Smoke Meat Using a Regular Charcoal Grill – Step by Step


Love the taste of smoked meat but don’t want to invest in an expensive smoker? Just about every time I grill, I add smoke to the meat. I’ll show you exactly how to smoke chicken, burgers, or anything else on a regular charcoal grill, step by step. My method is a mixture of grilling and smoking, so you get the best of both worlds!

A regular charcoal grill can be used to smoke meat. Controlling the temperature is key. Place all the coals to one side of the grill, along with several chunks of wet smoking wood. Place meat on the opposite side to allow indirect heat and smoke. Smoke until the necessary time and temperature has been reached.

Absolutely Delicious.

Materials

You need to following materials to smoke meat on the grill.

  • A charcoal grill (kettle style is my preference)
  • Coal
  • Chunked smoking wood like apple, hickory, cherry, or mesquite
  • Meat. In this guide I will be using chicken thighs and drumsticks

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Guide to smoking meat fast on a charcoal grill, step by step

1 – Soak the chunks of wood for a couple hours prior to grilling. Wet wood will produce more smoke.

2 – Light your charcoal grill. I usually fill my charcoal chimney about 75%-100% of the way full.

3 – Season your chicken how you like it. I prefer a simple salt + pepper + garlic mixture.

4 – Place the hot coals on one side of the grill.

5 – Put 3-6 chunks of soaked smoking wood on the hot coals.

7 – Place chicken on grate over the coals and sear for 4-5 minutes.

8 – Flip chicken and sear the other side for an additional 4-5 minutes.

9 – After searing both sides, move the chicken to the other side of the grill for indirect heat.

Close the vents of the grill about 1/2 way to lower the temperature. Then let the chicken smoke for about 30 minutes.

10 – After 30 minutes of smoking, check the internal temperature of the chicken using a meat thermometer. Poultry should be cooked to 165F per the USDA.

Here is a video we made that details and shows you the process!

Types of meat and other foods you can smoke on a charcoal grill

Food you can smokeComments
ChickenWhite or dark meat. The thicker the piece the longer to smoke.
HamburgersUnseared takes about 45 minutes
SausagesAdds a delicious after taste
Pork ChopsAn excellent method to keep moist
FishSalmon can be smoked for a delicious snack
PeppersSmoking peppers is an excellent way to preserve them

What kind of wood can be used for smoking?

There many different hardwood and fruitwood species that are great for smoking meat. Some common types of wood that can be used are listed below:

  • Apple
  • Cherry
  • Hickory
  • Mesquite
  • Oak

What is the difference between wood chips and wood chunks for smoking meat?

Wood chips are small pieces of wood, usually around 1/2″ squares by 1/4″ thick. They are meant to be used in a smoker box that sits next to, or on the fire.

Wood chunks are larger and thicker. They can range in size from 1″ cubes to 3″x5″ and at least 1″ thick. They can be placed directly on top of the coals and will smoke for a long time.

Should you get wood chips, or wood chunks for smoking?

If you are using a charcoal grill, wood chunks are the more convenient to use rather than wood chips. Since wood chunks are long lasting and can be placed directly on the coals, they are far easier to use than wood chips.

Where can you get wood for smoking meat?

In general you have two options for getting wood for smoking, buy it or go cut it up yourself.

You can purchase bags of chunked hardwood from big box stores and amazon. A larger bag would likely last you multiple years.

For obtaining the wood yourself, if you have permission from a friend, or own some land you can go limb up a tree. Also, dead limbs and storm damage are great ways to get free wood. You can generally offer to cut it up and get some yourself.

I haven’t paid for wood chips for years due to a family member who owns a farm, and another family member who trimmed up their ornamental cherry tree. I got probably 5 cubic feet of cherry wood, and I’m set for years.

What kind of wood should you NOT smoke?

Do not use conifer (evergreen) trees, or rotten wood for smoking. If you notice fungus or possible disease on the tree when cutting up the wood, discard it and do not smoke it. Also, any tree that contains toxins should not be used for smoking.

Examples of trees that are toxic and should not be used for smoking include Yew, Sassafrass, Mangrove, and Mountain Laurel.

Above all, if you aren’t sure the wood is safe to use, don’t.

What types of charcoal grills can be used for smoking?

Any kettle or barrel style charcoal grill will work for smoking meat. Charcoal grills that are open to the atmosphere will not work though, as the smoke will likely just blow away.

What is the best charcoal grill?

Weber is the quintessential charcoal grill, and I have two of them. They are top quality, and have been number 1 in the industry since 1952 for a reason. The kettle, or spherical shape is designed to have the heat be equal throughout the grill.

Another unique feature is that the shell is plated in porcelain. Porcelain will basically never rust and can withstand the heat of a grill. This basically ensures that you can keep your grill looking sharp and don’t need a cover.

Weber grills generally run around $100 online, and you can find links to them at our recommended products page.

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Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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