Hungry for delicious smoked flavor? Follow the guide below to match the right smoking woods with the right foods. Whether you’re using a traditional smoker, a gas grill, or a charcoal barbeque follow the guide below and match the right foods with the correct smoking woods for immense flavor and savory results time and time again.

Getting Started

Food: If you are using a water pan for smoking, place food on grate above pan. Peeking at the food allows heat and smoke to escape so try to limit any peeking. Every time you peek you add 10 minutes to your cooking time, and even more in cold weather! Smoking causes boneless meats to shrink significantly unless they have a heavy layer of fat. Simply shave the layer of fat off your pork shoulder or brisket before serving. Smoked foods also make great leftovers! The smoke flavor becomes more enhanced after a couple days in the refrigerator.


Water: Water is an important part of the smoking process. It adds moisture so the meats stay tender and flavorful during the cooking process. Give your meat a hint of flavor by adding sauces, marinades, wine, beer, fruit juices, herbs and spices to your traditional smoker. Keeping the water pan full at all times is essential especially when cooking turkeys, roasts, and large cuts of meat. You may have to add water a few times throughout cooking. Water pans can be used not only in smokers but in charcoal and gas grills too!

Smoking Woods: Wood chunks should always be soaked in water for at least one hour before grilling. Be sure to drain all excess water off wood before adding them to your grill fire or smoker box. Smoking woods can be found in hardware stores, general purpose and home centers, or even in your own backyard! Specialty food stores and gift shops carry hard to find smoking woods like wine barrel chips.

Preparing your Charcoal Grill, Gas Barbecue, or Traditional Smoker

Charcoal Grill: Arrange charcoal briquettes in an organized stack on each side of the grill grate, creating indirect heat. Between the coals, place a heavy duty aluminum foil pan filled with at least 2 cups water and desired spices, herbs, sauces, or flavorings. Light coals and pre-heat grill for at least 25 minutes. Place soaked smoking wood chips directly on hot coals and allow smoking to start before grilling. Food should be placed on top of cooking grate directly over the water pain. Close grill lid and keep peeking to a minimum! Add 6 to 8 briquettes to each side of the grill grate every hour. Replenish water, seasonings, and sauces in foil pan as needed.

Gas Barbecue: Some gas grills come already equipped with a smoker attachment, making it easy to turn your traditional barbeque grill into a sizzling smoking machine. If you don’t have a smoker attachment, you can improvise with a heavy duty foil pans. Fill one foil pan with hot water, herbs, seasonings, and flavorings. Place presoaked smoking wood chips in a separate foil pan. Before preheating, place pans on each side of the grill grate, directly over the burners. Light grill and begin cooking when grill is fully smoking.

Smoker: Smokes should be placed on a level surface away from buildings, houses, and traffic. Smoke odors can linger for hours, so try to smoke as far away from your house as possible.

Smokers are usually equipped with three different grates: one for charcoal, one for a water pan, and one for the food to be placed on. To prepare the smoker, place a large pile of charcoal on the bottom grate and ignite the coals. When the coals appear to have an even grey ash, spread them evenly along the bottom of the charcoal grate. Next, place the water & seasonings pan on center grate directly above the flames. Finally, place soaked wood chips over the briquettes through the door on the front of the smoker. Be sure to keep all vents partially closed so the smoke stays inside the smoker. Place food on top smoker grate, leaving space for smoke to circulate evenly. While cooking, replenish coals, wood chunks, water and seasonings as needed.

Smoking Tips for Beginners

  • Be aware that smoked foods look different from that of grilled or oven-prepared foods. Depending on the type of wood chunks used, the meat may have a colored tint to it. Always use a meat thermometer to make sure smoked foods are done and not undercooked.
  • Always use safety precautions when using a smoker. Use tongs or barbecue mitts when turning meats, refilling the water pan, adjusting the vents, or adding charcoal.
  • Self-starting charcoal briquettes should not be used in a smoker. They can cause an unpleasant taste to your smoke-cooked foods.
  • Different smoking woods create different flavors. Experiment with different types of woods until you find a combination you like!
  • Too much wood smoke can cause food to taste bitter. Start by using small amounts of wood to see how you like the flavor. Add more for an intense smoky taste!
  • As you become more experienced, try combining different smoking woods to create different flavors!

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