To some outdoor cooking aficionados, nothing tastes better then meat that has been properly smoked. Including all the herbs and types of fuels used to smoke the meat and give it flavor, these outdoor chefs also get quite involved in the tools used for smoking. So it is no great surprise that there is a debate on the viability of electric smokers vs. gas smokers.
With gas smokers, if the container is kept clean the temperature can be managed quite easily, maintaining a constant temperature throughout the cooking period. This only gets disrupted by burned residue that can cause hot spots. Keeping the system clean avoids this problem. Gas smokers do fine in cold weather, and warm up within about 10 minutes to a proper heat level if the lid is kept closed.
An electric smoker can also maintain temperature fairly well but, unlike gas, it won't fluctuate inside the smoker because of hot spots. The electrical grid has safety features that will regulate or restrict the system from getting hotter. In cold weather, however, electrical smokers seem to have problems maintaining a decent heat level for cooking.
Gas smokers primarily rely on propane tanks for a fuel source. This makes them easy to transport since, as long as you have a full propane tank, you can set them up just about anywhere. This makes the smoker mobile for camping trips, athletic field events, community barbecues, outdoor cooking sales events, etc.
Electrical smokers are limited by their power cable source. Generally, that means they must be located near an outlet. Granted, some mobility can be managed with a portable generator, but this defeats the affordability of an electric smoker since a good gas-driven generator can cost as much as $800.
Many owners have noted that gas smokers have significant capacity, holding up to four to five turkeys at a time.
Electrical smokers are much smaller, in many cases only being able to handle one or two turkeys at best. This makes the electrical smoker only good for personal use and limits its functionality for large group events.
Affordability and Ongoing Costs
Gas smokers are fairly affordable, falling in price range just below full-size gas barbecues. A 36-inch gas smoker was priced at about $200 to $400 as of February 2010, depending on the store it is purchased from. Far more advanced units cost much more, but the average consumer doesn't need to pay that muchto have a decent gas smoker.
Gas smokers also come with the added cost of regular propane refills. This can range from $13 to $20 a tank, depending on your location.
Electric smokers start at $150 and reach as much as $5,000 for the extreme cooker. However, the average smoker on a cord is comparable in price to the gas smoker, so there is no great difference.
Additionally, while electric smokers don't have propane costs, they will pinch your electric bill. This can be costly in some locales with higher-priced electricity during the summer air-conditioning season.
Which One Wins Out?
Given that most of the categories seem even, the right smoker for a consumer will depend on his expected use and where he wants to locate the smoker. For portability, the gas smoker probably edges electric simply because it's easier to set up. Many outdoor barbecue types have already used a regular gas barbecue, so the propane smoker will seem like second nature to them. However, in the rest of the criteria the two types seem even, so ultimately individual need will influence the decision.