How to smoke on a gas grill: 5 easy-to-follow steps for achieving perfectly smoked foods

Hickory wood chips in a stainless steel smoker box.
(Image credit: Pete Wise)

The great thing about a charcoal grill is that cooking over hot coals can add incredible, smoky flavors to your food—especially if you throw a handful of aromatic wood chips onto the pile. What’s not-so-great is the difficulty of getting the charcoal lit. Some users struggle to light a charcoal fire, at least without using foul-smelling paraffin.

If you want smoky barbecue flavors without going to all the effort of learning how to light a charcoal grill, then you could try using a smoker box on one of the best gas grills. This accessory is basically a lidded, metal box, with some holes that allow smoke to escape. You put aromatic wood chips inside the box, position it safely inside your grill, apply heat—and then the wood chips do the rest, infusing food with deliciously smoky flavor. 

While I’m a fan of charcoal grills, I also enjoy using a smoker box on a gas grill from time to time—especially when I want to cook a wood-smoked feast in a hurry. 

In this quick guide, I’ll show you how to smoke on a gas grill. Preparing and heating the wood chips takes up to one hour, so start a little while before you intend to eat. The smoker box shown in the photos is the Char-Broil Stainless Steel Smoker Box

BBQ influencer Hilary Anderson
Hilary Anderson

Hilary Anderson is the barbecue genius behind the BBQlads social media empire, and acts as brand ambassador on behalf of world-renowned grill manufacturer, Char-Broil. He frequently provides advice to his followers on how to get the best out of their grill—from ignition to cooking. 

Providing some expert advice along the way will be grill expert and Char-Broil BBQ ambassador, Hilary Anderson. 

“Gas is always very convenient, quick to start up and doesn’t have the residual ash of a charcoal BBQ,” says Hilary. 

“Depending on the food you are cooking it can still add a smoky flavor as juices hit the coals and smoke up, however you generally have to use a smoker box or moist wood chips wrapped in foil to add that flavor.” 

The items you need to smoke on a gas grill

You'll need a few basic items to smoke food on a gas grill, including: 

Quick steps to smoke on a gas grill

  1. Soak your wood chips  
  2. Put the wood chips inside your smoker box 
  3. Position the smoker box inside your gas grill
  4. Heat the grill
  5. Cook with the grill lid closed

Step by step guide: How to smoke on a gas grill

1. Soak your wood chips

(Image: © Pete Wise)

One of the fun things about smoking food on a gas grill is choosing the ideal wood chips to go with a meal. There are endless combinations, from strongly-scented hickory wood with pork or fish, to milder olive wood that can pair well with just about anything. 

“There are woods for fuel, and other woods for smoke and flavor, so take some time to learn the different types available. A good BBQ recipe book will have some guides and information to help out,” says Hilary.

Once you’ve got your smoking wood chips and you’re ready to cook, soak the wood chips in cold water for about 30 minutes. This will ensure they create plenty of smoke on the grill. (Some BBQ enthusiasts prefer not to soak their smoking wood chips.) 

2. Put the wood chips inside your smoker box

(Image: © Pete Wise)

Open the smoker box and place the soaked wood chips inside. It’s best to do this outdoors, to avoid spilling water on the floor of your home. Close the lid of the smoker box when you’re done. 

The best amount of smoking wood chips to use depends on the recipe you’re using (and how smoky you’d like your food to be). For most meals, the smoker box should be at least half-full. If in doubt, add a few more, but don't stuff the box so full that airflow is impeded.

3. Position the smoker box inside your gas grill

(Image: © Pete Wise)

Check to ensure your grill is cold, with the heat turned off. Lift off the grills and put the smoker box below them in a place that gets very hot during cooking, with the lid of the smoker box facing upwards. If your gas grill has vaporizing bars, this could be a good place to rest the smoker box. 

When the smoker box is safely positioned, replace the grills above it. There should be some clearance between the smoker box and the grills. 

4. Heat the grill

(Image: © Pete Wise)

Ignite the burners of your gas grill, close the lid, and allow the grill to heat up to cooking temperature, as usual. 

When the wood chips reach 212°F (boiling point), the water from soaking boils off. Soon after, you’ll soon be able to see (and smell) lots of flavorsome smoke rising from the smoker box. 

From the moment you light the grill, it can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 30 minutes or longer for smoking wood chips to reach the ideal condition for cooking. 

5. Cook with the grill lid closed

(Image: © Pete Wise)

A smoker box filled with wood chips can produce smoke for a long period of time, especially when the grill is set to a low or moderate heat. 

To maximize the smoky flavor, cook your food low and slow, with the grill lid down. Think about where you place the food, relative to the smoker box. 

As shown in the photos, I positioned some salmon filets directly over the smoker. Salmon cooks quickly, so I chose this placement in order to maximize smoke absorption and increase the cooking time, with the smoker box blocking some of the direct heat from the burner. If you want to cook food faster, place it directly above a burner instead. 

When you’re done cooking, turn off the grill and allow the smoker box to cool completely before you attempt to remove and clean it. 

Herb-crusted salmon fillets on a plate.

Success! My salmon filets were infused with smoky hickory flavor.  (Image credit: Pete Wise)

FAQs

Which types of wood are best for smoking food on a gas grill? 

The best type of smoking wood to use on a gas grill depends on what you’re cooking. Popular varieties such as applewood, hickory and mesquite are safe choices, as they tend to pair well with lots of different foods. 

To create a more complex flavor profile, try using multiple types of smoking wood chips at the same time. You can either buy chips as a blend intended for use with a specific meat, such as this blend for smoking turkey, or invent your own combination.

When choosing wood to use in a smoke box, make sure you're using smoking wood chips that are intended for smoking, rather than wood chips intended for heating.

 Which type of smoker box should I use on my gas grill? 

There are a few different types of smoker box available, and each has its pros and cons. Stainless steel smoker boxes, such as the Char-Broil model shown in the photos, are lightweight and durable. Meanwhile, cast iron smoker boxes usually look better for longer, as they won’t show the effects of blackening in the same way steel does. 

If you want to save money, you could make your own single-use smoking box out of kitchen foil, or simply wrap damp smoking wood chips in kitchen foil to produce a similar effect.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when smoking food on a gas grill? 

The most important thing is to ensure your smoker box is rested stably inside the grill. Also, be careful not to use excessive heat, as you wouldn’t want an uncontrollable fire to break out in the smoker box. 

Beyond these specific tips, it’s important to stick to the fundamentals of safe gas grilling

“Check the level of your gas bottle in advance of your cook up, because no-one wishes to run out of gas mid-BBQ, unless you keep a spare bottle to hand,” says Hilary. 

“You should also consult your recipe to see if the food needs to be cooked with direct heat, indirect heat or a combination of the two – this will ensure you achieve the best result with your BBQ.” 

Pete Wise
Freelance Writer

Pete has reviewed hundreds of gardening products for titles including TopTenReviews, Ideal Home and the London Evening Standard, as well as writing articles on diverse topics for other publications such as The Guardian and BBC Good Food. Pete loves spending time in his yard – although, having just read The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, he is regarding his plants with a newfound suspicion.