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Turning Grills Into Smokers with Foil and Wood Chips

If you yearn for the smell of wafting smoke as it slow cooks a slab of ribs or a brisket, but don't want to make the investment, turn to your grill instead. A foil packet filled with wood chips can easily take the place of a smoker, and it can easily work on even the smallest charcoal grills. Propane units with more than one burner are also great candidates for converting into temporary smokers.

The process is simple:
1. Purchase wood chips or chunks.
2. Soak them overnight or at least a couple of hours beforehand.
3. Drain chips and place them on a flat sheet of foil, add a top sheet and crimp the edges.
4. Poke holes with a fork in the top to let smoke escape.
5. When smoke appears, add the food.

Two schools of thought exist about adding the chips dry or soaked. If they're dry, they may flame up and will burn faster as well. The soaking method, in our opinion, is better and also enhances the steaming flavor in a closed grill. Top off the wet chips with a handful of dry ones if desired.

Tip: Chunks will last longer, but they also require more pre-cooking time before food can go on. Chips will start to smoke faster and are best for foods that won't require a lot of time on the grill.

Smoking on a Charcoal Grill

Offset smoking on a larger charcoal grill is easy. Pile up the coals on one side, let them turn white-hot and add the foil packet on top. With foods placed to one side on the grill, just keep the lid closed and resist the urge to check too often. For smaller grills, just place the packet as close to one side as possible.

Smoking on a Propane or Electric Grill

Propane grills are easier than electric units to set up as smokers. When a burner is hot, add the foil packet and let it begin to smoke. Keep the second burner off or on low, add the food and let built-up heat along with the smoke do its job.

Electric cookers may have space in the bottom designed especially for holding wood chips. These are typically great space-savers for smaller areas and are easy to set up. They may come with metal boxes designed to hold wood chips. Tabletop electric grills with a single burner can still work, but should be used only for foods that don't require a lot of cooking time, obviously.

What Types of Chips to Purchase?

From strong to mild, here are our suggestions for using wood chips.

Mesquite chips provide the strongest infusion of wood taste and a little goes a long way. Use them strictly for beef and in moderation or mix in other lighter woods.

Hickory is perhaps the second strongest, but can be used with a variety of meats. Too much, however, can impart an acrid taste in food.

Oak and Pecan are good all-around choices with milder flavorings for pork, chicken and beef.

Alder, along with the popular fruitwoods cherry and apple, is among the lightest wood flavoring choice and will pair well with most fish.




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