If you don’t want to risk messing around with lighting charcoal, you’re left with two options: a propane smoker and an electric smoker. Several points, merits, and demerits about each must be considered before making the perfect choice for yourself.
Overall, an electric smoker offers you both ease of use and cleaning. With the capacity to hold a large amount of meat, it might be ideal if you have to cater to many people.
However, if the traditional smoky flavor offered by a charcoal smoker is your priority, then you are on the right path with a propane smoker. Although it doesn’t give off an exactly similar taste, it’s much closer in offering the same aroma and flavor as a charcoal smoker as compared to the electric smoker.
Also Read: Electric Smoker buying guide.
In the following article, we’ll discuss in greater detail the differences between propane and electric smokers, detailed overviews of each one, and which smoker to buy depending on your budget.
Electric Smoker Overview
As evident by the name, an electric smoker uses electricity as their fuel source. Although an electric smoker is also equipped with vents to regulate its temperature, the majority of the work is carried out by heating elements. With this in mind, you ought to preheat the electric smoker before it’s ready for use.
Just like any appliance, an electric smoker comes with its respective set of merits and demerits. The primary advantage of an electric smoker is that it offers easy temperature control especially when you’re cooking at high temperatures. As soon as you turn on the dial, you can adjust the temperature. However, the budget-friendly models of an electric smoker may allow for only low, medium, and high settings.
An electric smoker offers the ease of simply setting the temperature and leaving it off to cook. As compared to a propane smoker, an electric smoker is a safer option primarily because you don’t have to be worried about any combustible gasses or materials.
If you want to buy a smoker but your apartment restricts smoking using a propane smoker, you can go for an electric smoker. Another merit of an electric smoker is that you can easily convert them into cold smokers. They are also an ideal option if you wish to smoke more delicate food items, such as fish. You can even set them at a low temperature to easily dehydrate food such as jerky.
However, an electric smoker won’t offer you as high-temperature levels as the ones offered by a propane smoker. Since electricity is the fuel source in an electric smoker, you can only operate it at locations that have a power outlet. Therefore, taking your electric smoker out on tailgating or camping trips is not a feasible option unless you have a generator as well.
If you’re someone who is obsessed with a smoke ring, an electric smoker might not be a good option for you. Although you can smoke wood to enjoy a smoky flavor, the wood will not emit the chemicals that are a pre-condition for forming the smoke ring. If your electric smoker falls off place, know that the repairs can be expensive and complicated because of the number of units that are used in its operation.
Propane Smoker Overview
Most propane smokers make use of propane tanks as their primary fuel while there are some others that use natural gas. This, in turn, allows you to have greater control over the heat and adjust the temperature from low to high depending on your needs. Furthermore, propane smokers achieve the desired temperature relatively quickly. The propane smoker consists of a gas burner at the bottom which has a span or shelf just above it to add wood chips for enjoying a smoky flavour.
A propane smoker can be classified as a variant of a vertical barbecue. Most propane smoker models are equipped with a water tray and a wood chip tray above their burner. Here, the smoker and water are released to add flavour to the food as well as moisten it.
The temperature settings of a propane smoker vary depending upon the weather. You should opt for a higher setting if the weather outside is wet or cold or windy. On the other hand, you can go for lower temperatures if you’re smoking in a warmer climate.
A propane smoker can be easily positioned anywhere without having to worry about the presence of a power outlet. Since propane smokers are not complicated appliances, their repair is relatively easier as compared to an electric smoker. Furthermore, even in the absence of electricity, you can use your propane smoker to make yourself some delicious BBQ.
The flavour produced by a propane smoker is almost identical to the one produced by a conventional charcoal smoker. In addition, between an electric smoker and a propane smoker, you can get a good quality propane smoker at an affordable price.
However, if you are opting for a budget-friendly option, you will have to keep a regular watch to maintain the desired temperature. Since propane smokers are usually not insulated properly, your cooking time is likely to increase if it is windy or cold outside. A gas smoker is a low-tech appliance. Therefore, features such as Bluetooth connectivity might not be available in these models. Due to the fuel source used by gas smokers, their operating costs are slightly on the expensive side.
Difference Between Propane & Electric Smokers
Propane and Electric smokers are the most commonly used smokers because of their relative affordability. However, the main difference between the two smokers is the type of fuel they use to cook food. While the temperature range of propane smokers is approximately 150-400 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature range of electric smokers varies from about 100-270 degrees Fahrenheit.
Propane smokers are an ideal option when it comes to baking, smoking, and roasting. On the other hand, electric smokers are good for smoking and cold smoking. When you use propane smokers, your food will have a more pronounced smoky flavor with visible smoke rings. In contrast, electric smokers will give off a subtle smoky flavor. An electric smoker offers more advanced features such as Bluetooth connectivity to its users as compared to a propane smoker that doesn’t offer any.
In a propane smoker, you will constantly need to monitor the temperature for the entire duration of the cooking period. In an electric smoker, on the other hand, you simply turn on the electric smoker and let your meal get ready. While propane smokers require no electricity, electric smokers operate on electricity only. An electric smoker has a low operating cost as compared to a propane smoker.
Last but not the least, electric smokers are relatively easier to use as compared to propane smokers. However, when it comes to versatility, propane or gas smokers take the lead with a wider range of temperature options to choose from. In addition, the portable nature of these smokers gives them an added advantage.
Comparison Between Electric Smoker And Propane Smokers
The choice between an electric smoker and a propane smoker comes down to your needs.
If you’re someone who’s interested in enjoying more delicate food items such as fish, cheese, or dehydrated food items like jerky, an electric smoker is a perfect option for you. However, if you’re more inclined towards a taste approximately similar to that offered by a charcoal smoker, a propane smoker is your ticket.
And if you’re still dicey about the best option for you, listed below are some important points that you can take into account before making a purchasing decision.
Gas or propane smokers are relatively cheaper as compared to electric smokers. Although the cheapest gas models will definitely fall within your budget, always look out for better quality.
There are several budget-friendly electric smokers available in the market as well. However, if you want an electric smoker with advanced features, such as Bluetooth connectivity, you will have to opt for a slightly expensive model.
When it comes to operating costs, the analysis is subjective as the cost of gas and electricity varies from region to region. Generally, however, electric smokers are cheaper to operate as compared to propane smokers.
Taste Of Food
The taste of food is a relatively subject point of discussion primarily because different people have different taste preferences. If you want to opt for a smoker that gives off an aroma and flavor identical to that of the conventional charcoal smoker, a propane smoker is your go-to.
On the other hand, if you wish to smoke delicate food items such as cheeses and fish, an electric smoker is likely going to offer you more control over the cooking temperatures.
Ease Of Use
An electric smoker is often referred to as the smoker or the beginner. They are extremely easy to operate. All you need to do is turn on the power, set the temperature according to your requirement, and stock it up with water, wood chips, and food while enjoying your time with your friends or family.
In contrast, if you plan on using a propane smoker, it is not going to be a smooth ride, especially if you’re a beginner. Gas smokers require some practice before they are able to smoke with perfection on them. Additionally, you constantly need to monitor the temperature because unlike electric smokers, they are not equipped to automatically regulate the temperature.
Bad Weather Considerations
If you want to enjoy smoked food all through the year, you need to consider the compatibility of your smoker with different weather conditions. If you have an electric smoker, you need not worry about the combination of electricity and water. You can easily cook with your electric smoker if it’s drizzling. However, make sure you use a cover if you are smoking in a heavy downpour.
Although propane smokers can be easily used without much concern about the weather, remember that they are not well-insulated. Therefore, cold and wet conditions are likely going to affect the temperature of your smoker.
Factually speaking, an electric smoker is a more reliable appliance as compared to a propane smoker. Not only are electric smokers well-made but also are relatively easy to control. Propane smokers, on the other hand, are less reliable appliances particularly if they’re a low-quality model. Owing to their comparative simplicity, however, propane smokers are easier to repair when broken as compared to electric ones.
What Can You Buy? Propane Vs Electric Smokers
Depending on your preference, you can opt for a budget or mid-range, high-end propane or electric smoker from the ones listed below:
Budget Propane vs Electric Smoker
Cuisinart COS-244 Vertical Propane Smoker is a budget-friendly gas smoker made from powder-coated steel and equipped with stainless steel grates. The temperature range of this model varies from 100 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. With 784 sq. inches of cooking space, this gas smoker offers a 3-year warranty. Some prominent features offered by Cuisinart COS-244 Vertical Propane Smoker are 4 removable racks and a twist lock sealing door to ensure that little to no heat is lost.
Masterbuilt MB20071117 Digital Electric Smoker is a pocket-friendly electric smoker available on the market. The smoker is manufactured using insulated steel and is equipped with chrome-coated wire gates. The temperature range offered by this model is 100-275 degrees Fahrenheit. This electric smoker offers consumers a cooking space of approximately 711 sq. inches. With an 800-watt heating element, the Masterbuilt MB20071117 Digital Electric Smoker comes with a one-year warranty. Some prominent features offered by this model include digital temperature controls, a slide loading wood chip port, 4 removable racks, and an add-on slow smoker attachment if you’re interested in cold smoking.
Mid-Range Electric vs Propane Smoker
Bradley BS611 Digital Electric Smoker comes with a double-wall carbon steel exterior. With an interior of stainless steel, the temperature of this model goes as high as 250 degrees Fahrenheit. This model offers a cooking space of 572 sq. inches and comes with a one-year warranty. Bradley BS611 Digital Electric Smoker has two heating elements, thereby allowing you to conveniently regulate temperature and smoke. The smoke diffuser system of this model ensures that the smoke keeps moving. Note that you must use Bradley briquettes as wood.
Camp Chef Smoke Vault is manufactured from steel and has nickel-plated wire grates. The temperature of this smoker ranges from 150 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. With a one-year warranty, this model is available in two different sizes and can even operate on natural gas with a complementary conversion kit.
High-End Electric vs Propane Smoker
Smokin-It Model #2 is entirely made out of stainless steel. The temperature range of this model is 100-250 degrees Fahrenheit. It has an 800-watt element and 1247 sq. inches of cooking space. With a three-year warranty, Smokin-It Model #2 has fiberglass insulation, a double latch door, and an external drip pan. This model has always been certified to be used for commercial purposes.
Masterbuilt MB20051316 Propane Smoker is manufactured from steel and has chrome-coated racks. The temperature range of this smoker is 175 degrees Fahrenheit to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. This model comes with a 3 year warranty and allows you to enjoy 961 sq. inches of cooking space. Masterbuilt MB20051316 Propane Smoker has a temperature sensor control burner to regulate the heat. It also comes equipped with a shut-off valve for safety purposes. In addition, there’s a tank fuel level gauge that indicates the level of propane that is left in the tank.
In the category of vertical water smokers, it is evident that electric smokers are the perfect choice for beginners and anyone else who doesn’t want to put much effort into smoking food items. However, a propane smoker does take the lead in providing mouth-watering results because of its smoky aroma and flavor.
An electric smoker is a perfect fit for anyone who prefers easy smoking, one that doesn’t create any fuss. If you live in an apartment or housing that prohibits fire smokers, an electric smoker will suit your needs appropriately. In addition, you can also use electric smoker to cold smoke precisely because of the extremely low temperatures they offer. And lastly, with lower operating costs, an electric smoker is the perfect choice for someone who wants to enjoy smoking on a budget.
Now, propane smokers might be your calling if you wish to enjoy smoked foods that offer a better smoke ring and bark. Furthermore, if you don’t have a problem with constantly monitoring the temperature unless you have the MasterBuilt Thermo Temp, you can opt for a gas smoker. And for someone who takes great interest in camping or tailgating, a portable smoker like the gas smokers is the perfect fit.
The choice of the perfect electric smoker for yourself, at last, comes with your needs and the amount you’re willing to spend.