Propane vs Electric Smoker – Comparison Overview

Updated July 7th, 2022
Propane vs Electric Smoker

The significant differences between propane and electric smokers include versatility, quality of food, convenience, size and space requirements, operating temperature range, cooking capacity, reliability, weather compatibility, and cost.

Aside from their differences, there are some similarities between electric and propane smokers. To decide on which smoker serves your needs best, it’s of paramount importance that you’re familiar with both smokers.

Propane SmokerElectric Smoker
VersatilityUser-friendly
Lower upfront costLow operating costs
High temperaturesCold smoking
Low maintenanceLow maintenance
Larger cooking capacitySmaller cooking space

Before we go into the details of their differences and similarities, let’s briefly look at an overview of propane and electric smokers.

Propane Smokers

A propane smoker is a good alternative for an electric smoker or traditional charcoal smoker. The propane smoker is also referred to as a gas smoker. Like other types of smokers, they use a heating element to prepare meals at a defined temperature range. The usual range is between 225°F to 250°F.

Propane smokers function with wood by causing it to smolder and emit smoke. The smoke emitted from this equipment infuses the food being cooked with flavor. Other smokers utilize the same process; the only difference is that they employ a different heating element.

Gas smokers utilize natural gas or propane gas as their fuel. Typically, the flames are below where the wood chips or pellets are placed. Temperature control with a gas smoker is easy, just like with a gas grill. You just need to adjust the knob in the appropriate direction to either decrease or increase gas flow.

The difference in gas supply will lead to an increase or reduction in the operating temperature. Usually, the propane smoker will require an external propane tank. We recommend using the 20-pound cylinder since that’s the general standard. The gas smoker will most likely require a professional to set up before use.

Electric Smokers

Just like pellet smokers, electric smokers use electricity to power the heat. Unlike propane smokers, the electric smoker uses electricity to heat the heating coil, which is usually located below the wood chip tray, just as the gas flames are located below the wood chips in the propane smoker.

The resulting heat and smoke that comes from the smoldering wood pellets will cook the food and infuse it with flavor. As we said, it operates similarly to propane units. Electric models were designed to be very convenient to use. Once you set the knob to your desired temperature, your work is done.

Its built-in temperature regulator will take it up from there to maintain that temperature. Although this doesn’t apply to every electric unit, a good electric smoker should have this feature. Budget models are usually set to high, medium, or low, requiring some supervision to ensure a steady temperature when smoking meat.

Similarities in Propane and Electric Smoker

Maintenance

Both the electric and propane smokers are low-maintenance equipment. You don’t have to input much to ensure they’re in optimum condition.

Most times, all you have to do is clean the grates after each smoking session. Then, you’ll also wipe down the body of the smoker to reduce the likelihood of rust buildup. Gas smokers and electric smokers leave ash remnants after smoking food. You’ll need to dispose of the ash and the remnant grease that will accumulate in a drip pan.

The subtle difference in their maintenance is that the propane smoker produces more soot than the electric smoker. However, they both utilize low temperatures and clean heat sources, so the quantity of soot is relatively small in both of them.

When sourcing replacement parts, it’s easy to get parts for both smokers. You have to contact the manufacturer, and they will deliver the parts to your shipping address. Your warranty policy usually covers these, so you may not pay for them.

However, when it comes to parts such as the digital temperature regulator for the electric smoker, the warranty doesn’t cover it. But we don’t consider this a deciding factor in their maintenance. In summary, the electric smoker is just a bit easier to maintain, but they virtually require the same level of maintenance.

Differences in Propane and Electric Smokers

Versatility

When it comes to being versatile, the electric smoker has nothing on a propane smoker. An electric smoker smokes food at certain temperatures, and that’s about the extent and scope of its function.

Some electric models may give you some extras, such as using a low temperature for false cold smoking. You can use the electric smoker to smoke nuts, make jerky, or smoke cheese because it can easily adjust to low heat.

On the other hand, gas smokers have a distinct advantage over electric smokers because of their ability to smoke and grill food. This applies precisely to a type of gas smoker called offset gas smoker. You can use it as a gas grill and a gas smoker.

To summarise this section, the gas smoker can grill and smoke on the same unit, while an electric one can’t. So the gas smoker wins here.

Quality of Food Being Smoked

There are many ways to cook a delicious meal, and smoking is one of them. Homeowners purchase smokers to make delicious meals in their outdoor living space.

The quality of the meal being cooked or smoked depends on the type of smoker you purchase. This is the most significant factor to consider when comparing the propane smoker with the electric smoker.

Many people erroneously think that cooking with an electric smoker will produce a meal of higher quality than a gas smoker. They believe this is probably because of how easy it is to use the electric smoker or how it’s designed. This makes sense and sounds right. But a gas model will consistently produce more delicious food when you know how to maintain the ideal operating temperature level. Plus, it had more vents, which means more airflow, which translates to more heat and smoke. So the smoky flavor of your meal will be stronger.

Unlike gas smokers, electric smokers have a small number of vents, so it’s obvious they weren’t built to maximize airflow during the smoking process. This also means that electric smokers tend to be moisture-retentive. The final result will be tender meat. Sounds delicious, but what does that mean for its skin? It won’t be crispy, and that’s where the real ecstasy is.

It doesn’t end there. Electric combustion doesn’t provide sufficient smoke, so you can forget the highly sought-after smoke ring. Not that it enhances the meal’s flavor, but it’s the holy grail of properly smoked food.

In summary, an electric smoker produces a good quality meal but doesn’t hold a candle to the propane smoker.

Convenience

Using a propane smoker isn’t as straightforward at first. That’s because you’ll have to learn the ropes of gas smoking. This involves knowing how to adjust dampers and vents as well as monitoring their temperature level. With time and practice, gas smoking becomes easier.

On the other hand, even a beginner won’t have any issue with electric smoking because it’s the stereotypical ‘set-and-forget’ equipment. All you need is an electrical outlet to plug your equipment, then set the knob to the desired temperature level. Your business is done.

Some current models of electric smokers even take the business of convenience further. They come equipped with remote controls, meaning you don’t need to be physically present to configure the electronic control panel after plugging it into a power outlet.

As long as your electric smoker comes with a thermostat and digital thermometer, you’re good to go. The electric smoker is a clear winner here.

Size and Spacing Requirements

Electric and propane smokers tend to come in various sizes. For vertical units, the taller they are, the more space they will require. The average dimension is usually 24″ by 24″. Some units are small enough to fit on top of a table and portable enough to take with you on a camping trip. Some units are as tall as 4 feet.

However, an electric smoker requires less space because it doesn’t need a propane tank to function. On the other hand, propane smokers need propane tanks to work, so they will naturally require more room.

Operating Temperature Range

An electric model operates between 100°F and 275°F. This temperature window is suitable for the majority of your needs. This temperature window is high enough to roast or sear your meat, but it’s enough to smoke wood and give your food that smoky flavor.

On the other hand, gas smokers tend to have a broader temperature window. Also, they can reach a higher temperature level than an electric unit. Gas smokers usually average a temperature level ranging between 175°F and 400°F. Specific models of gas smokers advertise going as low as 100°F and as high as 500°F.

We’re not certain of that because it’s rare to see a gas smoker going that low. It’s a hassle keeping it at low as 225°F, which is the ideal temperature level for meat to cook. On the flip side, if the temperature hits 500°F, it will sear or roast meat.

In summary, the gas smoker wins in terms of temperature in propane vs. electric smokers and produces a much better smoke ring.

Cooking Capacity

Both smoking units have varying cooking capacities depending on the model you buy. It also depends on the form, whether it’s vertical or horizontal. However, gas smokers generally have a larger cooking chamber than electric smokers.

Weather Consideration

Weather conditions can affect the smoking process. Both smoking units can be used during hostile weather conditions. If your gas smoker is well-insulated, it should reduce the effect of the weather externally.

However, the smoking session will be ruined during rainy or windy weather conditions. This is because these weather elements will gain access to the propane smoker through the vents that aid in regulating the internal temperature.

On the flip side, electric smokers have a small number of vents, so heavy winds can’t disrupt an electric smoking session. Also, its thermostat will automatically adjust to compensate for the temperature drop. However, you shouldn’t use an electric smoker when it’s raining or snowing because electricity and moisture are dangerous.

Both smoking units are suitable for dry and warm weather conditions. But when it comes to wet or humid weather conditions, we advise that you go for a propane smoker.

Reliability

A quality smoker will be reliable, whether charcoal smokers, gas smokers, or electric smokers. On the flip side, a poorly produced smoker won’t be reliable.

There are also manufacturing defects to consider. Things such as a cracked hose, warped or corroded connections, and frayed cords happen from time to time. However, the most common occurrence is electronic defects in the electric smoker. Exposure to smoke, heat, and weather elements will surely take its toll on an electric unit.

On the other hand, a gas smoker is more likely to perform efficiently over time. Propane tanks aren’t electronic objects, and they will most likely be shielded from weather elements. In summary, propane smokers are more reliable than electronic smokers.

Cost

This section has two sub-categories; upfront cost and operating cost.

Upfront Cost

Electronic smokers are more expensive than propane smokers. The electronic parts come with answers to why. If you look at it, that’s the price to pay for a piece of equipment that requires very little supervision. Though propane smokers and electronic smokers have both affordable and expensive options, electric smokers are generally more costly.

Operating Cost

The operating cost of an electric smoker varies based on the electricity rating system that applies to your location. However, it’s cost-free if you’re utilizing sources such as solar panels.

On the flip side, buying propane gas is more expensive than using electricity. Natural gas, an alternative for fuel usage, is more affordable than propane gas. However, it still costs more than using electricity.

In summary, a gas smoker has a lower upfront cost than an electric smoker, but its operating cost is about six times more expensive than an electric smoker.

Comparison Summary

To conclude the debate between propane vs electric smoker, let’s briefly recap their shared and contrasting qualities.

Propane smoker pros include versatility, lower upfront cost, higher food quality, higher temperatures, low maintenance, larger cooking capacity, more reliability, and more popularity.

Propane smoker cons include higher operating costs, less ease of use, and requiring more space.

Electric smoker pros include lower operating costs, cold smoking, low maintenance, and user-friendliness. Electric smoker cons include a narrower temperature window, smaller cooking space, less popular, less reliable, less food quality, and higher upfront cost.

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