Can You Cook in a Smoker Without Smoke?


When smoking, you can usually come up with new ways of completing the process to increase and decrease flavors and cook times respectively. There are many “hacks” to accomplish this task, but sometimes the questions seem like they do not add up. Here is one I ran across and wanted to spend some time on.

Can you cook in a smoker without smoke? In most cases, yes. You can use a gas, electric, or charcoal smoker to cook food by simply using the heat source. This will not, however, be the most efficient cooking process, and you will not be able to do this with every smoker. Review your smoker’s specifications before giving this a try.

There are a few reasons why some would want to cook without smoke in a smoker, but considering there are quite a few problems that can arise when doing this, you likely only want to do this when it is absolutely necessary to achieve the flavor and cooking time you are aiming for. Below, I will explore this further and help you understand if and when this idea could lead to a promising outcome for your smoked food.

Why Would You Cook in a Smoker Without Smoke? 

The primary reason someone may want to cook in a smoker without smoke is to get a grilled/bbq flavor without the accompanying flavor of smoke. While this seems counterintuitive, there could be a good explanation. For some, they may not own a grill and will still want to achieve that outdoor, open fire flavor that only comes from a grill or smoker. 

Perhaps you are going to smoke some food but want to pull some off early and add the smoke later. This could be for a smoke-averse person who will be joining the party for a day. Whatever the reason, there are always those who need to make this happen, and I’m here to problem solve with you. 

Again, it is important to remember that choosing to do this can come with many risks, so you will want to monitor your smoker for any signs of damage (to the food or the smoker itself) should you choose to cook in a smoker without smoke. Rest assured, there are ways to make this process work on certain smokers- you just need to ensure that the process is the right fit for your smoker and your food.

Reasons to Use a Smoker to Cook Smokeless

While I would like to make this a list, I just can not find a lot of possible reasons that people have to cook smokeless in a smoker. Above, I mentioned why this might be desired, but I can only come up with two scenarios that make a lot of sense to me. Of course, if you are in this boat, your scenario may at least be answered by one of these – even if it is not exactly the same. 

1. You need to cook something in an oven, but do not have an oven.

Not every scenario of this will even work, but let’s just say that you need to cook (heat up, really) a ham, and do not have an oven. A grill would likely never get to the center but would burn the outside. This would leave your ham inadequately cooked (reaching an insufficient internal temperature) while charring your ham enough to have to discard it.

A smoker, in this case, could act like a very low-temperature oven and allow for something like a ham to be heated all the way through without burning. Now, this will still be a time-consuming process, but it could be a reality you are facing. 

If you are facing the choice between using your smoker to cook smokeless or not being able to serve the ham at your family’s holiday gathering, it is understandable that you might want to choose the first of these two options. Just be careful that you do not screw up your smoker for future use by choosing to attempt this carelessly.

2. You Cannot Cook With Smoke Due to a Smoke Intolerance/Complaint

I have lived in many apartments, and one of the things that can control your life is the situation around you. If you live somewhere where the landlord, or another tenant, has filed a complaint – you might need to improvise your smoking for a while. In this case, you will not get the same smoke flavor, but at least you can still have cooked foods that are done over a flame. 

Or, if you live in close proximity to people who are sincerely disturbed by the smell of smoke, then you might be considering using your smoker smokeless to provide similar food that has a slight decrease in flavor. Hopefully, this will not be a long-term scenario for you and you will soon be able to return to using your smoker as it was intended.

Best Type of Smoker for Smoking Without Smoke

While this is a question I never thought I would answer, there is a best-case scenario for using a smoker for smoking without smoke. Charcoal smokers will give you the best flavor without needing to create a lot of smoke from wood or pellets. Thankfully, there are plenty of charcoal smokers on the market, and you can often buy a smoker/grill combo to solve problems like this one. 

Drawbacks to Cooking in a Smoker Without Smoke

Most drawbacks I present regarding cooking in a smoker without smoke are going to be situation-dependent. Then, of course, there will even be situations where this could still be a wise thing to do. Use your discretion in how you choose to proceed with this process.

1. It Will Take a Long Time 

Outside of the more practical points that I will bring up, the long period of cooking time in a smoker without smoke is one that should be obvious. Smokers rarely can get to the head level of grills or ovens, so using it to cook something could be copious amounts of work for minimal return. 

Instead of spending quality time with friends, family, and loved ones, you would be spending exorbitant amounts of time checking the internal temperatures of the meats you are cooking or otherwise monitoring your food to prevent it from burning. This is simply inefficient, but, understandably, it might be unavoidable for you and your situation.

2. Not All Smokers Will Work

A lot of smokers will not hold heat as well as other cookers, and for this reason, it will not be feasible for them to cook instead of just smoke. While in reality, they might make something edible, large items will just not work well or cook evenly if your smoker is not properly insulated. 

Wood smokers will also not work for cooking without smoke unless you can remove the smoke from the wood source while still retaining the heat. I am sure that there are some innovators who can find a workaround, but, in general, it is best not to do this unless it is simply unavoidable on your end.

3. You May Not Keep it Completely Smokeless

I am sure this is not what you want to hear, but if you have used a smoker for smoking often, it will still have a smoke smell even without the present use of smoke. Unless you are going to clean it out very well (which will take significant time and energy), then you will likely end up with the smoke smell and flavor that you were trying to avoid in the first place. 

So, in this scenario, you could be spending significant amounts of time and energy to cook in your smoker without smoke all to either end up with food that has the same smell/flavor or, alternatively, cleaning out a perfectly good smoker and ruining years of previous dedication to smoking the food within this device.

William Johnson

Will has loved smoking food in his free time for the last few years. Each major holiday or off-weekend, Will spends days testing and prepping new recipes for perfection.

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