Using a Traditional Style Kettle Grill for Smoking Food
Kettle-style grills are great because of their affordability and flexibility.
Many people don’t know that these traditional style kettle grills can be used to make delicious smoked meat. In fact, they are so effective, that if done correctly, you can produce a smoked brisket that taste like it was smoked on a $1,000 Traeger smoker (or any other high-end smoker for that matter).
What is the Indirect Cooking Method?
Kettle-style grills smoke meat using the “indirect heat” method, which you might be familiar with if you’re something of a smoker or barbecue aficionado. Indirect heat basically exposes meat to lower-temperature air for a longer period of time, and is generally thought to cook the meat more evenly than “direct” heat, which uses hotter temperatures for a shorter period of time. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to learn how to get comfortable using a kettle-style smoker, even for newbies! Practice makes perfect, and following directions and learning from your mistakes is a great way to learn.
How to Setup a Kettle Grill to Smoke with the Indirect Method
Use a Chimney to Light the Coals
Start by filling the chimney of the grill no more than one third or one half of the way full with your favorite brand of fire briquettes. Once those are lit and burning, you’re going to set up a water pan and a charcoal basket.
If you don’t have an actual basket, just carefully pour all of your charcoals localized to one side of the cooking grate – don’t spread them out evenly over the grate (this is why using a basket can help, especially for beginners).
Use a Water Pan
The water pan doesn’t have to be fancy. Most smokers employ simple disposable foil pans, like you would see at a catered buffet. Place the water pan on the other side of the grate and add about two full cups to the pan, three if you’re paranoid about evaporation. Using a water pan helps control the cooking temperature and prevent it from getting too high, as well as preventing your meat from drying out by exposing it to water vapor to keep it nice and juicy.
If you have the space, some people like to put a second water pan right on top of the burning coals, but if your kettle-style smoker doesn’t have the room, don’t worry about it.
Some people even like to place bacon, a hamburger, or meat trimmings on top of the coals, which will add an even more savory flavor to your meat as the drippings melt and stay contained within the covered smoker. Doing this might result in temperature swings, so keep an eye on it.
There is an old smoking method called the Weber Kettle that spreads the charcoals in one even layer and places a water pan right in the middle, sitting on top of the coals, and some people still swear it works wonders. You can experiment with what smoking methods work best for you, but these days, most people like the indirect, side-by-side method for tougher cuts of meet including thicker steaks and beef brisket.
Don’t be overzealous! Let the coals burn on their own while the water in the pan heats up, creating a nice low-to-intermediate temperature. This will probably take between half an hour and an hour, so be patient. Once you’ve reached your desired temperature, simply drop chunks of wood right on top of the coals, and place your food on the grate over the pan of water. Cover up your grill and set a timer for about 45 minutes so you can monitor the heat and add more coals as needed. Note: this is less time than typical smokers, which usually require more coals to be added only after three to four hours.
You can also add some fresh cold water to the pan and prop up the cover to let cooler air in if the temperature gets too high. Don’t panic if this happens! The meat (probably) isn’t burning, and the temperature can be brought back down. Please share some of your photos or tips in the comment section below to help others.