Turn Your Regular Grill Into a Smoker in 5 Easy Steps

Virgil’s Real Barbecue chef Glenn Rolnick has a simple method for smoking meat that doesn't require lots of new gear

May 27, 2022 5:30 am
A grill can become a smoker fairly easily if you know what to do
A grill can become a smoker fairly easily if you know what to do.

Though the phrase “smoke ’em if you got ’em” usually refers to taking a cigarette break, it could actually easily be applied to Virgil’s Real Barbecue chef Glenn Rolnick‘s attitude toward most varieties of meat.

Rolnick, who slow cooks everything from Texas-style brisket to Memphis-style pork ribs at Virgil’s, is a smoking enthusiast in both his personal and professional life and routinely finds himself firing up his backyard smoker. But, even more frequently, Rolnick will use another one of his BBQ tools when he craves smoked meat: his grill.

“If I was to grill something, I wouldn’t get any of that nice smokiness. People who know smoke will say smoking is the best way to cook,” Rolnick tells InsideHook. “Smoking adds a lot of flavor — and smoking on a grill is simple. You also don’t have to clean it out or sit there for 10­-12 hours as you do with a smoker. It simplifies cooking and still gives the flavor you want.”

How? We’ll let Rolnick explain how to use your grill as a smoker to cook something up in five simple steps. For his method, you’ll need hickory or cherry wood chips, apple juice to soak the chips, a smoker box and some dry rub. (Buy your own or see the recipe for Virgil’s dry rub below.) Rolnick does not recommend using a grill to smoke larger cuts of meat like brisket, but for wings, ribs and even fish, it’s ideal. Also note: a charcoal grill will work, but a gas grill is ideal in order to maintain temperature.

Rubbed ribs getting ready for a date with the grill
Rubbed ribs getting ready for a date with the grill.
Glenn Rolnick

1. Prep Your Protein

Generously coat your protein of choice with coarse salt, ground black pepper and lots of dry rub. Make sure to get the top and bottom. Leave in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours. In order to get the most flavor from my meat, I would season it a day ahead of smoking it. If you’re making your own barbecue sauce, you can make it the day before but you wouldn’t want to use it as an overnight marinade. Just the salt, pepper and dry rub.

Soaking wood chips stops them from burning too fast on the grill
Soaking wood chips stops them from burning too fast on the grill.
Glenn Rolnick

2. Get Chippy

Before you are ready to cook, soak your hickory or cherry wood chips for an hour or two. It depends on the size of the wood chips. You’re soaking the chips so the wood doesn’t burn so fast when you put it into the grill. I like to use apple juice because it’s very thin and the wood handles it very well. I soak them in apple juice to give them more flavor. The smoke gets some of the sweetness and flavor from the apple juice. It definitely gets into the protein or whatever you’re cooking.

A smoke box filled with wood chips sitting on a grill.
A smoke box filled with wood chips sitting on a grill.
Glenn Rolnick

3. Fire Up the Grill

At the beginning, you want the grill on high heat with the lid closed and completely sealed up. Then you’re gonna put the wood chips in the smoker box and put the smoker box into the actual grill. Avoid placing it over a direct flame. You want to see the smoke start coming out, but you’ll only know by when you lift the lid up. When it’s really nice and smoky, it’s time to put the protein in. Maybe 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Protein Time

Once it is really smoky, place your protein on the grill and lower the flame. You want the temperature somewhere between 250-275 so you can slowly smoke it until it’s nice and tender. It is not important to have the meat over the direct flame. You’re almost turning the grill into an oven with a light flame. You’ll want to leave the meat on the grill for about three to 3.5 hours on that low temperature. You may wanna check your wood halfway through cooking to make sure it’s not all burned out. If the chips burn they’ll look like black charred wood. If you’re using BBQ sauce, put it on around the three-hour mark and let meat cook for an additional 15-25 minutes or until it’s nicely glazed.

5. Trust the Process

It’s easy because you’re basically using the same things you would use grilling normally. You don’t have to buy a big, bulky smoker and you’re only paying for a smoker box and wood chips. So, it’s a lot cheaper and you’ll still get a great smoky flavor. The only downside is if you want an extremely smoky taste. You’re probably going to get about 75% of what you’d get from a full-blown smoker — but it’s definitely worth it.

Virgil’s Dry Rub


  1. 2 ½ cups sweet paprika
  2. 1 cup granulated sugar
  3. 1 ½ cup Texas-style chili powder
  4. ½ minced onion
  5. ½ granulated garlic
  6. ¼ cup dried parsley flakes
  7. 6 tablespoons kosher salt


  1. Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk together until completely incorporated.
  2. Transfer to a covered bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Store in a cool, dry place.
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