Over recent years I’ve found that more and more people want to get that smoky flavor into their barbecue food. What I have found though is that there’s a lot of confusion over how to create the smoke.
The most common with charcoal barbecues is the belief that it’s the smoke that comes from the charcoal itself that adds the flavor. But this is incorrect. Charcoal only creates smoke when it’s first lit. That is when it’s colored black or turning red. Charcoal isn’t ready to cook on until it’s turned white and at this stage no smoke comes off it.
Another misunderstanding is that it’s the fat and juices dripping down onto the charcoal, or gas burners, that creates the smoke that adds the smoky flavor. This isn’t really correct either.
The only way to get real smoky flavor is to burn dry, hard wood such as mesquite, cherry, hickory, oak, etc. This is being helped considerably by the increasing availability and variety of wood chips and pellets.
The biggest constraint to achieving a smoky flavor from your barbecue is that you must have a grill with a hood. That’s a hood that covers the grill but still allows you to cook food. Effectively converting your grill into an oven.
The general principle of adding a smoky flavor to your food is simple. Create the smoke using hardwood chips or pellets, put your food on the grill and close the hood. Let it cook for at least 30 minutes. The smoke has to be contained around the food for a reasonable length of time to give it a chance of imparting a flavor into the food.
So you now have the general idea, how do you go about ‘smoking’ some food?
- Soak your wood chips in cold water for at least two hours.
- Light your barbecue and wait until it has reached cooking temperature.
- If you’re using charcoal, cook any quick cook food first, such as sausages, burgers and shrimps. Let the heat from the coals die down a little.
- If you have a smoker box put your soaked wood chips in this. Or make a double thickness aluminium foil pocket and place them in that. Seal all of the edges then punch about four or five holes in the top.
- Place the smoker box or aluminium foil pocket on the charcoal, or gas burner.
- Put your food on your grill, close the hood and let the food cook for the required time, at least 30 minutes. It’s ok to open the hood to check and turn the food every so often.
Soaking the wood chips allows them to slowly smolder. If they were dry, they’d burst into flames and produce only a small amount of smoke.
If you’re using pellets then you generally don’t need to soak them first. Follow the manufacturers instructions.
This is a basic method of creating a smoky flavor from your barbecue. You can also add a water pan and use the indirect method of heating. Or, best of all use a dedicated barbecue smoker. You can find more information at
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