A simple smoke tube and any grill will do. For twenty dollars you can transform you food. These pellet tubes can be used by themselves to make some delicious smoked Gouda or smoked almonds. Or, team up the smoke from the tube with the heat from your grill to smoke some meat. You can have some smoked chicken tonight, even with a gas grill.
Read on and see how.
A Little About Smoke
Smoke is a complicated mix of solids, liquids, and gasses produced when something burns.
Exactly what’s in smoke depends on what material is burning, how much oxygen is available, and what temperature the material is burning at. For cooking, we’re mostly interested in the smoke from burning hardwoods.
That hardwood smoke is full of all kinds of tasty flavors and aromas. When it passes around your food, some of those compounds get absorbed into the food. Smoke plus cooking gets you to the wonderful place called barbecue.
The usual way to infuse your food with smoke is to add wood chips or chunks to charcoal and let them burn with the rest of the fuel. If you want to get more high-tech, pellet smokers use compressed pellets of hardwood sawdust as fuel for automated temperature control. You can harness the control of those pellets without the fancy pellet smoker by using a smoking tube.
About Smoking Tubes
A pellet smoking tube is a perforated metal container for holding smoking pellets. You fill it with the pellets and light it at the open end. Once you’ve got a good flame burning, you blow it out. From this point, the lit end will smolder, producing tasty smoke. This will gradually work through the pellets over the course of 2‒4 hours, depending on the size of the tube.
The pellets are actually doing the work of smoking, so what’s the point of the tube? Smoking can fail in two ways: either the fuel loses too much heat and the smoke stops or the fuel gets too hot and starts flaming, giving a bad taste to the smoke and using it up too quickly. The goal of the tube is to prevent those problems by keeping the pellets together so the burn continues while also restricting airflow enough to prevent it from burning too hot.
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How to Light a Pellet Tube
It’s not hard, but it’s not automatic. A lighter doesn’t have enough power – you’re going to need to hit the hardware store for a propane torch. Look in the plumbing section. There are multiple models available – some light when you pull a trigger, others need a separate striker.
- Fill up the smoking tube with pellets, then tap it a few times on the ground to get the pellets settled. Add a few more if it looks like it’s not full.
- Set the tube on a fire-safe surface (like your grill grate or a concrete floor) on end with the open side up. Fire up your torch and use it to light the pellets at the top of the tube. Keep going until the flame keeps going when you pull the torch away.
- Let it burn for 5 minutes, then blow out the flame. You’re now ready to smoke.
What Can You Do with a Pellet Tube?
|Smoking With Gas Grill||Smoking With Charcoal Grill||Cold Smoking|
Hot-Smoking with a Gas Grill
One of the best uses of a smoking tube is to use your gas grill as a smoker. A gas grill is not really good at smoking meat, but you can get something that’s pretty delicious out of your existing grill for a very reasonable price. You’ll use the grill burner(s) for heat and the smoking tube for smoke, and that adds up to some tasty smoked meat.
Hot-Smoking with a Charcoal Grill
Seems crazy, right? After all, you can just put some wood chips or chunks in your charcoal. Of course, that adds the problem of managing those chips, which love to catch fire when you have to open the lid. A smoking tube can make things simpler and more controllable. You’ll use the charcoal for heat and the tube for smoke, and you can adjust both elements separately.
Cold-smoked food is flavored by smoke but not cooked. For this, you’re looking at a temperature between 70° and 90°, so any conventional smoker is going to be too hot. Of course, for me in Arizona, most days are too hot for this. A smoking tube can make this happen – start one going and load it up into a kettle grill with your target food and let it work its magic. You’ll need careful temperature control for this, so make sure you get a smoking tube that’s easy to position.
Cold-smoking is a great thing that brings us things like bacon and ham, but there are a lot of food safety hurdles you need to get over to make your own cold-smoked meats safely. You’re also probably going to need some more serious hardware than this. Unless you plan on making a serious study of charcuterie, stick to cold-smoking things that aren’t going to kill you, like cheese, nuts, vegetables, and salt.
What to Look for in a Tube
Bigger tubes hold more pellets; more pellets mean a longer smoke. A good starting guess is 2 hours of smoke from a 6-inch model and 4 hours of smoke from a 12-inch model. Your actual smoke time will also depend on your pellets, exactly how they’re loaded, and your local conditions. For longer smoke sessions, you’ll need to reload or pick up a maze smoker.
A circular cross-section is best for minimizing surface area, which helps regulate the rate of combustion. Unfortunately, a circular cross-section can roll around, so it’s hard to position. A square tube is not going to move at all, so it’s easiest to position. There are also compromise shapes like hexagons and ovals that try to split the difference.
LIZZQ Premium Pellet Smoker — Best Value
The LIZZQ is 12” long with a hexagonal cross section. It’s easy to load and light, and it stays in place either parallel or perpendicular to the grill bars pretty well. It’s good for 4 hours of smoke or more, and the price can’t be beat.
Carpathen Pellet Smoker Tube — Best for Cold-Smoking
The Carpathen is 12” long with a square cross section. It’s good for 5 hours of smoke, which should get you through most any project. I like this best for cold-smoking since it’s very easy to position. When cold-smoking, this is your only way of controlling temperature and smoke, so it’s important to be able to get the tube exactly where you need it.
A-MAZE-N Pellet Tube — Best for a Gas Grill (or a Gift)
This model is 12” long with a round cross section. The company advertises 12 hours of smoke, which is a little puffed up. The round shape gets you a bit longer smoke session, but I think 6 hours is more realistic. This is round, so it’s best for hot-smoking on a gas grill where it can sit parallel to the grate. It comes preloaded with pellets so if you give it as a gift, the recipient can use it right away.
Alternatives to Buying a Tube
For cold-smoking, the tube is the cheap, easy, low-tech way of getting started. Anything else is probably going to be more work/money. For hot-smoking, the DIY alternative is to wrap a handful of wood chips into a foil packet, punch holes in the packet, then set the packet on the coals/over the gas burner. This will not provide anywhere near the amount of smoke time or control as a tube, but it’s very simple.
How to Use It
Smoked Chicken on a Gas Grill
Smoked chicken is a great meal that doesn’t take all day. The plan is to start the chicken cooking on indirect heat with smoke from the smoke tube, then finish it over direct heat for a good sear. You’ll need to figure out how to set up your own grill to get the area not over the lit burner(s) to 225°‒275°. This will usually involve turning on one or two burners to medium, then have your meat on the other side.
Cut up a whole 5 pound chicken into 8 pieces (4 breast quarters, 2 legs, 2 thighs, save the wings for something else), season with salt and pepper or your favorite spice blend (plus plenty of salt if the blend doesn’t have any). Get your grill and smoke tube going, and put the chicken on the indirect heat area with the dark meat closer to the fire. Add the smoke tube over the heat. Cover and let smoke for about 1½ hours or until your white meat reaches 140°.
Remove the smoke tube, turn the burner to medium-high, and move the chicken parts directly over the heat. Cook, flipping as needed, until the outside is well-browned and the pieces reach a tasty internal temperature – that’s about 160° for breasts and 175° for legs and thighs.
Smoked cheese is great by itself or as part of a dish. I love adding shredded smoked cheddar and some whole-grain mustard to mashed potatoes. To start, choose your cheese. Your obvious choices are relatively mild cheeses that really show off the smoke flavor like cheddar, provolone, or mozzarella. You could also try balancing smoke with bolder flavors like blue cheese. Cut the cheese into blocks about the size of a stick of butter and let it sit uncovered at room temperature to let the exterior harden up a little bit.
Obviously this is a job for cold-smoking so you don’t melt the cheese. You want to keep the temperature between 70° and 90° so the smoke flavor gets into the cheese but the heat doesn’t melt it. If the temperature is too hot outside, you might not be able to do this at all. Put your probe thermometer in the grill and close the lid to see what your baseline is. If it’s hotter than about 65° without the smoke tube, you probably can’t do this.
Fill and light your smoke tube; blow it out and get it on the other side of the grill. Cover and check the temperature again in 10 minutes. Move the smoking tube as needed to get the temperature at the probe in the 70°‒90° range. Once you’ve got it right, put the cheese on near your thermometer and take a picture so you can repeat this next time. As the cheese smokes, keep an eye on the thermometer and look at the cheese from time to time to make sure it’s not melting.
Smoke as long as you like. You can start tasting as soon as ½ hour, but it might need 4 hours to get to the right level of smoke.
Additional Cheese Smoking Tips
- Allow your cheese blocks to sit out in the open air for about an hour before smoking.
- Cut cheese into small 1/2 lbs blocks. An ideal cut of cheese will be about the size of a stick of butter. But if you end up a little thicker or thinner that will be fine too.
- A smoking mat can come in handy.
- Invest in a good thermometer to keep track of the internal temperature of the grill, don’t trust the temperature gauge that is mounted in your smoker – it’s likely off by anywhere from 10 – 75°. Remember, you don’t want your internal temperature above 90°F.
- Warmer internal (or climate) temperature normally means less humidity inside the smoker. You want the cheese to stay moist. So if it’s warmer than 70°F outside, you’re best to wait for nightfall. Adding a pan of ice water inside the smoker will help ever so slightly.
- Although you can freeze the cheese before smoking the texture will change, which means the quality diminishes. However, you can leave it in the refrigerator for long period of time under the right circumstance; if you buy a block of cheese that is vacuum sealed you can leave it in the fridge and let it age for months, and in some cases years, before smoking it. Only age hard cheeses – soft cheeses, not so much.
- There is no lack of controversy when it comes to smoke time to give you a definitive time frame. Some like to smoke it for as little as 30 minutes, while others will smoke for 4 hours or more. It is truly a matter of taste. Typically hard cheese will need to smoke for longer periods of time. Remember, the goal with smoke is you never want billowing white clouds of smoke; you want a light, almost invisible steady stream of smoke. With a quality stream of smoke like this expect cook time to be about 3 – 4 hours.
- If you are unsure how you want your cheese to taste you should do a trial run. Cut the cheese into bite-size pieces, then begin to smoke it. Every 30 minutes or so take a bite. Continue this until you reach the right flavor for you. Keep in mind, the flavor you taste right off the grill will be milder than what it will be once you let the cheese sit in the fridge for a few weeks.
- Smoked cheese make great gifts, anytime of the year, for almost any occasion (may not be the best anniversary gift).
- Many smokers like to over smoke the cheese then let it age in the refrigerator for a few weeks before eating it. If you take this course, be sure to vacuum seal the cheese before eating it. If you can’t, then wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and then place it in a ziplock bag. The less air the better the cheese will be.
- If you have refrigerated the smoked cheese in a vacuum seal to enjoy later, let it come to room temperature before opening it. As it warms up the molecules relax and the flavor deepens.