If you love to smoke your meats but don’t want to conflict with messy charcoal and pellet ones, in such a case, propane and electric smokers are the most suitable options.
Both smokers can do the job perfectly and achieve the desired results but with slight differences in terms of convenience and taste.
But the real question is, which smoker is better?
In this article, we have comprehensively compared various different factors like the cooking area, temperature range, cost, reliability, and food outcomes to help you choose one of these famous smokers that fits your needs.
Main Differences Between Propane and Electric Smokers
People consider electric and propane smokers the same because they are pretty similar in design and typically come in vertical shapes. But there are many noticeable differences that set electric and gas smokers apart from each other.
In a hurry and looking for a key difference?
Propane smokers use propane or natural gas as a fuel source to generate heat and operate in relatively high-temperature ranges than electric ones to smoke food.
While electric smokers use electricity to power a heating element that produces heat to cook food and impart a little less smoky flavor than gas smokers.
Electric-powered smokers are admirable because of their precise temperature control. Also, they are easy to use and considered best for beginners because they operate most of the time automatically.
If we talk about propane gas smokers, they require manual steps to operate, which can make them less suitable for newbies.
Most importantly, electrical smokers have a comparatively limited temperature range, making them different from propane smokers.
On average, the temperature range of electric smokers is between 100 to 275 °F. Due to this, they are less versatile than propane ones, but they are a better option for cold smoking sessions.
On the other hand, the temperature range of a gas smoker is 150 to 450 °F, which is broad and makes it a versatile option that supports different cooking styles.
Another prominent difference between electric and gas smokers is their portability.
Although you can carry both of them easily, an electric smoker will require an electrical connection, compromising its portability and making it impractical in wet weather.
But a propane smoker needs a propane tank to provide the fuel source to the smoker, which means they are a good option for outdoor cooking events. Also, they perform well in different weather conditions, especially in the rain.
How Do Electric Smokers Work – Overview
Firstly, the components of an electric smoker include a cooking chamber with multiple racks, an electric heating element, a water pan, a wood chips tray, and air vents or dampers.
An electric smoker begins working when you plug them into an electric socket and press the turn-on button.
It then starts heating the electric element at the bottom of your smoker, and the temperature inside the cooking chamber rises to cook food.
Some electric smokers have a wood chips tray above the heating element. When the tray gets heated, the chips produce heat and smoke, which enters the cooking area.
So the heating element is enough to cook your food, but the smoke and heat that come from the chips tray allow your food to get cooked with unique smoky flavors.
You can control the heat or smoke with the air dampers or vents given at the top of your smoker.
Inside the cooking chamber, there are multiple grates where you can place different types of food for smoking. You can also season your electric smoker before cooking to burn any residues.
Most electric-powered smokers come up with a water pan that users set at the bottom of the cooking chamber. It helps regulate heat, generate steam, keep the food moisture, and prevent it from drying out.
Lastly, to control the temperature, you get digital control buttons that allow you to set the required temperature easily and cook food to perfection.
An Electric Smoker can be the way to go if you are new to the smoking world and want to conveniently smoke different food items like cheeses, fish, or dehydrated ones.
What do we like?
We’ve listed the electric smoker pros below to help you understand why should you buy an electric smoker.
- Precise temperature control: You can raise or decrease the temperature using the up and down arrows on the electronic control panel of your digital electric smoker.
- Safe and easy option: They are secure for indoor smoking because of their tightly enclosed cooking chamber. Most electric models are certified for indoor smoking.
- Ease of use: Electrical smokers with Bluetooth connectivity and smartphone apps are also available. So, you can monitor food status and regulate temperature from anywhere.
- Cold smoking: The temperature controls are reliable and allow you to maintain low temperatures for a long time, making it suitable for cold smoking.
- Affordable: Generally, you will find electric smokers at a reasonable price with advanced features and functions.
What do we not like?
There are a few electric smoker cons as well, users who enjoy smoking pellets will miss out on the following features.
- Not Portable: Electricity is required for an electric smoker to operate. These smokers are not a good portable option because they depend on electricity.
- No smoke ring: A smoke ring may be difficult to obtain when using electric smokers because the wood you use for flavors doesn’t burn hot enough to produce the chemicals needed for a smoke ring.
- Expensive repair: Because of the high-tech nature of the device, repairs on electric smokers can be a little more complicated and costly.
How Do Propane Smokers Work – Overview
The accessories of a propane smoker are almost the same as an electric one. One different component is that you will find a burner instead of a heating element in propane or gas smokers.
The other elements are a wood chips tray, water pan, grilling racks inside the cooking chamber, and exhaust dampers.
Natural gas or propane is the fuel source of these smokers that usually comes from a propane tank and goes into the burner. When you turn on the burner, a flame or spark initiates the burning process.
When the burner produces fire, it generates heat that goes into the cooking chamber, which cooks the food placed on the grates.
Propane smokers nowadays come with a wood chips tray that you can add above the gas burner. As a result, the wood chips heat up and produce smoke which circulates in the cooking chamber along with the heat produced by the burner.
The combination of heat and smoke cooks your food and imparts wood-smoky flavors into it. Moreover, you can add your favorite wood chips flavor to the tray to get desired results.
A pan filled with water above the wood chip tray helps maintain the smoker’s internal temperature. As the water warms up, it releases steam, which keeps your food moist.
You can use the vents and dampers at the bottom and top of the smoker to let the heat escape per your cooking requirements.
To control the temperature of these smokers, you get knobs that helps you regulate the heat conveniently.
What do we like?
There are several noticeable propane smoker pros that you will love. Let’s highlight the most popular ones.
- Portable: They have a portable design and need a gas tank rather than an electric outlet. Therefore, they are suitable for camping and other outdoor cooking events.
- Inexpensive: The cost of these smokers is relatively low. If you have a tight budget, a propane smoker can be a perfect cooking appliance.
- Tastier food: A propane smoker can cook delicious meals with a richer taste. Most chefs and pitmasters advise using a propane smoker for precisely smoked meats.
- Versatile: They have a broad temperature range compared to electric smokers, which makes them a multifunctional product that allows you to grill and smoke on the same device.
- Ease of use: A propane smoker is also a good option for beginners because they require minimal setup time, and you can easily control the desired temperature through knobs.
What do we not like?
Here are a few propane smoker cons that you may not want to see.
- Poor insulation: A propane smoker has a poor insulation system compared to an electric or charcoal smoker, which can result in prolonged cooking sessions.
- Not suitable for indoor use: Unlike electric-powered smokers, you can’t use the propane ones indoors or in a closed area like a garage because they produce harmful gases that are injurious to health.
- Less smoky flavors: Compared to charcoal and pellet smokers, propane ones impart very little or no smoky flavors in your food because their primary fuel source is propane.
Propane vs Electric Smoker – Head-to-Head Comparison
What you value most ultimately decides whether you choose a propane smoker or an electric smoker. We consider them the best vertical smokers due to several outstanding features.
Let’s dive deep into the head-to-head comparison.
Keeping the weather conditions in mind when choosing one between these two smokers is really important. You should avoid using electric smokers in the rain because they require a power source that can be unsafe.
After all, mixing water and electricity is a bad idea everyone likes to avoid. Also, the electrical parts of these smokers can become moist and stop functioning if you don’t save them from rain.
Luckily, there are no safety risks when using the propane smoker in the rain, but its performance in cold, rainy, and windy conditions can be concerning.
The reason is that the insulation of a propane grill or smoker is weaker than a high-quality electric smoker.
So overall, electric smokers can be unsafe to use in the rain, but they provide good insulation, while propane ones are safe to use in cold conditions but provide less insulation.
Among these two types of smokers, an electric smoker is a safe choice because its heating source is built inside the appliance, protecting the user from direct exposure and lowering the risk of unintentional burns.
Additionally, the electric smoker is fully insulated, making it secure to handle and use.
On the other hand, a natural gas smoker constantly uses a propane gas pipeline, meaning gas leaks can result in fire hazards. But you can repel these mishaps by thoroughly inspecting the smoker and tank before the smoking session.
Propane smokers are relatively inexpensive than electric ones because they have less advanced and technical features.
You will find most propane smokers at a reasonable price, but it is essential to inspect them thoroughly before you buy one.
Electric smokers are costly because they are a kind of automated device and operate through various advanced features. But their cost is worth the price because they provide much user convenience.
Ease of Use
A high-quality electric smoker is a better option for temperature control because it can automatically regulate the temperature through the dial system.
Also, it provides Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity through which you can easily monitor things from anywhere.
While propane gas smokers are also a good option for newbies but require manual actions to set and regulate the temperature. Also, they usually don’t come up with smartphone app features and Wi-Fi connectivity, which is a prominent difference.
So, if you are a beginner looking for hassle-free handling, we recommend an electric smoker because of its accurate temperature settings.
An electric smoker uses a lower temperature and smokes the food more slowly, which might take a long time and be difficult for users who are short on time.
But, it can be a suitable option for cold smoking sessions. Most of these smokers have a temperature range of 100 to 275 °F.
However, a propane or gas smoker can attain a more comprehensive temperature range (150 to 450 °F) and can cook food rapidly and effectively, which is a massive advantage for those with limited time for cooking.
Also, you can prepare food with different cooking methods such as grilling, smoking, baking, etc.
The cooking capacity of these smokers can depend from model to model. An electric smoker can have four to five racks depending on the size and specific model, which gives users a lot of space to cook and smoke their food.
On the other hand, gas smokers also come in various sizes and models, which is why the size of their cooking area can vary on different factors. They typically have four to five or even more racks with a reasonable cooking space.
As per our research, propane ones can provide a larger cooking chamber than electric-powered smokers, but you should see your other cooking preferences too, and then choose one.
Both electric and propane smokers are comparatively easier to clean than charcoal and pellet smokers. The reason is that their primary fuel source is different from charcoal or pellets, which create more mess.
As for electric vs propane smokers, from a cleaning point of view, electric smokers are easy to clean because they use low temperatures for cooking food, meaning they will not be too messy.
On the other hand, a propane smoker can cook food at 450 °F. Now, if you are adding wood pellets to your gas grill for smoky flavors, it will create more ash and can make the cleaning process a bit longer.
Meat flavor, Smoke Ring and Bark
An electric smoker may provide less authentic smokey flavor, smoke ring, and bark than a propane smoker. The reason is that it does not cook your food with the original fire and struggles to reach higher temperatures.
If you want a crisp, pink smoke ring, and unique smoky flavors on your meats, we suggest you use gas smokers because they can cook food low and slow.
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 of electric vs propane smokers.
|Weather conditions||Propane Smokers|
|Safe to use||Electric Smokers|
|Easy to use||Electric Smokers|
|Foods outcome||Propane Smokers|
|Temperature range and versatility||Propane Smokers|
|Meat flavor and smoke ring||Propane Smokers|
We have shared our research guidelines with our valuable users, but still, choosing between electric and propane smokers depends on your cooking preferences, level of expertise, and budget.
To cut it short, an electric smoker is your best choice if you’re a beginner looking for a set and forget convenient features and are not very tight on budget.
In contrast, a propane smoker is suitable for relatively faster cooking, natural smoked flavor in food has a portable design, and is relatively inexpensive.
Have a great BBQ Session.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does a 20lb propane tank last on a smoker?
It depends on the temperature outside and at what temperature you cook. On average, a 20lb propane tank can last 18 to 20 hours, so you can hold around ten smoking sessions of 2 hours.
How many wood chips do you need for an electric smoker?
It depends on the propane smoker’s model. Generally, you can add wood chips to your propane smoker after every 30 to 45 minutes to keep the smoking session going.
Do you use an electric smoker with open vents?
Leaving the vent completely open while applying smoke to your meat is often recommended. It reduces the possibility of creosote accumulating on your meat.
When to use a water pan for smoking?
The best time to use a water pan is whenever you’re trying to cook at a constant, stable, low temperature for a prolonged period.
Can you use an electric smoker on a deck?
Yes, you can use an electric smoker on a deck by creating a little distance between the deck and the smoker. In this case, a fireproof mat is an excellent option.
Caspian James, the Founder and Chief Editor at FaveGrills, is passionate about sharing his knowledge and expertise on the latest Smokers and Grilling Products along with mouth-watering barbecue recipes. He constantly researches new gear with a sharp eye for detail, providing the FaveGrills community with in-depth reviews.