Think of the times that you cooked with a charcoal-burning smoker. Is the image in your mind a hassle-free cooking experience? Or is it more of a costly, stressful one?
If you agree with the latter, then it probably is time to look for another alternative– a cheaper, cleaner, and more convenient one.
If you agree that a charcoal-burning smoker requires a lot of maintenance and cleaning, then switching to propane and electric smokers might be your best option. What is with propane and electric smokers that make it a worthy upgrade from the charcoal ones?
Which is the best choice for you? In this article, we will walk you through everything you need to know about propane and electric smokers.
Table of Contents
What is meat smoking?
Smokers are primarily used for meat smoking. Before you dive into the different kinds and types of smokers, it is essential to know the basics of smoking meat.
Smoking meat means getting the desired smoky flavor and tangy texture of the meat by exposing it to indirect heat for a long period. The chewy, dark, and spicy texture is derived from the meat’s absorption by the smoker.
You may choose between cold and hot smoking, and this depends on the temperature that you will use– lower temperature for cold smoking and higher ones for hot smoking.
In cold smoking, the meat is placed away from the fire allowing it to be reached by smoke.
On the other hand, in hot smoking, the meat is cooked between 225 t0 300F. It is commonly called barbequing.
One technique for barbecuing tougher meats is through braising, wherein a juicier and softer flavor is produced by browning the meat in fat and simmering it with a chosen liquid in low heat for a long period.
Understanding electric smokers and propane smokers
An electric smoker, from its name itself, produces heat from electricity to cook food. So as not to have an extreme temperature, there are vents for regulation. The food is cooked low and slow, as low as 150F, with a maximum temperature of around 275F-300F.
However, since it operates at low temperatures, some types of cooking are not advisable using this device. It is better for delicate foods such as cheese, fish, and vegetables.
Added to that, it needs time to heat up before you can start cooking. Another downside is that since it relies on electricity, it lags behind in terms of portability as it cannot be used in outdoor cooking where there is no power source available. There are some models with features such as wood chip pans.
Propane smoker has its name derived from its heat source, propane tanks. Generally, a standard size 20-pound propane tank will give you 18 to 20 hours of grilling time. It also has a shelf for wood chips if you opt to use them. Because of its fuel source, it is highly portable.
Unlike electric smokers who require time to heat up, propane smokers reach their intended temperature pretty fast. The gas can be cranked up depending on your needed temperature, as high as 400F in just five or so minutes.
It is best for cooking foods such as brisket, patties, and crispy chicken. This is the reason why most commercial barbecue restaurants use this kind of smoker.
However, there may be fluctuations in temperature than what you initially intended, especially when cooking at a lower temperature, and this may affect your recipe.
Electric vs. propane smokers
Some of the pros and cons of electric and propane smokers were already mentioned. However, before you fully decide which of these is what you need, their characteristics and features will be discussed in detail.
In terms of initial cost, electric models are usually slightly more expensive than their gas smoker counterparts. Aside from the initial cost, another factor to be considered is the running cost.
Propane models cost around $0.50 per hour compared to electric smokers’ $0.10. This may be a small amount, but it can affect your budget over time, especially if you are a frequent user.
When using propane smokers, you should also have an extra propane tank so as not to run out of gas in the middle of cooking. While with the electric models, you should invest in heavy-duty extension cords.
Another factor to be considered is its durability and whether it gives value to your money. Propane smokers have a simple design, so there isn’t a lot that can go wrong.
However, the electric models rely on the control panel to function, which is prone to issues of malfunctioning, most especially if exposed to greasy, hot, and moist areas. Added to that, for the cheaper variants, the control panel is not weather-proof.
This is why, in the long run, gas smokers are more durable than electric ones.
So when looking at what gives value for your money, do not be tempted to solely consider the initial price. If you settle for the cheaper one, most probably there will be a lot of inconveniences and problems you may face in the future.
For instance, cheaper models of propane smokers may run in extremely high temperatures without proper control. Less expensive models of electric smokers may also not have features such as Bluetooth connectivity and may only have three available temperature settings (low, medium, and high).
Maintenance and Safety
When it comes to cleaning, it is a bit harder to do so for propane smokers. Remember that propane smokers can cook at high temperatures, so more oil and fat from the food drip from the pan to its parts.
The positive thing about it is that since propane smokers are made with simple parts, it can easily be repaired.
Both posts risk safety when not handled properly. Since propane is powered by gas, it can be highly flammable and, in worst-case scenarios, may lead to gas explosions. When used outdoors, its temperature could also be affected by cold temperature since it is not well-insulated.
Because of temperature fluctuations, you need to keep an eye on propane smokers to ensure that your food is not over or undercooked.
With electric smokers, there is no need to check it consistently. However, its downside, which could be a dealbreaker to some, is that it should not be used outdoors when it is raining or with bad weather.
In instances of a power outage, a propane smoker is an ideal choice over the electric ones.
Effect on Food
Think of this analogy; propane can produce a flavor similar to that of charcoal and wood smokers, while electric smokers are closer to that of an oven. Taste is subjective, so it’s up to you whether you choose the former or the latter.
Propane gas smokers can somewhat copy the flavor and profile of a wood smoker as this has a versatile temperature.
It can go as high as 400F and can be used with wood chips, thus capable of producing a “smoke ring” or the pink-colored band in meat which is generally considered an indicator of juiciness and tenderness.
As for the electric smokers, around 40 percent of its variants also have a shelf for wood chips.
Versions and models of smokers with a manufacturer-built insulation system are a plus. This is because these insulations are built and designed to perfectly fit your smoker.
There may be options for buying insulating jackets with aluminum material from online sellers and yard stores, but nothing beats the manufacture-built ones. This is one thing to be considered when choosing smokers.
Final Choice: Your choice of smoker will depend on your needs and priorities. If you are more focused on safety, convenience, and the ability to operate at lower temperatures, the best option for you is the electric smoker.
However, if your priority is on fast cooking, food taste, and ease of transport, your best bet is the propane smoker.
Top electric and propane smokers
Now that you know the pros and cons of the two, it is time to decide whether to opt for electric or propane smokers. You may take into consideration its manufacturers. There are five manufacturers which made it to the list of what we considered the best.
Masterbuilt, Char-Broil, Smoke Hollow, Camp Chef, and Bradley Smoker. They excel in affordability, innovatively, and years of experience in the industry.
Manufacturers and brands
If you are looking for manufacturers with established reputations and brands in the industry, Masterbuilt and Char-Broil are the best options for you.
The former has been in the industry for almost fifty years with a reputation for making reliable electric, charcoal, pellet and propane smokers.
The latter has been in the industry since 1948 and is considered the rival company of Masterbuilt.
If your concern is the price and affordability, Smoke Hollow is the best brand for you. Although it was just established four years ago, this manufacturing company has a considerable number of affordable gas and electric smokers.
If you are more focused on durability and quality, you may consider Camp Chef and Bradley Smoker. Camp Chef has been in the industry for 20 years and has produced high-quality gas models.
This brand also manufactures flat-top grills, camp stoves, and pellet grills. If you are into electric models, Bradley Smoker, a Canadian brand, is your ideal choice. This brand also offers flavor-enhancing bisquettes.
Top Propane Smokers
You already know which brands to consider in terms of the category that you are looking for. If you want to know about specific models with the best features in the market, here are our top recommendations.
Masterbuilt MPS 340/G ThermoTemp XL Propane Smoker
This 40-inch propane smoker negates the once dealbreaker fluctuating temperatures of gas smokers because it is built-in with a thermostatic control which allows easier regulation of gas flow to the burner.
With this, you can now have precise cooking for both high and low temperatures ranging from 180- 350F.
- Thermostatic control
- Four chrome-coated racks
- Wheels for ease of transport
- Fuel gauge for a temperature check
- With glass door frontage for checking food while cooking
- With a heat-diffuser and stainless-steel burner of 15 750 BTU output.
- Only has a warranty period of one year, which is inferior to that of other brands.
Cuisinart COS-244 Vertical 36” Propane Smoker
This 36-inch model is the best for those who don’t want to invest in the pricier ones. This model is durable and well-made for a reasonable price.
It is 4 inches smaller than the Masterbuilt MPS 340/G ThermoTemp XL Propane Smoker with an interior space of 5.45 square feet.
- Three-year warranty
- Adjustable gas supply
- Duo doors for wood chips
- 40-inch hose and regulator
- Built-in thermometer for internal temperature monitoring
- With four removable steel grill racks for simultaneous cooking
- No glass or window door frontage for checking food while cooking.
- Temperature is not easily adjustable; thus not the best option for slow and low cooking.
Top Electric Smokers
Masterbuilt 30-Inch Digital Electric Smoker
With its digital control panel, this 30–inch smoker is an affordable, user-friendly, versatile and low-maintenance smoker. It has controls for cooking time, and the internal temperature can be set between 100 to 275F.
In just a few minutes, it can reach the desired temperature with the capability to maintain its internal temperature. Thus, this model is ideal for cold smoking.
- Solid insulation
- Wood chip tray system
- Interior space of 730 square inches
- Four chrome-coated stainless-steel racks
- Relatively small wood chip tray
- A warranty period of only 90 days
- Cooking racks too narrow for larger foods
An old smokey electric smoker
This simple and easy-on-the-eye electric smoker contains all the necessary features without having fancy features. Its simplicity has become its asset in terms of performance as lesser parts mean lesser chances of breakage and damage.
Because of this, if you are looking for a workhorse smoker which is at the same time frill-free, durable and well-made, Old smokey is the best model for you. In terms of convenience, this is also the winner as it has “plug-and-play” convenience, easy to maintain, and is well-made and durable, which will save you several trips to the repair center.
However, it can get extremely hot because of its exterior metal surface and lack of a temperature gauge.
- Compact and vat-style
- 280 square inches of cooking space
- No shelf for wood chips
- Small capacity at 280 square inches
- No glass or window door for food progress checking
- Not the best for cool temperatures and strong winds because of insufficient insulation
Cleaning your smoker
To reduce the chances of breakage and damage and maintain its performance, regular cleaning should be done on your smoker. Here are the steps to do this
- Remove the water pan, drip tray, smoker pan, and all the racks.
- Wipe any oil and grease residue deposited at the bottom of the smoker.
- Remove all the residue from the cooking chamber.
- Scrub the smoker’s interior surface using warm soapy water and a sponge.
- Use a towel to wipe it dry.
Last update on 2023-12-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
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