Propane vs Pellet Smokers – Which Fits Your Bbq Style

If you’re looking for a quality smoker for your backyard, it can be difficult to decide on the right model. Here, we’ll cover the two main kinds of smokers: gas and pellet smokers. Use this comparison guide to become familiar with their differences and settle on the choice that’s perfect for smoking meat at your next backyard get-together.

What They Have in Common

Both smokers are specialized grills and can reach higher temperatures than your standard grill, cook your food much faster, and add a unique smoke flavor to any meats you want to cook.

These smokers have a “set-it-and-forget-it” capability that a lot of users appreciate. You can throw your meat on either of these smokers and tend to other activities, like preparing side dishes or have the time to enjoy the food while entertaining guests.

The convenience of these different types of products is where their similarities end. Now, we’ll dive deeper into what sets these types of smokers apart.

What Is a Propane Gas Smoker?

A propane gas smoker is a special gas grill that operates on a propane tank. It is typically built in a vertical cabinet, so it’s easy to store and doesn’t take up too much room in your backyard or patio area. 

Knowing the anatomy of a propane gas smoker is important to understand how it works:

  • The gas burner is located at the bottom. The temperature control knobs are close by but usually set far apart.
  • The wood chip tray is located above the gas burner. Here, you can place your favourite wood chips for additional flavor. A common frustration while smoking meat is having to refresh the wood chips, so make sure the chip tray is large enough.
  • You’ll find the water pan above the wood chip tray. The water pan is effective at blocking heat when you need to cook with indirect heat and evening out the uneven hot spots.
  • The grill racks are stacked strategically above the water pan. You can place all of your meats at different levels while still cooking everything at the proper temperature. The see-through cooking chamber door opens up to the grill racks, which is great for monitoring your food’s cooking progress.
  • The exhaust damper is found at the very top of your grill. This component controls your grill’s intake and output of air. This is important so it stays hot enough while not overheating.
  • The propane tank is the only external component of this type of grill. It sits on the floor right next to your propane smoker and is connected by a gas hose.

What Is a Pellet Smoker?

A pellet smoker is a grill, oven, and smoker wrapped into one convenient product. This is the best product for thoroughly smoking your meat. However, it’s difficult for a pellet smoker to reach the high heat that is required to sear meat. So make sure the model you get for your backyard is well insulated.

Here are some facts about smokers to help you understand how they operate:

  • Pellet grills use pellets as their fuel source. These pellets are often confused for the wood pellets used with the heating stoves inside your home.
  • Pellets used in a pellet grill contain only 100% compacted sawdust. They are made of compacted sawdust held together by the wood’s natural polymers. You can get a variety of wood types to give your meat flavor while smoking.
  • To operate your pellet grill, simply pour the pellets into the sloped container on the side of the smoker. An electrical auger transports pellets from the container to the cooking chamber. The auger transports just enough pellets to maintain the chamber’s temperature without dumping them all at once.

The number of pellets you’ll need will vary on your specific grill. A general rule of thumb to follow is to add 2 pounds of pellets for every hour of slow cooking.

Propane Gas Smoker vs Pellet Smokers: The Comparison

Propane Gas Smoker: The Benefits

Cheaper to Buy Outright vs Pellet grills

If you shop around properly, you can get a good budget gas smoker for around $200. A higher-quality gas smoker can run for up to $400, but they are still significantly cheaper than the average pellet grill.

Readily Available Fuel Source

Propane tanks are easy to find at local home improvement and home goods centers. I find the day I plan on smoking meat is usually the day I realize I’m short on fuel and I don’t like having to make special trips for it.

A 20-pound propane tank will do for most recreational grillers. This tank costs around $35 initially. Then, you can refill or exchange it for a discounted price. While exchanging a tank is very affordable, it’s oftentimes even cheaper to refill your tank if you want to save a few bucks.

Propane tanks will typically last 18-20 hours on an average-sized grill. This will get you through around 8-10 grilling sessions depending on how long you cook. For larger grills, the tanks may only last for around 10 hours.

It’s always a good idea to have an extra tank on hand. You don’t want to have a non-working grill ruin your outdoor fun! Thankfully, they’re readily available at most grocery stores at a cheap price.

Portable

Because propane smokers are connected by an exterior gas cylinder, you have a lot of freedom when it comes to transporting them. You don’t need an outlet to power your propane smoker, so you can use it in remote locations.

Propane smokers are light when their gas tank isn’t attached. Simply detach the gas tank, move your smoker to any desired location, and reattach the gas tank and pipe with ease.

Easy to Maintain

Like gas tanks, propane smoker accessories can be easily found at most home improvement and grocery stores. Propane smokers are simple to keep in working condition. If you ever need replacement parts, you should be able to install them yourself with few issues.

Keep in mind that during a single session, the chip pan may need to be refilled multiple times, but this is an easy task.

Propane Drawbacks

Despite these attractive pros, propane smokers don’t come without their cons. Consider some of the drawbacks of owning this kind of grill before securing your final purchase.

Potential Effect on Flavor of Meat

Because of the fuel it uses while smoking, your propane smoker’s fumes may leave an odd taste with your meat. Some users report this flavor as off-putting while others don’t even notice it. It all depends on your personal experience. Most users don’t see it as a big issue as it still gives your meat a distinctive and desirable smoky flavor.

Toxic to the Environment

Propane grills utilize gas, fluids, and lighters. These are not environmentally-friendly supplies, especially if used regularly. They contain additives and release harmful chemicals into the surrounding atmosphere. For the health of your family and the environment, it’s best to limit the use of a propane smoker to every once in a while.

Poor Insulation

Depending on the quality of your propane smoker, it may have poor insulation. This can cause temperature control issues on extremely windy or cold days. If you live in an area with unpredictable weather, consider spending a little more money and get one of the better gas grills.

Temperature Monitoring Required

Though we discussed the possibility of temperature fluctuations above, you also need to ensure the grill doesn’t heat up too quickly. Propane grills can reach much higher temperatures than pellet ones, which is great for ensuring your food is cooked. However, you’ll need to monitor the temperature to ensure it doesn’t exceed safe levels, which ultimately means you will need to get a thermometer.

Pellet Smoker Benefits

Even if you liked everything that propane smokers have to offer, check out what pellet smokers can do to meet your outdoor cooking needs.

Superior Flavor using pellets vs gas

While flavor is subjective, we’ll argue that pellet smokers give your food a better taste. The fuel pellets that this kind of grill uses are made completely from wood, so you won’t be tasting any chemical additives as you might with food cooked on a propane grill.

I personally like the flavor from a pellet smoker better than a gas smoker, but my wife can’t tell the difference.

Nice Luxury Items

If you are looking to splurge on a high-tech product, a pellet smoker would be the way to go. Brands like Green Mountain Grills and Traeger produce elaborate pellet smokers that you can control using your phone. Adjusting the temperature or pellets released without getting up is a luxury you’re bound to enjoy!

More VersatilityDepending on the specific model you buy, your pellet smoker may be more versatile than a propane one. Some pellet smokers work very effectively as a grill and oven. Consider if you want to spend the extra money on a versatile pellet smoker that will meet your family’s diverse outdoor cooking needs.

Easy to Use

While propane smokers are easy to maintain, pellet grills are arguably easier to use. They operate on automatic temperature controls. You don’t have to worry about whether or not your grill is getting fed enough pellets. As long as you have stocked the grill properly, the necessary amount is automatically fed into the cooking chamber.

Don’t forget that some models let you control certain features from your home for additional convenience.

Plus, pellet smokers are super easy to clean. Smoke pellets produce hardly any debris. If you use 20 pounds of pellets, you’ll only end up with around 1/4 cup of ash. There’s hardly anything to clean up when you’re done. This way, you can more fully enjoy cooking in the great outdoors.

Pellet Smoker: The DrawbacksConsider the cons of owning a pellet smoker below.

Pricey

Pellet smokers are a pricey investment. Depending on the brand you get, you may spend anywhere from $500 to $2000.

With a pellet smoker, you'll also need to constantly buy wood chips to fuel it. This kind of smoker only runs on pellets, so fueling it can become expensive. Depending on the kind of pellets you purchase, they can run for up to $2 a pound.

Limited Portability

Pellet smokers have a convection fan, auger, and temperature controls. All these features need an outlet to operate. Your smoker must be plugged in, so this limits where you can place it.

Pellet smokers are also bulky and heavy compared to propane ones, so you'll likely need some assistance whenever you want to relocate it.

Tricky Fuel Source Management

Wood pellets aren't as readily available as propane, and they tend to be more expensive.

Wood pellets can present some specific issues if you aren't careful with them. You need to avoid exposing them to moisture, or they will become useless. Store them somewhere dry in between uses.

Wood pellets can also become damp and rendered useless when they're in the smoker's sloped container, so try to avoid getting them wet.

Which One Should I Purchase?

Both kinds of smokers can be a great investment. But when weighing your options, the kind you get depends largely on what you want to do with it.

  • A propane smoker is ideal for someone on a budget who plans on cooking up multiple types of meat at a time using high heat. If this sounds like you, propane will serve you well.
  • If you want an environmentally friendly product and don't mind paying a bit extra or dealing with keeping track of fuel. Then a pellet smoker would be the ideal choice for you.

Purchasing a smoker isn't a decision to make lightly. But it can be one investment that can bring you and your family years of backyard barbecue enjoyment.

To make it easy for you, we’ve reviewed several of the best propane smokers here, and some of the best pellet smokers here.