How to Turn Your Kettle Grill into a Smoker

Don't have a smoker? Smoke ribs on your Weber grill, low and slow. Step-by-step instructions on how to smoke meat on your kettle grill.

Method

1. Prep your meat and wood. I like to brine pork in a salt-sugar solution. Mine is typically 1/4 cup kosher salt with 1/2 cup brown sugar mixed with 4 cups of water. You can add any spices or herbs you want. How long? 3-6 hours for ribs or even overnight for a pork butt.

Get your smoking wood ready by soaking it in water for at least 2 hours. Overnight is better. And when you are using a kettle grill, make sure you have wood chips: Not big blocks, not sawdust. Chips.

Anywhere from an hour to a day before you start cooking – depending on how deeply spiced you want your meat – you can remove your meat from the brine and apply a dry rub to the meat. This is optional, especially if you have a full-flavored sauce. But most professional pit masters will use a rub as a base flavor with a sauce that complements it.

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2. Place water pans in the grill. Start barbecuing by getting your hands on some cheap metal pans you can fill with water. Disposable tin pans from the supermarket are great for this, and you do not have to toss them after each use. Fill these pans halfway with water and place them beneath the meat you are barbecuing. You want the pan or pans to take about half the space at the bottom of the grill.

Why water pans? Several reasons. First, it lets sauce and fat drip into something that will not wreck the bottom of your grill or cause flareups. Second, it helps keep the meat moist, which helps smoke adhere to the meat. Third, it moderates the temperature around the meat, which is vital in such a small space.

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3. Get the coals hot and put water-soaked wood chips on the coals. A chimney starter is the easiest way to get the coals lit for the grill. What kind of fuel should you use? Up to you, of course, but I would use either standard briquettes or lump hardwood charcoal. I am especially fond of lump charcoal because I get a better flavor and a cleaner smoke. Could you go all wood? Sure, but it needs to be something like oak or hickory, which burn steadily and slowly. And no logs! You must use chunks.

Your life will be easier if you have a grilltop that has hinged edges that lift up. These allow you to position one end over the coals and add more charcoal or wood as needed as you cook. If you do not have one of these grilltops, make sure you can slip briquettes through the slim opening. If you cannot, you can carefully lift the whole grate and add more when needed.

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Once the coals are good and hot, add a couple handfuls of the soaked wood on the coals. Place the top grill grate on the grill. Position the grill grate in a way that if you are using a hinged grill grate, one of the hinged areas lifts up over the coals so you can easily get to them.

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4. Put the meat on the grill away from the coals. Lay the meat over the water pans as far away from the coals as possible. Under no circumstances should you let the meat rest directly over the coals. Cook in batches if you have to, and keep the finished meat in an oven set to “warm” while you do more.

Cover the grill, positioning the vent on the cover directly over the meat. This helps direct the smoke over the meat. Close all vents (bottom one, too!) to keep the temperature as low as you can go; if you have an especially tight lid, keep the vents open just a little. You are now barbecuing.

5. Watch the temperature. This would be a good time to open a beer or drink some lemonade and sit back. Keep one eye on the grill to make sure you see some smoke coming out of it. Wander over from time to time to check the temperature if your grill lid has a thermometer. It should read no higher than 325 degrees, preferably somewhere under 300. Ideally you want the temperature at the meat level around 225-250; heat rises and a lid thermometer will show the temperature at the lid, and not at the meat level. If your kettle grill does not have a thermometer built-in (most don't), put a meat thermometer into the cover vent and check it from time to time.

If your temperature starts to soar, open the lid and let the coals burn off a bit. Then add some more soaked wood and close the lid again; you should be OK.

If your temperature begins to drop below 225 degrees, open the vents. If that doesn’t get the temperature rising, open the lid and add more coals and soaked wood.

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6. Check the coals and rotate the meat. Regardless of temperature, check your coals every hour to 90 minutes. You may need to add more. Always add more soaked wood at this point, and always turn or rotate your meat at this point, too.

7. Timing. How long should you cook things? Depends. Fish will take from 45 to 90 minutes. Chicken an hour to two hours. Baby back ribs, such as these, will take from 90 minutes to 2 hours and 15 minutes. A Boston butt, beef brisket or tri-tip can take as long as 6 hours.

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If you are using a barbecue sauce – and with everything other than a Memphis-style dry rib you probably will be – wait to brush it on until the final 30-45 minutes of cooking. You do not want it to burn, and because most barbecue sauces have a lot of sugar in them, they will burn easily. When barbecuing fish, do not sauce until the last 15 minutes.

You will be able to spot doneness with some visual cues. Meat on bones will begin to pull away. When you turn or rotate meat it will begin to fall off the bone. The flakes on fish will separate easily. The interior of a Boston butt will be somewhere around 160 degrees – this is the only meat I barbecue with a meat thermometer.

What happens if your heat was just too high and things are looking charred? Well, hopefully you did not let it go this far because you’d been checking every hour to 90 minutes. But if it looks like you have too much char and the meat is not yet done, have no fear: Finish the meat in a 225-degree oven. You will still have enough smoky taste to impress your guests.

Once your meat is done, remove it to a platter, add more sauce and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. Let a big tri-tip or Boston butt rest for 20-25 minutes. Add even more sauce right at service and enjoy! You’ll know you cooked real barbecue if everyone has sauce under their fingernails…

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Comments

  1. Joe Horn

    Wonderful, great work as always. I love the pictures. I just slow cooked baby back ribs this past weekend. They were wonderful. I did much the same. If you have a minute come take a look.

  2. Lora

    Thank you for this wonderful information, and especially the incredible detail (and pictures)! I’ve been wondering for awhile how to recreate my parents’ Texas brisket without actually buying a smoker. I can’t wait to try this!

  3. Just a Plane Ride Away

    These look amazing (the ribs and the photos)! Elise, how lucky for us that Hank is your neighbor. I am definitely saving this How-to. Thanks again, Hank!

  4. Gary in Massena

    Of course you can get competition class que on a kettle smoker, or on a bullet smoker, or for that matter almost any smoker. It just is more difficult because ‘fire control’ is more difficult on these. On the competition circuit there are a number of teams that turn in respectable que on Weber kettles and bullet smokers.

    One of the keys to good bbq is ‘low and slow’. The temperature in the cooking chamber should be in the 225 to 250 range, with light smoke and plenty of moisture. Any cooler and you risk growing nasty bacteria, any warmer and the meat will cook too fast – drying out and not having enough time for the cologen to break down to let the meat become tender.

    I had been bitten by the bbq bug a number of years ago and have progressed through a number of smokers over the years. Each one presented its own challenges in maintaining an even, low temperature. And I had a ball learning the nuances of each one and how to cook good que on it.

    Hmmm…. and with the Fourth a day away and with a bunch of chicken in the fridge, I wonder what I have planned for this weekend!

  5. Christina

    Super! Now I just need to buy a bigger kettle grill — and that is so much more easy to justify than getting a smoker.

  6. SED

    I do this often with my Weber grill but try to keep the heat down lower to between 200 and 225 for a real slow cooking. A boston butt should take about an hour to an hour fifteen per pound to get to an internal temp of about 200 F. All of the connective tissue falls apart once it hits 200F and you have to be careful lifting it out of the grill because it may fall apart. After 8 hours I will often take it off the grill and put it in a 200F oven to get those last few degrees to the magic internal temperature. That way I can use the grill to cook food for the non-pork eating friends of mine (not sure why I keep them as friends though)…

  7. Luke

    Man, I am really wishing I had a grill right now!

  8. rohit

    Great timing on the post! I’m a kettle user longing for a smoker and have done this in the past. There are two Weber accessories that I’d recommend for more smoke and for multiple slabs of ribs. Weber makes a rotisserie for the kettle which comes with a six inch extension ring effectively raising the dome lib by six inches and allowing the smoke to do it’s thing longer. obviously, one would remove the rotisserie part and just use the ring.
    Weber’s rib rack is like a toast holder but for ribs and simply holds them up on edge allowing more slabs in there. Rotation is easy and it’s great with cornish hen to boot.
    Thanks a ton for your blog!

  9. Adam

    When doing fish using this method – do you recommend a whole fish or a specific cut?

    You could do either. A whole (scaled and gutted) fish would work pretty well, as would slabs of fillet or thick steaks. One thing to watch when using fillets, however, is that the tail end of the fillet will cook faster — and dry out — if you include it. I typically will chop that end off and cook it some other way.

    Just make sure you use a fatty fish for this. Do it with halibut or some other lean fish and you will have no room for error: It can go from yummy to sawdust in a few minutes. ~Hank

  10. Ursula Ayrout

    Such a great idea. I was just thinking the other day that there must be a way to transform my kettle grill into a smoker. Thanks for the detailed and simple description.

  11. amy mom of 5

    OMG!!!I am so hungry right now, I could lick my computer screen…I love good BBQ and it’s so hard to find here in Utah. My husband and I have been experimenting with our kettle grill and have had some woderful things. The last BBQ we had, we did a Santa Maria Tri-Tip…mmmmm….it was soooo tasty. Thanks for the great recipe, i can’t wait to try these!

  12. Aimee

    Great post! I’ve long used a Weber kettle grill for all grilling. Recently I learned how to smoke a Boston butt and make some really great pulled pork. I bought hickory chunks and threw them straight onto the coals and it worked quite well. Why do you recommend soaked chips as opposed to chunks?

    Also, I just kept a meat thermometer in the vent the whole time. It seemed to retain the heat pretty well, even though it charred my thermometer a bit.

    I plan to try smoking some ribs tomorrow and will use your tips. I’m from MS and grew up eating Memphis-style dry rub ribs.

    Hi Aimee — yep, you can leave the thermometer in the vent if you’d like. I recommend soaking either chunks or chips because the wood will burn smokier than if you just had dry wood. When I have it, I will use green wood, too — does much the same thing. ~Hank

  13. julie

    Utah does have good bbq! Sugarhouse BBQ is our favorite.

    The bbq looks great; I’ve been wanting to try this technique for a while, but yours is the best info I’ve seen so far. We’ll be doing some bbq later today for sure!

  14. Deborah Dowd

    I love smoking foods- it is so much more delicate than the “chemical” smoke flavor you often taste. My favorite is tea-smoking which adds a great and unexpected flavor.

  15. karl roth

    I love your foodblog and this article is a prime example of why it’s such a great blog!

    I’ve tried to do the no big $$$ – no big fancy schmancy smoked barbecue with limited success and using this kettle grill approach tickles me to no end.

    The pork butt is sitting in the marinade on my kitchen counter and am soooo looking forward to hanging and putzing in the backyard while shepherding it along ( can ya say that about pork ? )

    Thank-you and thank you Hank so very much

  16. karl roth

    WOW. It all worked fanporktastically!

    Did a dry rub – use alder chips – laid my cheap oven thermometer beside the roast, temperature was 250 throughout with minimal fuss and the roast? Everybody loved it – moist with great smoky flavour. I cut it up and had a taste and forgot the barbecue sauce, nobody cared it disappeared pronto.

    The professional chef in our gang pronounced that it was one of the best he’d tasted. I’m writing from the great white frozen north so we don’t have a bunch of great barbecue to compare it to but I’m happy, my friends are happy and tallyho.

    Next a brisket or pork belly maybe with chinese five spice in the rub.

    Thankyou thankyou thankyou.

  17. Max Wainer

    When you add charcoal after an hour or two, can you add it unlit, straight from the bag, or do you have to light it first (in a chimney or something)??

    I’m asking ’cause every grilling article always says to have the coals covered with ash before putting the food on to cook.

    Depends. If you have your existing coals nice and hot, they will ignite the few new coals you will add. But if you get the sense your existing coals are burning out, you could start the new ones with a chimney starter. Problem with the chimney method is that you can have issues with transferring flaming coals from the chimney to the bed of existing coals. Hope this helps. ~ Hank

  18. Sandspur

    Thank you so much for this information. I smoked ribs for the very first time last night and they were just right.

    thanks again
    ss

  19. Zed

    Nice work..

    What type of wood (Chips) should I use along with charcoal?
    Will any type do fine?

  20. Josh

    Your article contains an error, you mention to use wood CHIPS instead of chunks which is incorrect when using a charcoal grill, chunks work much better… Also in the pictures you actually have chunks not chips, so you did it right, you just didn’t write it up correctly.

  21. serious smoker

    WAY to go! Now EVERYONE knows the secret!! I have been smoking with a Weber for about 3 years. I just moved up to a side smoker with room to do a lot of food! Last weekend I did 14 pounds of ribs and two 6 pound butts. I had to feed the army of folks moving me out of my house!

    You can use chips, chunks, or sticks whatever works for you! Be careful with hickory, you can really smoke a bitter flavor into the meat if you use too much. I personally like fruitwoods like apple or cherry. I find that the flavor is great, and there is less risk of getting a bitter over smoked flavor.

  22. Owen

    This is a great technique. I would add that for not all that much money you can buy a charcoal-based water smoker. These are essentially the pro version of the technique described above. They look like a tall narrow charcoal grill and essentially have charcoal at the bottom, a water pan above that and a grill layer above that. The advantage is that they are more controllable. I often light one with a full load fo coals at about 10PM, put a chicken on at 11PM (whole chicken prepped just like for roasting) and reload the coals as high as I can go at midnight (turn chicken at that time) and then come out at 7AM to a still hot but just dying fire and a fantastic whole smoked chicken.
    It does take a couple of tries to get the timing and fuel load right for a particular smoker but it ends up being almost no work for a great result.

    And you can throw on a few other cuts like tri-tip or brisket if you have room.

  23. Dan

    Hey thanks a lot for the instructions, that’s so helpful. I’ve got the big weber kettle but always just grilled on it never smoked anything, I’m so trying this out!

    Thanks

  24. James

    Can this technique be adapted for a gas grill?

  25. Patrick

    Great ideas!
    I bbq on my 22 1/2″ Weber Kettle, and I swear by a product called the smokenator (smokenator.com). They don’t do much advertising, but you will hear of them in barbecuing cirles. You will enjoy the results of this useful product.

    Also. I have bought many grilling cookbooks. The best, by far, is The Cook’s Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue. They use modifications of the smoker and oven that will significantly cut down your cooking times.

    Good Luck!

  26. Liane

    Which size Weber kettle would you recommend: 18.5 or 22.5″? I don’t have a huge outdoor space so I’m leaning toward buying the 18.5. I would use it to grill mostly, typically for smaller gatherings of 4-6. But I don’t want to go too small if it would preclude me from trying the smoking technique described in your fantastic post!

    I think it would be a lot harder to do this smoking technique in a small Weber. ~Elise

  27. Jared

    When I first started smoking I used a weber kettle, and I loved the results and did pretty much exactly what you describe. Then I got an offset smoker and still have it. It is big though and requires a ton of fuel to keep going. So, I reverted back to my kettle. When I smoke on the kettle I will place four bricks off to one side and stack them two high and they fit perfectly under the grate and to the side. It serves three functions. Keeps the charcoal off to the side really well, heats up and helps maintain even temp and once heated it will maintain heat longer, thus using less fuel, and thirdly it makes it so the smoke has to rise up and over the bricks. I also foil wrap the portion of the charcoal grate that is on the meat side of the bricks. This makes it so all the oxygen sucking up from the bottom vent goes into the wood/fuel side and then I make sure the top vent is over the meat. I can smoke for 4 hours with about only 1 (large) chimneys worth of charcoal. Charcoal ain’t cheap, neither is smoking wood. I use my chop saw to dice up about 1/4 inch discs from apple wood logs.

  28. David

    Hey fantastic! I have been dreaming wistfully about a small smoker for a while now – and then this comes along! Thanks for the ideas!

  29. Mike

    Thanks for the info…. first time slow and low smoker yesterday for father’s day – did 10 racks of ribs and 2 briskets on 3 weber kettles, used pear wood chunks from a tree in the orchard and kingsford briquettes, about 8 hours and several beers later – VOILA! I’m an expert now and everyone expects me to do it this way all the time now! I also learned why the men are so big in texas!

  30. David

    Hi! Your article actually prompted me to go out and buy a kettle BBQ! I have been dreaming about smoking my own stuff for a long time and this finally gave me a way to do it. I have just this evening tried it out for the first time with some plum wood – and I have to say, it was a profound moment! The results were absolutely amazing. fresh meat hot off the smoker is one of the greatest treats i have ever known! In my case I found it best to leave the vents open just a tiny crack – maybe the seal was too good on my BBQ lid. For my first run I tried largely unflavored meat so I could really taste what the smoker was doing. I cant wait to explore this further. But anyway, I cannot thank you enough for providing the info!

  31. Ryan Rickerl

    The kettle setup I use is similar to what is shown in the following URL. I cut the second firebrick to make an even divider. Mixing wood chunks in the charcoal allows for a continuous smoke through the process. I also add a pan of water to help even the temperature.

    http://tvwbb.infopop.cc/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/9040039023/m/6750042994/

  32. John Emerson

    Hank’s techniques work perfectly well on the 18.5″ Weber kettle. I have barbecued many a Boston butt on the small Weber using soaked hickory for smoke.

    I have also had good luck on my Weber Genesis gas grill by removing the grate on one side and placing my soaked hickory (in steel containers available at a grill store) over the smoke covers which shield the burners. Center the roast on the remaining grate, and do not use the center burner at all. Put the roast in a small boat made of heavy foil. Baste with eastern N. C. BBQ sauce (the only sauce that should be allowed near pork, no sugar, no molasses), and baste with sauce and drippings from the foil boat as well. This helps keep it moist.

    The eastern N. C. sauce is very much like Hank’s, except for the absence of sweeteners. If BBQing beef or chicken, I add the brown sugar and molasses.

  33. Olivia

    Hot-smoked some salmon in my £17 kettle barbecue today, great results despite my having to use chunks of wood rather than chips. So much cheaper than buying hot-smoked salmon – here in the UK it’s so expensive!

    Thanks for the guide! :D

  34. Chris Kelly

    I’m a little unclear on what to do with the vents.

    The instructions say to “Cover the grill, positioning the vent on the cover directly over the meat. This helps direct the smoke over the meat. Close all vents (bottom one, too!)”,

    I can see how positioning an open vent over the meat would direct the smoke over the meat (chimney effect). But if the cover vent is closed, how does it direct smoke over the meat? Surely if the vent is closed, it doesn’t matter where you place it. No?

    Later it says “put a meat thermometer into the cover vent and check it from time to time”.
    Are you supposed to close the vent completely, and then place a thermometer over it? How does it gauge the heat? Leakage from the vent?

    Step 5 says “Keep one eye on the grill to make sure you see some smoke coming out of it.” Does this mean smoke should be leaking from the two halves of the grill, or is this smoke from an open (slightly) vent?

    No kettle grill is airtight, so yes, you will see smoke coming out of the two halves and from the closed vent. And you are correct, when the vent is closed it does not matter where the vent is. But, when you put the thermometer into the vent — yes, you need to open it then — you want the thermometer as close to the ribs as possible; that’s why you position the vent over the meat. ~Hank

  35. Hillary

    Mmmm…. now I’m thinking about the yummy ribs I had yesterday. :)

  36. Ken

    Hmm, rather than stick the thermometer through the vent, I would pull out my cordless drill and drill a 3/16″ to 1/4″ hole in the lid. During grilling, it would release minimal smoke/heat, but would give me full control of the vent while grilling or barbecuing when using a meat thermometer.

  37. Danny Ashford

    Just want to say thanks,I havnt started cooking yet but you put it out there in a way even dummies like me can understand,will let you know how I did.