No smoker? No problem: How to smoke BBQ with your grill or in your oven

The summer is upon us, and grills and smokers all over the DMV are heating up as well. For the series Fired Up with Jake and John, WTOP’s Mike Jakaitis and John Domen talk with some of the region’s best pitmasters about their methods, with the goal of helping you level up your barbecue game.

This weekend, many suburbanites will fire up grills and smokers on their back patios and start barbecuing their favorite cuts of meat for dinner.

Problem is, not everyone has a smoker. Or even a yard. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.

Before he was the pitmaster at the Federalist Pig in Adams Morgan and Hyattsville, Rob Sonderman lived in an apartment on H Street in D.C. with no backyard, and certainly no room for a big smoker. Still, he said he successfully cooked smoked duck for Christmas dinner one year.

His advice: “Get something like wood chips or wood pellets … get a cast iron pan on the stove, get those wood pellets kind of ripping, then put that brisket right in the oven with those wood pellets on that cast iron pan,” Sonderman said. “Then don’t open that oven for a couple of hours so you don’t set off your smoke alarm in your apartment and get everyone pissed off at you.”

That sounded pretty specific.

“I’ve definitely done that myself,” Sonderman admitted.

If you don’t want to heat the wood on your stove, he said to put the wood chips in a pan, cover the pan with foil and then poke some holes in the foil before putting it in your oven.

So how did he pull off the smoked duck from his H Street apartment?

“I had a little Amazon delivery box, and I had a little electric burner coil and put a cast iron pan with wood chips on it,” he said. “Obviously, be careful and make sure you’re doing the best you can to be safe.”

You can also fire up some pulled chicken or pulled pork in a slow cooker, but you won’t get the same smoky taste you get from heating wood chips in your oven. Unless you cheat.

“I don’t really like to recommend liquid smoke, just because I think that’s a crutch of every barbecue sauce on the shelf, and a lot of ‘faux-Q’ barbecue places,” he said dismissively.

But he conceded that “in a pinch, like a drop of it does kind of get you a decent smoke flavor. But if you can’t get the real thing, sometimes it’s OK to just not have it,” Sonderman said.

If you do have a grill, but not a smoker, it’s even easier to ad lib.

Steven Raichlen, the host of “Project Smoke” on PBS, whose newest book is “How To Grill Vegetables,” said you might throw burgers or steaks directly over the hot coals of your charcoal or gas grill, but you can’t do that with a whole chicken or a giant pork shoulder. The work-around is called indirect grilling — which essentially turns your grill into a smoker.

“If you’re on a charcoal grill, rake your hot coals out to the sides and you cook it in the center, next to or between the coals, not directly over the coals, with the grill lid closed,” said Raichlen. “That converts your grill into sort of an oven, which if you add wood chips to the coals, becomes sort of a hot smoker.

“Fantastic way to cook larger cuts of meat, tougher cuts of meat,” he said.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up