If you are planning to start smoking your meats at home and do not want the mess and extra work that come with charcoal smokers, you are most likely going to have to pick between the propane and electric smokers.
Both propane and electric smokers will not only give you a cleaner smoking experience but are also easier to use and quite efficient.
But, you still need to pick between the two amazing smokers, and for this, you will need to understand the merits and demerits of each and also how they differ as there are more differences besides the fuel source.
Propane Smoker Overview
Propane smokers are the kinds that use propane for their fuel source, and they are designed to give you a much easier time than traditional charcoal smokers.
These smokers will heat up faster and because propane gas burns quite hot will attain a higher temperature than the electric types.
But because this gas burns cleanly, smoking is not possible without adding a smoke box with wood chips to generate the smoke. However, given the higher temperatures, there will be more smoke in a gas grill than an electric one which gives food a nice smoky flavor more close to what you get with charcoal.
On the other hand, these smokers will also come with some issues such as the fact that attaining a low temperature for low and slow cooking is harder, and they are also relatively less than the electric ones.
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- No power outlet required to use one
- Achieves relatively higher temperatures
- Better and more charcoal-like food flavor
- Easier to clean
- Attaining lower temperatures is hard
- Not very safe to use
Electric Smoker Overview
Electric smokers are super easy to use smoker types, and they are the kind that you can set and forget about until the food is ready. Like many other electric appliances, they will also offer easier and more precise temperature control as most come with a digital controller.
Unlike the gas smokers, you will not have to worry about running out of gas which makes these smokers great when you are smoking food for extended periods.
They are also much safer to operate than the propane smokers that come with greater safety risks. And because they produce heat with no smoke, they will also require a bowl of wood chips to produce the smoke for smoking.
Given the more precise temperature control, electric smokers will also allow you to attain super-low temperatures which will be perfect for cold brewing.
But, these smokers also come with their downsides, key among them being the limited mobility since they require a power outlet and the fact that the food they smoke will not have a very distinct smoky flavor. And these are also generally more expensive when compared to propane smokers.
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- Easier to use even for beginners
- Relative safer
- Excellent for cold smoking
- Simpler and more precise temperature control
- Modern, sleek look
- Limited mobility as it requires a power outlet
- Will not reach very high temperatures
- Generally pricier
150 to 400 °F
100 to 300 °F
On/off switch or knob
Ease of Use
Comes with a steeper learning curve
Easier to Use
Poses more danger
Great and almost as good as the charcoal smoker
Good but with less intensity
Approximate Cost of Operation
$0.4 to $0.5 per hour
$0.06 to $0.15 per hour
Propane vs. Electric Smoker
There are numerous factors that you will need to take into account when choosing a smoker, and they will even be more important when trying to choose between two types like the propane and electric smokers. Below we highlight how the two smokers stack up to help grillers make an informed pick.
1. Temperature Range
On average, the propane gas smokers will have a relatively wider temperature range than the electric ones as most can provide anywhere from 150 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the model and efficiency of the burners.
With electric smokers, on the other hand, you will get a temperature range of around 100 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit which despite not being very wide is still more than enough for smoking.
From the temperature ranges, it is clear that propane smokers can attain a significantly higher temperature than electric ones which makes them ideal for other things like searing and will also cook relatively faster.
But, electric smokers also offer the advantage of being able to cook at relatively lower temperatures which makes cold smoking easy, but with a propane smoker, it would be hard to cold-smoke as it is difficult to get the low temperatures required.
2. Temperature Control
Besides the difference in the temperature range, these smokers will also differ when it comes to temperature control as they use different mechanisms for this.
With the propane smokers, temperature control will require you to twist the burner knob to increase or decrease the temperature. And while this is effective enough, it is not always very precise.
For electric smokers, temperature control is more precise as most models will be equipped with a digital controller, and you can easily select the temperature you want to cook at. And on top of this most models will also include a timer to give you more control over the smoking process.
3. Ease of Use
Both electric and propane smokers are fairly easy to use as they will not come with extra work of having to light up the charcoal before you can start smoking like charcoal smokers.
However, there is a steeper learning curve with the propane smokers as you will need to master how to alter the temperature to get to your preferred cooking zone which is not as easy as when using an electric smoker. But, you should be able to master it in no time.
With electric smokers, on the other hand, things are more straightforward as most models are more of plug and play. Everything from the ignition to the temperature control is simple which makes them generally easier to use.
But, also note that it will take a little longer for the electric heating element to get to the ideal temperature to ignite the wood chips.
Both smoking methods will come with significant risk given that both the highly inflammable propane gas and electricity pose a significant fire hazard.
But when comparing the two side by side, electric smokers will be the safer option, and you can hence leave it unattended for many hours. And this is even more so if you are using a model that comes with a built-in timer.
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With the propane smokers, you will need to pay more attention to safety as any accidental gas leaks can be catastrophic. However, using one of these smokers should still be safe enough provides you follow the basic safety procedures.
5. Food Flavor
Both propane and electric smokers will have no direct impact on the food’s flavor, and this is why most models will come with a wood chip box for producing smoke to add flavor to the food.
With that said, propane smokers will deliver foods that are relatively more flavorful than electric smokers and will be closer to what you would get with a traditional charcoal smoker.
Because propane smokers will deliver higher heat output, they will often produce more smoke and hence add more flavor to the food. Also, the overall quality of food that you get with the electric smokers will be much better than what you get with the electric smokers.
6. Starting Prices
Despite providing relatively better quality food, propane smokers will also come at a relatively smaller price tag than the electric models.
Prices for the propane smokers will typically start at around $150 but given that they are more widely available and prevalent, it is also possible to get something for as little as $80, although it will be smaller and less efficient.
For electric smokers, on the other hand, you should be ready to spend at least $200 to get a simple model while the larger and more feature-rich ones can cost thousands of dollars.
7. Approximate Operation Cost
Buying a smoker is just the first step of the process as you will also need to use it, and here there is also some cost that comes with it as you have to buy propane gas or pay for your electricity.
When it comes to the cost of operation, several factors come into play from the size of the smoker to the model, and so it is hard to come up with an accurate cost. The best you can get is an estimate.
While it does not cost much to refill a tank of propane in most places, electricity is still cheaper in most places.
When you take into account the cost of refilling a propane tank and the average number of cooking hours you get from it, the cost of operating your propane smoker will be between $0.4 and $0.5 per hour. And for electric smokers, it will be around $0.06 and $0.15 per hour.
Propane and electric smokers are the best alternatives to charcoal smokers for anyone that wants a cleaner way to smoke foods, and while both do an amazing job they are not the same.
To make an informed choice between the two, the best idea will be to try out both, but because this might not always be possible, you need to know what each is good for.
From our comparison above, the electric smoker is the best pick for any griller looking for something that offers precise temperature control, is easier to use and also allows for the super low temperatures required for cold smoking.
Propane smokers, on the other hand, are perfect if you are looking for something that achieves higher temperatures and delivers better quality food flavor that is more close to what you get with charcoal smokers.