How to use smoking wood chips and pellets without a smoker

By Ben Loseke

April 14th, 2023

You can use a smoke tube like this one, or a smoke box, to smoke meat on just about any grill!
You can use a smoke tube like this one, or a smoke box, to smoke meat on just about any grill!

No smoker? No problem!

Did you know that you can use smoking wood without any sort of electric, gas or charcoal smoker? You can even use pellets to smoke meats and other mouthwatering, perfectly cooked foods without a pellet grill or pellet smoker.

How? With a simple, easy-to-use smoke tube, also known as a smoker tube or smoking tube! There are also smoke boxes that essentially function the same way.

Both of these handy gadgets unlock a whole world of smoking and excellent BBQ without the need to invest in a full smoker or pellet grill. All you need is your favorite BBQ recipe, a smoke tube or box and either our 100% authentic Bourbon Barrel Smoking Pellets or Bourbon Barrel BBQ Smoking Wood Chips, both made from genuine American white oak barrels that aged premium bourbon.

What is a smoke tube?

As already mentioned, smoke tubes go by several different names. You might see them advertised as smoker tubes, smoking tubes or even tube smokers, but it’s all the same.

Essentially, a smoke tube is a stainless steel accessory often in a square or hexagonal shape (but sometimes not) so that it can lay flat directly on a grill grate next to the meat or other foods that you are smoking. These tubes are often billed as a way to add smoke and smoky flavor to any grill – charcoal, gas and electric. They’re also often used as a way to provide even more smoke to pellet grills.

Smoke tubes work because the surface is covered in many little holes that allow the pellets or chips inside to breath and burn, as well as allow the smoke to escape and infuse with what you have cooking on the grill.

Advantages of using a smoke tube

  • Can use both chips and pellets
  • Cost only $12 to $20 compared to hundreds or $1,000s for a smoker or pellet grill
  • Provide great smoky flavor for 5+ hours
  • Can save money by not using as many pellets or chips

Disadvantages of using a smoke tube

  • Need a torch or heat gun to light properly and easily
  • Can handle moderate smoking lengths, but not longer than 5+ hours

Where to find smoke tubes

Before you can get started, though, you have to find a good smoking tube. Luckily for you, they are available at many online retailers that sell barbecue equipment and accessories. You can also pick one up at popular stores that carry BBQ equipment.

Again, you may want to invest in a small propane or butane torch or even a heat gun. These can often be found at similar stores. Once you have picked up the tube and maybe an additional tool to help you light it up, it’s time to start smoking!

What is a smoke box?

A smoke box is another popular option for smoking meats on traditional grills.
A smoke box is another popular option for smoking meats on traditional grills.

A smoke box, or smoker box, is similar to a smoke tube in that it’s normally made out of stainless steel and is used to hold chips, sometimes pellets, while smoking meat on a traditional grill.

Smoke boxes differ from tubes, though, because you do not light the contents. Instead, you fill the box with chips or pellets and then place it over the grill’s heat source, usually in the hottest spot. After heating up sufficiently, they will begin to smoke.

However, wood chips in a smoker box will only last 30 minutes to an hour before you will need to replace them.

Advantages of using a smoke box

  • Often cheaper even than smoke tube, but can go for more than $30, depending on brand
  • Can use both chips and pellets
  • No need for additional tools to light, unlike a smoke tube
  • Perfect for shorter smoking times

Disadvantages of using a smoke box

  • Chips will burn up faster and will need to be replaced after 30 to 60 minutes.
  • Can sometimes be more expensive than a tube

Where to find smoke boxes

As with smoke tubes, you can find smoke boxes online or at any store that specializes in BBQ or carries related products. They are common and come in many different sizes or brands.

It may be best to check your grill manufacture to see if a specific type of smoke box is preferred or recommended.

How to use a smoke tube or smoke box with pellets or chips

Smok tube sitting on a barrel next to a grill

Now, onto the real reason why you’re probably reading this: How to smoke delicious, mouthwatering meats and other smoked foods with a smoking tube or box.

But first, an extra tip: While many sources out there say you absolutely should soak wood chips before placing them in a tube or box, it’s not always necessary. Soaking will delay smoke release, so it’s sometimes advised for longer cooks, such as ribs, when you’re looking to conserve chips or wait for the grill temp to set and become stable. Still, it’s not 100% necessary.

How to smoke with a tube

First, you need to choose whether you are going to use pellets or chips. Some pellet grill and pellet smoker owners go with more pellets in a tube on the grates just to boost the flavor, but chips work here, too. Either way, be careful not to overstuff the tube, as you will need some airflow.

Next, you need to light the smoke tube. Set it up vertically and fill to just about an inch from the top. Then, take a torch or heat gun and burn until the pellets are burning and you can see embers.

Once you’ve reached the point where you can see glowing embers, set the tube horizontally on the grill. Wait about five minutes and then blow it out and let the smoke do its thing as you keep your grill at temperature.

Again, most tubes will provide up to 5 hours of smoke.

How to smoke with a box

Smoke boxes are a little more straightforward in how they work. Once you have chosen your type of barrel smoking wood chips, fill the box based on the manufacturer’s recommendations and get the grill started. Place the box directly over the heat source.

Once the grill gets up to temperature, you should begin to see smoke. Some smoke boxes can be adjusted to release different amounts of smoke, so experiment depending on how much flavor you want and how slowly you want the chips or pellets to burn.

From this point, though, keep your grill at a steady temperature and cook following recipe directions. Check on the smoke levels from time to time to see if you need to add more chips or pellets. Chips will burn faster than pellets.

Order today & start smoking

Now that you’ve got all the information and tips you need to smoke BBQ without a smoker or pellet grill, it’s time to go and pick up a smoke tube or box and fire up the grill!

Don’t forget to order some of our 100% authentic Bourbon Barrel Smoking Pellets or one of our barrel smoking wood chip flavors – all chipped from fresh, American oak barrels.

Ben Loseke headshot


Ben Loseke

Ph.D., and Founder of Midwest Barrel Co. Barrel expert. Plant doctor. American picker. Only known allergies: spicy food and meetings.

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