Smoker boxes 101: Are They Actually worth it?


Smoker box on grill

A smoker box is used to add flavor to grilled foods. Many different foods can be smoked in a smoker box before they are eaten using either direct or indirect smoking methods. 

A smoker box is worth it if you are looking for a way to add flavor to foods that you cannot get through any other means. Meats especially benefit from the various flavors that you can impart to them through the different wood types. Smoker boxes are easy to use but do require space on your grill.

Smoker boxes are not a new concept as they have been around for many years. What is new, however, are the cooking methods used to smoke the food. Better technology allows us to build smoker boxes using new designs and incorporate different fuels to provide the smoke needed to flavor and preserve the food.

What Is A Smoker Box?

A smoker box is a metal container used to provide a smokey flavor to foods as they cook. The smoker box contains wood smoking chips or pellets, which is then placed over a charcoal or gas fire, which produces smoke to add the smokey flavor to the food. Make sure that you use a sturdy box that can stand the heat and won’t fall apart easily.

Most smoker boxes range in size from 8 – 12 inches (20 – 30cms) long and 4 – 6 inches (10 – 15cms) wide. If you don’t use a smoker box very often or are still experimenting, try a smaller box while you learn how to smoke food correctly. The smoker box protects the wood smoking chips from being exposed to too much heat. 

For cooking using the direct method, you would place the food on top of the grill over the fire and let it cook. For the indirect method, the fire would be put around the food, which would cook because of the heat generated by the fire, rather than being cooked on top of the flames.

If you are cold smoking your food using the indirect method,  generally, a separate smoker is used. A smoker box can be used but needs to be a short distance away from the cooking compartment and will need to be checked more often to replenish the wood chips. As the smoker box is so much smaller than a standard separate smoker, it will use much more fuel to get the desired effect.

The smoke is channeled from the smoker box through a pipe or tube to the main compartment containing the food. Fire is not used for cooking the food during the cold smoking process as the food is preserved by the smoke, which is pumped into the compartment from the smoker or smoker box.

Cold smoking adds flavor to your food without thoroughly cooking it, while hot smoking allows you to flavor and cook the food simultaneously.

If you are hot smoking your food using either the direct or the indirect methods, the food is cooked and smoked over the same fire, using the same compartment.

Is A Smoker Box Worth It?

If you are a food fundi who enjoys spending time outdoors and grilling food around a fire, then a smoking box is definitely worth the investment! Adding smoke to your food produces better flavor. 

If you prefer quick-cooking, then a smoker box would probably not be very useful to you, but if you enjoy relaxing around the grill waiting for your food to cook, then buy a smoker box!

Which Are The Different Kinds Of Smoker Boxes?

The best type of smoker boxes can sit on top of the grill. As the grill heats up, the heat is transferred to the metal box, resulting in the chips smoldering and releasing smoke.

Smoker boxes come in different shapes and sizes but are used for the same purpose – to make your food taste great! There are at least four types of smoker boxes that we know of, but there could be many homemade varieties used in many different ways.

Under-Grate Smoker Box

The best materials for this re-usable box are stainless steel or cast iron. They need to be able to stand the heat as they are mounted between the flame diffusers under the gas grill grate. Placing the smoker box directly under the grate results in intense smokiness and richer flavored food.

Under-grate smoker boxes can be flat, v-shaped, tube-shaped, or round. This type of smoker box can also be made from disposable aluminum foil – handy when you don’t have access to a re-usable smoker box. By placing the smoker box under the grate, you can better direct the smoke towards the meat. Smoker boxes need to have adjustable vents so that you can control the smoke flow.

Most smoker boxes can be used on the grill’s burner and under a grill interchangeably, but some are specially designed for operating under the grill only. 

Over-Grate Smoker Box

The over-grate smoker box is usually made from stainless steel and is typically rectangular or cubed in shape, but some may have flatter designs. They do come in different sizes, so you can decide how many wood chips to use at a time.

These smoker boxes are positioned on top of the grill, which means that the smoke is pushed away from the food and next to or below the box. These smoker boxes are best when used over a gas grill or BBQ with a lid. Closing the lid allows the smoke to stay inside the compartment giving better flavor to your food.

Disposable Smoker Box

As the name suggests, a disposable smoker box can only be used once because it is generally made of aluminum foil and is intended to be disposed of after it has been used. You can make a DIY smoker box at home by using aluminum foil to make pans and lids – remember to poke holes in the lids before placing the wood chips inside. 

The holes in the aluminum lid need to be roughly the same size and shape to disperse the smoke evenly. A disposable smoker box is easy to use at an impromptu BBQ and can be discarded once your food is cooked.

A Free-Standing Smoker Box

A free-standing smoker box can be used directly on charcoal in a coal oven, placed on top of a grill over flames, or even buried directly into an open flame.

This type of smoker box can be made from stainless steel or cast iron and is larger than the other smoker boxes. A free-standing smoker box uses more wood chips or pellets per session due to its size.

How Do You Use A Smoker Box?

A smoker box can be used directly or indirectly with any cooking method using charcoal, gas, wood, or electricity. The electric and gas cooking methods are easier to use and require less intervention as the heat of the cooking fire is regulated and controlled. 

A BBQ grill requires more attention as the heat from the fire needs to be monitored constantly to keep the heat at the correct temperature to cook the food.

The most popular ways to use a smoker box are on a gas grill or a BBQ grill.

How To Use Smoker Boxes On A Gas Grill

On a gas grill, the smoker box is used for indirect cooking. One side of the grill will be for the smoker box, and the other side will be for the food you are cooking. Using the indirect cooking method, the food will cook slow and low without drying out or burning. 

You only need to use one burner, but you may have to turn another burner on if you cannot achieve the correct temperature. Always make sure that you have one burner switched off so that you can place the food over it.

 The indirect smoking method using the over grate smoker box :

  • Preheat the gas grill by switching on all burners on high for 10 – 15 minutes.
  • Load the smoker box with wood chips of your choice.
  • Place the smoker box over the lit burner.
  • After the box starts smoking, add the food to the grill. Add more wood chunks to the smoker box when necessary. Close the lid.
  • Monitor the temperature of the grill – it should be between 220 – 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Smoke the meat until the internal temperature measure 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Remove the food from the grill and the smoldering wood from the smoker box.
  • Switch the grill burners off.

Top Tip: Always add water to the chamber on your gas cooker to add moisture and keep the food from drying out.

How To Use Smoker Boxes On A BBQ Grill

On a BBQ grill, the smoking box is used for direct or indirect cooking. Most people know how to use a BBQ grill, so the only difference is how to use the smoking box while cooking your food.

The direct smoking method using the under grate smokebox:

  • Fill the smoker box with wood chunks – don’t overload.
  • Light the charcoal in the BBQ.
  • Place the smoker box directly onto the hot charcoal under the grill grate.
  • The wood should start smoking after about 10 – 15 minutes.
  • Place the food onto the hot grill above the smoker box. Close the lid.
  • The food is cooked when it reaches a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Remove the food from the grill and the smoldering wood from the smoker box.
  • Let the food rest for 5 – 10 minutes before eating.

For the indirect method, hot coals are placed around the food, which can be placed in cooking trays or wrapped in aluminum foil. The smoker box containing wood chips is placed on top of the hot coals and will emit the required smoke to flavor the food.

Top Tip: Always make sure that your grill is located in a well-ventilated area as the grill generates a lot of smoke, making it uncomfortable for anyone in the area should the smoke envelop them or if they breathe the smoke in irritating the chest.

Best Wood Chips For Your Smoker Box

You can use charcoal or briquettes in your smoker box, but wood definitely improves the flavor! Here is our choice of the best wood chunks to use with various foods. You can add liquids to infuse the wood and add additional flavor or leave the wood chunks dry before setting alight.

Once you have decided on the wood to use in your smoker box, fill the box with the wood chunks but do not overfill. There needs to be good airflow between the chunks.

Apple Wood Chunks

Apple is a perfect accompaniment to poultry and pork. Sweet and mild, it can be combined with other woods to enhance the flavor.

Hickory Wood Chunks

The most popular flavor for BBQ, hickory, is rich in aroma and pairs well with red meat, ham, and bacon.

Mesquite Wood Chunks

The strongest of the smoking woods, mesquite is perfect with beef. Do not use with fish or white meat. 

Oak Wood Chunks

Oak has an intense smoke flavor and is best used for heavy-duty smoking like pork, ribs, and heavy game.

Lemon, Grapefruit, And Orange Wood Chunks

Citrus always pairs well with white meat and fish!

Cherry Wood Chunks

Cherry adds a fruity sweet-and-tart flavor to almost anything that is smoked!

Can You Use A Smoker Box In The Oven?

Using a smoker box is not the best way to smoke food in the oven, although smoking meat in the oven can be done by using wood chips, oven pans, and oven racks.

 You can buy smoking bags, smoking guns, and even smoking envelopes to use when indoor smoking, but if you are looking to capture the genuine smokey flavor of grilled food, you will have to use an outdoor grill and smoker box. 

Indoor smoked food just doesn’t have the same flavor and cannot compare to outdoor smoked food!

Is A Smoker Box Better Than A Grill?

A grill is all about cooking the food using heat. A smoker box is for adding wood-smoked flavor to the food. While grilling food does involve using smoke from a fire or gas, and smoker boxes do generate heat, you get to choose how much heat and smoke you generate using a smoker box.

A smoker box can be used to add flavor to food that you wouldn’t otherwise have from cooking it over a grill. Cold smoked food cannot be achieved using a grill as the smoking method is entirely different.

The difference in the flavor is a matter of taste – do you enjoy the smokey flavor of a charcoal grill, or do you prefer the woody flavor and aroma of wood chunks from a smoker box?

Whether or not a smoker box is better than a grill comes down to personal choice and what you would like to achieve with the cooking method you are using. For some people, a charcoal grill is the best and quickest way to cook food while entertaining friends and family, while for others, setting up a smoker box and leaving the food to cook slowly over a gas grill is the only way to go.

Pros And Cons Of Smoker Boxes

Even if you do enjoy a smoker box and a grilling enthusiast, there are a few pros and cons of purchasing and using a smoker box with your grill.

The Pro’s Of Smoker BoxesThe Con’s Of Smoker Boxes
A smoker box produces better-flavored foodCertain materials can be prone to rust
It comes in various shapes, sizes, and designsSome smoker boxes can be expensive
Very easy to clean after use or disposableSmoker boxes take up a lot of space on the grill
It can be used on both gas and charcoal grillsTemperature control can be time-consuming

Conclusion

Smoker boxes are a great addition to your grill. You can smoke your food your way without having the expense of investing in a separate smoker. 

Do your research before buying a smoker box to see if it is compatible with your grill. For some people, a smoker box does not have the expected effect when used on a gas grill because of the wide venting at the back of the grill, which allows the smoke to escape before it has a chance to flavor the food that you are smoking.

Either way, using a smoker box to flavor your food will allow you to experience more tastes and flavors when preparing and cooking your food.

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.

Recent Posts