The Indirect Method
Unlike cooking on a stovetop the grill is a lot easier to manage for utilizing indirect cooking. Sort of like a lost art the trick to cooking food indirectly allows you to use heat to your advantage. This gives select cuts of meat and types of BBQ meat a chance to be cooked slowly while it absorbs smoke flavors. Indirect cooking also has everything to do with controlling your heat as I’ll explain a bit further.
Indirect cooking relies on the circulation of heat that allows anything inside your grill to cook slowly while it’s exposed to smoke. The heat radiated upward and around your meat instead of the heat rising directly underneath it. A combination of a good meat rub helps create an outer surface that will be darker as the smoke and meat rub interact with each other. This is further aided by adding a water pan that isn’t exposed to the heat inside your grill.
Cooking Low & Slow, Like the Big Boys
Indirect cooking uses a method of cooking that recycles a lot of the heat used inside your grill. A bit like a convection oven, the rising heat is then redirected downward onto your meat. Since the meat isn’t directly on top of the heat, it cooks by getting a long period of sustained indirect heat. But this is where it gets a little technical about cooking times and conditions inside your gas grill.
Before doing any kind of gas cooking, you’ll need to preheat your grill for no less than 10 minutes. This can be longer if you want to get your wood chips smoking, so obviously the temperature needs to reach 400F to get the wood to start smoking. Then the heat is turned down to your smoking temperature between 200-220 degrees Fahrenheit.
Size of meat
No matter what size of meat you have, the advantage of indirect cooking doesn’t require you to turn the meat while it cooks. If you’re smoking a large portion of meat, you let it sit and absorb the heat and smoke for several hours. Large roasts and meat slabs covered with your favorite rub are put inside the center of your grill. Only the side burners are used on your gas grill.
To control the amount of water that your meat will be losing you need to add a water pan. The original theory behind adding a water pan was thought to make your meat juicier. It’s actually added to control the heat and balance the temperature. It can’t be placed directly on a heat source so underneath your meat on the cold burner is perfect. The water is vaporized which circulates inside the grill.
As smoke is inside the chamber, the smoke and water vapor combine and attach to your meat. It also causes the meat rub to become sticky and this layer of sticky smoke helps to seal in the juices inside your meat. This also creates what is called the smoke ring that you’ll see when you slice into your smoked meat when it’s done.
Since you’re cooking with gas, you’ll want to have more than enough to smoke from. Always make sure your gauge lets you know you have a full tank or at least half before you start. Since temperatures are reduced while you smoke, you won’t be using so much gas. However, the extended smoking time should be an indicator of how you are setting the temperature, so your gas grill shouldn’t rely on the temperature gauge on the grill itself.
You should also consider using thermometers inside the meat to get the right inner temperature that your meat will reach. Once you’ve hit 145 degrees inside the center of your meat, you know your meat is done.
Transforming Your Gas Grill into a Smoker
Perhaps you don’t have a pellet tube or smoker box and want to have smoked meat. These are two methods that are tried and tested, so we know they work. The most important part to make this work is having aluminum foil. The kind that works the best is the restaurant-grade, which is thicker than the type you use at home. If you can find the thicker stuff, they sell it under names like heavy-duty or industrial foil.
If you can’t find the thick stuff, you can simply double-up or use three sheets to get the thickness you need for this job. These methods are also a great way to produce a cold smoke for smoking things like cheese, nuts, veggies, etc.
Foil pouch method
This method is simple since you only need to lay down one sheet of industrial aluminum or three sheets of normal household foil. Take your wood chips that make a decent handful and place these in the center of the foil. The foil should be at least 12 x 12 inches and a coffee cup’s worth of wood chips. Bring the bottom and top portion edges together and carefully fold over the edge. Now you do the same with the unfolded edges that are unfolded.
You can then flip this over and flatten it down a little bit. Then you take a knife and cut some slits across the surface. This will let air into the pack and allow the wood to smoke when it gets hot enough. You need to do this before you put meat in the gas grill so the optimal heat that will cause them to smoke is higher than usual. Once it reaches 400 degrees Fahrenheit, it will start to smoke very nicely and then you can reduce your heat.
The foil container method
Some of those take-out boxes that are made from aluminum foil are perfect for turning into smolder boxes. These containers can be folded in half and the edges are bent over so they are locking together. You place your wood chips inside before the container is closed up. Then all you do is poke some holes in the top to get the smoke that comes out.
The smoke bomb method
This is a neat trick that works really well if you do it right. It’s better if you use industrial aluminum foil but regular foil would work just as good. This method uses small packets rather than larger packages. Even the wood chips are better if you use smaller pieces rather than chunks. Each of the packets needs to have edges that are folded over at least three times. This is because of what can happen when this packet starts to puff up like popcorn.
When you are done, you make a single hole in the center of the pack. As the bag heats-up, it will expand and become rounded like a Jiffy pop bag. Because it has a single hole, the smoke that comes out is nice and dense making a great smoke source.
Which wood is the best for smoking on a gas grill?
You want to have wood that is low in resin and is dense enough to produce lots of smoke. The most common woods that make excellent flavors depend on the kind of meat and food you’re cooking. For meat, you can use hickory, mesquite, oak, walnut, cherry, apple, and maple wood. You can also mix types of wood to produce different flavors that are sweet and smoky depending on your preference.
The shells from certain nuts like pecan and walnut give nutty flavors, while fruit tree wood makes your meat taste sweeter. Select items such as grapevine can produce tart fruity flavors that are good for gamier meats. You can search the internet for lists that give you ideas about what wood is good for smoking. Here is a good example: Spruce Eats.
Cooking pellets are not the same as heating pellets and would be a bad idea to use to smoke meat. You want to buy pellets that are meant for cooking and will tell you they are safe for use with your food. Heating pellets have mixed amounts of wood that has higher amounts of resin in them. Woods including pine and other material burns hotter rather than producing smoke. It can make your food taste terrible and have a bad aftertaste.
To get these to smoke in your gas grill, you’ll need to have an item that’s called a pellet tube. There are many varieties you can buy, but only a few work well for longer smoking periods. The number of holes on your smoke tube should be tiny so the amount of air is limited. This will keep the pellets from igniting and burning up too quickly. What you want is the wick effect that causes one end to have a burn that is igniting the pellets very slowly.
Wood chips are also a good alternative that is broken up into small chunks no bigger than charcoal briquettes. These can be stashed inside a pellet tube and produce a similar smoking effect. The nice thing about using wood chips is they are unprocessed and each will have its distinct flavors. If you mix wood chips, you can create varied flavors for all types of meats, poultry, and fish.
If the wood chips are too big for your pellet tube you can use a smoker box that is designed for larger chips. They have a lid that closes over the top and allows the smoke to come out but keeps the leftover ashes inside. All you do is place the box somewhere in your gas grill that doesn’t take up too much space. The rest is simply letting the wood chips smoke away and do the job they’re intended for.
Soaked or not?
Some grill experts are split on whether to soak your wood chips or not. For the most part, if you want to produce smoke and not just steam, don’t soak your chips! This is why you add a metal pan with water to regulate the moisture inside your grill. Another good reason is that soaked chips will cause your meat to be singed. The theory is that the steam is supposed to keep your meat tender, but instead, it leads to the outside edges dry-up faster.