Take your BBQ to the next level with this essential bit of pellet grilling and cold smoking ware
If you want to infuse your pellet smoked meat with some added smoky flavor or want to start experimenting with cold smoking, the best place to start is with a smoke tube.
This essential BBQ tool might look simple, but it’s unparalleled in generating the exact amount of smoke we need for low and slow cooks or cold smoked cheese or fish.
The good news is that they couldn’t be easier to use. In this guide, we’ll show you exactly how to use your smoke tube for pellet grilling and cold smoking.
What is a Smoke Tube?
True to its name, a smoke tube is a metallic cylinder that holds wood pellets that steadily burn from one to the other to generate smoke. It’s a budget-friendly grill tool typically made from perforated stainless steel that allows a steady flow of smoke for several hours.
Smoke tubes are particularly useful for cold smoking cheese or fish, since they can generate a consistent flow of smoke without generating much heat. They are also useful for gas or pellet grill users, as they can add the kind of smoky barbecue flavor that can be lacking with these types of grills.
Once lit, your smoke tube simply sits on your grill’s grates, where it can burn for up to 4-5 hours, emitting a steady stream of clean wood smoke for your food. Easy.
When to Use a Smoke Tube
Don’t be fooled by the modest size of smoke tubes. These handy grill tools are one of the best investments you can make for your home barbecue cooking.
Traditionally a means of preserving meat and fish, cold smoking exposes food to low temperatures over the course of several hours (sometimes even days) in order to infuse it with smoke while also inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. In the case of most meats, this involves an initial stage of salt curing, but in the case of cheese this is very easy to do at home.
And while most grills or smokers aren’t capable of staying below the 90°F (32°C) temperature we need for cold smoking cheese or fish, smoke tubes are. Not only that, but they burn consistently for hours, making them perfect for maintaining the long smokes that fish in particular require.
As solid as pellet smokers are, they don’t always generate the amount of wood smoke we want for our low and slow cooking. While brands like Traeger have introduced features like ‘Super Smoke’ to address this issue, there’s often still something missing. Using a smoke tube while pellet smoking can help just add a little more oomph of smokiness to your smoked meat.
While gas grills offer convenience, they often lack the authentic smoky flavor of charcoal grills. Introducing a smoke tube can help bridge this gap, allowing gas grill users to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Short Grilling Sessions
Traditional smoking methods often require extended periods to impart a deep smoky flavor. However, with a smoke tube, even short grilling sessions can benefit from a burst of smoky goodness, perfect for quick-cooking items like steaks or fish fillets.
How to Use a Smoke Tube: A Step-by-Step Guide
What You Will Need
- Stainless steel smoke tube
- Wood pellets
- Butane torch or heat gun
- Heat-resistant gloves
- After ensuring the smoke tube is clean and free of ash, fill the tube with wood pellets. Let them fill in naturally without packing them in too tightly (we need airflow to help keep smoke consistent)
- Use heat-proof gloves and tongs to hold the smoke tube at a slight angle. Then, light your butane or heat gun and aim it towards the open end of the tube. Keep it focused on just one spot until an even flow of smoke starts to emit from the tube. With a heat gun, this should only take 20-30 seconds. With a butane torch, this might take 2-3 minutes.
- Once the tube is smoking, carefully set it closed-side-down on your grill or smoker’s grates. Let the flames burn out for the pellets to smolder and start smoking. Be patient: This can take as long as 10 minutes.
- Once the tube is producing a consistent level of smoke, carefully place it in your grill or smoker chamber, side-down. For best results, try to position it below your food and away from direct contact with your heat source.
- Check on the smoke tube’s smoke output every 30-45 minutes. If the smoke has waned, you may need to reignite it.
- Once you have finished smoking, your tube may still be smoking. DO NOT pour water on it – this will soak any remaining wood pellets and make them very difficult to remove (trust me, I’ve been there). The sudden fluctuation in temperature could also warp the metal of the tube.
- To extinguish the tube, keep it in your charcoal grill or smoker and let it burn out. If possible, close your grill’s vents completely to starve the pellets of oxygen.
- Once the tube has stopped smoking, leave it to cool completely before handling it with gloves. Empty it of any remaining ash and unburned pellets. Use a small brush to remove any residue or ash. This will help stop the holes from blocking, keeping airflow strong for future use.
- Store your wood pellets in an airtight container or seal the bag with food clips to keep out moisture
- Try to position the smoke tube where the airflow is best. Often this is between where the air flows from the intake vent to the exhaust vent.
- After each use, give your pellet tube a quick sweep and wipe to clean out any leftover ash and residue. This will help keep it working between uses.
- Use high-quality pellets to ensure consistent, flavorful smoke
Pros and Cons of Using a Smoke Tube
The benefit of using good quality pellets in a smoke tube is that, like pellet smoker, they provide cleaner smoke than lumpwood charcoal or briquettes. This makes them particularly great for smoking more ‘delicate’ foods, like fish and cheese, where we don’t want their flavor to be overpowered.
Of course, the extent to which the smoke tube makes a difference with hot smoked food is subjective as it all comes down to flavor. In my experience, meats like beef or pork ribs benefit from a darker hue when smoked with a smoke tube; however, this can mean that their flavor starts to verge on being bitter. It’s a balancing act and can only be perfected with a bit of practical experience.
These are the other advantages and disadvantages of using a smoke tube:
- Perfect for Cold Smoking: Using just a smoke tube for cold smoking cheese or fish is ideal because it offers the perfect level of smoke without too much heat.
- Consistent Smoke Generation: Wood pellets are particularly adept at smoking at a low temperature for an extended period of time. That, matched with the long design of the tube, means that smoke tubes are great at smoking at low temperatures over a long time.
- Versatility: While best used for cold smoking, smoke tubes can also be used in almost any type of outdoor cooker. They can enhance the flavor of your meat in your pellet grill and help you smoke in a gas grill.
- Learning Curve: Smoke tubes can be deceptively difficult to light; matches won’t cut it and even using a butane torch might test your patience (which is why I use a heat gun). Keeping on top of temperature control and airflow can also take a bit of trial and error.
- Temperature Control: With no direct way to adjust temperature on these, you will need to learn how to use your grill or smoker’s vents to maintain the temperatures you need for hot or cold smoking.
The Final Word
Using a smoke tube is a must for making your own cold smoked cheese or fish at home, and also one of the best ways to add more smoky flavor to your pellet smoked meat.
Have you used a smoke tube before? What are your tips and advice for getting the most out of this BBQ tool? Let us know in the comments!