That smoke is an essential component of barbecue flavor is a no-brainer. Another no-brainer? It's way harder to achieve on gas grills, which have large wide vents in the back to prevent excess heat buildup. “That’s why built-in smoker boxes in gas grills work so poorly.” says Steven Raichlen, host of Project Smoke on PBS (his same-titled book comes out May 10). “But here’s a simple work around. Lodge hickory, oak, or other hardwood chunks between the Flavorizer bars or ceramic bricks or rods, under the grate of your gas grill, directly under the food. The rising smoke hits the food and actually gives it a mild smoke flavor.” Regardless of cooking method, Amy Mills of 17th Street BBQ in Murphysboro, IL and owner of OnCue Consulting has this word of warning: “Different woods impart a different amount of flavor, and a common tendency is to over-smoke meat. Meat stops taking on smoke at about 140°, so if you continue to pile on wood and smoke, it will lay on top of the meat and it can be overpowering. Learning to burn a clean fire, with clean smoke is important, too. Smoke that’s black and acrid will not taste good.”
Skip the grate
“Cook your steak or corn (in the husk) directly on the hot embers,” says Raichlen. “You’ll get incomparable smoke flavor and the process looks cool.” This also works great for making charred vegetable salsa, he says.