Smoked ribs, brisket, chicken, and turkey are just a few of the gastronomical delights you can cook in your own backyard with a propane smoker. Similar to electric smokers, propane smokers are boxy in shape and measure about 20 inches wide and 45 inches tall. They offer between 800 and 1,600 square inches of cooking surface on three or four cooking racks.
Using propane-powered burners that range between 12,000 and 20,000 BTUs, they heat up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Chip boxes and water bowls located above the heating element infuse smoky flavor into the food as it cooks.
Whether you’re just entering the world of meat smoking or looking to upgrade from an older smoker, read on to learn more about what to look for in the best propane smoker, and find out why the products below are some of the best choices on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Cuisinart COS-244 Vertical 36” Propane Smoker
- RUNNER-UP: Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24”
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Char-Broil The Big Easy TRU-Infrared Smoker
- UPGRADE PICK: Masterbuilt MB20050716 Mps 330g Propane Smoker, 30″
- BEST WITH WINDOW: PIT BOSS 77435 Vertical Lp Gas Smoker
- BEST TWO-DOOR: Dyna-Glo DGY784BDP 36” Vertical LP Gas Smoker
- BEST LARGE: Masterbuilt MPS 230S Propane Smoker, 30”
- BEST VERTICAL: Masterbuilt Smoke Hollow PS40B Propane Smoker
- BEST COMPACT: Camp Chef Smoke Vault, 18” Vertical Smoker
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Propane Smoker
How much meat a smoker can hold is one of the most important factors to consider when shopping for a propane smoker. But other attributes are critical, too. You’ll want to consider construction, door design, temperature range and a number of other features.
Rack surface area determines a smoker’s capacity—that is, how much meat fits inside. Smaller smokers typically provide about 800 square inches of cooking surface for chicken, ribs, pork butt, brisket, and other meats. Larger models pack at least 1,200 square inches of rack space to smoke even more meat at a time. The biggest smokers provide up to 1,600 square inches of space.
Keep in mind that a larger smoker will take up more space. While most smokers are around 20 inches deep and 40 inches tall, they vary in width. A smaller smoker may be around 20 to 30 inches wide, while a large one may extend more than 40 inches.
The best propane smokers use a mix of cast iron and stainless steel in their construction. The smoker box consists of either stainless steel or painted steel. While both are durable, stainless steel resists corrosion and rust better. That extends the life of the smoker and enhances the aesthetics of an outdoor living space.
Inside, high-quality propane smokers feature durable cast-iron burners. These last longer than other materials. A quality smoker will also have a stainless steel interior. A painted interior will eventually bubble and peel under the intense heat.
The cooking racks should also be stainless steel, while the chip box, water bowl, and drip pan should be porcelain-coated steel. The stainless steel and porcelain-coated parts will hold up to the intense internal temperatures of the smoker better than other materials while also making the grill much easier to clean after the day’s smoking is complete.
Propane smokers vary in their heat output. Most smokers have one or two burners, which put out a combined total of between 12,000 and 20,000 BTUs. The more heat output, the easier it is for the smoker to maintain a constant internal temperature.
Larger-capacity smokers with a more spacious interior require more heat to maintain the smoker’s internal temperature. Since propane smokers operate outdoors, it’s crucial to consider the outdoor temperature. Keeping a smoker at an optimal temperature in 40-degree temperatures requires more power than heating a smoker in 70 or 80-degree temperatures.
Similar to a gas grill, propane smokers have large analog dials at the base of the unit that allow the user to control the size of the flame. Large door-mounted thermometers display the internal temperature of the smoker. Some higher-end smokers have thermostats that will automatically adjust the level of the flame to heat the smoker to a set temperature.
Many of the best propane smoker models feature two separate doors on the front of the unit. This design helps the smoker maintain the proper temperature by eliminating the need to open the door during the smoking process.
The larger upper door opens to the main compartment, which allows access to the cooking racks that hold the food. The smaller lower door leads to the smoker’s heating element, chip box, water bowl, and grease tray. The user can add wood chips, refill the water bowl, or empty drippings without letting heat out of the cooking compartment.
Natural Gas Conversion
Some smokers have a dual-fuel rating, so they can run on propane or natural gas. These smokers typically require a compatible conversion kit, which is sold by the manufacturer. But not all propane smokers can convert to natural gas. If this is an important feature for you, make sure conversion is possible before making a purchase.
Do not attempt to run a natural gas line to a propane tank. Natural gas has a higher gas-to-air ratio than propane. This means natural gas will barely hold a flame, if at all, when run through a propane gas burner.
Ability to maneuver a gas smoker around a patio is important, unless it has a permanent spot on the deck or patio. Since gas smokers are tower-shaped, they are more prone to tipping over and therefore don’t have wheels. This means the smoker needs to be light enough to pick up.
Lighter smokers can weigh 20 to 30 pounds and feature handles on the sides to make them easier to move. Larger smokers can weigh 70 pounds or more, which makes them extremely difficult to maneuver.
Top propane smoker models have features that make them easier to use. Some have removable, adjustable racks to accommodate different sizes of food. Some top-loading models double as conventional grills. While these models are more versatile, they do not offer the same smoking capacity and aren’t as easy to load as traditional smokers.
Most smokers feature large thermometers on the door that allow for careful temperature monitoring. Some also have glass windows on the front so there’s no need to open the smoker to sneak a peek at the food.
Our Top Picks
The list below takes into account the most important characteristics of propane smokers to narrow the field to some of the best propane smoker options on the market. The smokers below range in size to meet different patio sizes and budgets.
This smoker is an excellent all-around option for backyard smoking. Its thoughtful design makes it easy to use, control, and maintain. With 800 square inches of cooking space broken into four adjustable and removable 14-inch by 14-inch racks, there’s plenty of room for vegetables, ribs, or a whole chicken. However, its tall and narrow frame has a small enough footprint that it won’t crowd the patio. It measures 46 inches tall, 20 inches wide, and 20 inches deep. Two large handles facilitate moving this 40-pound smoker around a patio or into a shed or garage when not in use.
The temperature is easy to control thanks to a large control knob and an adjustable rear vent. Two twist-lock door handles minimize heat loss. Stainless steel racks and a porcelain enamel steel tray for wood chips make this smoker easy to clean.
A user-friendly design plus plenty of cooking surface area makes this model an excellent option for backyard chefs of all sorts. At 24 inches wide and 44 inches tall, it’s broader than most and ideal for handling a full rack of ribs. Its 1,200 square inches of cooking surface offers plenty of room for whole chickens, turkeys, and other large cuts of meat. Keep in mind, though, that the smoke vault is heavy. At 75 pounds, it’s best suited to homes that have a permanent spot on the patio for a smoker.
An 18,000 BTU burner supports cooking temperatures from 160 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Vents on the sides and top supplement the heat control knob to regulate the temperature inside the smoker. Modeled after a 19th-century safe, the Camp Chef Smoke Vault is also one of the more attractive smokers on the market.
The Big Easy is more than just a smoker. It’s a grill and a roaster, too, which makes it an excellent option for those on a budget or who lack the patio space for multiple appliances. The barrel-shaped model features a 1,200-square-inch basket for roasting or smoking large cuts of meat. A side-mounted smoker box provides a convenient place to add wood chips without opening the lid. A grill rack that fits on top of the smoker functions as an infrared grill. Two large knobs control the heat from a range of 9,000 to 18,000 BTUs for both the smoker and grill function.
Not only is it versatile, but at 36 inches tall and less than 23 pounds, The Big Easy is compact. Two large handles on the sides make for easy transport and storage.
Thermometers and valve controls on most propane smokers allow the user to control the heat manually. That’s a challenge when outdoor temperatures fluctuate throughout the day. The Masterbuilt features a thermostat with external controls that automatically adjust the heat to maintain the preset temperature. Outdoor chefs can set it and forget it and won’t need to constantly check the smoker to ensure the temperature is right.
With its large window, there’s no need to open the door for quick peeks inside that can cost a lot of heat. Two separate doors allow for refilling wood chips without releasing heat. At 44 inches tall and with four chrome-coated smoking racks, the Masterbuilt offers ample space for up to four racks of ribs, 12 chickens, or two turkeys.
For impatient grillmasters who can’t help but peek every few hours, the Pit Boss Vertical Gas Smoker is a great option. The extra-large window made of high-temperature glass allows cooks to drool over ribs, chicken, pork butt, and brisket for hours as they cook, without compromising the internal temperature. An external wood chip drawer and grease tray eliminate any need, or excuse, to open the gas smoker before the meat is ready.
Reinforced door seals ensure the heat remains inside. A large thermometer makes monitoring the temperature easy. Three porcelain-coated cooking racks offer 884 square inches of cooking space and clean up easily afterward. Two stainless steel burners provide 12,500 BTUs, which is ample power for its size. This smoker is 47 inches tall and weighs 52 pounds.
A large upper door on the Dyna-Glo Smoker allows access to the smoker’s ample cooking space, which features four trays and 784 square inches of cooking surface. The lower door grants access to the burner, water bowl, chip box, and grease tray, so cooks can refill chips, add water, or change out a full grease tray without losing heat from the smoking chamber.
A large 15,000 BTU cast-iron burner provides ample heating power. Dampers on the sides and top open and close to adjust the interior temperature. Large handles allow two people to maneuver this smoker, which weighs 54 pounds.
With its two-door design, ample cooking space, and high-quality construction, this model from Masterbuilt is among the best vertical options for propane smokers. Four cooking racks offer an ample 1,600 square inches of cooking space for chickens, full racks of ribs, and briskets. Two doors allow the user to refill wood chips, refresh the water bowl and empty drippings from the grease tray without impacting the temperature in the cooking compartment.
A large dial at the base of the smoker allows for precise changes to heat output, while a large thermometer on the front door provides accurate temperature readings for the best results. Vents at the unit’s rear provide additional temperature controls. Stainless steel racks and porcelain-coated parts make it easy to clean once the day’s smoking is complete. This unit weighs 66 pounds.
While it may lack some of the features of other smokers, such as double doors and windows, this wide and deep smoker offers more capacity for smoking meats than most other gas smokers. Its 1,400 square inches of cooking surface is enough room for 20 chickens, four turkeys, 16 pork butts, or 8 racks of ribs on its four racks. It measures 43.5 inches high, 29 inches wide, and 21 inches deep.
An external knob at the base of the smoker allows the user to control its 15,400 BTU heat output, while a thermometer on the door allows for monitoring the internal temperature. An adjustable air damper allows for smaller adjustments to heat. With its stainless steel racks and porcelain-coated water bowl and chip tray, this smoker is also easy to clean once the smoking is done.
Adding a smoker to one’s existing arsenal of outdoor cooking appliances can quickly lead to a crowded outdoor living space. With its compact size, this smoker is a good option for those who are concerned about space. At 44 inches, it’s similar in height to other smokers, but it’s just 18 inches wide and 16 inches deep. Despite its small size, it offers ample cooking space with three racks, including one mesh rack for fish.
A large control knob at the smoker’s base and a door-mounted thermometer make adjusting and monitoring the temperature easy. Stainless steel racks, chip box, and water bowl make cleanup easy, while a stainless steel door adds style to the outdoor living space.
FAQs About Propane Smokers
If you have questions about how to operate a propane smoker, read on for answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about this outdoor appliance.
Q. Do I need to pre-season a propane smoker?
Yes. It’s crucial to pre-season a propane smoker in order to eliminate the oils and chemicals left over from manufacturing before you begin barbecuing. Pre-seasoning involves heating the smoker to a certain temperature in order to burn off these chemicals. Consult the user’s manual for specific instructions on pre-seasoning it.
Q. How do you use a propane smoker?
A propane smoker requires a 20-gallon propane tank for use. Attach the propane tank to the smoker’s gas line, then open the tank’s valve. Use the smoker’s igniter to light the flame, then set the flame level using the heat control knob, which is usually located at the smoker’s base. Add water to the water bowl and wood chips to the chip box. Monitor the thermometer to make sure the smoker maintains the desired temperature throughout cooking, which is usually between 200 and 220 degrees Fahrenheit.
Q. How long does it take for wood chips to start smoking?
It takes about 20 minutes after adding the wood chips before they start smoking enough to produce flavor.
Q. How often should you put wood chips into a propane smoker?
Add wood chips to the smoker every 5 to 6 hours. Pay attention to the quality and amount of smoke the appliance is producing to determine if the wood chips are still working or if you need to add additional chips.
Q. How long will a 20-pound propane tank last on a smoker?
When using a smoker with a 20-pound tank, expect the gas to last between 18 and 20 hours.