When used properly, electric and propane smokers both achieve tender, flavorful meat prepared over low heat and seasoned with hardwood smoke. The difference lies in the heat source itself, with most other characteristics remaining similar.
Sources of Heat
Electric smokers incorporate metal heating elements that provide low heat for long, sustained cooking times but hot enough to make hardwood chips smoke. Propane smokers utilize gas burners, the flames of which provide even, consistent heat and wood chip combustion.
Placement of Hardwood Chips
Both types of smokers typically incorporate metal trays, smoker boxes or heavy-duty foil pouches containing wood chips. The trays or pouches sit directly atop the heating elements or gas burners, with the heat eventually causing the chips to emit smoke for flavoring.
Common Smoker Designs
Vertical-barrel or bullet-shaped smokers are the most common design for both propane and electric smokers. The heating elements or burners sit in the extreme bottom of the units, with wood chips water pans and meat resting above.
Wood Chip Prep
Electric and propane smokers both function best when users soak the hardwood smoking chips in water for at least an hour prior to cooking time. Wet wood chips produce more smoke, which imparts more flavor.
Advantage Over Charcoal
Both electric and propane smokers provide more convenient alternatives to traditional charcoal smokers. Charcoal smokers produce more flavor but also generate ash, soot and char, making for harder cleanup. Electric and propane create more consistent even heat with minimal cleanup.