If you’re hankering after some smoked food but don’t have a smoker. Don’t worry. It’s actually quite easy to get the taste of smoked food – though it won’t be quite as strong as it is using a smoker and there are many different methods to get the job done. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to make smoking at home without a smoker, easy.
Our 16 things you can use to smoke food without a smoker are: a stovetop, a charcoal grill, a smoking gun, an oven, liquid smoke, smoked salts, smoked cheese, Rauchbier, Mezcal, Scotch, lapsang souchong, smoked bacon, smoked ham, Chipotle chilies, Pimenton, Suanmeitang and smoked ham.
The good news? You don’t need them all. You can use one item from this list (and possibly a couple of other household items) and you can create food with a lovely smoky taste. We’ve got a great guide here that will help you get the perfect smoky flavor every time without having to buy a smoker.
What Is A Smoker And Why Do We Smoke Food?
A smoker is a modern-day device that is used to carry out an age-old tradition. You can buy different models of smoker (which run on different fuels) but they all have a simple purpose – to encase food (usually meat, fish or cheese) in smoke so that it both cooks and gains a smoky taste.
Mankind has been smoking food for nearly all of its history and it offers some mild preservative properties but when combined with curing (that is dipping in salt to dry the food product) smoked foods can last for months.
However, the main use for smoking in the modern era is simply to get that delicious smoky flavor and our methods for smoking food without a smoker all focus on this property of smoking, some of them also involve cooking the food but not all of them.
How To Smoke Food Without A Smoker
We have five methods for you to smoke food without a smoker. Well, actually we have four methods because the fifth method is, in fact, a combination of two of the other methods (but an essential thing to know because some large pieces of meat will benefit from this).
You can use the stovetop, a charcoal grill, a smoking gun, an oven or a combination of the grill and the oven. Let’s take a look at each of the methods in turn:
How To Smoke Food On The Stovetop
Possibly the easiest way to actually smoke food (there is one other way to sort of smoke food that we shall discuss, later, that is even easier) is to make yourself a stovetop smoker.
Given that almost everyone has a stove – the only other things you’ll need for this cunning trick is some aluminum foil, a steamer insert, some smoking chips, and a decent-sized pot.
Preparing Your Smoker
As you might expect, if you want to smoke food on the stovetop – you’re going to need some smoke and, thankfully, you won’t need to burn your home to the ground to get it.
Grab the pot and then line the base of it with some aluminum foil. You can double layer this if you want to be certain you don’t damage the pot with what comes next.
Then take your smoking chips and scatter a small handful over the foil.
You can actually buy some stovetop smoking chips on Amazon if you want to, though we’d point out that they’re not the cheapest and we’ve often made do (when we’ve used this trick) by just picking the smaller chips out of a bag of ordinary smoking chips.
Then It’s Time To Get The Food Ready
Now that you’ve placed the smoking chips in your makeshift smoker, it’s time to create a layer for the food. What you’re trying to do is ensure that you don’t drip any oil from the food over the chips below because if you do – they’re going to be extinguished and you won’t have any smoke anymore.
So, place another layer of aluminum foil over the chips but make sure that there’s a little space around the edges for the smoke to easily percolate through and then insert the steamer into the pan.
You want to spread the food out as evenly as possible to ensure that it occupies the biggest area and that the smoke can get to every part of it. If two bits of meat are touching, the touching surfaces won’t cook properly.
Now, Seal The Smoker
The more smoke on the food, the better, because it’s the smoke which imparts that lovely taste to your food. The more smoke that leaks out of your stovetop smoker, on the other hand, the worse because not only will it not make the food tasty – it will make your home stink of smoke and nobody in 2020 wants that.
To avoid complaints from your family about the stench of smoke and flavorless food, you want to wrap some aluminum foil all the way around the lid of the pot – tight enough so that no smoke can escape.
If there’s a hole (or holes) in the lid of your pot – cover them too. Don’t hold back here, trust us, you’ll regret it if you do.
Time To Fire Up Your Smoker
Place the pot over a medium to high heat which will get the chips smoking after about 10 minutes, you should reduce the temperature to a low.
Fish will smoke very quickly using this method and we’d say no more than 15 minutes of smoking will be necessary. Chicken, on the other hand, will take longer as will other meats but 30-45 minutes is reasonable.
Please test any meat and chicken with an electric thermometer once you remove it and if the internal temperature is not hot enough – place them in a preheated oven to finish off. Eating raw meat or chicken is a bad idea.
Once you switch off the heat to the pot, let it stand for 5 minutes before you check the results of your work as that will give the smoke a little extra time to infuse the food with its delicious flavor.
Then rip the foil off the outside of your pot, check the food is cooked and if it is, get eating!
The Super Short Cut
We know it’s cheating because it’s a smoker but if you don’t want to cobble together your own homemade stovetop smoker – they do sell stovetop smokers on Amazon.
They’re also very cheap and a little more attractive to the eye than our version. It’s up to you if you want to buy one or not, but we think it’s a decent investment in your very first smoker if money is particularly tight.
How To Smoke Food On A Charcoal Grill
One of the things we love most about having a smoker is that wonderful mix of wood and charcoal taste that we get from using a charcoal smoker. Now, it’s impossible to get the taste quite as good in a charcoal grill as you can in a purpose-built smoker but we also think you can get pretty close to it.
What you need for this trick is a lidded charcoal grill (a Weber kettle will be just fine), some charcoal, a starter to light it with, some foil drip pans (that you can throw out when you’re done), a thermometer that you can use to safely measure the temperature on the inside of your grill, and some chips or chunks that you like to smoke with.
As you may know, there are many different flavors of smoking chips and while some people swear that a certain chip is essential to pair with a certain type of meat, we disagree and think the best way to work out what you like is to experiment – so, if you don’t know where to begin, grab whatever takes your fancy.
Get The Fire Going
We like natural lump charcoal for our charcoal because it’s based on pure wood. If you use briquettes this will work just fine but be warned, there are impurities in briquettes that you might not want to be infused into your food. This is a bigger deal when you’re smoking food than when you’re grilling it.
Get it lit using your starter and ensure it’s hot.
Set Up The Drip Pan
One of the big differences between grilling and smoking is how much oil drips out during the smoking process and it won’t burn away as it does during grilling.
So, you want to take your drip pan and place it under the grill’s lower grate. Then at either side of it, place the hot charcoal in two equally sized mounds.
Add The Wood
Hopefully, you’ve made your decision on chips vs chunks by now but do check your recipe to see if they need wetting before you move on to this step. If they do, you can quickly soak them in some water now.
Take a decent-sized handful of the wood and add it to each mound. You can afford to be generous here, don’t risk running out of wood during the smoking process.
Get The Food In Place
By now, the smoke should be rising and it’s time to get your food on the grill. Place the top grate back where it belongs and then try to place the food on the surface of the grate in the center so that your drip tray lays directly below it – you really don’t want the juices from your meat killing your fire.
Then place the cover on the grill.
Adjust The Temperature
You can change the temperature inside your makeshift smoker by adjusting the vents. You open them wider to increase the heat and close them to reduce the heat. Smoking should be kept at a low heat and that means you’re aiming for a temperature of between 225 degrees Fahrenheit and 250 degrees Fahrenheit, inside.
Then it’s just a question of waiting for the time specified in your recipe. Make sure to check the internal temperature of any meat or chicken at the thickest part to see if it’s fully cooked, if not, close up the grill again and allow an extra few minutes (give it a couple of minutes to build up a smoke again – don’t keep opening and closing the grill or it won’t cook anymore at all).
How To Smoke Food With A Smoking Gun
A smoking gun is an odd device. It’s often more expensive to buy a commercial use smoking gun than it is to buy a smoker, so, if you’re looking to save money by not buying a smoker – this may not be an option for you.
We did find a hobbyist’s smoking gun on Amazon for less than $25 mind you and while the results weren’t spectacular – it did provide value for money.
Where the smoking gun excels, however, is that it takes up far less space than a smoker and can easily be stored in a drawer between uses. It doesn’t get your food to taste as smoky as a full-fledged smoker, but the effect is not terrible, either.
A smoking gun comes with some wood chips, usually, and if not, you can buy your own and it’s really simple to use.
You add the wood chips to the gun and light them to get the smoking process started. Then you place the rubber tube under the sealed lid of the container (which ought to have already been cooked) that the food is in.
Then you pull the trigger on the smoking gun and it takes about 5-6 minutes to work its magic. We found that it worked very well with vegetables that you wouldn’t normally consider smoking but we found that the smoke taste doesn’t last well on meats and fish.
They’re a lot of fun to use and because of the very short use time, they can be very convenient, but the smoking gun is one of the weaker alternatives to using a smoker.
How To Smoke Food With An Oven
We find that if you want to smoke ribs or a roast in the oven you’re fine but if you want to do a tough cut of meat – you may want to combine the oven method with the grilling method (see our next section for details).
Your objective is to create smoke in the oven without filling your home with it and keep the temperature low and the meat moist. Fortunately, it’s quite easy to achieve.
Prepare The Meat
Make sure the meat has been fully thawed if you’re working with frozen meat. Then cover the surface in a dry rub and leave it in your refrigerator for about an hour before you cook it.
Prepare The Wood Chips
Take a single layer of wood chips (enough to cover the bottom of the roasting pan only – don’t try and stack them any higher) and then soak them in water for an hour. Then pour off the water to leave the chips and a small, light film of water on the base of your pan.
Use A Rack
You then put a rack into the roast pan so that you can keep your meat about an inch (no more than two) above the layer of chips you’ve just made.
Warm Up The Oven
Slow cooking is the way to go. Place the rack in the oven and let it warm to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Then once it’s come to temperature add the meat.
Make A Smoking Tent
Get some aluminum foil and you want to completely seal the pan on all sides – no space to allow the smoke to escape. This will ensure maximum flavor and ensure that your house doesn’t smell like a meat flavor chimney.
We’d leave ribs or a chicken for about 3 hours and a roast is going to take much longer – up to 8 hours. Always check the thickest part of the meat to ensure it has reached 145 degrees Fahrenheit before you remove it from the oven.
Add The Sauce
Your final trick is to remove the foil and then cover the meat with lashings of BBQ sauce. We like to broil our meat after that to make sure you get that lovely caramelized finish on the sauce.
How To Smoke Food In Combination
When you’re dealing with a tough cut of meat – we like to double up the methodologies.
You season your meat and cook it on the grill until the outside is charred. Then we like to switch it into the oven with a smoking chamber to get that smoky flavor in it until it’s fork-tender (which should take no more than 5 hours at 250 degrees Fahrenheit). Yum.
How To Smoke Food Without Smoking At All
OK, you’ve been through our entire list of smoking without smokers tips and realized that either a.) you don’t have the stuff to get the job done with or b.) you don’t feel confident to do any of these things and would prefer to get that lovely smoky taste in your food but without actually doing any smoking.
We get that, and just for you – we have 12 ways to get a smoke flavor into your food without touching a grill, a stovetop, a smoking gun, an oven or any combination of them whatsoever. While I’m going to link to as many of these as possible with actual products, there are a few (alcohols) that obviously won’t ship online. If you want one, you will have to do a bit of searching – but I promise it is worth the work!
Our 12 Favorite Ways To Add Smoky Tastes Without Any Equipment
- Lapsang Souchong Tea. If you had a smoker, you could smoke this tea for yourself but if you had a smoker, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Fortunately, the pinewood fires used to dry the leaves make it plenty smoky in the first place. We like to use it in marinades or brining water. It works really well in drinks too.
- Liquid Smoke. It doesn’t get any easier than this. Smoke in a bottle and now available in pretty much every flavor of wood. We think it’s best mixed into a homemade BBQ sauce but be careful with it – it can be very strong, use it sparingly.
- Mezcal. Take an agave cactus heart and roast it over an open fire and then make a white spirit from it or, alternatively, let someone else do the hard work and just buy a bottle as we did. We like this more than tequila and it has that delicious smoky edge. We like to splash a little into salsa to give it some pep.
- Pimenton (Spanish Smoked Paprika). This pepper is so easy to find nowadays that you ought to have some in the kitchen all the time. It’s lovely when added to pasta dishes and we know a few people who like to spice up an omelet with it too.
- Rauchbier. Germans love their beer and because they love their beer, they’re always doing strange things to it and Rauchbier is a smoked beer which is made, traditionally, in a place called Bamberg but you can easily find North American craft versions in your local store. We find it great for adding a little smoke to a cocktail and we’ve used it in many BBQ sauces too.
- Scotch Whisky. It’s too expensive to lash into sauces but if you like your cocktails with a very distinct body then you can do worse than grab a top-quality single malt. We also find it’s good in desserts when all other smoke tastes are simply incompatible with the end product – just pop it in some cream, whisk it up and go!
- Suanmeitang. It’s unlikely that you have any of this laying around the home but this Chinese drink which is made from smoked plums can really add a distinctive edge to a cocktail and you can be assured that if you track it down, you’ll be the only one in your neighborhood with it unless you live in Beijing that is.
- Smoked Bacon. You really can’t go wrong with smoked bacon or even just cured bacon which we all seem to associate with that smoky taste anyway. We like to grill it until it’s crisp, let it dry and then crumble it over stuff. We take the fat that collects in the grill and put it on our potatoes. Just try and aim for bacon that has actually been smoked, the cheap industrial fake stuff is nowhere near as good and often full of sugars too.
Want to know what the difference is between smoked and unsmoked bacon? View my post here.
- Smoked Cheeses. There are so many options for smoked cheese on the shelf and they’re so easy to incorporate into your food. We love an apple smoked cheddar just crumbled into salad though it can be beautifully melted over ham too. You can also pick up a huge selection of more adventurous choices and we recommend keeping your eye out for some Oscypek which is a smoked sheep’s milk cheese from Poland which is absolutely incredible.
- Smoked Chipotle Chiles. Smoke jalapenos, what could go wrong? They’re cheap and easy to use – pick up a can at any grocery store. Then use them to add life to spaghetti, salsa or chili.
- Smoked Ham. It’s a bit like bacon but more for wrapping stuff in than for adding gently to dishes. We’ve always liked getting some asparagus and curling it up in some smoked Italian or German ham and then gently grilling it. It’s fabulous in sandwiches, of course, and we also like to pop some in our pasta dishes too.
- Smoked Salts. These are salts with some smoke flavor that have been deliberately designed to work with meats in BBQ rubs. You can find an endless number of choices for these and we’d recommend that you experiment with them until you find a favorite. They’re surprisingly good.
So, there you have it: 16 things you can use to smoke food without a smoker. Well, 5 things that work well to actually smoke food and 11 things that can help you cheat if you don’t have any smoking equipment of any kind to hand.
We do recommend buying a smoker for your home because the food you can produce is spectacular, but we appreciate that it’s not always in the household budget and sometimes, you’re not even at home when you get that urge to taste that smoky flavor. So, please, enjoy it!