How to Use a Smoker Box on a Grill (7 Easy Steps)

Did you buy a new smoker box and are not quite sure how to use it?

You’ve come to the right place because we have all the information you need to start smoking great food!

In this TheGrillingDad guide, you’ll discover:

  • How to use it on a charcoal or gas grill
  • The benefits of using a smoker box
  • And much more!

What is a Smoker Box for a Grill?

A smoker box is a great way to add a better smoky flavor to your favorite meats as you are using your current grill.

A smoker box is typically made of either stainless steel or cast iron that can be used on a propane or charcoal grill to create a richer smoker flavor.

Using a smoker box is a method to smoke food without having to invest in a smoker.

Since a separate smoker unit can cost quite a bit of money, a smoker box added to your current grill can be a great low-cost alternative to a whole new appliance.

Related >> The Best Electric Smokers Under $500

A smoker box uses wood chips to create a smoky environment that runs throughout your grill. When used correctly, it can create the same effect you would get if you were using a smoker unit itself.

While using a charcoal grill creates a smoky flavor to your favorite foods, adding a smoker box can really turn up the smoke flavor.

The ease and convenience of using a gas grill are ideal for many, adding a smoker box will add a whole new dimension to your BBQs. This gives you the best of both worlds when it comes to grilling and smoking foods.

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grill with a smoker box added

Why Should You Use a Smoker Box?

Using a smoker box has many advantages including the ability for those just learning about smoking to try their hand at it before purchasing an expensive smoker.

This means that before you invest in a smoker, you can use a smoker box to experiment with different foods to see if you like the result.

Since the smoker box has tiny holes surrounding the entire mechanism, it makes it easy to load in your favorite wood chips to create a smoke effect.

Those who want to add more smoky flavor to their foods can use a smoker box as often as they want.

Many people who want to add a smokier effect to their grilling experience, will sometimes add charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal to their grilling grates.

This exposes the charcoal to the direct flame which in turn creates a smoky environment similar to that produced by a smoker box. 

While this technically works, the smoky effect this creates is not long-lasting enough to create the smoke needed to make a nice brisket.

This is why most grillers prefer the use of a smoker box because the wood chips are not directly exposed to the flame which means they can last much longer enabling them to smoke low and slow for much longer.

Not to mention that a smoker box is much easier to clean up than a piece of charcoal on your grill grates. 

How to Use a Smoker Box on a Charcoal Grill (7 Steps)

Adding a smoker box to your grill is a great way to add smoky flavors to your favorite meats. It is also an excellent alternative to purchasing a separate smoker unit that can be expensive and takes up space.

Knowing how to use a smoker box can be overwhelming if you are not sure what to do.

Following simple instructions can make the difference between using it correctly and not.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Season Your Smoker Box
  2. Choose Your Wood Chips
  3. Fill the Smoker Box
  4. Preheat the Grill
  5. Remove Grates And Put the Smoker Box On
  6. Place the Grates Back On
  7. Put Your Food on the Grill

Step 1: Season Your Smoker Box

Oftentimes, when you first purchase your smoker box, there can be a chemical residue that is left behind. When this happens, you have to take the time to season the box to get rid of the remnants.

To season your smoker box, all you have to do is wash the box with soap and water, let it dry, then place it on your grill. Turn the grill to as high of a heat as possible and leave your smoker box in it for about 20-30 minutes.

Keep in mind that you should leave the lid of your charcoal grill open while you season the smoker box. This is because the chemicals that you are trying to burn off the smoker box can lodge in the lid of the grill.

Step 2: Choose the Type of Wood Chips to Use

Choosing the type of wood chips you should use in your smoker box depends entirely on the flavor you want to instill into your food. Certain woods can supply you with a subtle flavor while other woods bring in a strong flavor.

If you want a flavor that is strong and flavorful, you should think about wood chips that are made from mesquite or hickory. Mesquite is known to be a wood that produces quite a bit more smoke than other woods.

Hickory is also known to be a wood that produces a very distinctive flavor that makes your meats taste phenomenal. This is because it has a smoky flavor that gives meat and other foods a robust flavor.

Step 3: Fill the Smoker Box With Wood Chips

Once you have seasoned your smoker box and have chosen the wood chips that you wish to use for your grilling, you are ready to load them into the smoker box. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how full you should fill your specific box.

Most recommend that you fill the wood chips only about halfway to allow room for the combustion to happen. This does not mean that you cannot add more in later, you just want to have room to light the wood chips and allow them to burn properly.

Additionally, another advantage of not filling the smoker box up with wood chips is that you want to leave room for the oxygen to get between the wood chips. This will allow more smoke to occur which will result in a better smoky flavor for your food.

Step 4: Preheat Your Grill

As you are getting ready to cook with your smoker box whether it is your first time or not, you have to first preheat the grill.

Charcoal Grill

The way you do this is to light the charcoal on the grill and give it time to heat up.

As the charcoal heats up, it is suggested that you keep the lid to the grill closed so that the charcoal heats evenly.

Propane Grill

Open the lid of your grill, set the dial to ignite, and press the igniter button.

Once it is lit, you can close the lid so the grill will evenly heat up.

It is important to note that you should give it plenty of time to heat before moving on to the next step.

smoker box on top of lump charcoal

Before moving to step 5, please note that some smoker boxes do not rely on the burners or charcoal for heat to create smoke.

For those, you light the chips with a lighter or torch until they start to smoke.

Pretty quickly, the fire and heat spread to other wood chips or pellets, which creates smoke that will last. If you have this type of smoker box, do not place it over the flame directly as it can cause damage.

Step 5: Remove Grates And Place Your Smoker Box

On a Charcoal Grill

Once you have determined that your charcoal is heated to the maximum temperature, you should be ready to begin the next step. This means that you should remove the grates and then place your smoker box on the grill.

Keep in mind that the grates on the grill will be hot since they have been in the unit while the charcoal is heating. Remove the grates carefully and place them somewhere where they won’t burn something until you are ready to replace them.

Place your smoker box on the grill in the desired position for the best outcome for smoking your food properly. Some grillers choose to place them directly on top of the charcoal in the middle, however, others like to place them in the corner of the grill depending on if they are going for an offset method.

While you can place your smoker box on the grill grates, this is not recommended if you want to get the maximum smoky flavor in your food.

On a Gas Grill

Smoker boxes are best placed directly on the grill grates or heat deflector above the burners on a gas grill. The grates should be removed and the box placed where you prefer.

You can either leave that part of the grate out (if it’s a multi-piece grate) or place the box on top of the grate if there isn’t enough room between the heat deflector and the grill grates.

Step 6: Place the Grates Back in Position

After you have chosen the perfect position for your smoker box, you can replace the grates.

You should make sure that you have placed the smoker box correctly or the grates will not go back in place properly.

Again, you will want to be careful as you replace the grates since the charcoal grill is hot and you are working close to it.

You should also make sure that the grates are put back correctly so that you will get the best cooking experience possible.

Step 7: Put Your Food on the Grill

Now that you have followed all of the instructions on how to prepare and place the smoker box on your grill, you should be ready to make your food.

Whatever food you have chosen to cook, you will need to make sure that it is ready to go at this point.

Once the grill and smoker box are ready, you will not have time to prepare the food that you are grilling.

Since your smoker box has been placed on the grill, you can put your favorite foods on and get ready to enjoy that added smoke flavor.

smoker box filled with wood chips

What Are the Benefits of Using a Smoker Box?

Most people who use a smoker box will agree that using one with your grill has many benefits that include what it does for your food.

The box takes your grilling experience to the next level and gives you the authentic smoky taste of food that did not have to be smoked overnight.

Check out these benefits of using a smoker box on a charcoal grill:

  • Richer smoky flavor
  • Money savings from not having to purchase a smoker unit
  • More versatility for your grilling experiences
  • Easy to use
  • Easier clean-up than using a smoker

While these are not an exhaustive list of benefits of using a smoker box with your charcoal grill, they are enough to get you thinking about purchasing one.

Most people who use one agree that you will not be disappointed if you purchase and begin using a smoker box with your grill.

Should You Soak Your Wood Chips Before Adding to a Smoker Box?

While many people believe that you should soak your wood chips before adding them to the smoker box, this is not recommended.

The reason many people do this is that they think it creates more smoke.

While it does create what looks like smoke, this is actually steam, and it can take some of the flavors out of your meat.

Additionally, if you soak your wood chips, you will have to allow more time for the wood chips to burn. 

Keep in mind that the goal of using a smoker box is to add smoke to your grill by causing it to smolder. If you find that your wood chips are catching fire, then you may have your grill too hot overall.

The bottom line is that despite popular belief, you do not need to soak your wood chips in water before adding them to the smoker box. Doing so will end up slowing down the process of smoking your favorite foods.

grill with smoke coming out of it

When Should You Refill Your Smoker Box With Wood Chips?

In some cases, you may find that you need to refill the smoker box about halfway through the cooking process.

Since the wood chips are designed to smolder over hot coals for some time, you will need to keep a watchful eye on the box.

If you notice that the smoke coming out of the smoker box has reduced, it may be time to add more wood chips. Keep in mind that this means you have to take the box out to make this happen which means you need to do it in between the cooking process.

When you are ready to add more wood chips, you should always wear protective gloves and use tongs to keep from burning yourself. You will also need to remove the grate to get to the smoker box in your grill.

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It is important to note that this process should happen quickly since you do not want your grate or smoker box to cool down too much.

If this happens, you will need to give it some time to come back up to the desired temperature.

After you have removed the smoker box, place it on a heat-proof surface that is even so that you can get the job done easier.

You can remove the ash build-up from the old wood while adding new chips into the smoker box.

When you are finished, close the smoker box and put it back into your desired location on the grill.

You can now replace the grates so that you can continue your cooking process with all the smoke you need.

In most cases, you should only have to do this once during a grilling session since it typically does not burn out quickly. This is because cooking with a smoker box means that the food you are cooking will cook slowly to allow the smoke to be absorbed thoroughly.

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Final Thoughts on Using a Smoker Box

Overall, when it comes to using a smoker box on a charcoal grill, it can seem like a daunting task if you have never used one before. This is mostly because of the various steps that are involved in using it.

However, once you have learned how to use the smoker box properly, you will find that it is actually quite easy and that the reward is worth it.

Soon you and your family can be enjoying the amazing taste of a variety of smoked meats directly from your current grill.

Learn More About Grilling

Photo of author

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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