If you’re a smoking meat lover, you’re probably searching for the best option between charcoal and gas smokers to ignite your BBQ passion.
We believe both have pros and cons but are great options to fulfill your cravings.
But the final decision will depend on your personal preferences, needs, and expertise.
In this article, we have compared all the critical factors of gas vs charcoal smokers that will help you bring the perfect smoking gear to your backyard.
Main Differences Between A Gas And Charcoal Smoker
A gas smoker uses propane or natural gas as a fuel source. It offers users convenience through quick ignition and precise temperature control, but they don’t add smoky flavors like a traditional BBQ.
While a charcoal smoker uses charcoal as a fuel and lets you smoke food with unique and rich smoky flavors, but it requires more effort to maintain a consistent temperature of charcoals inside your smoker.
Gas Smoker Overview
Large gas units are frequently used in BBQ restaurants because they produce high heat. Many gas smokers follow the same pattern and are a fantastic option for those looking for speed and convenience at a reasonable price.
They use natural gas as the fuel source, indicating they can reach high temperatures quickly. The good thing about them is that their ignition is quick and doesn’t require manual steps like charcoal or offset smoker.
They have a vertical shape, meaning the fire comes from the bottom part and helps in even heat distribution. Most importantly, they are relatively portable because they are smaller in size, and you need propane tanks to use them anywhere.
Let’s quickly explain how these smokers operate.
How Do Gas Smokers Work?
First of all, they use gas or propane as a fuel source. It comes from a propane or gas tank that is connected to the smoker’s burner.
When the tank provides gas, and you turn on the burner, a little fire spark begins the ignition process.
As a result, the temperature inside your smoker begins to rise, and you start cooking the food items you have placed inside the cooking chamber. Unfortunately, you won’t get smoke flavors unless you burn wood chips during cooking.
To get smoky flavors in your food, you will need to add your favorite wood chips to the smoker’s wood chip tray, which is located above the burner. You can also use wood pellets on a gas smoker if you are more obsessed with wood flavors.
The heat from the burner will cause the wood chips to smolder and release smoke, which will then circulate throughout the cooking area and infuse the food with a delicious smoky flavor.
So, this is how a gas or propane smoker works, which is pretty straightforward. Regarding temperature control, you get simple knobs to set and adjust the cooking temperature.
Gas Smoker Pros
There are many advantages that you can get while using a gas smoker. Let’s highlight the most admirable ones.
- Easy to use: These smokers are beginner-friendly because they have quick ignition through the burner and easy temperature control through the knobs.
- Temperature range: They have a reasonable temperature range of 150 °F to 400 °F, depending from model to model. So, you can use them for smoking and low and slow cooking.
- Easy clean up: If you don’t burn wood chips and just cook your food with the gas, there will be no ash build-up. Even if you use chips, they will create less mess than a charcoal smoker. In both cases, the cleaning process remains quick and easy.
- Fast cooking: One of the most admirable features of a gas grill or smoker is that it can reach high temperatures quickly, which is helpful in faster cooking sessions.
- Portability: Compared to other types of smokers, gas ones are relatively easy to carry and use outdoors or on picnics. The reason is they weigh less and have a vertical portable design.
Gas Smoker Cons
Although propane smokers have many benefits, there are also some drawbacks to consider when buying one.
- Less smokey flavors: Even if you use wood chips or pellets, propane smokers can’t provide as many smoky flavors as charcoal smokers.
- Propane tank refilling: When smoking large and thick cuts of meat, the propane tank can run out of fuel, and you will need to connect a filled one.
- Maintenance required in cold weather: Although they perform well in different climates, in cold conditions, you will need to pay extra attention to maintain constant heat inside the smoker.
Charcoal Smoker Overview
Do you want to smoke meat in a traditional way? A charcoal smoker is one of the best options you have got. Smoking meat on a traditional charcoal smoker is challenging and time-consuming, but the food outcome is always worth it.
They use charcoal as the primary fuel source, but you can also put wood chips or pellets on charcoal to ensure maximum flavor in your meat.
It is important to note that they require extra expertise because you need to ignite the charcoal manually and maintain the temperature through vents and dampers.
Let’s give you step-by-step instructions on how charcoal smokers work.
How Do Charcoal Smokers Work
You will see a few important parts in these smokers, such as the firebox, cooking chamber, vents, and dampers.
First of all, you need to ignite the charcoal. You can either do that inside a chimney starter or directly inside the firebox, which is near the cooking surface.
Once the charcoal starts burning, it produces heat and smoke, which enter the cooking area. Inside the cooking area, you will see grates or racks where you place your food items for cooking.
You usually get vents at the bottom of these smokers that are responsible for the airflow. You can keep them open for more airflow, allowing the charcoals to produce more heat.
Also, dampers on top the charcoal smokers help you adjust the amount of smoke. Again, keeping them open will escape more smoke, and closed dampers help escape less smoke.
The temperature control on charcoal grills and smokers is a bit challenging because you need to maintain it through the dampers. To cut it short, if you let more air enter your smoker, it will get hotter, and if you allow less air, it will get cooler.
Charcoal Smoker Pros
There are many advantages of using a charcoal smoker, which we have mentioned below.
- Flavorful foods: Charcoal smokers are a beast when it comes to providing flavorful and tastier foods. The burning charcoal produces unique smoky flavors, and you can also add wood chunks to enhance the flavors.
- Versatility: These smokers can maintain low temperatures between 220 °F to 270 °F, which gives extraordinary smoking results. Also, some models can reach 700 °F, which helps you grill, bake, or roast your food items.
- Inexpensive: Compared to gas smokers, charcoal ones cost you less because they consist of inexpensive components.
- Portable: Most pellet smokers are portable because they are relatively lightweight and don’t depend on electricity or a gas tank. Also, some models have wheels or handles on the side, which help you carry them from one place to another.
Charcoal Smoker Cons
These smokers also have a few drawbacks which you should consider.
- Skills required: If you don’t want your brisket to come out undercooked, you need to be skillful in controlling temperature, as most of the traditional ones don’t provide knobs or control panels for temperature regulation.
- Creates more mess: When charcoals burn, they create more ash than pellets and wood chunks, making cleaning a bit annoying and time-consuming.
Which is Safe for Your Health and Environment – Gas or Charcoal Smokers?
It’s essential to know that burning charcoal produces more carbon dioxide than burning propane gas. That’s the reason CPSC warns not to use charcoal grills and smokers indoors.
So, considering health, gas smoking is better than charcoal.
Due to the convenience and simplicity, we prefer using gas smokers. In addition to their performance, gas appliances are popular with homes due to their energy efficiency, minimal environmental effect, and stylish designs.
Gas Vs Charcoal Smoker – Comprehensive Comparison
We have compiled a list of key elements when deciding between gas and charcoal smokers. So, read this head-to-head comparison to clear your mind.
Fuel Type And Cost
The main difference between charcoal and gas smokers is the type of fuel.
The primary fuel source for charcoal smokers is charcoal. It can be lump charcoal, irregularly shaped charred wood, or charcoal briquettes, which are small, uniform chunks of charcoal.
On the other hand, gas smokers’ primary fuel is propane or natural gas. Propane is a liquid in a tank, whereas natural gas is methane delivered to your home via pipes.
According to our observation, gas or propane costs you less than smoking with charcoal. Interestingly, you can reuse charcoal, making it a cost-effective option as well.
If cost is a factor when choosing between gas and charcoal smokers, a charcoal smoker will generally cost you less.
You will find good quality charcoal smokers for around $220, while some cost you more than that. In contrast, natural gas smokers are typically available within the price range of $250 to $350.
The exact price of these smokers depends from model to model.
If you cook thick meats like brisket at a lower temperature, you may need to refill the 20 pounds gas cylinder periodically.
As for the charcoal, it mainly depends on how much charcoal you use, but generally, you need to reload the charcoal if you are using a high-end model. Because to get a real smoke, you should change the coals in between for a better smokey taste.
So, choose gas if you’re trying to save money on fuel costs. But, for better smoking results, charcoal suits you the most.
Another factor to consider when comparing gas and charcoal smokers is their size and how much space you have in your backyard. Although it varies on the specific smoker model. Generally, propane smokers tend to be larger than most charcoal smokers.
Charcoal and gas smokers are available in different sizes. Therefore, you will get different cooking spaces.
You need to look at your requirements for why you are buying a smoker and how much you will cook.
Gas smokers can generally cook more food than charcoal smokers because they are spacious. Charcoal smokers have limited cooking areas and can cook small portions of meals.
If food quantity is not an issue, you should bring a vertical charcoal smoker to your home because they provide better smoking results.
Maintenance is the main factor when deciding between a gas and a charcoal smoker. Gas smokers need less upkeep than charcoal smokers because there is no ash to clear and the grates to wash.
While charcoal smokers need regular cleaning, otherwise, these smokers can stink and struggle to smoke your meat to perfection.
To cut it short, beginners should choose a gas smoker because of its easy handling, maintenance, and quick cleanup.
Conversely, charcoal smokers require more attention and create more mess, which can prolong the cleaning and smoking session.
Charcoal smokers tend to be more versatile than gas ones. The reason is they come in vertical and horizontal shapes, which offer different temperature ranges.
Some charcoal smokers can reach 350 °F, whereas high-quality ones like Kamado are capable of cooking food at 700 °F. Ultimately you can use them for grilling, low and slow smoking, baking, roasting, etc.
Gas smokers usually have a vertical shape and temperature range of 170 °F to 400 °F. Therefore, a charcoal smoker is our winner in the versatility competition between gas vs charcoal smokers.
Temperature Control And Range
As mentioned above, the temperature range of both charcoal and gas smokers is quite the same until the Kamado ones arrive.
You can use them for smoking and roasting purpose, with gas smokers being more suitable for roasting and charcoal smokers for smoking.
Unfortunately, both can not be helpful in cold smoking because it demands as low heat as 80 °F to 100 °F, which is unachievable for these smokers.
Moreover, temperature control for charcoal smokers is significantly more difficult because you need to learn the mechanism of airflow with vents and dampers, which requires time, practice, and skills.
However, in a gas smoker, you can control the temperature with a knob, which is relatively more straightforward and user-friendly.
Bad Weather Conditions
Gas smokers are not affected by weather conditions because they have better temperature control that you can set according to the weather condition. Also, they have a pretty good insulation system that offers continuous cooking sessions.
Charcoal smokers can be a little challenging to use and can be affected by rain. The reason is that they have vents and dampers which you need to use accordingly.
Now, if you keep them close while raining outside, your charcoal may not stay lit because it will not get the right amount of oxygen.
Taste Of Food And Smoky Flavor
Both smokers can smoke foods with unique smoky flavors and delicious tastes.
For example, you may not get the desired results if you are a newbie and cook food on a charcoal smoker. Conversely, if you know how to use a charcoal smoker, you can cook outstanding meats with a flavorful taste.
Charcoal ones stand out if we compare these smokers in terms of preparing foods with unique and rich smoky flavors. Gas smokers are also suitable for smoking food but not as good as charcoal.
So, our winner in the race of food taste and smoky flavors is a charcoal smoker if you have patience and expertise.
Gas smokers are more consistent because you can easily regulate the temperature during cooking.
The temperature of a charcoal smoker depends on several factors, such as the weather, charcoal quality, skills of the user, etc.
Who is the Winner? Head-to-head Summary
Let’s share a short quick summary of the relative winners in a head-to-head comparison.
|Features||Gas Smoker||Charcoal Smoker|
|Ease of handling||Easy||Difficult|
Choosing a gas or charcoal smoker depends on personal preference because both smokers have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Therefore, we have thoroughly compared these smokers’ significant aspects, like smoking food taste, convenience, price, temperature management, etc.
What do we say? If you love convenience, go with a gas smoker, but if you are looking for ultimate smoky flavors in your food, we suggest going with the charcoal one.
Now it’s up to you to decide. Happy selection!
Frequently Asked Questions
How much propane does a smoker use?
It depends on several factors, such as your cooking temperature and how long you cook, etc. The rough estimate says you need around 1 pound of propane every hour to smoke meals at medium temperatures.
Can we use charcoal in a gas smoker?
No, you should not because using charcoal in a gas or propane smoker can cause heat distribution issues, resulting in overdone or undercooked food. Also, it can damage the components of your smoker and pose a safety hazard. So, we don’t really suggest using charcoal in a gas smoker.
Which one is better for steak? Charcoal or gas smoker?
Charcoal smokers can be a better option for preparing steaks because they can reach the desired high temperatures. Cooking a steak on a propane smoker may not be suitable.
Is charcoal smoker tricky to use?
Yes, controlling the temperature of a charcoal smoker can be challenging, especially for beginners. Because you need to control the temperature of charcoals through dampers and vents, which we don’t often see in other smokers.
Robert Gill, a BBQ enthusiast, and Senior Author at FaveGrills.com bring his extensive knowledge of BBQ equipment and exciting recipes to the team. With his outgoing personality and love for BBQ, Robert plays an essential role in the FaveGrills community, sharing his passion and expertise through informative articles and gear reviews.