How To Smoke Meat On Your Gas Or Charcoal Grill

When the weather is fine there’s no better way to spend the day than lighting the grill and enjoying some food outside.

Many different foods can be cooked on an outdoor grill but there’s a lot more you can do with your BBQ than just grilling.

How Does Smoking on a Grill Work?

Prep the Grill

Grill For Smoking Meat

When you smoke meat on a grill you don’t actually grill it.

Instead, you slow cook it with heat and smoke.

You can use either a gas grill or a charcoal grill but purists seem to prefer charcoal for the added flavor.

The combination of heat and smoke will cook the meat slowly and add some flavor.

When the charcoal is lit you’ll need to leave it until it starts to turn white. The white color indicates that the coals are hot and wood chips are then added to the grill.

Soak the chips in water beforehand, to make sure that the wood is not dry. This avoids it burning away in minutes.

It’s useful to leave a cool area in your grill by pushing the coals to one side, so that the meat is not directly over the heat.

This way of cooking will avoid the meat cooking on the outside and being raw in the middle. Your grill will keep the heat from the coals and cook the meat evenly.

When the wood chips begin to heat up they’ll produce the smoke which penetrates the meat to add flavor. The wood adds a crust or bark to the meat for some added crunch and texture.

Charcoal will add a charred flavor to the food which is why it’s preferred by most grill enthusiasts, rather than gas. You can also use rubs, wet mops and sauces to add extra flavor and to prevent the meat from drying and shrinking.

Get Cooking

Smoking Meat

When the grill has reached the correct temperature and the wood is producing smoke, you’re ready cook.

Place your cuts of meat on the rack and close the lid on the grill.

Check the meat regularly and turn it occasionally, to get a nice even smoke and to ensure you don’t burn your food.

When you’re smoking your meat on a grill you’ll need to keep an eye on the charcoal and the wood chips.

Add small amounts of charcoal to maintain the heat, but try to avoid flames if possible. The wood chips need to be topped up to keep the smoke going at a steady rate.

What Are the Best Meats to Smoke on Your Grill?

We’ll look at some of the meats you can smoke on a grill as well as looking at temperatures and smoking times.

These figures are only a guide and as you get more experienced you’ll know when your smoked meat is ready.


Brisket On The Grill

Brisket is a beef cut and it’s one of the cheapest cuts you can buy, but also one of the tastiest if cooked correctly.

To keep brisket tender and full of flavor it needs to be slow-cooked.

Smoking is a perfect way to cook this cut of meat. Whether you prefer sliced brisket or pulled brisket, it tastes great when smoked.

To get the best results from smoking brisket you’ll need to smoke it at a temperature of 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

Weigh the cut of brisket before cooking and smoke it for 1.5 hours per pound. When brisket is smoked to perfection it will be tender and fall apart when touched.


Smoking Pork

Various cuts of pork work well when smoked on a grill, but pork butt seems to be a favorite with smokers. 

The pork butt can be sliced or pulled after smoking and the meat will be juicy and tender. A dry rub with salt, pepper, oregano, cumin and brown sugar works well when smoking pork.

To get tender pork it should be smoked slowly at 225 degrees Fahrenheit and you’ll need to baste it regularly.

Basting the pork with apple juice and vinegar will prevent it from drying out. The pork should be smoked for 1.5 hours per pound and it needs to be basted every 20 minutes.

When you buy a cut of pork it’s better to choose one with a decent amount of fat for flavor and it helps to cook the meat. If the pork is lean, you can lay some bacon on the meat to keep it moist.


Smoking Chicken

Chicken is a great meat to smoke on your grill and you are able to smoke wings, thighs, breast or the whole bird.

One of the good things about chicken is that it takes on flavors easily and works well with rubs and marinades. You can marinate the chicken overnight for more flavor or baste it with your rub while it’s smoking.

Cooking chicken requires a little more heat than beef or pork and your smoking temperature needs to be at 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

A whole chicken will take 4 hours or more to smoke and a thigh around 2 hours. It’s important that chicken is cooked and you should check it with a probe before serving.

If you plan to use frozen chicken, make sure it’s fully defrosted before placing it on the grill.

Spare Ribs

Smoking Ribs

Spare ribs are a BBQ favorite and they taste even better with a rub and some smoke.

When you have your rack of pork ribs there are a couple of ways to smoke them; they can be covered or uncovered.

Spare ribs can be cooked dry or basted with a BBQ sauce to make classic sticky ribs. A rack of ribs needs to be smoked at 220 - 240 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 5 hours to get the best results. 

The smoke and heat should be consistent and if sauce is used it has to be applied at regular intervals. If you want a crispy finish to your ribs, you can place them over a high heat just before serving.

Turkey Leg

Smoking Turkey

Smoking a few turkey legs makes a great meal and they’re full of flavor when smoked on a grill. Turkey is prone to drying out quickly so it’s important to keep it moist when you’re smoking it.

It helps to marinate the turkey before you smoke it and then baste it with a sauce while it’s on the grill.

Smoking temperature for a large turkey leg is 250 degrees Fahrenheit and it will take around 4 hours to cook.

If you like your turkey legs with the skin on you can leave it attached and it does help the cooking process. Scoring the skin with a sharp knife will allow more of the smoke to penetrate the meat.

Other Foods

Vegetables On BBQ

When you’re smoking your meat it’s a great idea to add some other foods to serve as a side dish.

Try adding corn, potatoes, or mixed vegetables on skewers - all taste good when smoked.

Experiment with different side dishes and serve with fresh salads, spicy dips—and don’t forget the cold beers.

What Equipment Do I Need to Smoke Meat on a BBQ?

Charcoal or Gas Grill and Fuel

To get started you’ll need a gas or charcoal grill with a rack inside and a lid that can be closed.

The lid keeps the heat and smoke in so that you get the best possible results from smoking. Most grills have adjustable vents that are used to control heat and smoke levels.

The next thing you’ll need is your fuel, which will be a bottle of gas or some charcoal bricks. If you’re using gas, make sure that all your seals are good before lighting the grill.

Charcoal needs to be kept dry until you’re ready to use it so that it burns well and produces heat.

If you plan to cook spare ribs you’ll need a rib rack which keeps the ribs upright and off the grill. If the ribs are kept upright they will cook and smoke evenly and you’ll get a much better flavor. It’s also easier to brush on your sauces when the rack of ribs is upright.

Additional Items

Vegetables On BBQ

When you have your cuts of meat you’ll want some dry rub or sauces to add flavor and to moisten the meat.

Ready-made rubs are sold in supermarkets and online or you can make your own. Making your own rubs and sauces allows you to customize the flavors to your tastes.

You’ll need to equip yourself with some essential smoking tools before you start smoking meat on your grill.

You’ll need a pair of tongs and a brush to baste the meat. It’s also worth using a decent meat thermometer to check that the food is properly cooked.

The last thing you’ll need is your smoking wood and you can use a single type of wood or a mixture. It’s useful to experiment with different woods until you find the flavors that you like.

If you find a particular flavor you like it’s a good idea to write down the type of wood used and with what meat.

Which Woods Are Used for Smoking Meat on a BBQ?

The best woods for smoking are hardwoods because they burn slowly and smoke for longer.

Softwoods tend to burn quickly due to the fact they contain more sap or resin than hardwoods.

There are a number of hardwoods used for smoking meat and it’s useful to look at some of them.

We’ve chosen a selection of mild, medium and strong woods to see what flavor they add and what meats they work with.


Chips For Smoking Meat

Maple is a popular wood used by smokers due to the subtle flavor it adds to the meat. The wood is fairly mild and adds a sweetness to the meat without masking the natural flavors.

Maple can be mixed with other woods and it works well with any pork cuts as well as poultry and game.


Oak is a good choice if you’re new to smoking meat on a grill and it has quite a distinct aroma. Oak tends to burn hot and it works particularly well when blended with other woods.

Oak works well with darker meats such as beef, brisket and lamb adding a medium smoky taste.


Applewood gives meat a mild and fruity flavor and it works best when meat needs to be smoked for long periods.

The apple smoke will take some time to penetrate the meat but the end results are delicious. Applewood smoke works well with lighter meats, including pork, chicken and other poultry.


Hickory is another favorite wood used for smoking and it’s commonly associated with bacon. Hickory adds a sweet smoky taste to the meat and really works well when you’re smoking pork ribs.

Some care is needed not to overdo it when smoking with hickory as it may add a bitter taste to the meat.


Mesquite is another commonly used wood. It is oily with a strong earthy flavor and is best when combined with other woods.

Smoking meat with only mesquite could result in a strong bitter taste which needs to be avoided. Mesquite is not recommended for smoking pork or chicken but it does work well with dark meats, such as beef.


Pecan Wood Chips

Pecan wood belongs to the hickory family but it’s not as strong and it adds a subtle flavor to meat.

The smoke is very sweet and nutty and using another wood helps to balance the flavors. Pecan wood works very well with bacon and pork as well as beef brisket and roasting joints.

Final Thoughts

Now you have a new skill, you are able to entertain your friends with some delicious smoked meat from your grill.

Tender cuts of meat that are tasty will always go down well.

Smoking adds another dimension to your grilling and it’s not difficult to learn how to do it well. After a little trial and error you’ll be a competent smoker and a vast array of new flavors await you.

About the Author William Clay

William Clay is a BBQ enthusiast dedicated to sharing his grilling (and overall cooking) expertise with FireFoodChef's readers.