Choose?

  • For a stronger, immediate smoke flavor, go for dry chips.
  • For a longer, sustained smoking session with a milder flavor, opt for wet chips.

In reality, many grill enthusiasts experiment with both wet and dry chips to find their personal preferences. It might be useful to start trying out both to see which achieves the flavor profile you’re aiming for.

Smoker Box on a Gas Grill Tips and Tricks

Season the Smoker Box | Don’t Over Fill | Cook Low and Slow | Best Place to Put the Smoker Box | When to Place Food on a Gas Grill | Keep the Grill Lid Down! | Wood Chips or Chunks | Choosing the Wood Flavor | How to Stop Wood Chips From Catching Fire | Cleaning Your Smoker Box | Smoker Box Care & Maintenance

While smoker boxes are fairly simple contraptions, there are a few tips and tricks we recommend to get the most out of using one.

Let’s jump into these tips and tricks to unleash the full potential of your smoker box, and transform your next BBQ into a smoky sensation!

Season the Smoker Box Before First Use

If this is your first time using your store-bought smoker box, there’s a chance there’s still some residue from the manufacturing process hanging on to it. This will burn off, but let’s not risk that burning off and wafting into our food, shall we?

Before using your smoker box for the first time, give it a thorough wash with mild dish soap.

Then crank your grill burners up as high as they go and pop your smoker box onto the grates. Leave the lid open this time, since that potentially chemical-filled smoke isn’t something we want to capture inside your grill.

Let the smoker box sit over high heat for 20-30 minutes to burn off any manufacturing leftovers, flipping it over halfway through to make sure the lid gets cleaned and seasoned as well.

Don’t Over Fill the Smoker Box

To get your chips smoldering to create smoke, you need air.

An overfilled smoker box won’t get enough of it!

Stick to loading your box only ⅔-¾ of the way full so they get enough oxygen to avoid smothering the chips.

Cook Low and Slow

The golden rule of smoking is to go low and slow.

That means lower temperatures and giving the wood chips ample time to start smoldering. Patience is key in smoke generation. Your aim is to heat your smoking chips without igniting them.

If you find your wood chips igniting or burning up too quickly when the smoker box is placed directly on the burner, pop it on the grate above the burner to slow down the process and create a longer-lasting smoke.

On a gas grill, placing a smoker box filled with approximately 1 1/2 cups of smoking chips over, rather than directly on, the hottest burner should yield smoke in around 15-20 minutes.

Best Place to Put the Smoker Box on a Gas Grill

To find out the best place for your smoker box, take a look at your grill and identify any places where smoke can escape, like along the lid hinge. We’ll want to keep the box away from there.

Next, once your grill is preheated, you’ll want to pop your smoker box over the place where it’ll get the most direct heat, without the chips actually catching on fire.

On most grills, this will be on the grate right over the lit burner. On some grills, you may have space to pop the grate off and place the box on the flavorizer bars or heat deflector right above the burners, but if not, keeping it on the grate should work just fine.

When to Place Food on a Gas Grill When Using a Smoker Box

When using a smoker box on a gas grill, it’s best to place your food on the grill once the smoker box begins producing a steady stream of smoke.

This usually occurs around 15-20 minutes after positioning the box over the hottest burner.

This ensures your food absorbs the rich, smoky flavor during the cooking process.

Keep the Grill Lid Down!

Every time you pop your grill’s lid open to look inside, that precious smoke we’re creating can escape. Don’t do that!

A probe thermometer will help you keep tabs on your food cooking without the need to open the lid, and over time, you’ll build enough confidence to cook without needing to peek inside.

Wood Chips or Chunks – What Should You Use With a Smoker Box?

Wood chips are smaller than wood chunks and catch fire faster, meaning they’ll produce smoke sooner than chunks would.

If you’re cooking a smaller piece of protein and don’t anticipate cooking for long, wood chips are a great choice since they’ll start smoldering sooner.

If you’re planning a long cook, wood chips will have you swapping out the ash for new chips more often. Opt for wood chunks here since they’ll smoke for longer.

Don’t want to choose? You don’t have to! A mix of wood chips and chunks gives you the best of both worlds.

Choosing the Wood Flavor for Smoking

If you own a gas grill, this might be your first time dabbling in the world of smoking and choosing the best wood for the job.

A good rule of thumb here is to consider the flavors that each wood produces and how they’ll complement what you’re cooking (and your personal tastes, of course).

All wood chips and chunks are made from hardwoods, but there’s still a great variety of flavor profiles to choose from.

Smoking Wood Flavor Profiles

Fruit woods, like apple, cherry, and peach, produce a mild smokey flavor that has a hint of sweetness. These work great for just about any protein, especially pork and poultry. Apple even works well for some seafood, while cherry will taste great with beef and wild game as well. Fruit woods are also fun to experiment with and mix with other woods for a more complex flavor.

Maple and pecan also produce a versatile, mild flavor with a hint of sweetness that’s good with just about everything.

Woods like Hickory and Mesquite have a strong flavor that works best with red meats (Hickory smoked bacon, anyone?). Because of their strong, intense smokey flavor, it’s best to use these in careful moderation and avoid using them with lighter proteins like fish.

Oak is a little more aggressive than fruit wood but less intense than hickory or mesquite. Alder wood is also great for fish or poultry, thanks to its lighter flavor profile.

When in doubt, think about the flavor of the protein you’re cooking: proteins like poultry or fish, with a delicate flavor, work best with more subtly-flavored woods. Red meat, like beef, has a stronger flavor and can hold up to more robust flavors like hickory and mesquite.

It’s always a smart move to use less wood than you think you need and adjust over time. Using too much of strongly-flavored woods can give your food a bitter flavor.

For more on smoking woods and their best protein pairings check out this article: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Wood for Smoking Meat.

How to Stop Wood Chips From Catching Fire

Since the wood in your smoker box isn’t directly touching the flame, it should only smolder, not fully catch on fire.

But just to be safe, the best way to make sure your smoker box doesn’t catch fire is to keep your grill below 500°F, and pack the box tightly enough that not enough oxygen gets through to allow the chips to fully combust. That doesn’t mean overfilling the smoker box, just tightly pack in the wood.

If you notice any warping or damage to your box, replace it — that space can allow oxygen and hot debris to get in, which can lead to chips catching on fire.

Cleaning Your Smoker Box After Use

Before cleaning out your smoker box, allow it to cool down completely.

If there are any chips in the box that haven’t completely turned to ash, you can pull those out and save them for your next cooking session.

Next, dump the ash out into a metal can to avoid catching your regular trash can on fire. Never try to rinse the ash out of your smoker box, since this can create a really stubborn sludge that can cog your drain pipes.

Instead, once your smoker box has as much ash removed as you can, rinse it out on the ground using a garden hose.

Once your box is rinsed out and free from ashes, you can bring it inside to wash it down with water and dish soap.

Smoker Box Care and Maintenance

Smoker boxes are relatively maintenance-free, but there are a few steps you’ll want to take to help your smoker box last longer.

First, always dry it down with a cloth after washing it out to prevent rusting. Store it indoors between uses to help shield it from critters, debris, or moisture that can cause rust and corrosion.

If you have a cast iron smoker box, season it with oil between uses to create a non-stick coating and prevent rust formation.

If you have a stainless steel box, you can use a non-stick spray or a very light coating of oil to make it easier to remove the ash after cooking.

Smoker Box on a Gas Grill FAQs

Still have some burning questions about using a smoker box on your gas grill?

Below you’ll get answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about using smoker boxex on gas grills.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for, leave your question in the comments below or send me an email and I will get back to you.

Who knows, I might even add your question to this guide.

For a more in-depth frequently asked question guide, check out this article: The Ultimate Gas Grill FAQ.

How Long Does It Take a Smoker Box to Start Smoking?

A smoker box typically takes 15-20 minutes to start producing a steady stream of smoke when placed over the hottest burner of a gas grill. This can change depending on how high or low your burners are set, but 15-20 minutes is about right with the burners turned up high.

Do I Need to Soak Wood Chips Before Smoking?

No, you do not need to soak your wood chips before smoking. Wet chips will take longer to reach the smoking point and will produce more steam than smoke. Wet chips will also produce a less smoky flavor, so if that is the goal, then soak away.

Where Does the Smoker Box Go on a Gas Grill?

The smoker box should be placed directly on the flavorizer bars or heat deflectors above the burners on a gas grill. If space is limited, position the box on the grill grate itself. Make sure it’s placed over the hottest burner for effective smoking.

How Long Do Wood Chips in a Smoker Box Provide Smoke?

Wood chips in a smoker box typically provide smoke for 30-35 minutes before they need to be replaced. The duration can vary based on chip size, grill temperature and whether they have been soaked ahead of time or not.

Can You Put Charcoal in a Smoker Box?

Yes, you can put a small amount of lump charcoal or briquettes in your smoker box mixed with wood chips to get the flavors of charcoal smoking, but you’ll need to light them with a charcoal chimney first. Using only charcoal won’t produce the desired smoke flavor typical of wood chips.

Final Thoughts on Our How to Use a Smoker Box on a Gas Grill Guide

Incorporating a smoker box into your arsenal of outdoor cooking tools is a great way to increase the versatility of your gas grill and the recipes you can create on it without needing to invest in a standalone smoker.

If you’ve been on the fence about using a smoker box with your gas grill, we hope this guide has proven just how effortless it is to elevate your grilling game with such an easy-to-use piece of equipment.

Even if you’re completely brand-new to smoking, with just a smoker box and some wood chips, you’ll be well on your way to creating delicious smoked meats from the comfort of your own backyard.

For more tips on how to get smoky flavor on a gas grill, check out this guide: How to Smoke on a Gas Grill – Simple Setup and Technique

If you have any questions about getting started with your smoker box, let us know in the comments below or shoot us an email!

Cheers,

Pat G.

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DisclosureAt The Grilling Life, I am committed to researching and writing thoughtful, informative and editorially independent reviews of the best products for your outdoor cooking needs.  If you like what I do, you can support me through my chosen links, which earn me a commission.  This allows me to continue sharing with you my love for all things barbecue.  Your support is truly appreciated.

Patrick Ginise

A backyard warrior, certified carnivore, lover of good whiskey, grill master and I’m Living The Grilling Life!

I have a passion for cooking with live fire and smoke, no matter the weather. I’m a real person just like you, who loves outdoor cooking and BBQ. Food, fun, and time spent with family and friends are what it’s all about! It is my mission to take my passion and knowledge for outdoor cooking and all things BBQ and share this expertise in techniques and grilling equipment with you. In other words, Living The Grilling Life!

I have personally tested over 150+ Grills and Smokers and hundreds of grilling thermometers, temperature controllers, grill brushes, grilling tools, fire starters, and other BBQ products.