Smoky, charred meat is a hallmark of summer eating. But buying yet another appliance just doesn’t sound enticing, especially if you only use it part of the year. Get all MacGyver on a standard kettle grill (no chewing gum necessary) and you can start smoking immediately. While burning real charcoal is always more flavorful, you can also smoke food on an outdoor gas grill (see instructions at the bottom of this page) or smoke indoors using a wok on your stovetop.

Here’s how to turn your charcoal grill into a smoker:

  • 1. Gather your equipment: You will need a kettle grill, a chimney starter, about eight quarts of lump charcoal, about four cups of pure wood chips, long tongs, matches, newspaper, two buckets filled with water, oven mitts, two disposable aluminum pans, and an oven thermometer. Soak your wood chips in one of the buckets of water for at least 15 minutes.

    2. Fill the chimney starter three-quarters of the way with charcoal.

  • 3. Pour the unlit charcoal onto one side of the grill’s charcoal grate. Use the tongs to stack the charcoal in a slight slope against the side of the grill bowl.

    4. Remove one cup of the wood chips from the water, shaking off any excess, and set the damp chips in the middle of the unlit charcoal.

  • 5. Fill the chimney again halfway with charcoal.

    6. Place the chimney on the charcoal grate next to the unlit coals. Tuck two or three newspaper pages under the chimney and set the newspaper on fire.

  • 7. After about five minutes, the coals in the chimney should be red and flames should be coming out of the top. (If not, add more newspaper to the chimney and relight.)

    8. Carefully pour the lit charcoal onto the pile of unlit charcoal. Use the tongs to stack the lit coals on the pile. Set the empty chimney aside, off the grill.

  • 9. Top the lit charcoal with another cup of drained, damp wood chips.

    10. Set one of the aluminum pans (this will be your drip pan) on the charcoal grate next to the hot charcoal.

  • 11. Set the cooking grate over both the lit charcoal and the drip pan.

    12. Fill the other aluminum pan three-quarters of the way with water and place it on the cooking grate directly over the hot coals. (This pan needs to stay filled with water in order to keep the grill temperature down.)

  • 13. Set the oven thermometer in one of the grill lid’s vent holes or on the cooking grate. Cover the grill, making sure the bottom and top vents are open, and let it heat until it reaches at least 250 degrees Fahrenheit, about 15 minutes.

    14. Place the ribs, fish, or whatever you’re smoking on the cooking grate over the drip pan (not over the lit charcoal). Cover the grill, making sure the lid’s vents are directly above the item being smoked, not over the charcoal.

Just place your soaked, drained wood chips in a small aluminum brownie pan. Place the pan in one corner of the grill, under the cooking grate and directly over the flavorizer bars or lava rocks. Set the cooking grate over the aluminum pan of wood chips. Preheat the grill with all of the burners on high for about 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the middle burners and smoke the food over those burners, not over the smoldering wood chips.

Jill Santopietro is a former food editor at

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