While charcoal or pellet smokers are the traditional choice for outdoor smoking, many BBQ chefs are now embracing propane smokers as an alternative that delivers delectable results. There are myriad reasons that make many swear by these smokers, the foremost being their affordability and ease of use. This also makes them the perfect choice for BBQ beginners, as they do not involve a steep learning curve but deliver great results in terms of flavor, nonetheless.
So, if you want to deviate from the tried and tested, old-fashioned approach of using charcoal or pellet smokers without compromising on the smokiness of your meat, these units can be just the thing for you. In this article, we take an extensive look at all that there is to know about them and review a few products that incorporate the best features that this type of smoker has to offer.
|Masterbuilt Advance Series 30" ThermoTemp||CHECK PRICE|
|Cuisinart COS-244 Vertical Smoker||CHECK PRICE|
|Dyna Glo 43" Wide BodyLP Gas Smoker||CHECK PRICE|
|Masterbuilt Patio 2 Portable Propane Smoker||CHECK PRICE|
Propane Smokers—A Basic Overview
A gas smoker, commonly called a propane smoker or a vertical propane smoker, uses wood as the source of smoke just like its charcoal counterparts. The main point of difference between this type of smoker and all other types of smokers is the heat source. While charcoal smokers, for instance, make use of charcoal briquettes, propane smokers derive their heat from propane. This drastically increases the convenience factor of this type of smoker as it does not require the practiced skill and experience needed to successfully operate charcoal smokers.
With technology advancing rapidly in all spheres of life, propane smokers have come as a boon to the world of meat smoking, thanks to their set-and-forget approach. They accommodate a wide variety of designs and are clean to operate.
How Does a Propane Smoker Work?
The workings of a propane smoker are surprisingly not all that different from that of a pellet or charcoal smoker. In appearance, they are solidly built metal boxes resembling a school locker or an old-school safe. The interior of this box is divided into multiple compartments, namely the burner, the wood pan, the water pan, and the cooking rack.
The main principle behind the working of a vertical propane smoker is convection. The heating of the cooking chamber facilitates the circulation of hot smoky air which in turn cooks the food by heating it and imparting a rich smoky aroma and flavor.
The burner in this type of smoker is connected through a hose to a propane tank positioned near the smoker. It is generally situated in the bottom-most compartment of the smoker. Right above this lies the wood pan generally made out of cast iron.
The type of wood placed in this largely determines the flavor profile of the smoke that your meat would be infused with.
In the compartment over the wood pan is the water pan which serves several purposes. It acts as a heat regulator by absorbing heat from the burner and distributing it evenly across the cooking area. Any drippings from the meat are also caught here. Most importantly, the water in the pan adds moisture to the meat during the smoking process, tenderizing it and keeping it from drying up.
Cooking / Smoking Chamber
Finally, the topmost and largest compartment is the cooking chamber equipped with adjustable racks and hooks. This is where you place the food when smoking it. One important thing to bear in mind is that the closer the food is to the burner, the more heat and smoke it will receive. Position your foods accordingly, with those that require the most heat and smoke on the lower racks.
The Benefits of Propane Smokers
If you crave the rich, bold flavors imparted by the traditional charcoal or pellet smokers without the hassle of constantly regulating the temperature, maintaining the flames, and adjusting the vents, a propane smoker can be a worthwhile investment for you. The constant monitoring that goes into smoking with a charcoal or offset smoker can leave little room for relaxation and enjoyment during your BBQ party.
The set-and-forget nature of gas smokers gives you the chance to kick your feet up and relax without having to hover around your smoker all day Let us take a look at some of the many advantages of using a propane smoker over a charcoal, pellet or offset:
Consistent Flame and Heat
The consistency of the flame produced by the burner in a propane smoker is one of its greatest advantages. While other variants like charcoal or offset smokers necessitate constant readjustments of the fire or addition of fuel, a propane smoker takes care of all that by itself. You can count on the smoker to give consistent heat and a steady burn, provided that there is sufficient propane in the tank.
Propane burns clean as opposed to wood or charcoal, leaving behind much less ash and soot. Overall, it is much more environmentally-friendly than the other options.
Propane smokers are also relatively inexpensive. While a mid-range wood smoker can cost upwards of $800, you can very easily find a quality gas smoker for about $250. Spending a little extra can get you a top-notch, durable smoker without exceeding the $500 mark.
The ease of use of propane smokers is another selling point where its counterparts lag behind. They generally come with a push-button ignition and are very simple to control. Changes to the temperature can be made by adjusting dedicated knobs, and the difference in temperature can be felt almost instantaneously. Easy cleanup is an added bonus.
Size and Footprint
This type of smoker also has a compact footprint making them ideal for those lacking the room for a large offset or charcoal smoker. Consequently, they are also very portable and can spare you the hassle of carrying around extra supplies, making them the perfect choice for tailgating.
Choosing the Best Propane Smoker
Most propane smokers share a similar design, making them quite easy to shop for. However, there are still a few factors that you need to consider before you purchase one. This is to ensure that you invest in the right smoker for your use and can get the most out of it. Here are a few key pointers to guide your decision:
There are a number of different sizes of gas smokers for you to choose from., depending on your use case. The size of a propane smoker refers to its internal storage space which is measured in inches. You could choose between a medium to large-sized smoker that would accommodate food for 20 to 30 people at most.
Number of cooking racks
Next, leverage your use case scenario to determine how many cooking racks you would need. While most propane smokers come with three racks, some versatile ones at a slightly higher price point can also offer four.
The majority of modern gas smokers are digital, meaning that they are integrated with automatic timers, temperature displays, and myriad other exciting features that contribute to their easy and efficient operation.
It is vital that you take special notice of the build quality of a vertical propane smoker before making your purchase. The low-range ones are often built out of cheap, flimsy metal which makes them more prone to have leaky doors. Although slight leaking will not affect the quality of your food, anything more is certainly a deal-breaker. We want to keep the heat and smoke inside and not waste time or energy on heating the outdoors.
Number of doors
Although most smokers nowadays come with a double-door design, there are still some which have a single door. We recommend choosing a double-door gas smoker, if possible, as this facilitates access to the wood chips without opening the door to the cooking chamber.
Looking into the warranty period of your smoker is crucial as it is a one-time investment and will remain with you for a while. Make sure your propane smoker is covered by a substantial warranty period, anywhere between a minimum of 1 year to as long as 3 years.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Propane Smoker
Despite the easy-to-operate nature of propane smokers, there are a few tips and tricks that would ensure that you get the most out of them.
Keep your Smoker Clean
While clean burning is one of the many advantages of propane smokers, you can very easily negate this asset by allowing charred food waste to build up inside them. This can seriously affect the functionality of your smoker as well as the flavor of your meat. Clean your smoker regularly by removing any excess ash and food build up. You can do this by hand or a vacuum. Sometimes the smoker will need to be thoroughly cleaned with soapy water and a sponge. Make sure you re-season your smoker after these cleanings.
Replace the Stock Wood Pan
The wood pan that comes with vertical propane smokers is usually of poor quality and can impact the amount of smoke you get when using it. This can easily be fixed by replacing the stock wood pan with a quality cast iron skillet which you can place on the tray which houses the wood pan or directly on the burner, depending on the amount of smoke you are looking for. For even better results, you can cover the wood with foil and poke a few holes in it. This way, the wood can burn even longer and you can avoid temperature flare-ups. You can even walk away from your grill with confidence as your chips would last twice or even three times longer with this method.
Keep the Temperature Low
Since most gas smokers tend to run hot, it would be wise to set the temperature low. The lowest setting, which is usually the 175 to 225 degrees Fahrenheit range, is the most suitable for a low and slow smoking session. Using ice in the water pan or leaving the door to the cooking chamber slightly ajar are other ways to optimize the temperature. A proper smoker thermometer setup can be a worthwhile investment as it provides more accurate readings in comparison to the smoker’s built-in thermometer.
Get a Few Extra Rib Racks
It is good practice to keep one or two extra rib racks handy for your gas smoker. Smoking foods for a large number of people would necessitate smoking in multiple batches which can be both time-consuming and fuel-consuming. Packing a rib rack or two into the cooking chamber can be a quick and easy fix as it makes it easier to smoke bigger quantities of food without any hassle.
Top Vertical Propane Smokers
If you are considering purchasing a gas smoker but are torn between the many products available in the market, this review of some of the top-rated gas smokers should guide you in the right direction. Before you make a decision, keep in mind your use case as well as the things you need to look for in your smoker as mentioned in this article. With that said, let us take a look at our top four picks.
Best Overall – Masterbuilt 30-inch ThermoTemp Propane Smoker
What We Like…
- Great build quality on oven, door, and cool-touch latch
- Easy assembly
- Built-in temperature gauge and push-button ignition boost convenience
- ThermoTemp technology maintains desired temperature without having to be constantly monitored
- Safety valve prevents waste of fuel and accidents
- Two-door access prevents loss of heat from the cooking chamber
What Makes Us Angry…
- Short warranty period
- Glass-door design fogs up with condensation
- The quality of the wood tray is not consistent with that of the rest of the smoker
A renowned name in the realm of BBQ, Masterbuilt has once again won over BBQ enthusiasts the world over with the 30-inch ThermoTemp Propane Smoker. This redesigned model comes with scores of exciting features that can make smoking all kinds of food a breeze and deliver wonderful results.
The most noteworthy of its new features is the patented ThermoTemp technology that utilizes a temperature sensor to control the burner, thus allowing the smoker to maintain your desired temperature. Upon setting the desired temperature, you can walk away and leave all the hard work to the unit, while still getting exceptionally well-smoked foods. It comes with four chrome-coated smoking racks and two accessory racks, giving you a magnificent 700 square inches of cooking space in total.
The smoker also comes equipped with a heat diffuser that evenly distributes heat from the burner, preventing overcooked or undercooked parts in your meat. You can set the temperature anywhere between 175 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit which is ideal for low and slow cooks. With your safety in mind, Masterbuilt has also integrated a safety valve that will cut off the flow of the gas in case it detects that the flame has been extinguished.
A type 1 regulator with a fuel level gauge and hose adds to the safety and convenience factor. The fuel level gauge indicates the amount of propane left in the tank ruling out the possibility of unexpectedly running out of gas in the middle of your smoking session. The stainless steel wood chip tray is mounted on a lower door so that you can replenish the tray and experiment with smoke flavor without having to worry about heat loss.
The handle and wheels on the smoker facilitate easy mobility and the large door latch allows you to open and close doors with one hand. The side-mounted grease tray is also a nice touch as it allows easy access for cleanup. You don’t have to worry about the propane tank getting displaced as this smoker comes with a propane tank retention bracket that provides stability to the tank.
All in all, the Masterbuilt ThermoTemp Propane Smoker has terrific build quality and is a sturdy and reliable choice when it comes to vertical propane smokers.
Masterbuilt also has a larger 40″ version of this smoker, if you need more room.
Most Economical – Cuisinart Vertical 36-inch Propane Smoker
What We Like…
- Twist-lock door helps maintain a consistent temperature within the cooking chamber
- Easy assembly
- Friendly price point
- 40-inch hose facilitates maneuverability
- Easy-to-remove racks offer great flexibility
- 3-yr Warranty
what Makes Us Angry…
- Combined wood pan and water tray diminish smoke production considerably
- No natural gas conversion kit
Though relatively new to manufacturing outdoor cooking appliances, Cuisinart has made quite the ripple with the COS-244 Vertical 36-inch Propane Smoker. With its versatility and a number of exciting features, it is easily one of the best vertical propane smokers at this price point.
Boasting an extremely well-built frame and body, it comes with a whopping 784 square inches of cooking space that gives you plenty of room to smoke a variety of meat along with multiple trays of vegetables. It can also accommodate whole birds as well as large cuts of meat. Despite all this, it has an overall compact footprint that makes it a wonderful choice for patios and barbecue kitchens.
It comes with four 14” X 14” stainless steel cooking racks and a heavy-duty, porcelain-coated wood chip tray which is merged with a water pan. As the water pan surrounds the wood chip tray, it ensures that the food is exposed with an equal degree of smoke and moisture. This prevents drying up of the meat and delivers tender, juicy, and delicious results. The porcelain-coating on its components ensures that they would be able to stand up to high temperatures for extended smoking periods.
The smoker also comes with a 40-inch propane hose and an integrated regulator that can be easily attached to your propane tank. The twist-lock handle that seals the door tightly prevents leakage of heat, maximizes smoke density in the chamber, and is further testimony to its exceptional build quality. Changes to the temperature can be made very easily by adjusting the back vents. The positioning of the vent also provides additional tabletop space at the top of the smoker where you can place your utensils and seasonings. Side handles contribute to ease in transport.
The two-door design of this smoker allows you to replenish the wood tray without disrupting the smoking process or releasing heat from the cooking chamber. It also comes equipped with a front-mounted thermometer that lets you conveniently monitor the temperature. The unit is also very easy to clean with the dripping pan and wood chip tray pulling out with ease. The porcelain coating adds to this ease of cleaning. The substantial warranty period of 3 years is considerably more than other smokers in this price point offer.
The Cuisinart COS-244 Vertical Propane Smoker also comes with a set of easy-to-read instructions simple enough even for BBQ amateurs to grasp, making its assembly a breeze. Overall, this smoker is feature-rich and comes for a price that is highly competitive for this space.
Best XL Gas Smoker – Dyna-Glo 43″ Wide Body Propane Smoker
What We Like…
- Signature wide body design provides extra-large capacity capable of accommodating whole racks of ribs and other large cuts of meat
- Comes with additional sausage hooks and rib rack for greater versatility
- Height-adjustable cooking racks offer flexibility
- Pre-installed gasket in doors work to retain heat and maintain optimum temperature within cooking chamber
- Dual burners provide ample heat and keep the temperature in the unit intact even in colder weathers
- Porcelain-enameled water pan and wood chip box ensure durability and make cleaning easy
What Makes Us Angry…
- Not portable
- The lid to the wood chip box often does not sit securely on the box
- Short warranty period
If you are looking to take your backyard smoking up a couple of notches, the Dyna-Glo 43-inch Wide Body LP Gas Smoker can be just the thing for you. A product of GHP Group Inc., a trusted name in the world of BBQ with a track-record of durable products, this smoker is packed with amazing features best suited for those who smoke foods regularly or are looking for something that would take care of large cuts of meat with ease.
Offering a prodigious 1904 square inches of total cooking area distributed over six height-adjustable cooking grates, this provides enough room for you to smoke whichever meat you want without having to think twice about whether or not your smoker would be able to accommodate it.
This smoker’s main standout feature is its heavy-duty dual cast iron burners which offer 20,000 BTUs for reliable and optimum cooking performance. Regardless of the weather outside, the dual burners will ensure that your foods continue smoking undisturbed. The burners are also integrated with an electric pulse ignition system that allows for quick and reliable starting.
Once again, this unit has a two-door design that is extremely useful for refilling the wood chip box without affecting the temperature of the cooking chamber or losing precious heat. Not just that, both the doors come pre-installed with a gasket that really locks in the heat, further contributing to retaining heat and minimizing smoke loss for improved cooking efficiency.
The smoker also comes integrated with a built-in stainless steel temperature gauge which is easy to read. ‘Smoke Zone’ on the gauge indicates the perfect temperature for infusing your meat with the quintessential smoky flavor. This makes it ideal for beginners looking for that extra guidance during their first few smoking sessions. The water pan and wood chip box are made from a heavy gauge porcelain-enamelled steel, bearing testimony to the extremely sturdy build of the unit.
To top it all off, you also get additional chrome-plated sausage hooks and a rib rack for greater versatility. The sprawling size of the Dyna-Glo 43-inch Wide Body LP Gas Smoker is fantastic, not only for household barbecues but also for restaurants as it can smoke large quantities of food at once and spares you the hassle of cooking in batches. If portability is not a factor for you, then this option can be your best friend during those outdoor low and slow smoking sessions.
Best Portable – Masterbuilt Patio-2-Portable Propane Smoker
What We Like…
- Compact, lightweight, and portable
- Foldable legs
- Stainless steel door minimizes rusting
- Push-button ignition for easy starting
- Built-in temperature gauge makes monitoring simple
What Makes Us Angry…
- Short warranty period
- Whole smoker body is not stainless
- Have to invest in an adapter hose if you want to use a larger propane tank
- Legs are slightly unstable
- The water pan and wood chip box are a little too small
In case you are looking for a smoker with portability as your topmost priority, you cannot go wrong with the Masterbuilt MPS 20B Patio-2-Portable Propane Smoker. As the name suggests, this smoker can accompany you be it a patio BBQ party or a campsite or beach barbecue. The compact size ensures that transportation is hassle-free and effortless so that you can immerse in the full BBQ experience without having to worry about dragging along a behemoth.
As is the case with all Masterbuilt propane smoker appliances, this product carries the same reputation for quality, versatility, and durability. The push-button ignition, which is a signature of Masterbuilt smokers, lights the burner quickly and effortlessly. The smoker also comes integrated with a built-in temperature gauge that makes it very easy to monitor and optimize the temperature of the cooking chamber, infusing your meat with that delicious smoky goodness.
The folding legs that this smoker comes with can be a godsend when you are trying to load it into the trunk of your car or storing it in an over-packed garage. The legs fold under, adding further to the compact size of the smoker. It offers a total cooking capacity of 280 square inches distributed over two chrome-coated cooking racks. This can accommodate two pork butts, a turkey, two racks of ribs, or even four chickens.
The 5000 BTU stainless steel burner provides ample heat for smoking your foods perfectly in a smoker this size. The regulator knob provides for easy adjustment of the temperature within the cooking chamber. Although it is recommended that you use a 1Lb propane cylinder, you may also use a 20Lb cylinder if you purchase an adapter hose. This will keep your gas running longer, avoiding the need to frequently change cylinders halfway through the smoking process. You will also save money as a 20Lb refill costs a lot less than the 1Lb cylinders.
The wood chip tray, water bowl, and grease tray that come with this smoker slide out with ease making cleanups simple and straightforward. The cooking racks are also equally uncomplicated when it comes to cleanups owing to their chrome coating. Another key feature of this smoker is its adjustable air dampers that give you control over smoke levels, moisture, and smoker temperature. It also comes with a manual that is simple to grasp as well as a recipe book for getting the most delectable results out of your smoker.
The Masterbuilt MPS 20B Patio-2-Portable Propane Smoker has earned its place as a crowd favorite, be it for camping, tailgating, or even for light home use. This lightweight, easy-o-use model can enhance your outdoor BBQ experience and is a solid investment from every angle.
Best Vertical Propane Smoker Review
The myriad benefits of vertical propane smokers can make your long low and slow cooking sessions uncomplicated, hassle-free, and all in all much more enjoyable. If you are a beginner looking to get started with smoking, or even a pit boss just looking to take a break from constantly having to hover around your smoker, getting a great propane smoker can be a step in the right direction. However, before you make a purchase, be sure to keep your use case scenario in mind and follow our buying guide and tips to find the smoker that would suit you best.
Our recommendation would be the Masterbuilt 30-inch ThermoTemp propane smoker as there is absolutely no going wrong with it. This product is packed to the brim with amazing features and boasts terrific build quality and a sprawling cooking area for its price point.
The ThermoTemp technology that controls the burner and maintains the desired temperature throughout the cooking chamber once set is the hallmark of this product and can be immensely beneficial. The safety features incorporated in this are foolproof and leave no room for concern.
All in all, this value-rich smoker from Masterbuilt embodies the best of what propane smokers bring to the table and is an excellent deal for its price.
We hope the information provided in this article can guide you in your decision of choosing the best propane smoker for your needs. Any of the top rated smokers that we have mentioned in our shootout can enrich your BBQ experience and take your smoking parties to the next level, delivering wonderful, succulent smoked foods for your enjoyment.
Not sure if a propane smoker is for you? Check out our reviews on vertical pellet smokers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are propane smokers any good?
From an introductory point of view, propane smokers are easily among the top choices. They are easy to use, have a set-and-forget nature, and therefore do not require constant monitoring. They are the ideal way of getting your feet wet in the smoking game as not much can go wrong while smoking with a vertical propane smoker.
Electric or propane smokers? Which is better?
While both electric and propane smokers are well suited for different use cases, we would recommend opening the door for a propane smoker. Electric smokers, as effective as they are, lack an actual flame which compromises the quintessential smoky flavor of the food. Gas smokers, on the other hand, have a burner that produces a real flame, rendering the perfect smokiness to your food that is the ultimate goal of smoking. The result is so gastronomic even your nearest vegetarian would be impressed.
Moreover, gas smokers are also much more versatile when it comes to the type of smoking wood being used. Propane smokers also emerge as the better option if you are looking for mobility and portability. With electric smokers, you are always tethered to a nearby wall socket or power source. Since propane tanks are portable, they can truly go anywhere with you.
Which wood should I use with gas smokers?
It is advisable that you use wood chips with your propane smoker as this form of wood burns fast and clean. Using wood chunks can lead to greater consumption of fuel as chunks take much longer to burn thoroughly. Chips, on the contrary, ignite quickly and provide a steady source of smoke despite having to be replenished periodically. We explain wood chips and chunks in detail here.
Where to buy propane smokers?
Propane smokers are very easily available as they are becoming increasingly popular among BBQ beginners and aficionados alike. You can purchase one from your nearest BBQ specialty store or even online like Amazon or BBQguys. Popular brands also have dedicated websites where you can purchase their products. This can be a reliable way to purchase your gas smoker as it will leave no room for doubt regarding the authenticity of the product.
What are the best foods to smoke with a propane smoker?
Once again, the versatility of propane smokers makes them ideal for almost any food item. However, since they are designed to cook at a far lower temperature than charcoal smokers, they are best suited for long, low and slow cooks. Ribs, ham, brisket, and turkey are some of the most popularly cooked meats using a propane smoker. You can also cold smoke salmon, dry jerky, or braise lamb shanks in them. I enjoy smoking sausage on propane smokers as the vertical design shape makes it easy to hang large coils in these smokers vs laying the sausage on a rack.
Now that we have familiarized ourselves with the nitty-gritty of vertical propane smokers, let us discuss four products that integrate the best features that propane smokers have to offer. We have carefully analyzed the strengths as well as weaknesses of each of these products in order to help you make an informed choice that would suit your needs the best.