Propane vs Electric Smoker [6 big differences]

Wondering whether you should get a propane smoker or an electric smoker? Decisions, decisions, decisions. Knowing what you can expect from each one is a great place to start.

propane vs electric smoker

Propane smokers are fuelled by liquefied petroleum gas. It is a clean-burning fuel that poses no threat to the environment if spilled.

Electric smokers use electricity as a source of power. The name may have given this one away. They are usually used outdoor with aid from an extension cable or indoors plugged to the mains. 

This article will introduce these two types of smokers and explore what each has to offer. By the end, you should be able to make an informed decision when choosing between a propane smoker and an electric smoker. 

meat on propane smoker grates

Propane smoker 

The best propane smokers are easy to use right away, and are extremely robust considering their typical cost. They give you a good amount of flexibility when smoking, and are a great way to go for newcomers.

No matter how good a propane smoker is, there are things that we would feel could improve. Let us consider what we love about these smokers as well as what is not quite up to scratch.

Pros 

  • Can be used off the grid.
  • Fuel delivery from the tank can be adjusted.
  • Requires very little or no warming up.
  • Easy to maintain.
  • They are weather resistant.
  • Easier to repair.

Cons

  • The gas tanks are bulky.
  • Temperature regulation can be challenging.
  • Not as advanced tech-wise.

Electric smoker 

Electric smokers tend to be easier to wrap your mind around. This is because most of us use electric cookers in our homes. We are used to electricity as a source of power. Let us look at some things that we like about electric smokers and what could be better. 

Pros

  • It is easy to provide power to.
  • Does not require much maintenance.
  • It is easy to regulate temperature.
  • It is ecofriendly.
  • Generally lightweight.
  • Provides the option to set and forget.
  • Has advanced technology onboard.

Cons

  • Not ideal for longterm outdoor use.
  • Does not get as hot as the propane ones.
glazed ribs in electric smoker grates

The differences between propane and electric smokers

The first difference that comes to anyone’s mind when thinking about a propane smoker vs an electric smoker is portability. This comes to mind because an electric smoker requires a power outlet. It cannot go off the grid. There are limitations when it comes to where you can use it. 

In contrast, a propane smoker allows you to take it and use it in places that are off the grid. That is provided you take the gas with you. Let us consider other differences between the two. 

Initial and ongoing costs

The best way to objectively consider cost is to compare like for like. To do this, we looked at propane smokers and electric smokers from the same brand. They had to have similar, if not identical functionality.

In general, we found that electric smokers have a lower starting point than propane ones. Although you would be able to find the odd propane one within the same price range, there would be several electric options. 

Running costs should also be taken into consideration. There are two ways of restoring a propane tank when it is empty. You can either have it refilled or exchange it for a full one. Most people will use the refilling option. This costs anything between $3.25 and $4.00 per gallon.

You’ll also need a propane tank gauge to know when your gas pressure is running low.

Refilling a 20lb gallon would, therefore, cost you between about $9.75 if we round up. This would cook for up to 100 hours. Electricity is more difficult to gauge seeing as it varies in price from one supplier to another and from one area to another. 

However, in most cases, electricity is cheaper to run than propane. 

Ease of use

Ease of ignition, start-up time, and temperature control all fall into here. Both electric smokers and propane smokers are fairly easy to ignite. If we wanted to be supercritical we could say that using an electric smoker is slightly easier. It gives you a small advantage in delivering a quicker start-up time. 

Most propane smoker users will have to manually open the gas tap before igniting the smoker. This adds a few seconds to the ignition and start-up times. How much of a factor that is, will depend on the individual.

Final food quality

There are some users who will swear that propane smokers cook better tasting food than electric smokers do. I have noted some differences at times. What I cannot confirm is how these differences were related to the smoker used. 

This is not something that I have been able to replicate when testing. That has led me to conclude that while there may be some differences between these two smokers. It is not big enough to be the deciding factor when purchasing one. 

I believe the greatest difference or indeed the dividing factor here is the wood smoker. Most of our taste buds are used to that one before we move on to other models. Propane smokers produce results that are closer to wood smokers than electric smokers do. 

If you are going for that familiar taste, a propane smoker would be your best bet.

Temperature range

While both propane smokers and electric smokers will give you sufficient heat for cooking. It has to be said that you will get a higher temperature range from propane gas smokers. 

Reliability & durability

There is no indication of a distinct difference in the durability of a propane smoker when compared to an electric one. They tend to be constructed with similar materials. If, of course, your propane smoker is exposed to harsh weather conditions outdoors, it will show signs fo wear and tear sooner than one that is kept indoors. 

Although this is not by design, propane smokers seem to be prone to irregularities in temperature. Electric smokers are more reliable at regulating their own temperature. The only explanation for this is some sort of delay between the gas tank and the smoker. 

Cleaning & maintenance

If we consider the smokers from a like for like perspective there isn’t much of a difference when it comes to cleaning. We have mentioned the gas delay above. This is something that you need to be mindful of when it comes to the maintenance of a propane cooker. 

You would need to ensure that the intake hose is kept free of debris. Fortunately, this is more of a preventative measure than one that needs action. 

Part of maintaining your smoker is catering to repairs when necessary. In most cases, electric smokers are more costly when it comes to repairs. This is usually down to the price of the more advanced parts that they carry.

Conclusion

One other key difference between the two smokers is how you get them started for the very first time. Your propane smoker will need to have an initial run before you can start using it for cooking. This process is known as seasoning. It is recommended that you wash the interior before you run the smoker. 

Now that we have covered all of these factors, which one of these two options do you fancy? With all that you know about the two, you should be ready to make the right choice. Here’s to your new smoker! 


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