How To Smoke Meat On A Charcoal Grill – The Ultimate Guide

smoking on a charcoal grill

Grilling is fun, but did you know you can smoke meat on a charcoal grill too?

You can smoke yummy brisket and pulled pork low and slow, and I’ll show you how I do that. 

Key takeaway

  • Choose the right charcoal grill
  • Use indirect heat
  • Pick your charcoal and wood flavor
  • Monitor your temperatures

What is Smoking on a Charcoal Grill?

You can use a regular charcoal grill, like the Weber kettle, and add wood chips for that smoky flavor.

You have to go through a few steps but I will tell you how to smoke on a charcoal grill and how to set up your charcoal grill for this. 

Doing this the right way, however, is very important for the best result.

Choose the Right Charcoal Grill

We need a good charcoal grill, like a Weber kettle or a regular charcoal grill that is big enough for 2-zone cooking.

I use an indirect grilling method to smoke meat on my charcoal grill. You can read all about what indirect grilling is in my article about indirect heat grilling.

“You must be able to place your charcoal on one side and the meat on the other side of your grill.”

Most charcoal grills are great for smoking because they have a lid to keep the heat and smoke in. 

I have a cheap barrel grill and have used that hundreds of times to smoke low and slow meat on it until I built my Ugly Drum Smoker.

Take Away For Smoking On A Charcoal Grill

Let’s get our charcoal grill ready for some smoking! Setting it up is fun and easy! 

“Remember, we are using our charcoal grill to make super delicious smoked meat, and setting it up right is the first step to getting that yummy smoky flavor!”

  • Positioning the Charcoal Grill:

Let’s find a nice, safe spot for our grill. We need to position the grill where it’s away from things that can catch fire, like trees and bushes.

  • Placing the Charcoal Basket:

Now, we will put our charcoal basket on one side of the grill. This is where our charcoal will go.

  • Setting the Grill Vents:

Next, we are going to set up the grill vents. Vents help our grill breathe! We have to make sure they are open so the air can flow and our charcoal can get hot and ready!

  • Lighting the Charcoal:

Now, it’s time to light the charcoal. I use a Weber chimney starter and you can read here how to use it.

weber chimney starter on a charcoal grill

Just put some charcoal inside it, light it up, and in no time, your charcoal is glowing and hot!

  • Adding the Charcoal to the Grill:

Once our charcoal is all fiery and glowing, carefully add it to the charcoal basket.

Now, your grill is all warm and ready to make some delicious smoked meat! 

  • Placing the Grill Grate:

Last step! We place the grill grate back on top, and voila! We are all set to start the smoking fun!

  • Pre-Heating The Grill

Alright, now we’re gonna preheat the grill. Preheating the grill is like warming up before a race; it gets our grill ready to cook some yummy meat!

So, let’s follow these steps and get ready for a smoking good time! 

Choosing Charcoal and Wood

Let’s first talk about picking the right charcoal and wood for our barbecue. This is super important ‘because it will determine the taste of your meat and also how long it will burn.

“Choosing the right charcoal is like picking the right ingredients for a cake—it makes everything better!”

So, we have three kinds of charcoal to choose from:

Charcoal Briquettes

Standard charcoal briquettes are little square blocks of charcoal. They are great for cooking our meat evenly and slowly. 

You can also read:

Lump Charcoal

This one looks more like pieces of wood. It burns hotter and faster, and it’s all-natural! 

Hardwood Charcoal: 

This is made from real wood too! It gives a nice, smoky flavor to our meat. 

Charcoal- My Experience

Each one has its own special way to make our barbecue delicious. 

We can try them all and find our favorite one!

“Drawing from my experience, the regular charcoal briquettes are the best choice for smoking on a charcoal grill. “

The reason is that they can burn a long time compared to lump charcoal which is, in my opinion, best for grilling.

Wood Chips vs Wood Chunks:

To give our meat the smoky flavor we all love, we can use wood chips or wood chunks! 

Wood Chips 

These are small pieces of wood. They catch fire quickly and give off lots of smoke.

Perfect for adding a quick smoky taste! 

Wood Chunks:

These are bigger pieces of wood. They take longer to burn, so they give our meat a smoky flavor for a long time. 

Before we put them in the grill, some people suggest soaking them.

“My experience with soaking wood is that this will only add vapor to the grill and not a lot of smoke flavor.”

Read Also:

Remember that picking the right charcoal and wood is a big deal. 

It makes your barbecue taste super-duper good!

So, let’s choose wisely and get ready to grill up some tasty treats! 

Methods to Smoke Meat on a Charcoal Grill 

Let’s learn about two super cool methods to smoke our meat on a charcoal grill!

These methods are fun and make our meat taste good! 

Charcoal Snake Method

So, the first one is called the Charcoal Snake Method. It’s like a game! 

Creating the Snake:

We take our charcoal briquettes and place them in the shape of a snake on one side of the grill. It looks like a long, winding line!

Burning the Charcoal:

When we light up the charcoal at the beginning of the snake, it begins to burn slowly. This makes smoke and low temperature that is just perfect for cooking our meat nice and slow.

Adding Unlit Charcoal:

At the end of our charcoal snake, we put some unlit charcoal briquettes. This keeps our snake burning slowly and our grill at the right temperature for a long time!

Minion Method

The second method is called the Minion Method. It’s like having little helpers on our grill! 

Layering Charcoal:

We start by putting unlit charcoal at the bottom of the grill. It’s like making a bed of charcoal!

Adding Lit Charcoal:

Then, we add some lit charcoal on top of our charcoal bed. The lit charcoal will slowly light up the unlit ones, and this will keep our cooking time long. This means our meat will be juicy and delicious!

This method is awesome when we want to cook our meat low and slow. It’s perfect for when we want our barbecue to be really tender and flavorful!

You can read more about the minion and snake method for charcoal here.

Remember, the key to smoking meat is to keep it low and slow.

“Whether we choose the Charcoal Snake Method or the Minion Method, we’re gonna have some super tasty and smoky meat to enjoy!”

So, let’s get our charcoal and wood ready, pick a method, and start the smoking fun!

Snake Or Minion Method – My Experience

I have tried both and in my situation, the minion method works better. The snake method requires a larger charcoal basket and I did not have room for that in my barrel grill.

2-zone setup on a charcoal grill
My barrel grill setup for 2-zone cooking.

Smoking Process

Alrighty, now that we have our charcoal grill set and ready to roll, it’s time to dive into the smoking process!

It’s the magical step where our meat gets all its yummy, smoky flavor! 

Positioning Water Pan and Meat on a Charcoal Grill:

The use of a water pan is optional and not something I use all the time. It depends on the type of meat I am smoking.

Using a Water Pan: We’re gonna place a water pan inside the grill. This isn’t just for decoration, friends!

The water pan helps keep our meat moist and juicy by adding some humidity inside the grill. It’s like giving our meat a little spa day! Read here more about using a water pan in a smoker.

Placing the Meat: Next, we are going to place our meat on the grill grate, but here’s the trick: we keep it away from the hot coals!

This is called cooking with charcoal indirectly. It means our meat gets cooked by the heat and smoke floating around inside the grill, not by direct fire. It makes our meat super tender and flavorful! 

Monitoring Temperature and Vent Adjustments:

“One important thing is that we keep the temperature between 225°F and 250°F ( 107°F and 121 °C)”

  1. Keeping it Cool: To smoke our meat properly, we have to make sure the temperature inside the grill stays low.

Smoking is a low-and-slow game, and we don’t want to rush it!

  1. Using a Meat Thermometer: A meat thermometer is our best friend here!

It tells us exactly how hot it is inside the grill so we can make sure it’s just right for our meat. 

  1. Adjusting the Vents: Sometimes, we may need to adjust the top vent to control the temperature.

If it’s too hot, we can close it a bit, and if it’s too cool, we open it up some more. It’s like tuning a musical instrument to get the perfect note, but we’re getting the perfect taste! 

Read more about how to keep a charcoal grill at 225 °F.

“Remember, friends, smoking meat is all about patience and precision! “

By positioning our water pan and meat correctly and keeping a close eye on the temperature in the grill, we’ll be munching on some mouth-watering, smoky, and juicy barbecue in no time!

So, let’s get to it and enjoy the smoking journey!

The Art of Low and Slow Barbecue

Now, we’re diving into the beautiful art of low and slow barbecue. It’s all about being patient and enjoying the journey.

Let’s uncover the secrets of creating the most delicious, mouth-watering barbecue in our charcoal grill! 

Patience and Timing:

  1. Embracing the Wait: Smoking meat is not a race; it’s a journey! It takes time, and that’s okay.

We need to be patient, let the grill do its magic, keep the lid on the grill, and enjoy the wonderful smells wafting through the air. It’s all about relaxing and waiting for the grill to turn our meat into a masterpiece!

  1. Keeping the Lid Closed: A super important tip is to keep the lid closed as much as possible.

Every time we open it, we lose heat and smoke.

And we need those to cook our meat and give it that smoky flavor we love!

So, let’s try to peek as little as possible. But if you do try to rotate your meat and add some charcoal if needed at the same time.

“Remember this saying? When you’re looking you’re not cooking. “

Knowing When the Meat is Ready:

  1. Checking the Meat: How do we know when our meat is ready? Well, it will be super tasty and smell amazing! But to be sure, we’ll rotate our meat every now and then to make sure it cooks evenly. This way, every bite is perfection! 
  2. Using a Thermometer: Our trusty meat thermometer is going to be our guide here. We’ll use it to check the temperature of our meat to make sure it’s cooked just right. When the thermometer says it’s ready, we can trust that our barbecue is perfect and safe to eat!
  3. Enjoying the Reward: After all the waiting, checking, and smelling, we get to enjoy our delicious, smoky, and tender barbecue! And trust me, every minute we waited will be worth it when we take that first bite. 

I use 2 types of thermometers: A wireless meat thermometer and a digital pocket thermometer.

Remember, my grill-loving friends, low and slow is the way to go!

Let’s be patient, enjoy the smoking process, and get ready to feast on some incredibly tasty barbecue made right in our backyard!

Smoker vs Charcoal Grill

Let’s talk a little about the differences and similarities between using a smoker and a charcoal grill.

Both can whip up some delicious barbecue, but there’s something super fun and cool about using a charcoal grill for smoking.

It’s like having a BBQ party and a smoky feast all in one!

Differences and Similarities:

  • Multiple Ways to BBQ: Whether we use a smoker or a charcoal grill, we can create scrumptious, smoky barbecue!

Both tools have their unique ways of bringing out the flavors in our meat, and it’s exciting to explore them.

  • Versatility of Charcoal Grill: The charcoal grill is like a magical BBQ box.

It’s versatile! It can grill our favorite burgers and hotdogs, and it can also smoke our meat, giving it that rich, smoky flavor. It’s like having two cooking buddies in one!

  • Flavor Profiles: While both the smoker and the charcoal grill can produce delectable BBQ, they might give slightly different flavors to the meat.

Experimenting with both can lead us to our own BBQ flavor paradise! 

Why Choose a Charcoal Grill?

  1. 2-in-1 Cooking: Charcoal grills are like the superheroes of BBQ. We can grill and smoke meat on the same grill! It saves space and gives us more ways to enjoy our BBQ adventures.
  2. By using your charcoal grill for smoking you don’t have to spend money on a separate smoker.
  3. Delicious Smoky Taste: Charcoal grills have a special way of making the meat taste so good. The charcoal gives the meat a unique, delicious smoky taste that makes every bite a moment to savor.
  4. Adventure and Fun: Using a charcoal grill for smoking is an exciting adventure. It’s fun to learn, play around with different techniques, and discover new flavors. It makes our BBQ time more enjoyable and rewarding!

Remember, whether we choose a smoker or a charcoal grill, it’s all about having fun, experimenting, and enjoying the yummy results.

So let’s fire up our grills, try new recipes, and have a blast making delicious, smoky barbecue!


Q1: Can you use regular charcoal for smoking? 

A1: Regular charcoal like charcoal briquettes is good. It makes the meat taste really yummy!

Q2: How to add wood chips to a charcoal grill?

A2: It’s easy! You can soak the wood chips in water and then put them on the hot coals. The smoke coming from the wood chips makes the meat taste smoky and delicious.

Q3: Can I use my kettle grill as a smoker?

A3: Absolutely! Kettle grills like the Weber kettle are great for smoking meat. Just follow my tips to smoke meat on a charcoal grill!

Q4: How to control the temperature inside the grill?

A4: We can control the air inside the grill by using the vents. This way, we can keep the temperature just right for smoking our meat.

How To Smoke On A Charcoal Grill – My Experience

Smoking on a charcoal grill is fun and tasty! I showed you how to use our charcoal grill to make yummy smoked meat like brisket and baby back ribs.

I have a whole section of the best smoker recipes for you to choose from.

We can experiment with different woods and meats to find our favorite flavor.

Now comes the question is a dedicated smoker better? In my opinion, they both are able to smoke meat. However, A grill is better at grilling and a smoker is better at smoking meat.

After using my barrel grill for smoking for a long time I decided to start using a dedicated smoker for the simple reason that I sometimes grill and smoke at the same time.

You can read my how to make a 55 gallon drum smoker article to find out how I did that for a very affordable price.

Let’s remember we are no competing BBQ team and all we cook for is our family and friends.

Although we try to cook the best BBQ possible one of the main things to keep in mind is to have fun while we do this.

Eddie van Aken

Eddie van Aken has years of experience in running his full-service restaurant and with this came working with using and dealing with all types of kitchen equipment. With his experience, he can find all the pros and cons of grills and add them to the grill reviews and the outdoor cooking tips he is writing about. You can read more on the About page for Eddie van Aken

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