How To Turn Your Charcoal Grill Into A Smoker

Oh, how you long to be a backyard barbecue boss. You want to sling toothsome ribs, unctuous brisket, tender pulled pork, and juicy chicken on your friends' and family's plates. You want to watch their faces as they taste the fruits of your labors and marvel at the alchemy of meat, seasoning, and smoke you've mastered to a tee. Alas, you're missing a key element of the pitmaster toolkit, an element that is arguably the most important: a smoker.

Smokers come in all different shapes and sizes, from offset and box smokers to Kamodo and pellet grills. But they can be an investment, and many people see more utility in a traditional grill that allows them to easily ignite some charcoal and throw on a few burgers or brats.

But worry not if you're in possession of a charcoal kettle grill — such as a traditional Weber — yet have barbecue dreams. There is a relatively simple technique that can have you smoking to your heart's desire.

Snaking around the grill

As laid out by famed pitmaster Aaron Franklin on MasterClass, barbecuing is cooking food — and it does not have to be meat — in a low-temperature, controlled environment that brings the item in contact with a good deal of wood smoke. Low, slow cooking allows proteins in the meat to relax and connective tissue to break down, yielding meat that is juicy and tender (via Science of Cooking). In order to facilitate this delicate process, most smokers keep the cooking chamber for the meat separate to some degree from the heat source.

Then how do you achieve the same effect on a kettle grill where the meat sits on a grate mere inches from the heat source? With some clever arranging, that's how. The snake method, outlined by the Perth BBQ School, is an ingenious and elegant solution that requires only your grill, charcoal briquettes, a water pan, and a few bits of wood.

How the snake method works

As Popular Mechanics explains, you start by lining two rows of briquettes around roughly three quarters of the perimeter of the inside fire grate of your grill. In the middle of your semi-circle, or snake, of briquettes, place a water pan that is about three quarters of the way full. Atop the snake place wood chunks or chips to your liking: more if you love a smokey flavor and less if you don't. All that's left is to light a few briquettes on one end of the snake. Slowly, the briquettes will ignite the ones next to them and burn around your grill, giving you a slow and controlled heat source as the water pan, in addition to providing moisture, acts as a thermoregulator. Concurrently, the briquettes will start the wood chunks smoldering and giving off smoke.

While there are certainly other precepts of barbecue perfection, such as choosing the rights cuts of meat and wood for smoking, says Bon Appétit, the snake method will give you a great platform from which to explore the wide world of smoked meats.