Propane vs Electric vs Charcoal Smoker: What Are The Key Differences?

Propane vs Electric vs Charcoal Smoker: What Are The Key Differences?

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Who doesn’t love smoking? Losers! No offense please, but it’s true. That smell of smoked meat hitting your nostrils while you’re biting down the juicy meaty heaven. Just reading that reminded you of your last smoked adventure.

If you’re looking to cook smoked-meat by yourself, you might want to study a bit about smokers. Unless you want the wish of surprising the gang in the next G2G to go up in smoke!

Finding out the differentiating points in each of the determining factors of a smoker is how you want to select your smoking machine.

Below we’ve done the hard part by gathering information to help you determine which one of Propane, Electric & Charcoal smokers you’ll be going for.

Keep on reading to learn about what makes them different.


If you’re worried about safety then the electric smoker tells you to forget about it all together! It’s a clear choice here. The process of heating is well-contained inside the unit and you can easily monitor the condition inside with the safety measures set to avoid any mishaps which might happen. In my humble opinion, this makes it superior to the other two.

As for Propane smokers, the same cannot be said. These are not usually taken as safe. Although monitoring the propane line in certain levels is a good idea, it should not be left without checking for longer periods. With that, I should add that the moisture level of the process must be observed if you’re going to be cooking for long periods.

Charcoal isn’t for the people who concern too much about safety. This is not safe if you are not attentive to your cooking. If you are able to handle the burning of the charcoal then it’s pretty safe. Observing the vents and smokes is the way to avoid any danger that comes along with charcoal. REMEMBER, WHITE SMOKE MEANS YOU’RE GOOD; BLACK SMOKE IS BAD.

Ease Of Use:

Propane smokers don’t usually fall into the category of high-tech compared to electrical ones. So if you want to be able to use one properly, you need to go through a basic “how to run a propane smoker” course. There are vital points that you need to consider the outside temp and properly used vents. That means you will need to do research to get a good idea of how to make use of the best features this smoker offers… but as you’re reading through this article, you’re certainly on the right track.

The electric smoker is the same as the kitchen oven. Easy digital displays make it a breeze, while the manufacturers created apps which connect the smoker to your mobile giving you the control whether you’re away or home. With Electric smokers, you don’t need to know much about how to cook or smoke but need to know more about the meat you’re using.

Charcoal smokers are as basic as they come. You need to get acquainted with how to handle charcoal during cooking. Once you have done that, the rest is a piece of cake. You also need to know what you’re cooking and what result are you looking for.

Temp control:

In an Electrical Smoker, the cooking temperature is monitored throughout the process and the device controls the heat for providing a temperature without varying temp levels.

With a Propane Smoker, you must monitor the fuel level and the level of flame and adjust those through the cooking process to have a consistent temperature. The benefit with propane smokers is that these give you the ability to achieve much higher temperatures than the electric counterparts.

But for a Charcoal Smoker, the temp is controlled by the amount of charcoal you put in. Less charcoal less heat. So if you feel the heat is too much then take out some pieces carefully and vice-versa.


Electric Smokers are not the flexible type. It’s a household type. You can’t take it to woods during camping. This can be remedied if you have a IPS or a generator to take along but that nullifies the term portability.

The amazing features propane smoker offers is the option to use it anywhere. It’s easy to move and rearranging the outdoor space with it is a breeze. Or, if you are an outdoor adventurer who loves camping, a propane smoker is the perfect fit.

If we’re talking about portability then nothing comes even close to the Charcoal smokers. They are kings of portable smokers as these don’t need any kind of electricity or fuel. You can just take the smoking station and put it anywhere. As a result, it is the prime choice for an outing.


The modern Electric Smoker units are very light-weight giving you a lot of mobility. The walls are built with lightweight materials. The weight varies from 45 to 65 pounds depending on which size you prefer.

Much of the weight of a propane smoker is due to the propane tank. Otherwise, the smoking machine itself is quite light.

The weight range of charcoal smokers is between 35-60 pounds depending on which size we’re talking about. But with charcoal, the units get heavier which is not the case with the other two.

Heating Mechanism:

Electric smoker, as the name implies, is an electricity-powered unit. This unit produces intense and radiant waves that are used to cook the food.

Users use the wood pellets and “feed” them to the electric smoker unit now and then to achieve the smoke effect. As for any device, the counterclaim is that there is always something that will probably go wrong in it. Technology is amazing … so long it functions.

As the name says, Propane smoker uses propane as its heat source. The propane smoker definitely has a bond with men.

If you’re a fan of a high-temperature finish for your meat, an electric smoker won’t just cut it for you due to its disability to achieve high temp. A propane smoker enables you to control the increase or decrease of smoke depending on the chips and how and where they’re placed in the smoker.

Charcoal Smoker doesn’t need any special heating mechanism. It’s just plain old burning charcoals. You put charcoal in the heating cabinet and fire it up.

That’s it. This is closer to nature. As you don’t need to depend on any technology to achieve low or higher temperature for your cooking. As this smoker provides much higher heat and due to the direct infrared heat your protein gets a good and tasty cooking.


Electric smoker units are big enough to smoke meat for a big crowd. Its chamber sizes are found in the market between 500 to 750 square inches.

Propane smokers also provide you the ability to cook for a large group. But it is extended if you have a larger propane tank in store!

Charcoal smokers are customizable. So space is flexible, it can be big or small as per your desire. But people usually use these smokers when the family gathers together in the farmhouses during vacation.

The need for Electricity/Fuel:

The electric smoker is the only smoker which needs electricity. So if you live in an area where electricity supply is scarce or interrupted or if you love outing then this smoker sadly is a no go.

Propane smokers are suitable for places with no electricity. There are areas where the power frequently interrupted because of various conditions. In these areas, the propane smoker gives you a significant advantage. But it needs propane as its fuel. Keep this in mind.

The only smoker which doesn’t need any kind of electricity or fuel is the Charcoal Smoker. It only needs charcoal which is found in abundance.  

Price & Size:

The propane smokers and the electric smokers are found in various sizes. And their prices also vary with size. Electric smokers from renowned brands are in the range of $300 to $400. But of course, the price will rise if you want to go higher-end. Consider the total expenditure on electricity to ensure you get the best according to your budget.

Propane smoker prices usually start at the $$$ mark and a propane tank is required additionally. The benefit propane smokers provide is that you can depend on it despite the weather conditions which makes these units a reliable choice.

For Charcoal Smokers prices range from $$ for cheapo bullet units up to $5,000 for the all-in-one smoker. Ask before buying if there are shipping charges or sales taxes.

And most importantly don’t ignore size, it does matter. The most frustrating is the meat not fitting in the smoker. You will find smokers with double doors having space for a whole rib or a big brisket to be cooked. And some narrow vertical versions where you will need to butcher the piece of meat before cooking.

Taste Difference

Taste plays one of the biggest roles in choosing a smoker unit.

So we will be blunt here.

The term Searing points to the browning process of the surfaces of meats. When it’s done properly chemical reactions happen, like the Maillard reaction and caramelization, creating complex, rich, sweet-savory tastes on the surface.

Most charcoal units usually easily outsear propane powered smokers due to the ability to produce a higher amount of direct infrared heat. Propane smokers can also do this that come with special sear features but these will be costly. The electric smoker is a twin brother with the same disability if I must say.

Charred meat is also an important factor to consider. In this case, the serial is like this-- Charcoal>Propane>Electrical.


There’s a very little chance to have a definitive answer in your mind, but if the preference is considered depending on the meat to be cooked in it then you may find a winner. Electric units are capable of providing very low temperatures to dehydrate tomatoes or to smoke salmon. This is very difficult to with a propane-fueled smoker. Where charcoal smokers also have the option to cook at low temperatures but for a beginner that’s a hard task.

A propane smoker provides the ability for achieving higher cooking temperatures and this ability works in the favor of food quality.

Reports and reviews are seen which states that the look of a propane smoked food is regarded better than an electric smoker. An electric smoker loses in the case of the smoke ring and the meat comes out with more of bronze color instead of the slightly charred look that propane power smokers achieve.

But also, in this case, the charcoal has the upper hand but with a safety concern. As it can be dangerous if you are not familiar with handling hot charcoal. It can get very hot.

Final Words

I think this article covered most of the factors which play a role in choosing a particular cooking and smoking style, but the decision is solely depended on your convenience and cooking style.

The factor in making a true decision is considering what makes the cooking easy and fun for you. Happy Smoking!

  • Updated September 24, 2019
  • Smoker
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