Some people will insist on a traditional charcoal smoker while others will say an electric or gas smoker is the best way to go. There are many types of smokers, and there is no right or wrong answer.
Both gas and electric smokers have merits as well as disadvantages, but which one is better for you? Let’s look at these a bit so that you can make an informed decision and find the option that will work best for you.
The Differences between Gas and Electric Smokers
There are some of the aspects that we can differentiate between the two types of smokers. Here are the main points to consider when choosing one of them:
1. Heating Mechanism
An electric smoker has a heating element much like an electric oven. This takes a while to heat up to the required temperature, but once there, it is easier to keep an electric smoker at the desired temperature. This is especially true when smoking at low temperatures.
The hot thermal waves travel up the smoker, heating the unit. Most electric smokers use pellets in place of wood chips to smoke the meat. This is why many are simply called pellet smokers.
To start one, you have to switch the unit on and select the desired temperature. The smoker will continuously monitor the heat to maintain it at a consistent temperature.
Being electric and having more components than a propane smoker or other types of smokers, more things can go wrong or eventually fail.
A gas smoker user propane or sometimes natural gas to create the heat source. One has to start it using an electric push-button starter or with a match if it does not have this feature. Once on, it heats up fairly quickly and can be adjusted by changing the intensity of the flame on the burner.
While it takes a bit more effort and experience to achieve consistent temperatures, one can get a much higher temperature on a good gas smoker. This makes them more versatile and able to cook a few things that would not work as well in a good electric smoker. It is also easier to regulate the amount of smoke on a gas smoker.
2. Potential Usage: High Heat vs Low Heat
Electric smokers are more suited to meat and food that do not need high heat, such as a rack of ribs. They work well where a consistent low heat is required such as when making jerky, smoking salmon or dehydrating tomatoes.
The maximum temperature of an electric smoker usually is around 275F. They cannot reach the high temperatures of propane smokers.
If, however, you want to crisp your poultry skin or cook faster at higher temps, then a gas smoker will be a better option. They can go as high as 350 to 400F. These will allow that perfect smoke ring with a succulent pink center and often make the best barbecue.
The gas used is measured by the gallon of propane while electricity used is measured by the kWh kilowatt.
Because a propane smoker has a more basic design that does not use electricity, it is far more reliable. There merely is less that can go wrong.
The burner connects to the regulator that attaches to the propane tank. It sits at the bottom of a metal box. Very simple yet effective.
An electric smoker, on the other hand, has a heating element, a thermostat and digital electrical controls to regulate the temperature and electronic controls.
These are all connected and are constantly heating and cooling. They are also exposed to the elements as well as grease, oil, and moisture. If you don’t go the propane route, more connections and components can break, detach, or fail.
4. Bad Weather Considerations
Electric smokers should never be used in the rain. It is dangerous for an electrical appliance to get wet. Apart from the danger, it can also damage electronics. For this reason, a gas smoker is more reliable in poor weather. You do not want to have to stop halfway through cooking if a bit of rain comes in.
Gas smokers are perfectly safe to use in the rain and will not be affected. If it gets windy, you might need to give a propane smoker a bit of attention to ensure the flame keeps going.
Adjusting the fire and getting the position right normally helps. Consider the weather conditions where you live when choosing one of the popular types of smokers.
5. Ease of Use
At this point, an electric smoker wins the competition. An electric smoker will work pretty much the same as your regular electric oven in your kitchen.
You just turn it on and select the temperature you want. The heating elements are inside and will keep the smoker at a consistent heat without any effort from your side.
In another hand, A gas smoker will need to be started manually and then adjust it. Most of the people use an electric starter to make that part easy.
Adjusting the flame and the vents take a bit of practice, but you will soon get the hang of it. You will have to change once or twice during the smoking process.
With an electric smoker, you can set and forget whereas you should check on a gas smoker every few hours or so to prevent any performance issues.
6. Ease of cleaning
Both electric and gas smokers are much easier to clean than a wood or coal smoker, but the electric smoker is probably slightly more comfortable to keep clean.
This generally means wiping it down after use and cleaning up any fat or juice that might splatter when being used.
7. Taste of Food
This is the most debated topic with many traditional people adamant that you can only get a real smoking experience using an original smoker such as a wood smoker or perhaps charcoal smoker. Even a smoker using wood pellets is often frowned upon.
The truth is a propane smoker when correctly used, will produce a taste that is on a par with traditional smokers. Blind tests have proved this fact a few times.
Sadly, even the best electric smoker will not give you the exact smoke flavor that can be achieved on propane and other smokers.
In the end, taste matter is a very personal thing, and many people are more than happy with the taste of food cooked in electric smokers. This is especially true of food that needs to be cooked low and slow like a full rack of ribs.
Electric smokers definitely win this category because they are safer than propane smokers. There is no open flame, and the heating element is inside the unit.
The temperature is electronically controlled and has built-in safety modules and features. But this does not mean that propane smokers are a cause for safety concern, but you are dealing with gas and an open flame. Due care needs to be taken. You cannot just leave them all day, so check on them from time to time.
So Which One is The Best For a Beginner?
Both types of smokers are suitable for beginners, but they do have pros and cons. Let’s explore those a bit so that it is not that hard to choose.
Gas Smokers – Pros and Cons
- Easy operation – Once the smoker is set up and going, there is very little to be done.
- Compact – Gas smokers do not take up much space and are even available in portable styles.
- Portable – Following on from the above, because you only need a gas bottle, you can take you smoker wherever you want.
- Good temperature control – In comparison to charcoal or wood smokers, gas units are easier to control and maintain the temperature.
- Easy to start – All but the very cheapest gas smokers will have an electric starter, making them easy to get going.
- Quick heat – Propane will heat the smoker quickly so you can cook shortly after starting.
- Clean burn – You will have no soot or concerns with a propane smoker as it always burns clean.
- Price – Gas smokers are one of the least expensive options and are great value for money. Depending on features and size, you can pick up a quality gas smoker for a reasonable price. They are roughly the same price as equivalent electric smokers.
- Taste – While the flavor is still good, it is not as authentic as a traditional wood charcoal smoker.
- Size restrictions – Many gas smokers do not have as much cooking area as other options.
- Gas runs out – So long as you plan, this should not be an issue. If not planned for, running out of gas can be a big problem.
- Some leak smoke – Some of the less expensive models are not entirely insulated so tend to leak a bit of smoke.
Electric Smokers – Pros and Cons
- Easy to set up – There is very little preparation with an electric smoker. Season your meat, switch the unit on and set the temperature. That is all that is needed.
- Easy to use – Nothing could be easier than using an electric smoker. They are easy to start and one running needs little to no attention.
- Accurate temperature control – The temperature is controlled electronically so you can be sure of a consistent and accurate temperature throughout the process.
- Can be used anywhere – Some places might not allow gas or other types of smokers. An electric smoker can be used pretty much anywhere so long as you have electricity. In some cases, you may need an extension cord. They can even be used indoors.
- Versatile – Because electric smokers can produce a low steady heat they are ideal for jerky and fish which might not work in other types of smokers. Safety – Electric smokers are the safest way to smoke food.
- Do not get to high heat – If you want to crisp chicken skin or cook certain foods faster, electric smokers do not reach the same heat as gas or other smokers. If weather conditions are very cold it might take even longer to smoke food perfectly.
- Slow to heat – Electric smokers take longer to get going than other types of smokers.
- Hard to get perfection – Purists will argue that you cannot achieve the perfect taste and appearance of smoked food done in a gas or charcoal smoker.
- Do not like rain – It is not safe to use an electric smoker in the rain so this could affect your plans.
As you can see, both gas and electric smokers have advantages and disadvantages. Your personal circumstances and requirements will determine which option is best for you.