A smoker box is an otherwise small and simple accessory that's often overlooked by pitmasters when grilling meat. Whether you're grilling steaks, pork chops, ribs, chicken or any other type of meat, though, you should consider using a smoker box. It won't necessarily affect the temperature at which your meat cooks. Rather, a smoker box, when used correctly, will make your meat more flavor and tender.
What Is a Smoker Box?
Also known as a smoke box, a smoker box is a rectangular-shaped box with a hollow interior that's used to hold smoking chunks or chips. It's called a "smoker box" because it's used to house smoking chunks. You can always toss smoking chunks directly on your charcoal -- or to the side of your charcoal -- but a better solution is to place them in a smoker box. With its enclosed design, a smoker box will insulate your smoking chunks so that they smolder without burning too quickly.
Benefits of Using a Smoker Box When Grilling Meat
You can still grill delicious, as well as tender, meat without a smoker box. So, why should you use this grilling accessory? Well, if you're planning to use smoking chunks to enhance the tenderness and flavor of your meat, you'll need to take the necessary precautions to ensure that the wood chunks don't burn too quickly. The temperature of burning lump charcoal can easily exceed 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. With so much heat, smoking chunks may ignite and burn ash in just minutes when directly exposed to the burning charcoal. A smoker box slows down the process by insulating your smoking chunks from the burning charcoal.
As the smoking chunks heat up inside the smoker box, they'll release smoke that's absorbed by your meat. You can fill a smoker box with any variety of smoking chunks. You can fill them with two or more varieties, such as oak and hickory. Regardless, the smoker box allows smoking chunks to burn more slowly by creating a protecting barrier between them and the charcoal. Just open the lid on the smoker box, add your desired smoking chunks, close the lid and place the smoker box on top of the charcoal mound.
Choosing a Smoker Box: What You Should Know
There are dozens of smoker boxes available for sale, nearly all of which feature the same rectangular-shaped box design. With that said, the material from which a smoker box is made will affect its performance. Smoker boxes are typically made of either cast iron or stainless steel. Cast-iron smoker boxes are heavier and longer-lasting, whereas stainless-steel smoker boxes retain less heat. If you're worried that your smoking chunks will burn too quickly, stick with a stainless-steel smoker box.
You should also choose a smoker box in an appropriate size. Smoker boxes are available in a variety of sizes. Some of them are small, whereas others are larger. If your smoker box is too small, however, you won't be able to fill it with a large amount of smoking chunks. If it's too big, conversely, you may struggle to fit it inside your grill, especially if you have a small grill.
Start Your Grill
Before adding your smoker box, go ahead and start your grill. Assuming you have a traditional charcoal grill -- which is recommended when using a smoker box -- build a medium-sized mound of charcoal at the bottom of the main compartment. You can then light the charcoal using a match or natural fire starter. Depending on the type of charcoal you use and other factors, it may take 20 to 30 minutes to reach an appropriate temperature.
Prepare Your Smoker Box
While your grill is heating up, you can use this opportunity to prepare the smoker box. How do you prepare a smoker box exactly? Well, this involves filling it with your desired wood chunks for smoking. Most smoker boxes feature a lid that you open and close to add smoking chunks. Just lift the lid and fill the smoker box about three-quarters of the way full with smoking chunks.
The great thing about grilling meat with a smoker box is that it allows you to experiment with different varieties of smoking chunks. Hickory smoking chunks, for example, produce a robust bacon-like flavor that complements most types of meat. In comparison, oak smoking chunks produce a milder and more versatile flavor. You can use any type of high-quality smoking chunks in a smoker box. Just fill the smoker box with your desired smoking chunks and close the lid.
Add Your Smoker Box to Your Grill
After loading your smoker box with high-quality smoking chunks, you can add it to your grill. So, where should you place your smoker box? Ideally, the smoker box should be placed directly on the charcoal where it's able to head the smoking chunks evenly. If you place your smoker box off to the side, your smoking chunks will likely burn unevenly. The smoking chunks closest to the charcoal will quickly heat up and smolder, whereas the smoking chunks farthest away from the charcoal will remain relatively cool.
Of course, you should wait until your charcoal has heated up before adding your smoker box to it. If your charcoal is still black, it's not quite ready. Charcoal is only ready after it's turned white and has developed a light layer of ash. Once your charcoal has reached this state, you can place your smoker box on top of it.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using a Smoker Box
When using a smoker box, make sure the lid is completely closed. If the lid is open, it won't offer adequate protection against the heat produced by the burning charcoal. As a result, your smoking chunks will burn quickly. By closing the lid, however, your smoking chunks will be properly insulated so that they burn more slowly.
Some pitmasters soak their smoking chunks in water before adding them to their smoker box. Conventional wisdom may lead you to believe that soaking smoking chunks in water will prevent them from burning too quickly, but this isn't necessarily true. Research has shown that wood, including smoking chunks, absorbs very little water even when soaked for up to 24 hours. Your smoking chunks may look wet after being soaked in water, but the water is only superficial. In other words, the water is on the surface of the smoking chunks rather than inside them. When you place these soaked smoking chunks in your grill, the water will simply evaporate.
Another mistake to avoid when using a smoker box is burying it underneath the charcoal. As you may know, heat rises. Therefore, placing your smoker box underneath the burning charcoal won't work. Heat produced by the charcoal will simply rise, meaning your smoking chunks won't smolder. For the best-tasting meat, you must place your smoker box directly on top of the charcoal where it's able to heat up from the fire below.
Find the best quality smoking chunks by visiting wood chunks for smoking today. Cutting Edge Firewood offers a variety of high-quality smoking chunks, including white oak, hickory, cherry, pecan and whiskey that you can use in a smoker box when grilling meat. We offer complimentary shipping for our smoking chunk products across the United States.