Many people have never owned a smoker but millions own a grill. To cook real barbecue (low and slow over indirect heat), just using a grill won’t get the job done. You’ll end up burning your briskets, ribs and pork long before they’re done on the inside! But with a little creativity, you can convert your grill with a lid to use as a smoker. Here’s how…
Use about 3/4 of a charcoal chimney of fully lit charcoal briquettes using directions included with your chimney. Do NOT use charcoal lighter fluid! You will notice a huge difference when you don’t and your food doesn’t taste like lighter fluid! When flames are fully coming from the top of the chimney, dump the briquettes onto one side of your grill and be sure all of the briquettes are against one side.
Next, place a disposable foil pan full of water next to the coals, basically large enough to take up most of the rest of the space on the coal grate. You may consider placing the water in first and then the coals so you are less likely to burn yourself. The water helps to regulate temperature inside the grill and will help to keep the meat moist when it condenses on the surface of the meat.
Then, after coals and water pan are in place, put some smoking wood on top of the coals. Go light on the amount you add, especially if you’re using a more harsh, heavy wood. If using wood chips, soak for about 30 minutes prior to using in a small bucket of water and drain well. This prevents the chips from burning up too fast and will allow for more smoke smoldering.
Place your seasoned meat of choice on the cooking grate above the water pan and away from the coals. Put the lid on and don’t look!!! Cooking times will vary depending upon hot hot your smoker grill gets and which kind of meat you’re cooking. Chicken and sausage can be done is as little as two hours. Ribs take five to six hours. If you’re trying a brisket or pork butt (Boston butt), expect it to take eight to ten hours. The longer you cook, the more you will have to add wood and coals.
After about five hours of cooking, the meat will no longer be able to take in smoke. This is when the meat exceeds 140 degrees internal temperature. At this point, the internal meat will not absorb smoke and it will all condense on the surface of the meat with a good chance it will begin to taste harsh. At this point, you can stop adding any wood to your coals for the remainder of the cook. Just use charcoal. Many pitmasters will also wrap the bigger meats (ribs, brisket, pork) in foil with a little marinade of some type to stop the smoke process, shorten the time of cooking and help make the meat more tender. Google barbecue marinade recipes or find some to try in the condiment section of your favorite grocery store.
Most folks test doneness by temperature. This is most reliable but not always completely accurate. In general, chicken is done at around 165° F. Sausage about the same. Pork and brisket take until 195° to 200° F to be done because they have to tenderize and break down the collagen that make them tough to chew. Because of this, when a temperature probe is inserted into the brisket or pork, it should have about as much resistance to the probe as inserting the probe into butter would have – which isn’t much! Remember – all cuts of meat will be different. One brisket may be tender and done by 198° while the next one you cook may take going up to 202°. I’ve had some I’ve had to take up to 205° F to be done. I rarely temp check ribs. They’re usually done when you can life up in the center of the slab and both ends bend downward a good ways. It’s trail and error and it may take you a couple of times to get it right where you want it.
If you have any additional questions not answered by the blog, feel free to respond with your question and I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can! Good luck and Happy National BBQ Month!