Choosing between an electric or gas smoker? Here are the 9 questions I used to make the right choice for me. They will probably work for you too.
There are 9 areas where an electric smoker may differ from a gas smoker. These are the same characteristics I use when comparing any kind of smoker or grill. Depending on your needs, comparing your priorities with the table below should make for an obvious choice:
|Characteristic||Electric Smoker||Gas Smoker|
|Ease of Use||Better||Good|
|Cost to Buy||$-$$$||$-$$|
|Cost to Operate||$||$$|
Prioritizing flavor, portability, and cost to buy will favor the gas smoker. Prioritizing ease of use, versatility, and safety will favor the electric.
As you can see, neither is “best” at anything when compared to pellet grills, stick-burners, or charcoal smokers. Read on for more detail on how electric and gas smokers compare.
How electric and gas smokers compare
Flavor is the main reason folks use a smoker. The appeal of brisket or ribs made in the oven doesn’t compare with the same meal from a proper smoker. And here we see the greatest weakness of both electric and gas smokers: lack of flavor.
If you do a bit of research you’ll discover that BBQ flavor comes from the smoke but also, and very importantly, the combustion and gases that are produced. So, an electric smoker with a few smoldering wood chips vs. a gas smoker with wood chips and burning propane will give you less flavor.
Likewise, when comparing the flavor of either electric or gas vs. a pellet grill, the pellet grill will win hands down. Burning the wood pellets provides a beautiful combination of burning wood and smoke – so all the combustion gases involved deliver a fantastic flavor. A good post for more is electric vs. wood smokers.
So, if your choices are just between electric and gas – go with gas for better flavor. If you have other options like a pellet grill – your decision is pretty much made, with a few potential shortcomings described below.
Ease of Use
This category gets into how difficult a smoker is to use. I include prep time, the number of accessories and/or supplies needed (i.e. wood chips, propane, electricity, etc.).
I find an electric smoker easier to use because they have a thermostat, so just like an oven, you set your desired temp and go. Gas smokers aren’t regulated as effectively. Also, gas will require you to have a tank of propane or a gas hook-up. Most of us are stuck with propane tanks which is just as much fun to run out of as with a grill – not very.
Electric smokers on the other hand only require an outlet. As long as you have one nearby, your cook won’t be interrupted or ruined.
In terms of portability, a gas smoker is the only one that will allow you to cook without electricity. So if you require the ability to use your smoker without electricity you have only one choice between these two.
In terms of general portability, the ability to put it in the back of a pickup truck or station wagon and take it with you somewhere is roughly equal between the two.
Portability will be more dependent on the actual model of smoker that you choose. A cheap electric smoker is built cheaply using thinner materials and therefore is lighter and relatively easy to pick up and maneuver around. I had a Smokin-It smoker that was beautiful and had wheels but was more like a tool cart to wheel around and I certainly wouldn’t want to have to lift it by myself.
So again, there’s nothing inherently more or less portable about an electric smoker over a gas smoker with the exception of the requirement for electricity limiting where you can use an electric.
Reliability is for me another way of looking at quality. What I mean by reliability is how long will this smoker last me under normal use. Will it fall apart after a month? Will it fall apart after a year? Believe me, some of what’s out there will fall apart pretty quickly.
Again, like portability, this is largely a function of the particular model you pick and not a function of whether it is electric or gas. If we go back to my example of my electric smoker – that thing will last forever. All stainless steel beautiful construction airtight. Just a beautiful piece of equipment.
Versatility is an interesting topic when it comes to smokers. What I’m referring to here is the types of foods that you can smoke. For example if you want to smoke almonds or cheese or fish you are pretty much going to have to use an electric smoker. The temperature required is far too low to achieve with a gas smoker or wood smoker. If you are not planning on smoking almonds or fish or cheese then any smoker will satisfy.
Another thing to consider is an electric smoker is not going to give you crisp results. For example chicken wings in an electric smoker will come out with a rubbery skin unless you configure some sort of fan to make it act like a convection oven. With a gas smoker you should be able to drive the heat high enough to crisp up the skin and achieve better results. Again, an electric smoker is no different than your oven with a water pan and some smoking wood chips that you use outdoors.
Both of these smokers are very safe to use and should be problem-free in terms of safety. Perhaps of note is the fact that a gas smoker is going to use an open flame (like a propane grill). An electric smoker is not. So, I suppose the potential for fire would theoretically be greater on the gas smoker. But they’re both safe to use – no more risky than a propane grill.
Cleanup with either one of these is a little more involved than it would be with a pellet grill or a stick burner. You’re typically cleaning up a water pan , cleaning out used chips and probably replacing some tinfoil that you line the bottom of your smoker with. Also you’ll need to clean the racks and they’ll need to be pulled out of the smoker to be able to be cleaned. Again I think they’re both about equal but both are a little bit more work to maintain then a pellet smoker or stick burner.
Cost to Buy
As you might imagine cost is something that we all have to deal with with making our choice – one way or another. If you have a small budget then you can find either an electric smoker or a gas smoker for around $200. If you have more money you can buy a much nicer smoker. But in terms of entry-level they are about equal cost.
Cost to Own
Finally we get to cost to own. For me, it is a function of the cost of using it meaning fuel, electricity or propane, wood pellets or charcoal. And also the cost to use it in terms of tinfoil, water pans, wood chips, etc. There’s no doubt that an electric smoker cost less to use than a gas smoker. But neither is really expensive.
The cost of an electric smoker you won’t even notice on your electric bill. And the cost of filling a propane tank is something that most folks understand and are familiar with in terms of being able to grill outdoors.
Hopefully, you have figured some things out about whether an electric smoker or gas smoker is better for you. It’s based on eight or nine things depending on your individual situation. Once you understand your needs in terms of versatility, portability, and results, it’s not that difficult a choice to make.
I hope this has been helpful in guiding you along the path to choosing between a electric or gas smoker. If you’re interested in finding out more about how a pellet smoker is superior in nearly every way feel free to read my blog post on that very topic here.