Propane vs. Electric Smokers: Which One Is Better?


Propane vs Electric Smoker

If working with charcoal doesn’t appeal to you, chances are you’ll be deciding whether to go with a smoker that’s powered by propane or electricity. However, the one that you choose will depend on the features you prefer and the conveniences that appeal to you. This is why you need to compare the two types of smokers.

Electric smokers are great if you’re looking for a set and forget option, as well as having the chance to cold smoke your foods. However, it’s harder for an electric smoker to get that flavor released from your wood chips as the heat isn’t as high as propane. Propane smokers are easy to use, even without a power supply. But, they are notorious for poor insulation, and some housing situations don’t allow propane smokers. 

In this guide, we will provide you with the pros and cons of each type of smoker. Additionally, we’ll share the relevant information you need in order to choose whether you should buy an electric smoker or a propane-fueled smoker.

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Propane vs. Electric Smoker

Simple to operate electric smokers provide accurate temperature control. Unless power failures are common in your area, they’re also extremely reliable. Of course, you’ll need a convenient power source to connect to, which can limit the possibilities in terms of where you locate yours. Electric smokers are perfect for cold smoking, although as they work at lower temperatures than gas, there is some loss of versatility in terms of the range of foods they can cook well.

On the other hand, propane smokers have the advantage of operating at higher temperatures. They are also much more portable. However, they do need to be monitored as the temperature can fluctuate, so you have to stay close by and check it frequently. Specific models, such as the cheaper ones, are not well insulated, so they don’t work well in some weather conditions. Learn about all the different types of smokers so you can differentiate between each one and their pros and cons.

An Overview Of Propane Smokers

Most people use propane tanks to power their smoker rather than natural gas. This is because high temperatures can be achieved in a short time. There’ll be a gas burner on the base, with a shelf above for wood chips, which helps to add a smokey flavor.

Gas smokers resemble charcoal smokers in the way they cook the food and the results which can be achieved. Propane smokers are typically used by barbecue restaurants, although some people claim that the flavor is never as good as when charcoal is used.

Advantages Of Propane Smokers

  • No power supply is needed. You can use a gas smoker anywhere. You don’t need to worry about a power supply. This means you can smoke your food while camping or traveling.
  • Beginner friendly. They’re easy to use, and repairs are simple, making it an excellent choice for beginners.
  • Cost-effective. Good quality propane smokers are typically less expensive than an electric equivalent.
  • Great taste. Results are closer to those of a traditional charcoal smoker than you’ll achieve with an electric smoker.

Disadvantages Of Propane Smokers

  • Constant monitoring or babysitting. Certain models (typically the lower end) need continuous temperature monitoring.
  • Poor insulation. Gas smokers tend not to be well-insulated. Ambient weather conditions will impact the cooking time.
  • Limited features. Propane smokers are low tech. You won’t get features such as Bluetooth, which can be found on electric smokers.
  • Propane smokers are banned in certain neighborhoods or apartment complexes. Many housing complexes don’t permit gas smokers.

An Overview Of Electric Smokers

Electric smokers have vents that regulate their temperature. Some time is required for the heating elements to reach the desired temperature so you can begin cooking. They work like an oven that cooks slowly and at low heat. It’s possible to add wood chips to allow that delicious smoky taste to develop.

Advantages Of Electric Smokers

  • Easy temperature control. It’s effortless to control the temperature at the touch of a dial, especially on higher-end models. Specific economy-priced models might only provide low, medium, and high settings. Once the temperature has been set, the smoker can be left to do its job.
  • Safe option. Electric smokers are considered the safer option, as there are no concerns about combustible gasses. If you live in an apartment block, charcoal and gas smokers may not be allowed due to this concern.
  • Multi-use functions. They are adaptable to smoking more delicate foods such as fish. They can also dehydrate foods, for example, jerky, due to the lower temperature.
  • Beginner friendly. If you’re new to smoking foods, an electric smoker is a great choice.

Disadvantages Of Electric Smokers

  • Poor ability to produce high heat. An electric smoker will never produce the same high temperatures as a propane model.
  • Depends on a constant power supply. You’ll also need a reliable power supply, so unless you have a generator, taking your electric smoker on a camping trip won’t be an option.
  • It’ll be hard to get a smoke ring. Although you can smoke wood to add depth and flavor, it won’t become hot enough to release the chemicals required to create a smoke ring.
  • Costly repairs. As they are somewhat more complicated, any repairs required may be more expensive.

Which Type Of Smoker Should You Choose?

If your interests lie with smoked cheeses or delicate fish dishes, an electric smoker will be most suited to your needs. However, if you’re looking to create dishes with a more ‘charcoal’ taste, a propane smoker is probably a better choice. There are certain factors you should consider before choosing the best type of smoker for your needs.

Cost

Gas smokers tend to be less expensive to buy. The lowest-priced models are within most price ranges, but do be careful about quality, as if your model isn’t reliable, it’s a false economy. However, there are also plenty of reasonably priced electric smokers on the market. But, if you want a full range of features such as Bluetooth, expect to pay a premium.

Ease Of Use

Electric smokers are a ‘switch on and leave’ option. Just set the temperature, and they can be safely left to do their work.  They’re ideal for novice smokers. Propane smokers are also easy to use, but they need to be monitored due to possible temperature changes. Some experience in smoking food will be useful and ensure you achieve your desired results, although it’s not necessary as each smoker has a learning curve.

Bad Weather Considerations

If you want to smoke foods all year round, the weather can be an essential consideration. How well will your smoker perform under adverse weather conditions?

With electric smokers, rain and electricity could be a lethal combination. Most smokers will withstand a light shower, but you’ll need to work inside in heavy storms – for example, in a garage with an open door. At the very least, you’d need a heavy, water-repellent tarp and to keep power sources well out of the way of the pouring or standing rainwater.

Gas smokers don’t need as many precautions, but as they are often not well-insulated, strong winds, rain, and the cold can have reduced the temperature in the smoker, and therefore have a detrimental effect on the quality of the food you’re preparing.

Reliability

As a rule, electric smokers tend to be well-made and durable and will work without problems over time. As long as you have a power source, it will be ready to provide you with a steady supply of delicious smoked food.

On the other hand, propane models, especially those at the lower end of the market, may be less reliable. However, when something goes wrong, they will be easier to repair and require no expensive spare parts.

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Our Takeaway

If you’re looking for a smoker that gives results similar to charcoal, opt for propane. It’s also quicker to use – be ready to monitor and adjust the temperature regularly. If you love the idea of slow cooking that allows flavors to develop fully and tend to cook more delicate foods, then an electric smoker is the right choice for you. It’s the most convenient option – just set the temperature, then go and do something else while your meat cooks.

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Heather Robbins

Heather is a passionate writer who loves anything DIY. Growing up, she learned everything from home repairs to design, and wants to share her tips with you. When she's not writing, she's usually hiking or searching for her next DIY project.

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