How to Smoke Every Meat Without a Smoker

Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Smoked meat is nothing short of amazing -- salmon, brisket, pork, chicken wingsall of it. However, owning and operating a gigantic-ass outdoor smoker is definitely not, especially if you don't have a gigantic-ass backyard to go with it. We asked two certified grill masters -- celebrity chef and Project Smoke author Steven Raichlen & Travel Channel's American Grilled co-judge David Guas -- to weigh in on overcoming this frustrating summer shortcoming. 

kettle charcoal grill
Dan Gentile/Thrillist

Charcoal kettle grills are excellent for whole chickens, ribs, pork shoulder, and brisket

"I encourage anyone to go buy an inexpensive charcoal grill because you can turn it into a smoker and it's super easy and super effective. If you grill indirectly using half as much charcoal as you usually would and toss either smoked wood chips or unsoaked wood chunks in the mounds of coals, you have in effect turned that kettle grill into a very powerful smoker. Why use half the amount of coals? It's very hard to get that temperature down to that low, slow-smoking temperature if you use the full amount of coals." -- Steven Raichlen

wood chunks on a gas grill
Matthew Benson, Courtesy of Workman Publishing

Regular gas grills are just fine for chicken breast, pork butt, fish, and thin-cut chops

"My advice to people who want to smoke with a gas grill: don't. But if you've got a gas grill with flavorizer bars (the inverted bars), you can put wood chunks between those and then put the food you want to smoke directly over them. Since you're putting the flavor on the bottom of the food, it'll give you some noticeable smoke." -- Steven Raichlen

"For a gas grill, you can put an aluminum pan [or punctured tin-foil pouch] filled with wood chips in the cooler section of the grill with your food on a separate, higher-heat section. Let the wood burn down and then trap the flavor by closing the lid." -- David Guas

rib dry rub
Flickr/BBQ Junkie

Smoky spice rubs add smoke to anything without the... smoke 

"Another way to achieve smokiness is by adding smoked paprika and smoked salt to a dry rub, applying the rub to your meat, and then searing the meat to lock in the juices and bring out the spices' flavor. We actually use this method at my restaurant. During the summer, we do St. Louis-style pork ribs but we don't actually have a smoker, so we make a dry rub out of smoked salt, smoked paprika, and a few other spices and rub the ribs down on both sides before letting them roast in a 180-200-degree oven for a few hours.

Once they're done, we brush them with a guava barbecue sauce, which also has smoked salt in it, before firing them in a high-powered oven to get some char. They come out so good I often dare people to tell me that they never saw a grill -- they have all the layers that you would get by using a pit." -- David Guas

Stovetop smokers are a manageable way to smoke fish, shellfish, and eggs

"It's better suited to smaller pieces of food. I don't know that I'd do a brisket on a stovetop smoker. But what they're really great for is smoked fish and shrimp. I've done quail eggs." -- Steven Raichlen

dutch oven smoker

Smaller cuts of chicken, steak, shellfish, and vegetables do well in Dutch ovens

"I like to make my own indoor smoker with a Dutch oven (or any large cast-iron pot with a lid), one of those little hinged, collapsible aluminum steamer baskets, and wood shavings. In terms of wood, there are five or six go-to types that are pretty easy to get, like apple, cherry, pecan, peach, and then, of course, hickory and mesquite. Finer wood shavings are ideal for this kind of apparatus because you can't put bigger chunks in a cast-iron and expect it to start smoking -- it'll take forever if it takes at all.

"So what I do is heat up my cast-iron on the burner and then get whatever protein it is that I'm trying to smoke ready to go, making sure that it's small enough to fit inside. I'll get the pot really hot and then turn the stove completely off, leaving the pot on the range but without heat. I'll sprinkle the wood shavings onto the bottom of the pot and flip that little steamer basket upside down on top of them, creating about a 2in cavity for the wood. Then I'll put my protein on top, whether it's chicken, a little bit of hangar steak, whatever, and then I'll go ahead and put the lid back on and let it smoke out for about 15-20 minutes like that.

"The reason you don't want the stove on while you're smoking is because the wood shavings will eventually burn up, creating a really ashy smoke. Wood has a certain life to it, and then after it burns up, it puts off a type of smoke that can be considered bitter. So you kind of have to nurse it a little bit, maybe wipe the pot out halfway through or sprinkle more wood shavings in there if you need to keep the smoke going, but definitely keep the fire off." -- David Guas 

smoked whole fish on a wood plank
Matthew Benson, Courtesy of Workman Publishing

Wood planks give whole fish, steak, pork, sausages, vegetables, chops, and burgers smoky flavor

"It's a little bit counterintuitive, but conventional wisdom holds that when you cook on a plank, you have to soak it first so it can release that steamy cedar flavor. In fact, what you want to do is char the plank, get it smoking, and then put the food on it -- that gives you the flavor. You can do it in a grill. You can do it on a campfire. It's wondrous." -- Steven Raichlen

Whole fish, chicken, and pork chops call for the brown-paper-bag technique

"I have a brown-bag recipe in my Grill Nation cookbook where I stuff a fish's belly with herbs and shallots and lemon, cover it in parchment and foil, and then wrap it in paper grocery store bags that I've soaked in the kitchen sink. Then I'll put the whole thing directly on top of some gray coals in a charcoal grill and let it smoke. It gets this burning, smoky flavor without using wood chips or proper smoker. It's a neat technique, a little tricky, but it's something that I tinkered with and eventually figured out." -- David Guas

smoking gun

A smoking gun is good for prepared fish, chicken, shellfish, cheese, cocktails, fun, excitement, suspense

"This is a wonderful way to add an element of smoke in more a la carte, a la minute situations. You can have one at your house -- it looks kind of like a hookah and it's not difficult to use. The food is only exposed to the smoke for maybe five to 10 minutes, but because it's so intense and clean, burning it ends up penetrating pretty efficiently, depending on what protein or veggie you're using. And there's obviously a 'wow' factor." -- David Guas

"If you want to invest in a smoking gun, that is really cool for smoked cocktails. And you've got the alcohol to tame the experience." -- Steven Raichlen

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Meredith Heil is a former staff writer for Thrillist. This ain't loud, this a noise complaint; smoke like she got a point to make. Make yours by tweeting at @mereditto.