With the advent of electric grills, it is possible to cook food outdoors without the mess of charcoal, lighter fluid, or blinding smoke. What can go missing is the smoky flavor that so many desire from food off the barbecue. Here are some tips to help you grill with electricity but still get that smoked food taste.
Safety is always the first priority in all outdoor cooking. Just because there is no flame, it doesn't remove all fire risk. Follow clearance measurements stated in the owner's manual to cook a safe distance from all structures. If you must use an extension cord with your grill, use the proper gauge or thickness and length to avoid overheating the cord from excess resistance. Never leave your grill unattended. A flare-up or grill knocked over from a gust of wind can quickly ruin your food or your day.
Your smoke source will be wood, of course, in the form of chips or a large chunk. The wood can be soaked in water beforehand, but that will only increase the time it takes to get smoke. Wrap a handful of chips in a double layer of heavy aluminum foil, and use a fork to poke a few holes in it. Poke too few holes, and the wood will not get enough air to burn. Poke too many, and the wood may burn up too quickly.
Whether wood chips or chunks, you will need to learn the nature of your particular grill to determine the best placement. The wood may be best suited to positions above, below, or beside the element. So long as you get a small but steady stream of smoke, it is enough.
If your electric grill cycles the element on and off based on the thermostat, it may be necessary to increase the heat setting to have enough heat to get wood smoking. The next consideration becomes how to avoid burning the food. Increase the distance between the element and the food when you're smoking it. If you increase the heat setting but don't get smoke, you may need to slightly alter the element control to allow turning it slightly higher. That option is beyond the scope of this article.
The smoke cannot be excessive from the wood, nor can it be allowed to accumulate around the food. The goal is a stream of smoke around the food and out the top area of grill. If your grill lid has a vent hole of some sort, it needs to be fully open or mostly so. Merely tilting the grill lid may not allow smoke to stream out. You may have a thermometer in the lid; this is an ideal place to put a vent hole for the smoke. Remove the thermometer and plug most of it with aluminum foil. Another solution is to use a metal can top screwed through the lid next to the hole to adjust the smoke exhaust.
Another obvious safety point is to remember the possibility of your wood flaming up. Keep a spray bottle of water handy to mist the wood. Remember that the smoking wood gets a large load of oxygen when you lift the lid, and you should be prepared to keep it safe.