How to use a bbq smoker with wood chips and charcoal in the UK

Smoking food has been around for longer than we’ve been alive, but the truth of the matter most of the world has been miles ahead of the UK when it comes to using a bbq smoker. American and South Africa in particular – their beef Biltong (otherwise known as beef jerky) on the smoker is one of the best tasting cooked meats imaginable. So in this article I want to show you how to impart smoker wood chip flavour directly into your meat via bbq smoker. Following on from how to grill a steak perfectly I wanted to talk about how to use a bbq smoker more generally.

Pick a smoker or bbq smoker charcoal grill combo

How serious are you about smoking meat here? We need to establish this before we go any further. Are you a food smoker nut that wants the best possible result (you probably want the Frontier Elite BBQ smoker) , or do you want a mid range great result that’ll then mean you can use your food smoker as a charcoal bbq grill too?

It depends how seriously you want to go with this, I can tell you I make absolutely stunning smoked rib eye (big fat 4 inch thick steaks) to a stunning standard with my general charcoal bbq come food smoker. Here’s a look at that steak and also notice the huge lump of belly pork I am sealing in too. This is a bit of a cheat, I like to render down the fat a bit first as I won’t be cooking it overnight. It’s not necessarily the old fashioned, traditional, and correct way to smoke meat 😀 but it sure works amazing!

Beautiful lump of ribeye steak for my bbq smoker to take care of

Here’s my belly pork too:

Sealing in my belly pork and rendering the fat on my bbq first

Now here’s how I make my meat super smokey and absolutely stunning to eat. Firstly you’ll need to decide on the flavours. I love apple wood chips when I am doing pork but I prefer oak for beef. So since I had both in the grill this time I went with oak.

Make sure your temperature is about 175-200 degrees on your food smoker

Here’s the trick, make sure you get yourself some quality restaurant grade lump wood charcoal that has not been filled with chemicals. Get that fired up and cook it down to some nice white hot embers. You want your temperature around 175-200 degrees to smoke your meat max. Even lower if you’re going to try to send your steak into a deeper darker smokey colour 🙂 For me, I just want to impart the oak flavour and give my meat a superb flavour. So at this point I will throw in my wood chips. The benefit of doing it this way round and not cooking with them straight off the bat is the price, you also don’t want to be wasting expensive smoker chips just getting your food smoker up to temperature!

So I’ll whack my ribeye steak on the rack, then I’ll lay in some wood chips and close the lid. Here’s me at 200 degrees no messing about:

The temperature up to just under 200 degrees on my food smoker

Now I’m super impatient when it comes to food, so a steak and a lump of belly pork is absolutely ideal because the steak will take about 30-45 minutes or so and still be medium rare an beautiful to eat and the belly pork will come along lovely over the course of many hours. Quite honestly, nothing compares to a bit of belly pork smoked. It is absolutely superb and pound for pound can’t be touched. I only use a whole chunk of belly this size to show off when I have the family round. You could easily get the same flavour with a much smaller bit of belly.

Give it about half an hour for the steak before checking and popping open the lid. You can give your steak a bit of a prod but quite frankly it will be close – you don’t want to cook it to death that would be a terrible thing to do!

Using your bbq smoker and understanding it

Most smokers are going to come with a vent. Personally, if I am cooking steak or belly pork I am just going to close that vent up because the bbq charcoal come smokers are pretty leaky anyway. If you look at this vent there is still smoke escaping despite being closed. There are limitations to food smoking when you buy a combo grill for a few hundred quid, it still results in a superb smokey meat though 🙂

Pic of smoke escaping from the vent:

Smoke is still leaking from my vent despite it being closed on my bbq smoker

If you went with a legit smoker then you will want to control your smoke levels far more carefully. The Frontier Elite BBQ smoker I mentioned and linked to earlier is the type of full on food smoker that offers far more control. I would say it’s highly debatable as to whether you achieve a better result though. After all, I am not expecting you to be an expert with a food smoker so the combo makes more sense.

Also with the combo you can be doing a bbq at the same time to take double benefit from the fuel burned 🙂

A look at all the meat on my bbq as I was smoking the belly pork and steak:

The perfect bbq smoking experience – food for the kids and time for me to practise my food smoking skills

Just look at that, bangers for the kids, some minted lamb ribs and blood sausage for me with some meat on the smoker too 🙂 – what more could you ask for exactly other than a crisp pint of beer 😀 Rest assured I had one or three of those too – the perfect life behind the bbq 🙂

Don’t forget your seasoning.

Keep it simple, in my mind the best way to go is salt and pepper. The Americans love to throw on all manner of rubs and that’s absolutely fine. For me the skill in cooking meat is to make it the best it can be with basic seasoning. That said, a bbq rub can taste amazing and I will accept/admit that. I would have no hesitation in having a couple of bits of meat, one plain seasoning and the other a good bbq rub so experiment and if you come up with anything superb then feel free to pop me in an email and we will happily showcase it 🙂

The most important thing from here is experience and testing. The more you go at your food smoker with different cuts the better you’ll become.

About Terry Smith

I’m Terry Smith from, a professional landscape designer, hobbyist gardener, and barbecue fanatic with 20 years experience building and restoring. So as you go through my site you'll watch me document some of the professional garden installs I make as well as the major projects I take on at home. While sharing those experiences and guiding you, I'll be recommending some great tools I use to enable this along the way so you can really buy in confidence. Always feel free to pop me a message:

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