We have pointed out in other BBQ grill articles we have written that although there is still on ongoing debate about which is best for BBQ’s- charcoal or gas, there’s no doubt that in the hands of a “Barbecue Master” a charcoal BBQ will always produce far tastier BBQ meals than gas.
But for many of us gas is a far more convenient and quicker way of outdoor cooking (and in fact, each year more people buy gas than charcoal barbecues).
However, you can get near the tastes of charcoal barbecued meals using a gas (or electric) grill by barbecuing in an atmosphere of wood-smoke. This smoke permeates the food being cooked and, providing its produced using the right sort of wood, improves its taste.
However, gas and electric grills are not made to use wood or deal with the ash which wood produces. But it’s possible to get round this problem by using a gas grill smoker box. Lots of gas grills come with one of these supplied, but if your grill doesn’t have one you should be able to get hold of one in any barbecue accessory store.
How a Gas Grill Smoker Box Works
The idea behind the Smoker Box is that the wood in the box smokes during barbecuing rather than burning. The Box is placed on the BBQ grate next to the food being cooked, and, as mentioned above, the smoke produced gets into the food and imparts a very distinctive flavor.
By using different types of wood chips it’s possible to produce many different and exciting flavors.
Cooking with a Smoker Box for a Gas Grill
When barbecuing rather than grilling, cooking times are nearly always longer (and temperatures lower). And the longer the cooking time the more chance there is for the smoke to work its magic on the food.
So once you have chosen an appropriate BBQ recipe and decided you want to use a Smoker Box follow these steps to get the best results:
1. Soak Your Wood Chips in Water
Initially you might not have a clear idea about what variety of wood chip to use. You’ll find that many BBQ recipes make suggestions about this, but we recommend experimenting with a range of different types of wood chips to find the ones you really like. Someone else’s ideas about a good flavor might not be the same as yours.
Soak your wood chips in water (some people use a combination of water and beer or spirits to achieve different flavors) – for up to two hours if you can. This soaking produces chips which will smolder rather than burst into flames, and as they smolder they produce smoke.
Any wood ash produced by the smoldering wood will stay in the Smoker Box. It won’t fall on the burners of your grill.
Drain the wood chips before putting them in the Box, and if you have chosen a recipe with a really long cooking time make sure that you soak enough wood chips to replenish your Smoker Box during barbecuing.
2. Get the Gas Grill to the Required Temperature
As mentioned above, for your BBQ recipe, you’ll be cooking at a lower temperature than you use for grilling, and cooking for longer. Typical temperatures are around 225 to 250 degrees F and this temperature range should be maintained during the period of cooking (which might last several hours).
It’s best to use a thermometer to keep a check on temperature, but if you haven’t got one on your gas grill you can test the temperature by holding your hand about 4 inches above the burner. You’ll only be able to keep it there for 10 to 15 seconds.
Compare this with a typical grilling temperature of 450 to 650 degrees F. If you use the same test you’ll only be able to stand the heat for a couple of seconds.
3. Put Your Smoker Box and Food onto the BBQ Grill
Once your grill is up to temperature you’re ready to start. First put your Smoker Box on one side of the cooking grate of your grill. Some people put the Box between the burner and the grate, but if you do this you won’t be able to top-up the wood chips later on.
Most wood chips take 10 to 20 minutes to start smoking. This time will vary depending on whether the wood chips were soaked, and on how hot the Smoker Box gets.
4. Monitor the Progress of cooking
When you are using your BBQ grill for cooking steaks, hamburgers and other thin cuts of meat and fish there are some very simple techniques for checking whether your food is cooked (the most simple being using a sharp knife to cut, part and then “peak at” the meat.
For the larger joints of meat that you’ll be using when barbecuing we recommend using a meat thermometer. Use established temperature guide-lines when using a meat thermometer to test whether your food has been cooked sufficiently (120 F for rare and 160 for well-done).
Keep the lid of your grill closed when you’re cooking to ensure that the smoke accumulates under the lid and has plenty of opportunity to permeate your food.
If you are cooking for a long period of time (e.g. large joints of meat or large birds may require between 4 and 6 hours or more) add more wood chips when the Gas Grill Smoker Box stops producing its smoke.
By far the most common and widespread smoking wood varieties used in a smoking box are the hardwoods mesquite and hickory. Softwoods and processed woods should never be used for smoking. The smoke they produce doesn’t produce nice flavors.