Smoking on the grill

I was thinking about this week’s article and I realized I haven’t done an article for barbecuing in quite some time. Since the weather is finally looking more like a typical Tahoe summer and not like we’re living in Seattle during the monsoon, I thought this would be the perfect week for a great grilling recipe.
So, then I was trying to think of something grilled that would be a little different. I was running down the list of steaks, burgers, kabobs, fish and all the usual things, and my conclusion was that yes, these are all the usual things and you all probably grill these anyway. Then, I got to thinking that these are the usual things we all barbecue, but what about smoking them? After all, let’s face it, the whole reason we grill to begin with is because grilling gives everything a better flavor and smoking will only enhance the flavor.
The mere mention of smoking will scare a lot of people away. There can be this misconception that smoking something means more work and trickier grilling methods that make it just not worth the chance of ruining your meal. Well, yes, there are a few minor things you want to do differently, but in reality, smoking something is wicked easy.

Prepping the grill
What do you want to do different when smoking? First, you have to soak a few pieces of wood for at least an hour. Pretty simple. You will want to use indirect heat, which means that you will want to make two piles on either side of the grill with your charcoal leaving the middle open instead of filling the whole area. If your grill is too small for two piles, no big deal, make one pile on one side of the grill with the meat being placed on the other side.
Since there will be that empty space in the middle, or side, where your meat will be placed, place an old aluminum pan under the center of your grilling grate to catch the drippings. The reason for this is to keep the grease and drippings from causing flare ups and will also help keep the coals from rolling under the meat.
The idea of indirect heat is to get the hot smoke to pour over whatever it is you’re grilling and slowly let the meat cook, absorbing that awesome smoky flavor instead of quickly searing the meat from below and finishing the cooking process in as little time as you can. Using this method also means you don’t have to constantly keep flipping your food to keep it from burning.
You might want to spin it once or twice during the cooking, but that’s about it. With a pile of charcoal on each side, the heat rises up those sides and then is forced down in the middle. With only one side with coals, the heat goes up over them and down the other side achieving the same goal. Yes, as you can see, you do need a cover for your grill.
So far, you can see there is absolutely nothing tricky at all to using your grill as a smoker. Soak some wood and make one or two piles on the sides with the charcoal instead of one pile in the middle. Now, you’re probably ready for all the hard stuff and techniques, but nope, it still remains pretty easy.

Slow cook the meat
Okay, there is a little tricky part to this. Because you want to slow cook your meat, the temperature wants to be about 300 to 325 degrees in your grill. I would guess that the average grill is probably closer to 400 or hotter, but that’s just a guess, but means use just a little less charcoal. If your grill has a built-in thermometer, this is much easier, but otherwise you can use an oven-safe thermometer, or do what I do, use the 3-second rule. If your finger burns in less than 3 seconds when you touch the grate, it’s too hot. Just kidding. I simply guess.
When you lift the lid, you don’t want to be greeted by a blast of super hot air right away. It should just be warm air. If it’s too hot, just adjust your lid off center a little, letting some excess heat escape. It’s better to start light with the coals and add a few later. Smoking does take longer than simply grilling, so you may need to add more charcoal anyway depending on how big your item is. Also, if you’re using the two-pile method, place a piece of the soaked wood on one pile for the first half of the cooking, and the second piece on the other pile for the second half of the cooking. Remember, the wet wood will drop the temperature of that pile of coals a little so you may have to add a few more chunks.
As you can see, smoking is pretty easy, so the next time you’re out grilling, add a few pieces of soaked wood and get a lot smokier flavor. Enjoy.

Smitty is a personal chef specializing in dinner parties, cooking classes and special events. Trained under Master Chef Anton Flory at Top Notch Resort in Stowe, Vt., Smitty is known for his creative use of fresh ingredients. To read archived copies of Stir it Up, visit or Contact him at [email protected] or (530) 412-3598.