Gas Vs Electric Smokers: The Essential Buyer’s Guide


Thinking about buying a smoker? Then you probably already know that a charcoal smoker is not a beginner’s tool and you may  now be weighing up the differences between gas and electric smokers. The good news is that their strengths and weaknesses are quite distinct and when you know what you’re looking for -making the right choice is easy. 

Our Gas Vs Electric Smokers: The Essential Buyer’s Guide includes a breakdown of gas smokers and electric smokers by the ease of use, taste of the finished product, control systems, cold smoking, feature sets, size, temperature range, warranty, safety, portability, and weather resistance. We then put them head-to-head to help you choose the right smoker for your family’s needs.

Gas Smokers

Beginners love gas smokers because you can get started in, quite literally, next to no time. You have an on switch and a flame control. So, once you’ve set up the chips or chunks and you’ve connected the gas – you’re ready to cook.

Propane is the gas used in almost all gas smokers and you need to keep an eye on the amount of fuel available before and during cooking – as if it splutters out during the smoking process, the good may be spoiled. It burns completely cleanly (waste products are water and carbon dioxide) which means it gives no taste to the food. 

This also means that wood chips are a mandatory part of using a gas smoker. Without wood, there will be no smoke and no smoke flavor. 

You can also turn the temperature up higher in a gas smoker than in some other smokers, which means you might also be able to use it to do some grilling too. 

One word of warning on temperature – the control knob is not a precise and calibrated scale and you will need to measure the cooking temperature throughout when cooking with a gas smoker. You should always check the internal temperature of the cooked product too, no matter what the recipe says – you don’t want food poisoning when using any kind of smoker. 

Ease of Use

We know, they say that electric smokers are the easiest to use but that’s only because most people are comparing them to charcoal smokers, which are hard to use. Using a propane-powered smoker is incredibly easy because you have only one job to do to start smoking.

You start the burner (usually in the same way that you kick start a burner on the stove), set the power to your preferred temperature and just keep an occasional eye on it to ensure that the temperature is where you thought it would be. There’s nothing more to it than that, thankfully. 

Taste Of The Finished Product

Now, this is always going to be up for debate – though there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that charcoal smoked food provides the best taste of them all. Some people claim, however, that gas smoked food is closer to the taste of the charcoal than electric smokers provide.

We’re not sure that this is true. We’d say that much of the taste of the end product (when not using charcoal) is simply down to the skill of the user. The more practice that you get with your gas smoker, the easier it will be to get great tasting food out of it. 

Control Systems

The controls on a gas smoker are pretty basic. You’re going to see an on/off switch that  ignites the gas and then a burner knob which you need to adjust to get the right temperature of the flame. That’s it. You won’t get anything more than that without adding electric functionality.

That’s because while gas is excellent for burning to make heat – it’s not as good at running digital controls. We find that if you want to unleash your inner minimalist; you simply can’t beat a gas smoker’s control system. 

Can You Cold Smoke?

Cold smoking isn’t something you can do legally at home in the United States because it requires some serious training to ensure that you’re doing it right and not causing a health hazard. So, what we mean by cold smoking in this context is actually warm smoking which can be used to dehydrate food and to create jerky.

Sadly, a gas smoker simply can’t handle cold smoking or warm smoking of any kind because you would need to make heavy modifications to the smoker in order to get the flame to produce a cool enough heat for it to work. 

Range Of Features

We’ve already touched on this but it’s fair to say that your average gas smoker is pretty much feature free. It has a couple of controls and it smokes food (and does so very well, indeed) but if you’re hoping to get a lot of extra functionality out of your smoker purchase – this isn’t the kind of smoker you should buy. 

Size Of Smoking Chamber

You can buy various sizes of smokers no matter whether they’re charcoal, gas, electric or even a pellet grill. So, at first, this might seem like a silly comparison but in terms of dollar for dollar comparisons – you can expect a gas smoker to be a bit larger than the equivalent electric smoker.

You can find cooking areas of up to about 1,200 square inches which is bigger than the biggest electric smokers. This can be a serious factor if you’re looking to smoke for a commercial operation or for very large groups of people. However, for a family, this is so much space that you could probably eat for a month from it. 

The Range Of Available Temperatures

As we’ve already discussed, you can’t get a very low temperature out of a gas smoker which means you can’t do cold smoking or warm smoking with it. However, while gas smokers are a bit weak at low temperatures – they’re in their element at the other end.

You can easily get up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with your average gas smoker, which is hotter than any electric smoker. However, we’d just want to point out that you don’t normally smoke at very high temperatures as it will dry out the food too quickly. 

The Expected Warranty Period

One of the nice things about owning a gas smoker is that there’s not much that can go wrong with it. You only have two controls and assuming that you take care of the device properly by cleaning it regularly and storing it properly – we can’t see any reason that you gas smoker shouldn’t still be in use years after you buy it.

However, the manufacturers aren’t quite so confident and at their price point (when compared to charcoal options) you tend to get a 2 to 5-year warranty included. That’s long enough to notice any manufacturing defects and get them remedied. 

The Overall Safety

Let’s be blunt about this. Propane gas is not just flammable but also potentially explosively so, if you don’t store it properly and if you don’t maintain the equipment you use it properly. Under the right circumstances – it’s perfectly safe and there are propane tanks near almost every home.

However, you know yourself better than we do, if you’re not bothered about keeping things in great condition, you might want to choose a safer option. 

The Portability Of The Smoker

Obviously, the first consideration when it comes to portability is the size of the smoker. If you’ve bought an industrial-sized smoker which needs four people to move it – it’s clearly not going to be portable.

However, assuming that your gas smoker is small enough that you can pick it up and put it in a car (perhaps with a little assistance from a friend) and you can still fit a gas cylinder and yourself in too – then it’s completely portable. You can set up in the middle of a desert or forest, assuming you’re not breaking any laws. 

The Weather Resistance

You can use a propane smoker in light rain without an issue but when it comes to heavy downpours or snowfalls – we’d leave it for another day (unless your smoker is well-sheltered, in which case, go for it) because you’re likely to find that the weather interferes with the internal temperature and makes maintaining it more difficult. 

Electric Smokers 

The highest level of precision you can get when using a smoker is from an electric smoker. You plug it in and set it up (you still need some wood chips and usually to add some water too) and then you can switch a few dials and walk away.

The electric smoker is a popular choice for busy people who don’t want to attend to their food while it cooks. It may not produce quite such a smoky mouth feel as charcoal but it’s pretty good and that’s often more than enough for most people. 

Ease of Use

It might not be quite as simple as a gas smoker but let’s not kid ourselves – setting up an electric smoker is also child’s play (though, please, don’t let your children play with a smoker; that’s a very bad idea). It’s an electrical product so as you’d expect – the first step is to plug it in.

Now, you will probably need to read the manual to figure out the exact controls but we doubt it will take more than 15 minutes to set the temperature, get the chips/chunks on the go and get your food inside on that nice electric timer. It’s ultra-convenient and unlike with gas, once you’ve set everything up, you can walk away and forget about it, the temperature will stay controlled. 

Taste Of The Finished Product

We’re quite partial to our electric smoker. It doesn’t produce food that’s as tasty as our charcoal smoker but when we just don’t need the hassle of spending a whole day with a smoker, it does the job very well, indeed.

We know that purists will argue that gas smokers make food tastier, but we don’t see any real difference between them. They both produce copious amounts of smoke and assuming you have the temperature settings right – they both produce great tasting food when you want them to. 

Control Systems

Electric smokers can be really basic. A very cheap model is nearly as basic as the gas smoker – with an on/off switch, a temperature setting and maybe a timer too (which we like because it means you don’t have to watch the meat as it smokes because you know when it’s done, the smoker will simply switch off).

However, if you’re going to spend a bit more money there are quite a lot of other interesting and powerful features they can integrate into an electric smoker and each of those will end up with its own control dial or input. So, be careful to keep an eye on what you really need from a smoker when you buy an electric one or you may have to study the manual like you’d study for a degree in engineering. 

Can You Cold Smoke?

Cold smoking is, technically, possible with almost all electric smokers because you ought to have fine control over the temperature that gas smokers lack. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s always a straightforward process.

In our experience, if you want good results from an electric smoker as a cold smoker (well, warm smoker/dehydrator, anyway) then you may have to buy a cold smoking kit which you add to the electric smoker to get this functionality. 

Range Of Features

You can get a lovely range of features on electric smokers and it would be impossible to list them all but you should easily be able to find one with an internal light (which makes checking the progress of your food much easier), an alarm system, a meat thermometer (which you push into the meat to check the final cooking temperature) and an auto-timer switch off too (so that you never burn the food even if you forget about it).

No other smoker, not even a charcoal smoker can compete with an electric smoker on features. 

Size Of Smoking Chamber

The smoking chamber is going to depend on the size of the device that you buy, just as it was with the gas smokers. However, as we mentioned before these tend to a bit smaller size when compared at a price to price equivalent.

The largest electric smokers tend to top out at around 1000 square inches of space on the surface and obviously, that’s a little smaller than their gas counterparts but unless you’re cooking commercially or for huge crowds, this is nothing to worry about. 

The Range Of Available Temperatures

You can get a much greater degree of temperature control with an electric smoker than any other kind of smoker – you can set the temperature and expect it to stay that way too. You might want to occasionally check the accuracy of the calibration but most of the time, you can just set it and forget it.

You can’t however, get such a high temperature with an electric smoker as you can with a gas smoker, though you can normally get a much lower temperature (maybe as low as 100 degrees Fahrenheit) which allows for warm smoking and the manufacture of jerky than with a gas smoker. 

This difference in temperature settings can really help you make the decision as to what’s right for your family. 

The Expected Warranty Period

There are some exceptions out there with excellent warranties, but we find that the average warranty period for electric smokers is about a year. Now, we’d expect a smoker to last much longer than that, for sure, but if you do run into problems once the warranty is up – you’re going to pay to fix them. 

This is definitely something to pay attention to when buying a smoker. Though it’s worth remembering that some parts of the world have increased consumer protection laws which render the warranty something of a moot point anyway. 

The Overall Safety

There’s no doubt in our minds at all that the electric smoker is a very safe device. That doesn’t mean that you can’t injure yourself using an electric smoker – it gets hot, and you can get burned but it does mean that assuming you use common sense, you can set it up, get it going and leave it until the smoking is done without worrying about fires, etc.

You have tons of electric devices in your life already, this is just one more. 

The Portability Of The Smoker

You can, of course, move an electric smoker to wherever you have a power supply. We’ve been to many a summer party where the proud owner of an electric smoker has stretched an extension cord across their yard to make it more accessible.

However, we think that there are obvious limits to this too and most people aren’t going to drag a generator and a smoker along when they go out into the woods, for example. So, electric smokers aren’t quite as portable as gas smokers are. 

The Weather Resistance

One thing you probably don’t want to do is take electric equipment out in the rain. Sure, it might be a little insulated, but we wouldn’t risk it. Naked electricity and water don’t mix and while it’s unlikely to kill you if things go wrong (this is why there are fuses in plugs) – it’s probably going to kill the smoker.

So, weather resistance is not an electric smoker’s strong point and we’d advise using them on sunny days or putting them undercover. 

Head To Head – The Upsides Of Propane Smokers And Electric Smokers

So, now that we’ve seen both sets of smokers side-by-side, let’s take a peek at their ultimate strengths and weaknesses.

We want to stress that both gas smokers and electric smokers can do an excellent job of smoking your meat products, however, they do both have areas in which they excel and others where they’re not so great. 

Propane Smokers

The gas smokers have two main areas of strength and the first – the ability to reach high temperatures – may be a good reason to opt for propane:

Highest Temperatures

If you want to get a bit of grilling done as well as some smoking – the propane smoker is your top choice. There’s no doubt at all that you can get the highest temperatures using gas and an electric smoker simply can’t get close to this. 

Easiest To Use

The instruction manual for a gas smoker should be no more than a single page of paper. There’s nothing to learn – how to turn it on and how to fiddle with the size of the flame. That’s it. Don’t forget to fill the water bowl and add wood chips and then check on it every now and again to see it’s operating in the way you expect it to. 

Electric Smokers

Electric smokers, we feel, have 5 key advantages over the gas smoker and again, the first, the ability to operate at a low temperature may be your key factor in deciding on an electric smoker for your home:

Rule The Roost At Low Temperatures

You can control the temperature more easily on an electric smoker and it’s much easier to get a low temperature. Combine this with a cold smoking kit and you’ve got a great jerky making machine without needing to invest in a dehydrator. 

Biggest Choice Of Grill Areas

There are just more choices when it comes to electric smokers and that means you can pretty much get the exact size you want for your family’s food. 

Still Easy To Use

OK, not quite as simple to use as the gas smoker but the electric smoker does more stuff than a gas smoker does. We find them very easy to use when compared to the old-school charcoal smokers and we don’t think you’re going to regret buying an electric smoker because of its complexity. 

Very Safe

You can’t fault the electric device for its all-around safety. Assuming that your plug has a fuse in it – you should never encounter any issues with an electric smoker regarding safety. 

Generally Cost-Effective

We find electric smokers offer the most affordability too, we find the entry-level models to be reasonably priced and slightly better value than the gas smokers. 

Head To Head – Downsides Of Propane Smokers And Electric Smokers

Propane Smokers

Low Temperatures Are Out Of Reach

You absolutely cannot get your propane smoker to reach low temperatures which means dehydration is out. Warm smoking is not an option and while we know some people won’t mind, for others this will be a complete deal breaker. 

Safety Is Always A Concern

We don’t think propane accidents are likely, but we have to acknowledge the possibility of them. If you have family around you, we’d weigh this up fairly carefully and if you can, make sure to take every precaution when using propane. 

Wet/Snowy Weather Will Ruin Your Day

The change in temperature will often deeply affect the internal temperature of the smoker. This can mean that your food is ruined or undercooked. Either way, we’d avoid using the gas smoker on days with extreme weather conditions unless it’s fully under cover.

Electric Smokers

No Electricity, No Food

If you live in an area where there are regular power cuts, you may find that an electric smoker is more of an ornament than a tool. You may also find it frustrating that the smoker is not as portable as you’d like it to be because of the lack of power sources available.

Wet/Snowy Weather Can Still Ruin The Equipment

Wet weather and snowy weather are not good for electric equipment either. Again, if you’re not working under cover – it’s best to leave using an electric smoker for another day when severe weather sets in. 

Conclusion

We hope that our Gas Vs Electric Smokers: The Essential Buyer’s Guide has been helpful for you to choose the right kind of smoker for your family’s food needs. We think the biggest factor in your decision is likely to be the temperature range that you want to be covered.

Other than that, they can both make tasty food and are easy to use and enjoyable to own. We hope that your meals are as tasty as can be, whichever way you decide to go. 

William Johnson

Will has loved smoking food in his free time for the last few years. Each major holiday or off-weekend, Will spends days testing and prepping new recipes for perfection.

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