Propane vs. Electric Smokers
Updated 12-06-2021 – Dan Alvazrez
Suppose you’re comparing propane vs. electric smokers. In that case, odds are you’re the type who values the convenience and ease of use factor. These machines are excellent kinds of smokers that don’t need you to directly manage a flame. They, therefore, are straightforward to use and user-friendly.
While electric and propane smokers have some similarities, they have their fair share of differences too. Each smoker has its own set of benefits and downsides, and our job is to help you figure them out. Most importantly, we’ll help you decide if an electric or a propane smoker is better for you.
In this article, we’ve compiled a complete round-up of the propane vs. electric smokers’ debate. We’ll go over each of their pros and cons, and you’ll finally have an idea of which is the ideal choice for you.
Propane vs. Electric Smokers – An Outline
Unlike other types of smokers out there, propane and electric smokers share the most in common. Aesthetically, they even look pretty much the same. So, it makes sense how some might think they’re the same.
Both smokers have a vertical design, with several racks stacked on top of each other where you can cook your food. So, each of these smokers can cook a generous amount of food at once while saving space.
As a bonus, both of these smoker types are very budget-friendly. Other offset gadgets, kamado grills, and other smoker models can cost you around $500 to $1,000. With electric and propane smokers, you can expect to only pay around $200, give or take, for a quality cooker. Even though they have some similarities, these are, in actuality, two very unique smoker types.
Electric smokers are easy to use, using electricity to generate heat through a heating element similar to those present in ovens. By default, electric smokers can’t get too hot, which isn’t necessarily bad since most smoked cooking is done between 200 and 275°F. This means that electric smokers are great if you are interested in cold smoking as well.
As electric smokers can’t operate without an electrical connection, they aren’t portable. Also, they aren’t ideal for use in the rain.
On the other hand, propane smokers are much more portable and easier to take on the go. You can also get away using them in a tiny bit of adverse weather. They cook food by burning propane and producing a flame through burners present inside the smokers.
Propane smokers can reach higher temperatures than electric smokers, which is a drawback for smoked cooking. It can be pretty valuable to crisp up the skin of, let’s say, a chicken when you’re smoking it. Still, you have to ensure that you don’t set the temp dial on high with a propane smoker. With regards to this situation, they need some more monitoring, unlike the electric ones.
Typical propane smokers are to a regular 20-pound gas tank for fuel. Some smokers are designed so they can be hooked up to your house gas line, but they’re not as expected or generally available.
Through designing, portable gas tanks have a knob at the top that allows you to open and close the gas flow out of your tank. This feature comes in handy for a smoker and allows you to control precisely the amount of fuel you need. Thanks to this, you can get the cooking compartment up to the ideal temperature you need, really fast – provided the tank connection is entirely open.
Naturally, a propane smoker will come with burners below the cooker. Above the cooker, you’ll also see a tray where you add wood chips to flavor the food. The burners will smolder the wood chips, causing smoke to rise throughout the smoker for a nice smokey flavor in the food.
A lot of premium propane smoker models will also come with a water bowl. So, they can be refilled with water before and during your cook to help maintain a moist environment while your food cooks.
Pros of Propane Smokers
- They are portable. They’re probably the most portable kind of smokers out there. They can move with you on the go-to for setup anywhere along with the gas tank. You could have a party on your patio or in your backyard very quickly. They’re the perfect solution for cooking while tailgating or camping.
- Long-term costs are relatively low. Gas tank refills are pretty cheap, and propane is readily available. So, your long-term costs and the work involved with running a smoker are pretty low.
- They are very cheap. Speaking of cheap, if you’re on a budget, you aren’t going to find a more entry-level price tag. And although the average cost is towards the lower end, the food quality still stays on par with other more expensive smoker types.
- They have a simple design. Propane smokers work with very few mobile parts. This means that they’re straightforward to use and also will typically last a long time.
- They give a better taste. Compared to electric smokers, propane smokers are capable of making slightly tastier food with a deeper flavor. This point is definitely up for debate. However, according to master chefs and experienced pitmasters, the propane smoker offers results closer to what a traditional offset smoker creates.
Cons of Propane Smokers
- They can get too hot. Some gas smokers tend to run very hotly, especially if you get a knock-off version made by an off-brand.
- Tank refills can be time-consuming. Refilling your gas tank can be a problem if you use a smoker frequently. Running out of gas while cooking can be a hassle.
- They have poor insulation. Gas smokers tend to come with poor insulation, so they can be hard to use in chilly or windy weather.
- They come without high-tech features. The design here is pretty bare bones. So, you won’t find any high-tech specifications like those in an electric smoker (like Bluetooth or intelligent apps to control the cooker).
The name says it all, electric smokers use electricity to slowly cook your food at a lower temperature. An electric connection provides power to a heating element that heats up and increases the temperature in the cooker chamber.
The element itself is just like the tube-like heating elements that home’s oven features. Like a traditional oven, these heating elements require a little bit of time for preheating. Your electric smoker will take a little longer than a gas smoker to get to the ideal temp.
With that being said, an electric smoker works in many ways that a traditional oven does. The difference is that all-electric smokers have a door or a tray to put wood chips in so you can smoke your food. This is how you’re able to get that delightful, conventional smokey flavor that well all love to have.
Also, many of the premium electric smokers come with a kind of water pan. The water pan’s job is to keep the cooking climate moist and ensure that ideal moisture levels are kept for the food.
Pros of Electric Smokers
- The ease of use is incredibly high. Electric smokers are probably the most accessible type of smoker to use. They’re the type of smokers you can set and then forget about. You can set the temp, put in your food, and walk away to have a drink or watch some football while the food cooks.
- They offer reasonable temperature control. Precision temp control is available on most medium and high-end models. You can set the precise temperature without worrying about your unit overheating.
- They are cost-friendly. In the propane vs. electric smokers’ debate, electric models tend to reach a higher price point. However, compared to most smoker types, they are still very cheap.
- They are safe to use. Electric smokers are pretty safe, and some are even approved for use in apartment spaces. Since you aren’t working with any combustible fuel or extensive amounts of smoke, these smokers are just as safe as s regular outdoor cooker can be.
- They’re great for cold smoking. Electric smokers are ideal for cold smoking. Why? Because the temperature settings are reliable and can maintain at low temperatures. This is mainly for cold smoking cheese, where it’s vital to keep the cooking chamber at a low temperature.
- They have intelligent features. Some electric smokers come with Bluetooth and smartphone apps to connect with them. So, you’ll be able to keep a close eye on the cook and set temps from the comfort of your phone.
Cons of Electric Smokers
- They rely on electricity. Why is this a bad thing? Well, this means it quickly becomes inconvenient to use it in an on-the-go mode. You’ll either need to get a long extension cord or a portable power source to make it work.
- The smoke flavor isn’t as strong. You won’t be able to enjoy the same smokey flavor as that of other types of smokers. This doesn’t mean that you won’t get delicious food with an electric smoker since the food still comes out tasting great. The smoker just won’t be hot enough to get the full taste of your wood chips in your food.
- They’re easily damaged. Since electric components and other such features are involved, electric smokers are more prone to breaking. And in case they do, they’re a huge pain to fix.
- They’re incompatible with adverse weather. Thanks to electrical parts, these smokers are nearly impossible to use during rainy or wet weather of any kind. And sadly, using an electric smoker in your garage is not a feasible alternative.
What to Consider Before Getting Any Smoker
Here’s the thing, when it comes to what’s best, it all depends on your likings. For some, a propane smoker may be the ideal fit. For others, an electric model may be the better option in the propane vs. electric smokers’ debate.
No one can make the final decision for you. However, here are some of the top factors you should consider helping you make the right choice for you in the propane vs. electric smokers’ debate.
Taste: Taste is a topic that’s a bit more subjective. Still, the consensus is that there is a vast difference between the flavor of the food cooked in an electric and a propane smoker. That doesn’t mean that one flavor trumps the other, but it’s something to consider.
Electric smokers will give food a milder flavor, especially in terms of smokiness. Due to the design of their heating elements, they just naturally don’t give the same degree of smokiness as other smokers do.
On the other hand, propane smokers will achieve a little higher level of smokiness and a more conventional smokey flavor. They won’t produce the same degree of smokiness as traditional charcoal and wood smoker. Still, the smokey taste is more pronounced in gas smokers than electric ones.
Price: Noticeably, price plays a significant part in the decision-making process. Typically, propane smokers are a bit cheaper than their electric counterparts. But, the ongoing fuel costs for a gas tank are more than those of an electric one.
It costs around $15 to $20 for a 20-pound gas tank refill in this day and age. You can get around 30 to 35 hours of smoking done on a full tank of gas. The cost of running an electric smoker compared to running out a full gas tank is much cheaper. This is a feature to remember if you plan on utilizing your smoker several times each week.
Ease of Use: Both propane and electric cookers are easier to use compared to other models. From my experience, I’d say that an electric smoker is more manageable than propane smokers use.
The reason has to do primarily with temp control. Somehow, propane smokers tend to fluctuate in temperature from time to time, primarily in windy weather. That’s why they need a little more monitoring while you’re cooking.
Weather: Speaking of weather, you need to think about the weather and conditions you live in. In areas where light showers are a regular occurrence, electric smokers may not be the best idea. That’s because the combo of dampness and electricity can be dangerous.
Propane smokers can handle adverse a bit better in comparison. That doesn’t mean you can or should cook with them during a downpour, but light rain won’t ruin your smoking process. Of course, you can just get a BBQ canopy to avoid weather issues altogether. Instead of dealing with rain, your setup will be ready to handle the weather anytime.
Cleaning: Apart from a few minor differences, cleaning an electric and a propane smoker is a pretty similar process. Unlike charcoal smokers, these two are some of the most accessible cookers when it comes to cleaning.
Even so, I think that propane smokers can be a bit more challenging to clean than electric ones. Explicitly, foods cooked in propane models will tend to drip more oil and fat, which drip down to the pan. I don’t know if that’s because of the heating elements or not, but that’s just what I’ve noticed.
Brand: Unfortunately, there are a lot of knock-offs out on the market these days. Here is a shortlist of some of the most dependable brands for both propane and electric smokers. It may not be a comprehensive list, but I’ve listed few names to get you started!
Some of our top picks for electric smoker brands are Masterbuilt, Dyna-Glo, Char-Broil, and Cuisinart. These brands have been pioneers for a few years now. They have an excellent reputation for manufacturing quality products and offering good customer service.
Our favorite propane smoker brands include, Masterbuilt, Pit Boss, Camp Chef Cuisinart, and Dyna-Glo on the propane smoker side. Similarly, each of these brands has a solid reputation in the outdoor cooking space and makes high-quality propane smokers.
So, Who Wins?
You should know, it’s hard to choose a winner here. It’s not about which is a better choice – you have to pick the one according to your own needs.
For example, the lower tier of electric smokers is appreciated by people interested in cold smoking. Powerful gas smokers probably aren’t suitable for a job like this that needs some delicacy.
Besides that, gas smokers are suited for cooks who might want to turn up the heat occasionally for a roast. If you like to, you can utilize it for grilling and even searing your food.
Ultimately, it comes down to your partialities, needs, and which types of food you plan to cook – and for how many people.
Whether you choose between propane vs. electric smokers, you’re still ending up with some delicious smoked food. The only thing left to do is decide which meat types you’re going to cook!
In the end, both of these smoker models are pretty useful. Each one is having its strengths and weaknesses in different cooking situations.
Which type of smoker are you going to choose? I’d like to see your opinions in the comment section down below!
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