Pellet tubes have started to take off in popularity over the last couple of years. They come in a variety of shapes and styles. The basic concept behind them is that they are a metal container (ideally stainless steel) with openings throughout. You load them with pellets, and some can take wood chips, light one end, and the tube burns through the pellets to create heavy smoke.
The primary purpose of these is to be able add smoke flavor to foods that you normally would not have the ability to do this with. Examples being if you have a gas grill, smoke box, or electric smoker and you want more smoke flavor in the foods than what you could get through standard cooking methods. They are also great for cold smoking applications because the heat from the pellets is minimal because they are just smoldering versus being a heat source so you can use it for cheeses, fish, and other items you want to smoke but not cook. You want to look for a product made with 304 stainless steel to withstand the constant smoke and heat.
If you purchase one, you would also need to buy wood pellets to fill the tube and provides the smoke. Be careful here, because you must buy food grade wood pellets NOT the type for heating! Many brands sell wood pellets such as Pit Boss, Camp Chef, Bear Mountain, Lumberjack, Kingsford, and Traeger. Look for ones that say hardwood pellets, and that only have wood as the ingredient, no binders. From there, pick a flavor you like or keep it neutral by getting a blend like competition blend.
If you are looking to buy a tube to create the signature smoke ring on your BBQ, you may be disappointed. Smoke rings are developed by chemical reaction from a burning flame and the surface of the food. Since a tube is just smouldering, it may not be enough to get you want you want, but may be enough if your current grilling method is almost there and you need that extra push of smoke to help get it to develop more.
Tube Style: Small form factor fits in just about any application, provides 5-6 hours of smoke, cheaper
Box Style: Larger size requires more grill space wherever you are going to use it, provides up to 12 hours of smoke, uses the minion method to burn through the pellets slowly
Tube Style Pellet Tube
Box Style Pellet Smoker
A-MAZE-N is the most popular brand on the market now and is available in most stores. The one I tested in particular is NEARPOW, which is made of 304 stainless steel and significantly cheaper than the bigger brands.
The hardest part of dealing with a pellet tube is getting them lit. There are several methods to doing it such as using an electric starter, propane torch, or traditional methods that you would use to light charcoal like tinder or wax cubes (DO NOT USE LIGHTER FLUID!). You basically lay the tube on a flat surface, light one end, once its burning a hot fire, let it burn for about 10 minutes. Then blow out the fire so its smouldering, then place it where you are going to use it WITH GLOVES. The unit will be hot at this point so be careful not to touch the tube.
As you can see, they get dirty pretty quickly. Thankfully this one from NEARPOW comes with a tube brush that fits perfectly in the tube to clean the inside. You would need some bar keepers friend or steel wool to polish the outside if you want to keep it shiny.
I tested this in my Masterbuilt Electric Smoker. The smoker produces great results because it is easy to use, and is essentially an outdoor oven. The problem with electric smokers is that they gently smoulder wood chips and the biggest complaint of users is that there is not enough smoke flavor; that's where the pellet tube comes in! I was able to see a major difference in smoke production once I added this to the smoker. One thing to be mindful of, is that it needs plenty of oxygen to keep the pellets smoking so with an electric, you have to open the wood tray feed to allow more air in otherwise the pellets may stop burning.
I also usted them in my gas grill to help produce a smoky flavor to chicken and steak. Since those cook fast, a nice cloud of smoke from the tube helps impart flavor in the short minutes they are on the grill, and produce more smoke than a chip tray used for gas grills.
The Verdict: Pellet Tubes get a Thumbs Up!