Propane smokers are incredibly popular for a reason. They are affordable and can turn out great barbecue without having to constantly tend a fire.
You have a LOT of options when you are looking at propane smokers and I want to help you find the best one for your needs.
There are three primary manufacturers of propane smokers:
While there are a few other companies (Cuisinart, etc) that dabble in the market they really don’t bring anything special or interesting to the table.
One of the tricks to finding the best propane smoker is matching the smoker to your needs. Many people use price as the main decision criteria and I believe that is a mistake. You don’t have to buy the most expensive smoker but you should buy the best one that you can afford.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. You either want a SMALL smoker or a LARGE one. There is no good logical reason on Earth to ever buy a MEDIUM sized smoker.
You want a SMALL smoker if you need something that is:
- Easy to store in your RV
- Easy to transport for camping or tailgating
- Just enough for one or two people.
The Best Small Propane Smoker
Masterbuilt makes great electric smokers and they have transferred their designs over to their propane products. Their Portable Propane Smoker is my choice for the best small propane smoker. Here is a quick look at this smoker in a video from Masterbuilt.
The leg’s on this smoker fold up for easy storage and you can also get a carry bag and gas adapter for larger propane tanks if desired.
This smoker is large enough for a small turkey or a large pork butt.
When it comes to a small smoker then the Masterbuilt really has this locked up.
The Myth of Medium Sized Smokers
People THINK they want a MEDIUM smoker because:
- This is my first smoker and I want to make sure I enjoy it before I get a large smoker.
- I know I like smoking meat but I want to save $50.
- I don’t know exactly what I want so I will just pick something in the middle.
- I don’t want a small smoker but I know I don’t need something that will handle 100 pounds of meat.
Let me destroy those excuses.
Smoking meat is a glorious hobby and you are going to love it. One way to get incredibly frustrated with a new hobby is to use equipment that isn’t good enough. Do not sabotage yourself at the start by purchasing a medium size smoker.
The reality is that most of the medium sized smokers (sold by Masterbuilt and Smoke Hollow as the 30-38 inch models) are too small for a whole slab of ribs or a full packer brisket. The smokers have plenty of vertical space but do not have the width to deal with these classic barbecue cuts.
If you buy a medium sized smoker you will have to cut your ribs in half before smoking and stick to brisket flats instead of whole packers. Make no mistake about it…if you want to call yourself a pitmaster then you are going to have to master ribs and brisket. Why in the world would you shoot yourself in the foot by purchasing a smoker that is not capable of cooking these classics?
Yes, you can make fine barbecue with a brisket flat and it doesn’t really hurt anything other than your pride to cut the ribs in half. But I promise you, if you buy a medium size propane smoker then at some point you are going to say, “I wish I had gotten the bigger one.”
So let’s do everyone a favor and stop looking at those 30-38 inch smokers.
The Best Large Propane Smoker
This choice is going to come down to the features that you value. I am going to show you five different choices that are all great.
Smoke Hollow 44 Inch Smokers
Smoke Hollow offers three different 44 inch smokers. All three versions have dual burner control with a smoker box over each burner. These smokers come with rib racks, sausage hooks and jerky trays in addition to the standard smoking trays.
The base 44 inch model, pictured below, has a solid front door without a window. Personally I am a fan of this model since it is the least expensive and it does not have a window that will have to be cleaned on a regular basis to keep your spouse from nagging you.
The next model up is pretty much the exact same as the base model but has a window on the front of the smoker.
Again, I would skip on this one because all it does is add cost and give you one more thing to clean. But hey, some folks like windows so here it is.
Last up is the Smoke Hollow Pro Series 44.
The functionality of the Pro Series is the same as the other two 44 inch smokers. What makes this a “Pro Series” is that the temperature gauge (which has been moved to the center of the window) is advertised as being accurate (I still wouldn’t trust it) and the smoker boxes are upgraded.
Again, I would stick with the base model just from a value standpoint. Also from a value standpoint, you can usually pick up the same size Masterbuilt for less than a Smoke Hollow (keep reading below).
Masterbuilt 44 Inch Smokers
Masterbuilt has two 44 inch propane smokers but I can only recommend one of them. The base model is typically much cheaper than an equivalent sized Smoke Hollow product but does not come with rib racks or sausage hooks. That is just fine by me since I wouldn’t use either of those “upgrades”.
Here is a quick video tour of this smoker showing the burners, capacity and smoker box.
Masterbuilt makes a second 44 inch smoker with a thermostat control. The advanced control system sounds interesting as heck but I have read too many reports of folks having problems with it flaming out.
Give Masterbuilt a few years of R&D to get the bugs worked out on the thermostat controlled smoker. For now just stick with the standard 44 inch unit.
Smoke Vault 24 from Camp Chef
The Smoke Vault 24 is an extra large cooker from Camp Chef that is plenty large enough to handle ribs and brisket.
There are some pros and cons about this smoker that are worth discussing.
A nice feature of the Smoke Vault is that it is the only gas smoker that I am aware of that allows you to perform a natural gas conversion. Here is the link if you are interested.
Unlike the other large smokers listed here you must open the PRIMARY cooking chamber to add more smoking wood during a cook. This lets out heat and smoke which is unfortunate. The other smokers discussed here have a separate door for access to the smoke boxes.
On the positive side, the Smoke Vault can very easily run at temperatures as high as 350F. While most folks will scoff and say real barbecue must be cooked “low and slow” the reality is that many professional pitmasters only cook low and slow for a few hours before cranking up the heat and finishing things off “hot and fast”.
If you want to smoke a brisket like Myron Mixon then you are going to need a smoker than can hit 350F.