Jayden Lawson
Published by Jayden Lawson
Last Updated On: July 26, 2021

If you’re new to the smoking world, then you’re probably facing the age-old question:

What kind of smoker should I get?

If you’ve stumbled across this article, that means you’ve managed to narrow it down to either an electric or propane smoker. However, deciding between electric and propane smokers may not be as crystal cut as you’d think.

During my barbecue and smoking years, I’ve tried both electric and propane smokers. Using my personal experience and knowledge, I’ve gone ahead and put together a guide of everything you need to know about these smokers.

Propane VS Electric Smoker: The Overview

Three different kinds of smokers

First, when you take a look at all of the models out there, propane and electric are two that are the most similar. They’re also rather common in appearance. Due to this, many people believe that they are both the same.

Due to their vertical design, both smokers come equipped with multiple racks in which you can cook your food.

This means the electric and propane smoker can hold a good amount of meat in their cooking space, while still producing a relatively small carbon footprint.

When it comes to the price, both smokers are rather cost-effective. You can expect to pay around the $200 range for a quality smoker. Unlike a charcoal smoker or other common smoker types that will take you around $700 out of pocket.

However, despite the few similarities, propane and electric smokers have their difference.

Propane smokers are great to take on the go since they are very portable. Compared to an electric smoker, a propane smoker is capable of reaching higher temperatures. However, this isn’t always a good thing when it comes to smoking.

If you're cooking up some crispy chicken then great. If not, you may have to keep a close eye on the way your food cooks and regulate the temperature of your smoker accordingly. A propane model will also give you a much better smoke ring than an electric one.

The propane model type is also good if you need to use it in slightly adverse weather. Instead of electricity, it uses a propane tank to ignite the gas grill and cook the food.

Unlike propane smokers, electric smokers aren’t very portable. Since an electric smoker always has to be plugged into an electrical outlet, they aren’t great for using in the rain or damp weather. This can provoke safety concerns.

That being said, electric smokers are super easy to use and setup. Similar to your oven, an electric model heats your food using the heating element. Due to this, electric smokers don’t run very hot. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, since most smoking is done between 200 - 275 F heat. Therefore, electric smokers are great for cold smoking.

Electric Smokers

An electric smoker with an open door

Electric smokers use a low temperature to slow cook your food, utilizing the heating element much like your oven. The heating element then warms up your smoker, blowing hot air through the cooking chamber.

Once your electric model is plugged in, the heating element will take some time to get warmed up. Unlike gas smokers, you may have to wait around until your electric smoker is ready for cooking.

Generally, you should think of an electric smoker like one big, traditional oven.

However, unlike the one at your home, an electric model features a tray where you can place wood chips for smoking. This allows you to infuse that smokey, delicious flavor into your food.

Many of the high-end electric smokers feature a water pan as well as a wood chip tray. This water pan helps your meat retain the correct moisture levels and maintain the cooking environment.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Easy to use - Compared to other smokers on the market, electric smokers are generally the easiest type of smoker to use, especially one with a digital thermostat and control panel. Once you fire your smoker up, you can go ahead with your day while you let your meat cook.
  • Budget-friendly - Electric smokers are usually slightly more expensive than propane smokers, however, compared to a charcoal smoker or other types of smokers, they are rather cheap.
  • Safe - Electric smokers are super safe to use since you aren’t using any propane tanks or flammable gasses. Therefore, this smoker is great for a beginner since there isn’t much risk.
  • Reliable temperature control - The temperature control on electric smokers are super precise, meaning you can heat your temperature without it overheating. Electric smokers are also great for cold smoking since they can maintain low temperatures.
Cons
  • Limited portability - Since these smokers run on electricity, they always have to be plugged into an outlet. If you’re firing up the grill outside, you may struggle to find an electrical connection nearby. So, you’ll have to mess around with an extension cord or generator. This can quickly become inconvenient and a nuisance.
  • Limited smoky flavor - You’ll still be able to cook up some delicious, smoky food, but due to the electric model having a minimum temperature range, you’ll have a hard time getting full use of your wood chips.
  • Replacement parts - Due to being electric, it’s more common for them to break down compared to other smokers. If this happens, it may be harder to source the replacement parts.
  • Weather considerations - It’s impossible to use an electric model in rain or adverse weather since you don’t want to expose the control panel or electronics to water.

Propane Smokers

A propane smoker with an open door

A common gas smoker uses a standard propane tank to cook and smoke your food. It is possible to find a natural gas burner that connects to your home’s gas line, however, they are quite difficult to source.

Gas smokers have great temperature control thanks to the temperature gauge at the top of the machine. This allows you to open and close the flow of gas to your propane smoker.

With this handy design, you quickly change the temperature inside your cooking chamber.

“Cooking is a subject you can never know enough about. There is always something new to discover.”

 

- Bobby Flay, Chef

On a propane smoker, you’ll find the burners placed at the bottom. The wood tray is typically placed at the top of the machine, allowing the burner to smolder the wood chips. The smoke then rises up the vertical body of the smoker and immits the smoky flavor onto your food.

Furthermore, the best propane smokers will come with a water bowl. This bowl works similar to the water tray in the electric smoker, allowing the food to retain moisture while it cooks. Simply refill the bowl with water before your cook [1].

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Portable - A gas smoker is one of the most portable smokers on the market. All you need is your propane tank and you can set them up anywhere you wish. Many people choose to take their propane smoker when they go camping.
  • Budget-friendly - A propane smoker is one of the cheapest smokers on the market. However, don’t let the low price deter you, they’re still high quality and produce delicious food.
  • Low ongoing cost - Propane is widely available and propane tanks are relatively cheap to refill. Therefore, ongoing costs are pretty low to upkeep.
  • Simplistic - Since a propane smoker has little parts, they’re super straightforward to use and don’t require much maintenance.
  • Tastier food - When it comes to the propane vs electric smoker debate, many people believe that gas smokers produce a much tastier, smokier flavor. Of course, this is all about preference.
Cons
  • Run too hot - Especially for off-brand manufacturers, it’s common for them to heat up too fast, meaning it’s harder to control the temperature inside your chamber.
  • Poor insulation - Some gas smokers have poor insulation, meaning you may have performance issues during bad weather conditions.
  • Gas refill - Refilling your propane tank can be a pain, especially if you use your machine frequently.

Comparison Table

A propane and electric smoker beside each other
Category  Propane Smoker Electric Smoker
Average price Less expensive Average
Usability Needs slight  monitoring Easy to use, perfect for a beginner
Food quality Rich, smoky taste Less smoky flavor
Heat range Around 150 - 400 F Around 100 - 270 F
Cooking capacity Large capacity options Slightly fewer capacity options
Versatility Smoking, roasting, and grilling Smoking only
Weather considerations Good in all weathers, but weaker in wind and cold due to poor insulation Advised not to use in wet or damp conditions
Reliability Fewer parts, therefore more reliable Electronic parts may fail
Maintenance Easy to maintain and easy to clean Easy to maintain and easy to clean
Ongoing running price Around $0.40/hr Around $0.06/hr

Additional Differences

Electric smoker and a propane smoker lower part

Much like many things in life, what you consider better is all down to your personal preference. Some people swear by their electric smoker while others truly believe their propane smoker comes out on top.

All in all, the decision is yours to make. However, we sure can offer you some factors to consider before you make your final decision.

Price

As always, cost always plays a huge part in our final decision. Propane smokers tend to cost slightly less than your average electric smoker since electric smokers sometimes come with more features.

However, you may find the ongoing cost of a propane smoker to cost you more in the long run.

Generally, it will cost you around $20 to refill a propane tank. This will usually last for about 35 hours. If you plan to use your machine often, knowing that the electric smoker is much more cost-effective to run may play a big part in your decision [2].

Versatility

The great thing about an electric smoker is you can use it to cold smoke foods such as cheese, jerky, and nuts. However, the heating elements don’t get that high.

A gas smoker, however, heats up quite quickly and can hit high heat temperatures, enough to roast meat, while also soaking up a great flavor profile. The controller is fairly easy to use. Gas machines also include a thermostat - a built-in thermometer.

An offset gas smoker can do it all, grill, smoke, and roast. They are quite big, but if you’ve got the space, versatility is the way to go.

Cleaning

Cleaning both an electric and propane model is quite similar and super easy, especially when you compare them to their charcoal brothers.

However, you may find the propane machines a little harder to clean. Due to their hot heat, fuel usage, and smoke, the fat tends to drip down more than if you were to use electricity.

Should I Buy An Electric Smoker?

An electric smoker with a question mark

Thinking electricity is the way to go? Have a look at this checklist:

Best suited to:

  • Beginners, or those inexperienced with gas
  • Casual users
  • People who don’t have time to babysit their smoker
  • People who can’t easily source propane

Gas may be better if:

  • You prefer portability
  • You prefer taste over ease
  • You already buy propane as a heat source

Should I Buy A Propane Smoker?

A propane smoker with a question mark

Best suited to:

  • Grillers with experience
  • People who need portability
  • People who are interested in a learning curve

Electric may be better if:

  • You prefer convenience
  • You’re not experienced with a gas heat source
  • You have access to electricity

Propane VS Electric Smoker - Who’s The Winner?

Both propane and electric models are rather similar, each with its pros and cons. Electric gives you more convenience whereas propane is generally better at smoking meat. Whichever model you decide to choose, it’s all about personal preference, and both smokers can give you a great smoking process.

References:

  1. https://www.weber.com/US/en/blog/burning-questions/do-i-need-to-put-water-in-the-drip-or-water-pan/weber-30266.html
  2. http://www.elivermore.com/propane.htm

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