How to Make Electric Grill Taste Like Charcoal

Do you crave that distinctive smoky flavor of charcoal-grilled food but only have access to an electric grill? Read on and learn how to make electric grill taste like charcoal.

With a few techniques and creative ingredients, you can make your electric grill taste like it’s been cooking over charcoal!

This guide will teach you how to make an electric grill taste like charcoal through different methods, from using wood chips and smoker boxes to incorporating spices and sauces.

The Difference Between Charcoal and Electric Grill

When it comes to the difference between charcoal and electric grill, two prime factors stand out: heat source and flavor.

Heat Source

Charcoal-grilled food has that intense smoky flavor we all love. The magic happens during the cooking process when the indirect heat from a piece of charcoal produces an earthy aroma and signature black char on your food.

Understanding how this works is essential to replicating it on an electric grill. Electric grills rely on electricity to generate the required heat for cooking.

In turn, the grill produces consistent and controlled temperatures, which is great for even cooking. Nonetheless, they cannot infuse the food with that smoky essence.


The involvement of charcoal in the cooking process makes all the difference. Charcoal releases aromatic compounds when it burns. The compounds, in the form of smoke, envelop the food, permeating it with a rich smoky flavor that’s hard to replicate with electric grills.

That said, the type of charcoal used also affects the taste. Different types of charcoal, like natural lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes, can offer unique flavors and aromas to the food. This diversity in options gives charcoal grills an edge in adding complexity to the taste profile.

Methods for How to Make Electric Grill Taste Like Charcoal

By employing a few clever techniques, such as adding wood chips, liquid smoke, and using a smoker gun, you can elevate the taste of your grilled dishes to a whole new level.

Method #1: Add Wood Chips

Adding wood chips to electric grills is a nifty trick to mimic that classic charcoal grill flavor. Wood chips are like little flavor bombs that release smoky goodness when heated.

Start by soaking the wood chips in water for 30 minutes before cooking. It prevents them from burning too quickly and allows them to smolder.

Now, there are a couple of ways to go about it. You can wrap the soaked wood chips in aluminum foil, poke some holes in the foil packet, and place it on the grill’s heating element. Alternatively, if your electric grill has a designated smoker box, use that to hold the wood chips.

Strategically position the wood chips or chunks on the electric grill. For a more intense smoky flavor, place them closer to the heating element. If you prefer milder smoke, place them farther away.

As the electric grill heats, the wood chips will smoke and integrate your food with that coveted smoky flavor.

Keep in mind that different wood chips offer distinct flavors. Mesquite brings a bold and intense taste, while fruitwoods like apple or cherry offer a sweeter, more delicate touch. Experiment with various wood types to find your favorite combination.

Don’t go overboard with the wood chips; a little goes a long way. You don’t want to overpower your food with excessive smokiness.

Grilled meat on charcoal grill

Method #2: Use Liquid Smoke

If you want that irresistible charcoal flavor and smoky taste on your electric grill, here’s a secret weapon: liquid smoke!

Liquid smoke is made by condensing smoke from burning wood. The condenser then cools the vapors, liquifying them and capturing all those mouthwatering flavors. 

To use it, simply brush or spray a little onto your food before grilling.

Method #3: Use a Smoker Box

A smoker box is a game-changer. It’s like having a mini charcoal grill right there on your electric grill. Just fill the nifty accessory up with wood chips of your choice, like hickory or mesquite for that classic smoky punch.

Place the smoker box on the electric grill’s grates and close the lid. As the electric grill heats up, the wood chips start to produce smoke, infusing your food with that charred, irresistible flavor you’re after.

Method #4: Use a Smoking Gun

Using a smoking gun will allow you to grill a juicy steak indoors and still get that authentic charcoal grill experience.

Load it up with your favorite wood chips, like hickory or cherry, and ignite it. The smoking gun will release smoke, infusing your food with that awesome flavor.

Method #5: Add Charcoal Chips

To add charcoal chips to your electric grill, sprinkle them on the grill’s heating element before cooking.

Keep the charcoal wrapped in aluminum foil or in a smoker box. That way, you’ll protect the electric grill.

As the electric grill heats up, the charcoal chips will start to release their traditional smoky aroma.

Tips For Extra Smoky Flavor

Adding a smoky essence to your food can be easily achieved with a combination of herbs, spices, and sauces. 

By selecting the right ingredients and experimenting with various combinations, you can create a symphony of flavors that mimic authentic smokiness.

Tip #1: Charring Technique

Sear your veggies or meat over an open flame, allowing them to get that beautiful char on the outside. This charred goodness brings out a smoky depth.

Once you’ve got that perfect char, transfer your food to the electric grill to finish cooking. The electric grill will lock in all that smoky deliciousness and ensure your dish is cooked to perfection.

Tip #2: Add BBQ Sauce

Slather your meat or veggies with a generous coating of BBQ sauce before grilling. As the electric grill works its magic, the sauce caramelizes and saturates your food with a charcoal flavor.

You can marinate your meats in the sauce a day in advance for a more intense charcoal flavor profile. Additionally, we recommend basting your food with the sauce while it’s on the grill.

The sauce locks in all that smokiness, giving your dishes that finger-licking, lip-smacking taste without the need for a traditional smoker.

Close-up of a chef spreading sauce BBQ on ribs

Tip #3: Experiment With Spices and Herbs

An arsenal of herbs and spices can make a world of difference when incorporating a traditional smoky taste. Think smoked paprika, chipotle, or even cumin.

Sprinkle your chosen herbs and spices on your food right before grilling, or use them as a marinade. Whether you’re grilling meat, veggies, or even tofu, herbs and spices will give your food an unmistakable smokiness without the need for charcoal.

What to Consider When Making Electric Grill Taste Like Charcoal

While attempting the methods above, you might have some trouble. Issues can come from the grill, heating element, or charcoal. Here are some points worth considering.

Type of Charcoal

The best type of charcoal to use for electric grills is natural lump charcoal. Unlike briquettes, natural lump charcoal is made from pure hardwood, containing no additives or chemicals.

It results in cleaner combustion and a more traditional smoky flavor. Natural lump charcoal also ignites faster, reaching cooking temperature quickly. Subsequently, it’s ideal for electric grills with limited preheating time.

Plus, the charcoal type produces less ash, reducing the mess and simplifying the cleaning process. Natural lump charcoal also offers better heat control, allowing for precise cooking and searing.

Outdoor Weather Issues

When it’s humid outside, the charcoal might absorb moisture from the air, making it challenging to light and keep a steady temperature.

Wet charcoal tends to smolder rather than burn, leading to uneven heat distribution and longer preheating times. To counter this, keep your charcoal bone dry before use.

Consider adjusting your cooking time and keep an eye on the grill’s temperature to achieve that perfect charcoal grill taste even in humid conditions.

If possible, position your electric grill in a sheltered area to minimize direct exposure to humidity and external elements. Grilling under a canopy or awning can help maintain a more consistent grilling environment

Check Dampers

Dampers, also known as vents, are adjustable openings in the grill that control the airflow and, consequently, the temperature.

Adjust the vents or openings as needed to control the temperature inside the grill. A wider opening allows more oxygen, increasing the heat, while a narrower one reduces the oxygen flow, lowering the temperature.

Proper airflow management also influences the level of smokiness and flavor infusion in your food.

Remember to refer to your electric grill’s manual to understand its ventilation features and how to adjust them effectively.

Post-Grilling Tips to Keep in Mind

To ensure you savor every ounce of that smoky, charcoal-like flavor, follow these post-grilling tips:

Let It Rest

Allow your grilled food to rest for a few minutes before serving. Resting allows the juices to redistribute evenly, resulting in a juicier and more flavorful dish.

Quick Sear

For an added touch of texture and caramelization, consider giving your grilled food a quick sear over high heat. This step enhances the outer crust and intensifies the overall taste.

Serve With Finesse

Plate your dishes with care and creativity. Garnish with fresh herbs or a drizzle of sauce to complement the smoky flavors and elevate the presentation.

Experiment and Learn

Grilling is an art, and every session is an opportunity to experiment and refine your skills. Take notes of what works best for you, including wood chip combinations, cooking times, and temperatures, to consistently achieve that delightful charcoal taste.

Grilling Indoors on an electric hibachi

Clean and Maintain

After the feast, remember to clean your electric grill thoroughly. Proper maintenance ensures longevity and optimal performance. Remove any leftover ash or debris, clean the grates, and wipe down the exterior.

The Science Behind Why Charcoal Grilled Food Tastes Better

There are multiple reasons why charcoal grilled food tastes better than its electric counterpart. Most involve scientific explanations, such as:

The Maillard Reaction

When you throw your food on the hot grill, whether it’s meat, vegetables, or even fruits, the intense heat causes the natural sugars and proteins in the food to react with each other. The process is called the Maillard reaction.

During the Maillard reaction, the surface of the food browns and caramelizes, creating those beautiful grill marks and a rich, complex flavor profile. 

Wood Burning

Aside from that, wood also plays a critical role in flavor production. The process starts with its chemical composition, specifically lignans.

They are complex molecules found in plant cell walls. When wood burns, the intense heat breaks down these lignans into smaller organic molecules, including syringol and guaiacol.

As these smaller organic molecules rise in the smoke, they permeate the food being grilled, incorporating smokiness.

Flavor Vapor

When your food grills, some of the fat and juices drip down onto the hot coals or heat source. This leads to flare-ups, where the drippings vaporize and rise back up to kiss the food. These flavorful vapors, combined with the Maillard reaction, inject the food with a rich smoky taste.

Food is a smoky flavor sponge. It contains both fats and water, which play essential roles in this smoky flavor absorption process.

Fats have a weak electric charge and easily attract other, similarly, non-polar molecules. In contrast, water is polar, like a magnet with positive and negative charges, making it proficient at binding to other polar molecules.


How do restaurants get smoky flavor?

Restaurants achieve smoky flavors by incorporating liquid smoke or other additional ingredients, like smoked cheese, to elevate flavors.

What is a substitute for charcoal?

You can use wood instead of charcoal when grilling. Besides that, there are other natural firestarters like newspaper and cedar kindling.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, transforming your electric grill to replicate the authentic charcoal taste is not only possible but also straightforward.

You can employ various methods, such as using wood chips, smoker boxes, herbs, spices, and flavorful sauces. That way, you’ll impart that smoky essence into your grilled dishes.

Embrace experimentation and find the perfect combination that suits your taste preferences. Get ready to savor the rich, charred taste that will leave you and your guests coming back for seconds at every grilling event.

Written By


Hi there, I'm Greg (also known as Herbie) and like most Aussies enjoy a good BBQ. I want to share with you some tips and recipes, along with gear that I like, to help you with your backyard barbecue and grilling hobbie.Anyway, have a look around and let me know what you think and happy BBQing. Cheers Herbie.

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