In this guide, I really want to go over the pros and cons of propane smokers and we’ll see how they differ from all the other smokers. Then I want to look at the top brands and give you tips to choose the best propane smoker within your budget.
For those of you that are following along, I’ve been using the Weber Charcoal Smoker for a few years but recently wanted to get into propane smokers. What makes a propane smoker better or worse than charcoal smokers you might be wondering?
The reason I really wanted to get a propane smoker is for the temperature control. With the charcoal smokers it can be a bit tricky to maintain the right temperature and just require a bit more hard work. You also don’t have to worry about running out of charcoal…
I was using a friend’s propane smoker and I was surprised by how the food cooked tasted identical to the charcoal smoker!
You can also use the flavored wood chunks in the propane smoker and it gives you the same great flavor. I thought the propane would make the food taste a little funky but it didn’t, and I decided to start looking around for the best propane smoker to buy, which is why I made this guide. It’s just as much for me as it is for you.
There are always new things you can learn about cooking techniques and styles for smokers. Some people have been cooking on propane smokers for decades and know a lot more than I do about them but I’m getting there. Hopefully, we can both learn something new and cook some delicious food that will be the best you’ve ever tasted before!
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What is a Propane Smoker?
The majority of propane smokers all use the same design. On the bottom you have the gas burner which is powered by a propane tank. With a propane smoker a small twist of the dial on the propane tank can have a huge difference in the size of the flame.
• Wood Pan: A tray where you place your flavored Smoking Wood Chips (Apple, Hickory & Mesquite, etc.)
• Water Chamber: Above the tray that holds your smoking chips is where your water chamber goes. This allows the atmosphere of the propane smoker to stay moist during long cooking periods.
• Chimneys: Each design has a different Chimney and this allows for the smoke to be exhausted from the propane smoker and different rates.
Seems simple enough. Very similar to the charcoal designs but instead of using charcoal, you’re relying on the burner powered by the propane tank.
Several propane smoker owners have told me that they are not exactly the “set and forget it” type of smoker and if you’re looking for something that requires very little maintenance, then an electric smoker is much more of a “set and forget it”.
Advantages of the Propane Smoker
The first advantage that comes to mind is that it uses propane! I noticed propane smokers seem to be relatively inexpensive smokers and the least expensive to maintain and use. The majority of them seem to be in the $200 range but that’s not including the propane tank.
Second, they seem to be very low maintenance, similar to an electric smoker.
Lastly, for anyone who has used a propane grill, you might notice that propane heat does a great job of heating everything evenly. With my charcoal smoker, I sometimes get areas inside the smoker that aren’t getting enough heat. With propane smokers, it seems the heat is dispersed much more evenly.
What to Consider When Buying a Propane Smoker
Usually, I would say that the first consideration is your budget. However, most of the best propane smokers seem to be in the same price range.
The biggest concern then becomes the quality of the materials used and the reputation of the brand. You’ll find many of the top brands also make charcoal smokers and electric smokers and have been in the business for decades. I would definitely recommend sticking with these top brands.
You may need to end up making some minor modifications (which will be addressed below) to your propane smoker if you encounter any problems.
By far, the biggest problem seems to be the low quality built-in temperature gauges. If you’re serious about monitoring the temperature of your food, then it’s highly recommended to invest in a remote BBQ smoker thermometer. The ThermoPro TP20B is one of the best out there and a favorite of many of the pros, including myself.
The biggest consideration might be the size, do you want a large or small propane smoker?
As always, read reviews from owners and try to test them out in person. I enjoy going to BBQ competitions and I’ve been admiring different smokers for a long time, keeping my eye on the ones I like. When you can see them in person it’s a lot easier to decide. The next best thing might be to watch some videos on YouTube before purchasing, to see how it works.
Masterbuilt 30″ Two Door Propane Smoker
Masterbuilt has been making smokers for years, and the Masterbuilt propane smoker is a worthy choice.
There is some initial setup for using the Masterbuilt propane smoker but it doesn’t seem that difficult to get started.
People like to make a lot of modifications and while that’s not necessary, it can be if you’re using your propane smoker all the time. I’ve made a few modifications, which I won’t go into too much detail but it’s not that hard and doesn’t cost must extra.
Masterbuilt seems to have mixed reviews. While I didn’t really have the time to read the hundreds of reviews on Amazon, it generally seems that even the people who leave 5-star reviews are making quite a few modifications and giving warnings about the difficult assembly process.
The biggest complaint by far is the inaccuracy of the thermometer. You can get the temperature dialed up to 230 – 240. You need to make sure that you using a GOOD external thermometer like a ThermoPro TP20B.
The Masterbuilt does seem to be the better option if you plan on making jerky. Just set the vents wide open and if you crank the knob all the way down you can easily maintain 120 degrees. If you’re having trouble keeping the temperature, you can install a small Cast Iron Stove Damper in order to provide more exhaust.
A common modification people like to make is to add a Brass Control Valve, which helps you to regulate the flow of fuel with more precision than the built-in control knobs.
Complaints about smoke leaking out of the doors can be remedied with a good-quality High Temp Gasket Seal.
Other than that, most people are satisfied with the Maserbuilt but it does seem to need a few modifications if you run into any troubles, which a lot of people unfortunately do. As the years go by it’s good to know how to fix these minor issues.
Dyna-Glo 36″ Propane Smoker
The Dnya-Glo LP gas smoker comes in three different sizes, with the Standard being their most popular. It has a 15,000 BTU cast iron burner and 4 adjustable cooking racks.
I was a little surprised to find hundreds of 5 star reviews and many people love this model. It has a great deal of space and is built from quality materials.
After reading all of the reviews I find the same problems popping up. The item arriving damaged is common as well as the usual junky temperature gauge which is often off by 20 degrees.
The side rails that hold the water pan, racks and wood chunks are flimsy. There have been issues with the wood pan falling off the rack when adding more wood and adding more liquid. The stainless steel racks also don’t seem to be the highest quality.
A friend of mine has used this one before and he said that the smoke is very inconsistent and the temperature is always too high. It’s built well and very sturdy and has plenty of space but it just doesn’t function well.
Other people have said nothing but good things about it. However, I trust my friend… A lot of people have the problem of keeping a low temperature (below 230F) which means it’s not ideal for making jerky.
This could be a good beginner-type propane smoker if you’re willing to put in the work of making modifications and really working to learn how to make the best use of it.
Camp Chef 24″ Propane Smoker
First, the price has gone down in the past few months by $100… When I was looking at this one in the summertime I really liked the look of it but it was a bit expensive but now it’s more competitively priced.
After reading all the reviews for this one I found them to be less mixed than the Masterbuilt. The average rating would be about 4 stars and the biggest complaint being about the package arriving damaged. This is usually Amazon’s fault because if you order using Amazon Prime, they ship it from their warehouse.
Other companies, such as Smoke Hollow have complained to Amazon and they have fixed the shipping issue but Camp Chef still seems to have some damaged products arriving.
The materials all seem to be high quality and it’s easy to put together.
So what’s the bad news?
As usual, the thermometer is not accurate for most people by up to 20 degrees. This is why I always recommend to people to go with a remote BBQ smoker thermometer used by all the smoker pros. The door has a tendency to leak smoke, which is another common issue that can be solved by adding gaskets.
The burner seems to be very sensitive to wind and many complaints about the smoker not being able to hold a low temperature. This unit seems to be more designed for reaching very high temperatures (350° F) which is higher than most of the other propane smokers.
Overall, there seem to be a lot of complaints but some people do love it. It has a large cooking area and heats up quickly. at 18,000 BTU it puts out enough power to cook your food quickly. It’s heavy! Weighing in at 75 lbs, it’s definitely the heaviest model here on the list.
I do like the design. It kind of looks like a bank safe to me and I suppose it comes down to personal preference.
Getting Started: Using Your Propane Smoker
Before you use your propane smoker there are a few things you’re going to want to know and some modifications you might want to make. Generally, you should run your smoker at least once without modifications to see how well it performs.
Each person has a little different experience due to various microclimates, propane tanks, wood chunks, and other variables.
Smoke Leaking Out?
One of the best ways to prevent smoke from leaking out is to add a Nomex high-temp gasket to your smoke chamber door. I used this as well as caulked all the outside of the door joints with Hi-Temp Silicone Sealant in order to stop all tiny leaks.
Another cheap add-on is a Brass Control Valve, which helps regulate the flow of fuel from the propane tank. The biggest issue people face is getting the correct temperature but this just takes a bit of trial and error.
A simple modification many people make is to remove the ventilation tube that’s usually located on the top back of the smoker. You can also add an exhaust tube to breathe better.
Get More Flavorful Smoke!
One of my new favorite smoker toys that I recently got was the LIZZQ Pellet Smoker Tube for smoking pellets. This produces a ton of smoke! If you live in a residential neighborhood, your neighbors might have a problem with you producing so much smoke!
The smoking pellets are great for producing some really unique flavors and can easily smoke for about 5 hours. definitely recommend trying out those if you haven’t! Keep in mind that these don’t come with wood smoker pellets, so you’ll have to buy those separately.
Burner Won’t Stay On?
Sometimes you’ll find your burner going out for seemingly no reason at all.
Always vent your smoker before turning on the gas!
With the newer propane smokers you have to turn the dial VERY slowly. They often come with some kind of safety trigger that will turn off the gas if you crank it up too quickly.
Reading the instruction manual gave some really good advice that works for me:
- Turn off the tank valve and disconnect your hose from the propane tank.
- Wait about 5 minutes before reconnecting the hose to the propane tank.
- Open the propane valve very slowly until it’s upended fully.
- Light the burner furthest from the tank first, then the second burner.
This should solve any problems you have when the burner randomly goes out.
The biggest problem with temperature that people usually get is that it gets too hot. Personally, I use wood chunks and the pellets in my firebox. As the wood turns to charcoal and really begins to heat up, turn the flame to low. Some people like to use just one burner when you get it going. When you near the end of your smoking, you can crank the heat back up and this produces some really nice results.
One other important note regarding temperature, is accurately monitoring your temperature. I’m a big fan of the ThermoPro TP20B and what I did was drill a small hole in the side of the propane smoker. I used a cheap $2 fuel tank bushing to hold the temperature probe in place.
You’ll find that the built-in temperature gauges are not the most accurate and just about everyone uses a digital thermometer.
Well, that’s all the tips and tricks I can think of for now. For those of you interested in getting into smoking as a hobby, I would definitely recommend going over to Smoking Meat Forums and read what others are doing with their smokers.
They have a great community over there with some really good chefs! I’ve only done about 20 or so smokes and nowhere near a professional but I enjoy the hobby and it’s a wonderful excuse to get outside and have some fun with friends and family!