If it’s your first time diving into the world of smoking, the first thing you might notice is that most of your decision-making process will start with an age-old question: what kind of smoker should you get?
By now, you probably know that the popular types of smokers are charcoal, propane, or electric. The fact that you’re here for this article means that you’ve narrowed down your options to an electric or propane smoker.
It could have been because charcoals smokers require a lot of patience, determination, and effort. Deciding to go with an electric or propane smoker is a process that isn’t as clear cut as it would be if you were comparing both against a charcoal smoker. Whatever your concerns, we’re here to help you choose the best one to suit your needs.
The 9 Main Differences between Propane & Electric Smoker
The differences between an electric and propane smoker are less obvious. That’s why this article will give you all the pros and cons of each to help you find that one thing that will tip the balance. Let’s reveal them!
1. Temperature Range: High Heat vs. Low Heat
To start the compare and contrast between an electric and propane smoker, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of their ability to reach high and low temperatures.
This is the category in which the differences between the two are most pronounced, and you’ll likely find the deciding factor here.
While both can definitely reach the optimal temperature of smoking meat at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, the one glaring difference is that propane smokers can reach much higher temperatures of up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
The main advantage of being able to produce high heat is that you’ll be able to smoke not only meat but also grill and sear it. On the other hand, it makes cold smoking on a gas smoker hard to do, which we’ll get into more detail later.
Propane smokers are for anyone who might want seared, grilled, and smoked food but don’t want to brave the learning curve associated with charcoal smokers. Meanwhile, an electric smoker is perfect for those who just want something that can fulfill their basic temperature needs.
A digital electric smoker can give you the ideal temperature for smoking meat, yes. But it also gives you the ability to achieve low heat, which is perfect for cold smoking.
2. Ease of Use and Appeal to Beginners
Electric smokers are popular because they are great for beginners. It’s perfect for those who want smoked food but would also like to key in the settings and then just forget it until it beeps.
It’s unerringly convenient, and the fact that it’s a plug-and-play smoker is what attracts people to it. It particularly shines in terms of temperature control as it is capable of controlling the heat depending on the temperature you set.
If you’re a beginner who would like smoked food on your table, then an electric smoker is a great introduction to the world of smoking.
In comparison to the convenience and simplicity of electric smokers, propane smokers require a little bit more effort. While it doesn’t have the steep learning curve that charcoal smokers have, a propane smoker will require you to do temperature control by monitoring the power at which the gas is expelled. If you’ve ever used a gas burner or stove before, that’s exactly what the experience like.
Having said that, once you get temperature control on a gas smoker down, the rest is easy. You’re going to have to fiddle with the vents and damps, but overall it’s significantly easier to operate compared to a charcoal smoker.
3. Heating Time
Remember how we said that temperature control is easy-peasy when it comes to an electric smoker? It’s that easy because of the heating elements that are connected to the digital panel that automatically calculates and controls these elements to maintain the temperature in the smoker.
Of course, because it doesn’t use an open flame, that would mean that while an electric smoker is easy to control, it also takes a while before it’s hot enough to start the smoking process.
If you choose to go with this option, you’re going to have to be patient. Once you started smoking and put the food in, then all you have left to do is walk away.
Propane smokers definitely take the crown when it comes to heating time. Because it uses propane or natural gas as its main heat source, you can have an open flame started within seconds, which means that your cooking time doesn’t take nearly as long as with electric smokers.
Combined the ability to reach higher temperatures, and you’ll have smoked food on your table before you know it.
4. Taste, Flavor, and Smokiness
Unlike the previous categories where you might find significant differences that can affect your decision, the taste, flavor, and smokiness of your food are aspects wherein electric, and propane smokers don’t differ as much.
It’s a well-known fact that if you’re looking for a specific flavor profile, you’re going to have to consider what type of smoker you should get. Most people who prefer the authentic smoky flavor lean toward a charcoal smoker. But if you’re strictly looking at an electric or propane smoker, don’t despair just yet.
Both electric and propane smokers are usually offered with a wood chip tray. This is where you’ll add the wood chips after you’ve soaked them, and it is what will make the difference in flavor.
As you know, both electric and propane smokers don’t use wood as part of the heat source. That’s why achieving that smoky flavor isn’t as easy as it would be on a charcoal smoker. But with the inclusion of these wood trays, manufacturers have developed a workaround the most significant disadvantages of both smokers.
It should be noted that some people find that the flavor from propane smokers more closely resembles that of charcoal smokers. At the end of the day though, it all comes down to what type of wood chips you choose and your skill in handling them.
5. Running and Operating Costs
Before you make a decision on what type of smoker you should get, it’s always a good idea to consider the long-term costs. Sure, your electric or propane smoker might be the cheapest you could find, but you also have to remember that the heating source also takes something from your wallet.
Electric smokers are, on average, more expensive than gas smokers. This difference is mainly due to the digital parts and electric units that keep it running. However, it is more cost-effective than propane smokers in the long-term.
Electric smokers use nothing but power and electricity to run, and if you start smoking meat with it, you shouldn’t feel a huge addition to the electric bill.
On the other hand, propane smokers are generally cheaper to buy and more expensive to run. You can find a good quality smoker for significantly less than an electric smoker of equal stature. But because it needs propane tanks to run, you’re going to have to consider how much it would cost you to replace the heat source depending on how often you plan on smoking meat.
6. Weather Considerations
Another consideration you should make when deliberating if you should get an electric or propane smoker is the weather.
If you have a deck or porch or any outside space with access to electricity, then most of the time, you won’t have any problems with an electric smoker. The only caveat is that when it starts raining and your outside space isn’t covered, then an electric smoker is pretty much pointless. Not only that, but attempting to run it in bad weather could cost you even more in repairs.
In contrast, propane smokers have no problems running in the wind and rain. You should be safe if you do choose to smoke meat in the middle of a bad storm. But like all things, it isn’t perfect.
Propane smokers aren’t as insulated as electric smokers. This means that a little bit of wind and rain and a dash of cold weather could get you into a position where you might struggle to maintain a fixed temperature.
Overall, in terms of weather conditions and outside cooking, you might be better off with a propane smoker if only for the lack of safety concerns and malfunctioning parts you’d face if you have an electric smoker.
7. Cold Smoking
So far, we’ve briefly touched cold smoking because it’s a category that deserves its own section when it comes to talking about electric and gas smokers.
In this area, the electric smoker is the clear winner. The digital functionalities available in an electric smoker can make the temperature easy to control and easy to maintain. And if you’re looking into cold smoking, maintaining the temperature at low heat is necessary.
Combined with how it can reach significantly lower temperatures compared to charcoal and propane smokers, these features make the electric smoker the best choice for anyone who’s mainly interested in cold smoking.
It’s near impossible to achieve cold smoking with a propane smoker. For one, its advantage of being able to reach higher temperatures is a disadvantage in cold smoking. As the name implies, you’re going to need low heat to cold smoke meat.
A propane smoker makes this task exceedingly difficult, mainly because it isn’t easy to maintain low temperatures if the heat source is propane or gas.
If you’re set on a propane smoker and you want to do cold smoking, then you might want to look into purchasing the necessary modifications to make it possible.
8. Cleaning and Maintenance
Cleaning is definitely an area where both electric and propane smokers excel in. Unlike charcoal smokers, both electric and propane smokers do not need to use a heat source that could produce ashes and debris.
Perhaps the only area that you might need to clean and maintain is the wood chips tray or drawer, and the only thing you need to do is clear out the contents.
You’d also do well to see where your unit drains the oil and meat juices, and clean that out too. That way, you can expect to use your electric or propane smoker for a very long time.
9. Portability and Mobility
The final thing you will have to consider before you choose between an electric or propane smoker is portability and mobility. Both smokers come in all shapes and sizes, so portability isn’t really an issue. But when it comes to mobility, the differences are stark and significant.
If you want to take your smoker to a camping trip, then you might want to stick with a propane smoker. All it needs is a full propane tank, and you’re ready to go.
In contrast, an electric smoker won’t function where there is no power. As such, while it may be easy to carry and transport, you’re virtually stuck where there is electricity. It’s one of the main advantages of a propane or charcoal smoker, and its power limitations are the main disadvantages of an electric smoker.
Given the main differences between an electric and propane smoker, it’s clear that the deciding factor may be in terms of temperature range, ease of use, heating time, cost, cold smoking, placement.
If you prefer something that you can use anywhere you go, heat within seconds, and don’t mind the costs, then you’re better off with a propane smoker. It’s the portable package that offers you a learning curve that is more manageable compared to a charcoal smoker. Moreover, it’s something that you can definitely take to the beach and not have to worry about a power source.
Meanwhile, if you prefer something that is made for beginners and is especially interested in cold smoking, then go with an electric smoker. You may be limited in terms of where you can place it and where you can use it, but ultimately, it’s the more convenient and affordable choice.
I spent most of my life fascinated by food, and the outdoors. I can’t think of a more fitting combo that leads to mastering the art of BBQ one day. I ended up decent enough to grill the perfect burger and choose the best equipment after years of improvement. I create this website for outdoor cooking enthusiasts, who are fueled by interest but lacking in help, feel educated when they leave because I see my past clueless self in them.