Learn how to set up your gas grill for great low and slow cooking with smoking. A useful technique you need to master your gas grill along with troubleshooting tips. Now updated with expanded troubleshooting tips.
I initially wrote this for my How to Grill Baby Back Ribs, but now publish it separately so I could refer to it for other recipes. While I use a Weber Summit that is very hot and versatile, I have generalized the instructions.
Let's talk about your grill. You must know your grill. If you can get or have the instructions for your grill from the manufacturer, follow those instructions.
For some recipe suggestions for beginners, please see Beginner's Guide to Grilling on a Gas Grill.
You are going to need to experiment a little with your grill set up. You need to know how to get a steady low grill surface temperature in an area reserved for indirect heat.
If you are a beginner please check A Beginners Guide to Grill Temperature on a Gas Grill where I give a more complete discussion of grill temperature which is basic for any success grilling.
Also, be sure you have enough gas. I have natural gas, so I'm good. If you are not so lucky, have a second tank.
I used grill surface thermometers for years. They only cost about $10 and will last most of the grilling season until you can't read it anymore. Amazon, Home Depot, or Lowes will have them. I have one I have bought over the years linked below. I now use a fancy Thermoworks remote monitor, also linked below.
For me, I have four main burners that run front to back. If I only turn one burner on high, the grill surface temperature in the indirect (not over the burner that is turned on) is right at 225.
With the two outside burners at medium, I have a steady 250. Turning on the smoker side burner kicks the temperature up about 50 degrees while on.
So how do I know these things? I played with it. If you have 2 or 3 burners, start with one burner on high and see what you get in the indirect area. Some grills will have vents, and you can experiment with them too.
If you have one burner, you're going to set a large pan on top of your grates and cover it with a rack of some type. Do not put any weight on top of your burners directly with the rack and meat. Ever....
So now you have played with your grill enough to know it. Doesn't it feel good already?
Troubleshooting Grill Time Issues
"I thought I had it right but it didn't cook." So what went wrong???
There are a number of things that are possible—most likely a combo of some or all.
1 - The most common seems the thermometer was just wrong. I have had a number of people with this issue. Was it reading 250° but really was 180°? You will never get to 200° that way.
Check it against another thermometer if you can. If not available, most ovens are fairly accurate so pop it into an oven and check it against a variety of temps.
2 - Thermometer misplacement. You need to measure the temperature in the location of the meat. 250° over a lit burner may be under 200° in the indirect area of the grill.
3 - Every time the hood is open, the temperature envelope around the food is disrupted. It may take up to an hour to recover to the temperature you want.
So when you think you cooked at 250° for 5 hours, you may have really only cooked at that temp for a few hours if you checked the meat several times.
So remote monitoring becomes very useful. Now I do both meat and surface temperature remote probes. Before that, I compensated with just knowledge of my grill. Knowing that setting my burners at X will give me a steady-state temperature of Y then keeping my hands off for hours.
4 - If your choice of temperature is at the very low end of the "low and slow range" leaving yourself no room for error. I use 250° with a target range of 250°-275°.
5 - Did "the stall" get you??? Don't know. It is more of an issue with larger briskets. And the wrapping needs to be very tight to avoid any air gaps for the evaporation to be prevented. For a detailed discussion of "the stall" and the "Texas Crunch" go to How to Cook a Brisket on a Gas Grill.
What to do now?
Obviously, fix the problem for the next time, but now you have an eight-pound brisket not cooked and people coming.
Never stop under the suggested internal temperature. It is not cooked and you won't be happy there.
Don't panic. You can always just toss it on a tray in a 275°-300° oven to finish if you need to. So simple.
Things you cook indirectly usually are full of fat and can make a mess of your grill.
Usually, you will just place a thin disposable aluminum pan under the grates on the indirect side.
If there is no room between the grill grates and lava rocks or flavor bars for a thin aluminum pan, then you will put the pan on top of the grates in the indirect area with a rack or grate on top of that. NEVER PUT ANYTHING DIRECTLY ON THE BURNERS.
I needed to notch the pan a little to get it to fit. Do NOT allow the pan to support the grill rack and put pressure on the things below. This would be dangerous.
Mine is on top of burner guards called flavor bars. You may have lava rocks or something similar. Usually, you should add water to the drip pan for added moisture in the grill. NEVER PUT ANYTHING DIRECTLY ON THE BURNERS.
Again, if you can get the instructions for your grill from the manufacturer, follow those instructions. Let's be careful and safe here.
You want to smoke, right? If you're lucky, your grill has built-in a smoke box like I do. If not, you have a couple of choices.
If you just want to try it once, you can make a pouch of heavy-duty aluminum foil with some holes and place it on a burner on high until it starts to smoke, and then turn it back down.
If you are going to do this more than once or twice, pick up a cast-iron smoker box (again Home Depot, Lowe's, or Amazon) for about $15. I had the same one for 20 years.
Everybody has a favorite wood for smoking. I almost always use hickory and occasionally apple.
Traditionally, many suggest soaking wood chips. Most experts have now stopped this as an unnecessary step. Also, since the surface is moist, the moisture will evaporate before anything else happens and just delay everything.
Some will still argue that soaked wood chips will smoke longer and, if not soaked, may catch on fire. I have not had a problem with this unless I'm smoking at a high temperature.
For wood chips to smoke, they need to get over 570° really. So close to a high heat burner to get them started. Then turn it down and it will keep going from there.
Cast iron smoker boxes work by retaining the heat and controlling the airflow. You don't want flames since the smoke from flames is different (not in a good way). Foil pouches can also be used with some air holes. You can not use an open tray,
So when you know the settings you need for the stable temp you want. Get that first, then place the meat away from where your smokebox (or pouch) will go and turn that burner up until it smokes then turn it back down.
Bigger chunks of wood will produce much longer smoke so you don't need to keep adding to it.
The wood burns
This is not good. The smoke produced by burning wood is different and has an unpleasant taste. It is almost always produced by too much oxygen getting to the wood—so an adjustment is called for in your method.
Smoke™ by Thermoworks™
Thermapen™ One from Thermoworks™
ThermaQ™ Blue Kit by Thermoworks™
Editors Note: Originally published July 28, 2014, and updated with expanded options, refreshed photos, and a table of contents to help navigation.