There’s no clear winner in the “propane vs charcoal” debate. Each type of grilling has its own pros and cons, as do both forms of heat and the grills they’re used with. But one thing we can agree on is that smoked meats are great, and most people assume that gives the edge to charcoal is the ease at which a standard charcoal grill can be converted into a smoker.
However, the fact is that it’s just as easy to convert your standard propane grill into a meat smoker. All it takes is a little know-how and resourcefulness. Here’s how to easily use your propane grill as a smoker.
What You’ll Need
The list of supplies you’ll need for converting your grill into a meat smoker is actually very short. Most of these can be purchased at a local grocery store or, in one case, foraged from the woods if available.
Obviously, you’ll first need to secure a grill. Larger is better, as many propane smokers tend to use a four burner setup. A three burner will suffice, though. A sufficiently fueled propane tank is the next logical step. You can’t exactly cook your meat if there’s no gas.
You’ll also need a disposable aluminum pan and some heavy duty aluminum foil, as well as some wood chips. While optional, an accurate digital read thermometer is recommended, as the key to good smoked meat is consistent temperature in a specific range.
To begin, fill the aluminum pan with water over the halfway mark. Humidity helps to keep your meat moist as it cooks over a long period, as well as allow the smoke flavor to diffuse into the meat.
Next, wrap a handful of wood chips of your choice in the heavy duty foil, poking several holes in the top side of the foil packet after folding. What kind of wood you wish to use is up to personal preference. If you’ve never smoked before, this resource helps to break down the flavors imbued by different woods, allowing you to choose the taste you prefer.
Once you have both of these together, place them below the grates on one side of your grill atop one of the heat protectors that cover the flames. Place them close together and light the wood chips (the fire shouldn’t be raging, just a low burn). After this, replace any grill grates you removed and prepare to light.
Heating the Grill
The key to perfectly smoked meat is keeping the food away from direct heat. This prevents it from grilling and allows the slow smoking process to take full effect. To accomplish this, establish “hot zones” and “cold zones” on your grill.
A “hot zone” would be an area of your grill where a burner is active, i.e. and area of direct heat. A “cold zone” would be the opposite. For the entire duration of the cooking process, your meat should remain in a “cold zone”.
To start, turn on the burners furthest from the side you plan to cook your meat. If your grill has four burners, turn on the two on one side to full strength. If it only has three, use full strength on one while lighting a weaker flame in the middle. If your grill has more, follow this logic accordingly to establish a hot enough “hot zone” on one side only.
Once the grill has been turned on, close the lid and allow it to get up to temperature. The target for proper smoking will be at or above 225 degree Fahrenheit while not exceeding 250 degree Fahrenheit. Keep any opening of the grill to a minimum to preserve the smoke and humidity within the grill that lead to the best flavor.
Smoking the Meat
Once your grill has gotten up to temperature, place your meat into the “cold zone” quickly and close the lid once more. Cooking time and technique will depend heavily on what you intend to smoke, meaning closely monitoring the grill temperature and adjusting as necessary will be crucial to avoid overcooking.
You should be fully prepared to utilize your propane grill as a smoker by following these steps. While it may be intimidating the first time, it’s a breeze to learn the tricks. Soon enough, you’ll be smoking your meats for every family get together and barbecue you can find.