Choosing the right smoker for you sometimes can be difficult. People have been using gas/propane and electric smokers for many years. These cooking methods have many similarities, but they also have one major difference – the process of generating heat.
So, which one should you use?
Preparing food with electric or propane smoker will offer great texture and flavor to the meal being prepared. Because of their technological developments, these forms of cooking have become widely accepted. While electric smoker uses electricity, the propane one uses charcoal or wood.
The key to successful smoking is maintaining the adequate temperature. In this article, we will explain these popular types of smokers, their benefits, features, pros, and cons.
Want to know which one is our favorite?
Keep reading to find out.
Click to jump straight to each topic
Features of an electric smoker:
Smoked food is one of the best ways to bring out that rich flavor of different types of meat such as ribs and brisket. People love that tender, moist result that comes from this cooking method. With the right electric smoker, you will enjoy your meals with comfort and ease.
You just need to follow the instructions and learn to use its components such as programmable timers, heating elements, and thermostats. Also, unlike the propane smoker makes use of fuel gas, the electric one uses electricity. Some versions of it allow for smoking in your kitchen.
The downside to these appliances is that you cannot use them in a place where electricity is not available.
Benefits of an electric smoker:
Space: These units are spacious enough to cook meat for a large group of people. Their chambers sizes are between 530 to 730 square inches.
Chrome-coated racks: Some electric smokers are divided into 3-4 compartments with the chrome-coated racks. You can easily remove them to clean the unit or to cook the larger piece of meat.
Ease of use: With their technological developments, they are getting easier to use. Many of them come with the wireless connectivity to apps or remote controls. Don’t be scared to try out this new technology.
Lightweight: These modern units are light which will give you the ease of mobility. The inner walls are made from lightweight materials. Also, they have frictionless making it easy for you to relocate them.
Depending on the size of the electric smoker, their weight varies from 45 to 65 pounds.
Construction: The materials and design used in this smoker are durable. The walls of the chamber are built from stainless steel which is rust resistant and sturdy. Never compromise its quality just because you have to pay a few extra bucks.
Safe: As for the safety, we must say that electric smoker wins. The unit includes the temperature element that is placed within the body of this appliance. It has the safety modules which monitor the heat.
This way it prevents any accidents which may happen, making it safe for your family and you. Use it correctly, and you will avoid any risk to accidental burns or electric shock from smoke discharge.
One of the Best Electric Smoker with 4200+ customer reviews
Features of a propane smoker:
The propane or gas smoker is constructed to allow the smoking of heat in a controlled surrounding. The gas burner that is placed directly below a steered or iron box generates the heat. This chamber contains charcoal or wood which is responsible for providing the smoke.
Above the gas burner is a pan or a tray for the smoking chips, wood chunks or sawdust. Between it and the box is a liquid pan to keep the air moist during long cooks.
The few vent holes are placed at the top of the box. This cooking method requires a small amount of wood.
The downside to this units is that they do not perform well in the windy or cold weather conditions due to a lack of insulation. Some of them are not large enough to accommodate a large brisket or a full rack of ribs. It means that you will need to trim the meat to fit.
Also, you may need to switch the gas tanks during a long cook. Having one in reserve would be wise.
Benefits of a propane smoker:
Easy to use: The gas smoker is also very easy to use. With the instruction that goes with the unit, you will quickly learn how to handle it. Because they are not complicated, you will understand every procedure.
Portable: The fantastic benefit that this unit offer is the ability to be used anywhere you want. You can move and rearrange your outdoor space with ease. Or, if you are going on an outdoor adventure like camping, a gas smoker will be a great addition.
Cooking time: Unlike the electric smoker, this appliance doesn’t need to warm up before cooking. So, it will take less time to prepare your meal. You can adjust the heat at every moment with the temperature regulation mechanism.
TIP: Because of its possibility to get up to a higher temperature than most smokers would need, you could also use it as an oven.
Flexibility: You can choose between the single/dual door designs. It can get upwards 450 degrees, which makes it very flexible.
Don’t need electricity: These smokers can be used in places where there is no electricity. In some areas, where the power is interrupted due to some weather conditions, the gas smoker has a significant advantage.
- Both of these units share some similarities such as:
- Convenience and simplicity to set up the smoker to the right temperature and let it do the job for you. In other words: set-it and forget-it.
- They are constructed with the temperature controls and push button ignitions.
- If you compare it to some other smokers like charcoal or wood, they are faster and easier to use.
- Both propane and electric smoker are easy to clean and maintain after you finish using them.
As for the differences between these two appliances:
- Heat source – While one use propane the other one uses electricity.
- The electric one can smoke a large amount of food.
One of the Best Propane Smoker
It is hard to choose the winner between these two smokers because they are both great with the different feature, benefits, pros, and cons. The electric smoker can achieve low heat which is used for smoking salmon or dehydrating tomatoes. It is tough to reach this temperature, that is used to cure or smoke the proteins, on a propane one.
Also, the electric smoker is cheaper. They don’t require charcoal or wood to function, just plug them into electricity. You shouldn’t worry because they don’t consume a lot of power.
One thing is also worth mentioning – you don’t need to keep a stable temperature, flame or flow unlike on gas smokers. On the other hand, you can use a propane one wherever you want. They don’t need electricity to work.
So, choosing the right smoker for you depends on your personal preference. These are both very popular methods of cooking. But, you need to check all their disadvantages and advantages.
Propane vs Electric Smokers: The Big Differences That Will Matter to You
I am going to start with the assumption that you want to buy a decent piece of equipment like a Masterbuilt 40 digital electric or a solidly built propane smoker. If you are looking to buy a cheap piece of junk then you can stop reading now.
High Heat vs Low Heat
Without question, electric smokers are MUCH easier to use for low temperature smoking than propane smokers. Many electric smokers will top out around 275F and can run all day at 225F. Where an electric smoker really shines is when you want to run it at 160F for making beef jerky. Keeping a propane smoker steady at a temperature this low is TOUGH.
Propane smokers can be run in the 225-275F range pretty easily and can also be cranked up to the 350-400F range. Being able to run at high temperatures is a great feature if you want to improve the texture of your chicken skin or do a Hot and Fast brisket like Myron Mixon.
When it comes to reliability a propane smoker beats an electric any day of the week.
A propane smoker is a box containing a burner that is attached to a regulator. This is a simple mechanical setup and their just isn’t much to break. Most of the reliability issues I have seen with propane smokers is when the floors rust out.
In contrast, the heart of any decent electrical smoker is the electronic control panel. You also have the connections from the panel to the heating element and from the thermometer back to the panel. We are talking about maintaining an electronic system in a moist, greasy and hot environment. This is not a recipe for success. When the control panel, or any of the connections, fails then you are dead in the water.
Bad Weather Considerations
One of the things you need to think about when getting a smoker is what happens when it starts to rain.
You should never use an electric smoker in the rain. In addition to the obvious problems associated with mixing water and electricity you will also be exposing the control panel to more water. If the control panel is not completely sealed then you are running the risk of your electronics getting wet and having the smoker die an early death.
There are no safety concerns with using a propane smoker in rainy weather but there are performance issues. Most propane smokers are not as well insulated as a good electric smoker. A bunch of wind and rain can suck the heat out of a propane smoker and you will need to spend a lot of time babysitting and adjusting your fuel usage.
Something else that us folks down on the Gulf Coast have to keep in mind is that you can still use a propane smoker when the tropical storms knock the power out for several days.
Ease of Use
Hands down it is easier to use an electric smoker than a propane smoker.
When you are using an electric smoker you just need to punch the temperature into the controller and wait about 20 minutes while your cooker heats up. When you are working with a propane smoker you are going to be checking the temperature and adjusting your gas flow on a pretty regular basis.
You will not be tempted to fire up a propane smoker and then go run errands around town for a couple hours. You are going to stick around the house and keep an eye on things. Masterbuilt has a propane smoker with thermostat control but the reviews I have been reading indicate that the thermostat is buggy as heck and loves to keep shutting off the gas. It is a nice idea but give them a few years to get the bugs out.
Taste of Food
I think it is pretty well accepted that a propane smoker will get you a flavor profile closer to what you get with wood/charcoal than an electric smoker.
Propane smokers, when used properly, can get you a much better smoke ring than an electric and will also give you a better bark.
Cost of Running a Propane Smoker ($0.40/hr)
One gallon of propane contains 91,333 BTUs.
A gallon of propane weighs about 4.2 pounds.
This means a standard 20 pound propane tank contains about 4.8 gallons of fuel with a total heat content of 434,919 BTUs.
The Masterbuilt 44 propane smoker has two burners that are each rated at 8,250 BTUs per hour.
So, if you fired up this smoker at full blast on both burners you will empty your propane tank in about 26 hours.
Of course you aren’t going to run this guy with both burners on full blast. More than likely you will be going Low and Slow with the burners at about 50%. This means you could run your smoker for about 52 hours on a single propane tank.
This gets us into a ballpark estimate that you could expect to do five cooks at ten hours each before you would need to fill up the tank.
Note: This assumes that the propane tank was completely filled. Many tank re-fillers will only fill to 80% capacity.
If it costs you $20 to get your 20 pound propane tank filled then this means each 10 hour cook will cost you about $4 in propane consumption.
Cost of Running an Electric Smoker ($0.06/hr)
If you are running something like the Masterbuilt 40 inch digital electric that has a 1,200 watt heating element then the math works out like this:
- Watt Rating For Unit = 1,200 Watts
- Hours of Cook = 10
- Electric Rate = $.10/KWh(Kilowatt Hour) Estimated Rate
- 1,200 Watts x 10 Hours a day/1000 = 12 KWh
- 12KWh x $.10(Kwh Rate) = $1.20 for a 10 Hour Cook
The value of $1.20 for a 10 hour cook is too high because the heating element will not be drawing the full 1,200 watts for all ten hours. Lets make a safe assumption and cut this value in half. At this level it will cost you $0.60 for 10 hours.
- If you get a propane smoker then you will need two propane tanks. It sucks to run out if fuel mid cook.
- A lot of folks have to use an extension cord for their electric smokers. You need to factor in the cost of a heavy duty extension cord and remember that having cords run all over your deck can look ugly.
- I like playing with fire more than plugging in a device.
In this article, we have covered most of the bases, but the decision comes down to what is better for you and more convenient to your cooking style. If you are a busy person, then you need to reconsider buying an electric smoker. This way you can place your food in it and let the smoker do the job for you.
On the other hand, if you love to cook and prefer having something to tend to, then you need a propane route.
I hope my ramblings helped you out. Good luck on your smoking journey!