DIY: Smoker Barbecue

Written by marc chase
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DIY: Smoker Barbecue
Get charcoal grey and glowing before adding wood chips and meat to the grill for smoking. (hot charcoal image by Ludovic LAN from

Smoked barbecue adds a new dimension of flavour to grilled food. Though more complicated than direct grilling over goals or gas burners, anyone with basic grill experience is capable of accomplishing this advanced grilling technique on their own using a basic outdoor charcoal grill. Though fancy grill set-ups with offset fireboxes or bullet-shaped upright smokers offer efficient means of smoking, basic charcoal kettle grills offer a do-it-yourself method given the proper planning and placement of coals.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Charcoal grill (preferably kettle style and at least 20 inches in diameter)
  • Large bag natural lump charcoal
  • Electric charcoal starter
  • Heavy-duty foil casserole pan
  • Hardwood smoking chips of choice
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • Paper towels
  • Long-handled grilling tongs
  • Meat of choice
  • Dry-rub seasonings
  • Large plastic bowl or bucket
  • Baking tray or large platter
  • Cling film

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    Meat and Smoking Chip Prep

  1. 1

    Lay the meat on the large platter or baking tray and rub the seasonings across the meat, blanketing all surfaces and crevices with a thin layer of seasoning.

  2. 2

    Cover the meat platter tightly with cling film, leaving no openings. Place the platter in refrigerator overnight. This allows seasonings to absorb into the meat, curing it. Cured meat retains moisture during the smoking process, keeping it tender.

  3. 3

    Dump the hardwood smoking chips into the large plastic bowl or bucket of water about an hour prior to starting the charcoal fire. Soaked wood chips create more smoke and burn longer, aiding in the flavouring process during cooking.

    Building the Fire and Smoking

  1. 1

    Remove the grill lid and cooking grate and set them aside until later. Open all bottom grill vents wide for maximum air flow.

  2. 2

    Place five or six handfuls of natural lump charcoal on one side of the coal grate (the one all the way at the bottom of the grill). Form the charcoal into a mound and bury the iron loop portion of the electric charcoal starter in the coals before plugging in the device.

  3. 3

    Keep the starter in the coals for at least eight minutes. Remove and unplug the device when coals begin to vigorously smoke, crackle and begin turning a shade of grey or glowing.

  4. 4

    Allow the coals to smoulder another 20 minutes until they thoroughly catch.

  5. 5

    Place the heavy-duty foil pan atop the charcoal grate and beside the pile of coals. Fill the pan half full with water. This serves as a dripping pan to squelch any hot grease dripping from meat as well as a means of adding moisture to the cooking process.

  6. 6

    Replace the cooking grate and place meat on the cooking grate directly above the dripping pan.

  7. 7

    Close the grill lid tightly and adjust the top grill vents to maintain a grilling chamber temperature of between 107 and 121 degrees C.

  8. 8

    Add a handful or two of fresh charcoal to the lit coals every hour and a handful of soaked wood chips to the coals every 30 minutes to maintain heat and smoke flow. Cook meat to desired or recommended temperatures based on type and size.

Tips and warnings

  • Most roasts, rib racks and other large meat portions take between three and five hours using this method, depending on size.
  • Select hardwood chips based on meat type, with hickory and fruit-based woods complementing pork and poultry and mesquite-hickory blends best suiting beef dishes.
  • Top vent positioning controls the grill temperature based on outdoor temperature and wind speed. Wider vents mean more air flow and increase chamber temperatures, while narrow vents make temperatures drop.
  • Only use hardwood smoking chips, not wood from coniferous trees, such as pine. Pine wood contains oils that foul meat.
  • Always wear heat-resistant mitts or gloves when handling hot grill grates or lids and when adding fresh coal or chips to the fire to avoid burns. Remove or move meat on the grill with long-handled grilling tongs or spatulas.

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