Propane vs. Electric Smoker: The Big Differences That Will Matter To You

by Jolly Green Products on March 10, 2020

The Big Differences That Will Matter To You

So, you’re looking at investing in a smoker but you’re exactly sure which one to go with. Propane gas smokers and electric smokers each have their advantages and disadvantages. The key to deciding between the two is to know the ins and outs of these distinct types of smokers. 

There’s a lot of information on the internet about smokers and which ones to choose but we’re here to give you the ultimate low-down on what smoker best suits your needs. 

Let’s get started.


What is the main difference between propane and electric smokers?

As you may have already noticed, these two types of smokers have some similarities. All models usually come with a wood chip tray, multiple racks, and an air damper and includes a heating element, temperature gauge, water tray, and use wood chips and water to create the smoky flavor. The most notable is the price point. Both types cost pretty much the same with the average unit clocking in at under $200. 

That said, it’s important to note that they operate quite differently. As you can infer from the names, electric smokers use electricity to cook food whereas propane smokers use propane gas. 

Here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons of each: 

Propane Smokers

  • Can reach a higher temperature
  • Portable and more versatile
  • Not as easy to use
  • Need to be monitored more carefully during smoking due to high temperatures 

Electric Smokers

  • Great control of temperature
  • Easy to use
  • More reliable for smoking than propane because powered by electricity
  • Not as versatile because they need to be plugged in 

Now that you have this simple overview, let’s get into the details.


Higher Heat and Temperatures (Propane) vs. Lower Heat and Temperatures (Electric)

Higher Heat and Temperatures

Depending on the model of propane gas smoker, you’ll notice that the device can be cranked up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s pretty hot. Depending on the kinds of dishes you’re making with your smoker, factor the temperature you need into your decision. 

Electric smokers reach a maximum of around 260-280 degrees Fahrenheit which is great for smoking ribs and fish. It’s difficult to keep a propane gas smoker stable at this temperature, although propane smokers are great for heavier meats like chicken and beefsteak.


Easy to Use (Electric) vs. Not So Easy to Use (Propane)

This is a key point for beginners. Electric smokers are undoubtedly more easy to use than propane smokers for a few reasons. 

First, temperature control. When heating up an electric smoker, all you have to do it is set it to the temperature you need and wait until it reaches that temperature. With a propane smoker, you have to constantly keep your eye on the heat and adjust the propane and gas burner accordingly. Propane smokers are a lot more unpredictable in terms of temperature. 

Second, the level of maintenance during the BBQ process. With an electric smoker, you know what to expect. Of course, you should never walk away from food on the grill but the monitoring process is not as intense as it is with a propane smoker. Again, this is due to its unpredictability.


Classic Smoke Taste (Propane) vs. Electric

Because of its higher temperatures and general construction, you’re more likely to get a classic smoke flavor with a propane gas smoker. Propane smokers best replicate the taste you would get cooking with charcoal or wood. 

This might be one of the most important points for people really into food depending on what exactly you want to achieve with your smoker.


Plug-In Power (Electric) vs. Gas (Propane)

Gas Propane

Aside from the differences mentioned above, it’s important to note that a propane smoker is a lot more versatile because it uses a tank that that’s easily moved. Electric smokers aren’t as portable because they have to be plugged into an outlet at all times. Keep in mind that there’s always the option of purchasing a heavy-duty extension cord but these can look ugly when placed on a deck.

The other side is that, with a propane tank, there’s always the risk of the tank emptying when you’re in the middle of cooking. This is why you should always have a spare tank ready to go.


What If It Rains? Usage (Propane) vs. Non-Usage (Electric) 

If you’re planning to use your smoker in inclement weather, note that electric smokers cannot be used in the rain. The reasons for that should be obvious enough. Water and electricity do not mix. Besides that, the instrument itself can get easily damaged which could drastically decrease its lifespan. 

That said, using a propane gas smoker in the rain is not. Unlike an electric smoker, there’s no immediate threat to using it in inclement weather; however, it may operate at a sub-par level. As always, you are going to have to spend quite a bit of time playing around with and adjusting the propane depending on the amount of wind and rain that threaten the cooking temperature.


Which is more reliable? 

In general, propane smokers are a lot more reliable than electric smokers, mostly because the electric set-up lends itself more to breakage and wearing down. There isn’t much that can break with a propane smoker. The biggest danger is probably rust. Keep in mind that electric smokers are run by electronic systems, which can fail at times, especially in environments where there is an excess of heat and grease.

In conclusion, there’s no right answer as to whether a propane or electric smoker is better. It all comes down to personal preference. Hopefully, these tips and tricks have been instrumental in helping you survey the two products and make the right decision for your future cooking endeavors!


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