How Do Propane Smokers Work? And How to Use it.


Many outdoor grillers swear by their charcoal smokers due to the low cost of smoking. And fans of pellet smokers are drawn by the classic smokey taste. But a propane smoker is perhaps the best of all – it’s faster, cleaner, easier to use, and also lets you use wood pellets.

For those asking how do propane smokers work, propane smokers work with external gas tanks and convection technology. It heats an internal cooking chamber, and air then circulates the heat. 

In this guide, you’ll find out how propane-fueled smokers work, how it’s used, and how effective it is for smoking.

Let’s Deep Dive How a Propane Smoker Works

Propane smokers are smoking units that work with convection technology, thanks to a gas burner. Air then circulates the heat around the smokehouse, cooking both the internal and external parts of the meat with hot air. 

Cooked Fish in a Gas Smoker

Propane smokers usually have separate gas tanks. They use wood chips for taste and water in a pan to prevent meat drying and ensure tenderness.  

The operation of the smoker is simple: open the tap of the propane gas cylinder. Then turn the dedicated knob to light the fire on the smoker.  

You can adjust the intensity of the flame by the knobs. This is a useful feature because it can heat the smoker to the maximum during preheating.  

It’s also useful for cooking food on a low flame. And you can leave the smoker burning low to keep the meat warm.

Features of a Propane Smoker

To better understand how propane smokers work, it is better to see what they consist of and what each component does.

The body

The smoker’s body is made with materials resistant to high temperatures. The best models are cast iron, but steel smokers are also of excellent quality.

A cast-iron smoker is quite heavy but very solid. It helps a lot with heat retention and circulation. However, it is prone to rust, except for enameled cast iron models.

The grids

In the smoker, there are usually two to four cooking grids. You can cook different foods of different sizes all at the same time on these grids.

You need to make sure you can remove the grids and adjust them to different heights. This makes it possible to cook whole large birds like turkeys and chickens.

A smoker with a hanging rack is a great option to make your smoked jerky.

Water pan

You can find the water pan above the heat source of the smokehouse chamber. Filling it with water helps retain moisture and prevents your meat from drying out while slow-cooking.

You will likely need to refill your water pan several times throughout the cooking process. This could be a problem if you have a one-door vertical smoker.

This means you have to open the door frequently to refill the water. Larger water supply pans are, however, available. They can last longer, help you smoke juicier meats without compromising internal temperatures.

Tip: To add flavor to the meat, some grillers use beer, chicken broth, or apple juice instead of water.

The gas tank

The typical propane smoker kit consists of a gas tank that varies in size. It can contain between 15 to 420 lbs of gas.

On one side, you’ll find a gas tap under the tank. You have to connect one end of a piece of rubber hose to the gas valve and the other end to a propane gas cylinder. If the smoker has a cabinet, the cylinder can be placed inside it.

The door

The smoker usually has a door or lid that can be closed while cooking. The door or cover speeds up cooking by preventing the internal temperature from falling too low. But it also allows the aroma of the food to remain trapped inside the chamber.

Meat thermometer

The meat thermometer is for monitoring the temperature in the smoker. The smoking temperature for meat is usually around 200 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll need a thermometer to monitor this.  

Although most propane smokers come with a thermometer on the door, these aren’t always accurate. To ensure that your smoker is cooking your meat to the correct temperature, you need to purchase a separate thermometer.

Benefits of Using a Propane Smoker

Propane smokers come with loads of benefits that make them stand out. Some of these are explained below.

They’re easy to use

A propane smoker is very easy to use. To put it on, simply turn on the gas, press a button and the device will instantly come up. This is easier to use when compared to charcoal smoking which involves lighting up charcoal briquettes and wood pellets and then waiting for the smoker to heat up.

Smokey taste thanks to wood pellets

Not to forget, you’ll also have that traditional smokey flavor thanks to the wood chips. Most propane smokers always have a wood pan for adding wood pellets. Apple, hickory, oak, maple, pecan, cherry, to mention a few. There are a lot of wood chips to try.

Fast, but not in a bad way…

When we said propane smokers are the fastest for smoking, we didn’t want to sound like we’re talking about grills.

We mean, a propane smoker can be preheated as fast as possible. This usually takes 10 to 20 minutes. Charcoal smokers take around 30 minutes to get to medium heat.

You will also save time as you have no embers to maintain.

Temperature is easier to adjust so you can get tender meat always

After preheating, you can turn down the heat to achieve that perfect tenderness. Smoking in low heat for a long time and having water in the water box will make the muscles in the meat tenderize.

With charcoal smokers, the heat isn’t that easy to control. You’re dealing with independent charcoal whose heat can only be reduced in some models by reducing the burning coals.

The temperature of propane smokers is easier to adjust. Besides, you can also change the temperature by using the pre-installed vents.

You can multitask and cook different foods

A propane smoker helps you avoid the usual 10 to 16 hours of slaving away by a charcoal smoker. You can adjust the grids separately. So, you can cook different kinds of food simultaneously: from vegetables to fish, meat, sausages, etc.

Smaller carbon footprint

Propane burn cleaner than wood pellets or charcoal smokers. Also, on other smokers, drippings from your foods will most likely flare up and create chemicals that create smog. The clean-burning and lesser smoke also lead to minimal clean-up after use.

How to Use a Propane Smoker

Smoking with a propane smoker is fast, seamless, and easy to learn. Simply follow the steps below:

  1. Connect the propane tank to the smoker. Open the propane valve by turning it clockwise once to connect the hose.
  2. Open the smoker door by turning the handle counterclockwise, approximately 90 degrees. This can vary depending on the brand and manufacturer of the propane smoker.
  3. Remove the smokebox from the propane smokers. Fill it with wood chips or chunks. Close the lid, and return the smokebox to its wiring harness.
  4. Locate the water box on your propane smoker. It will be right on top of the box that you have filled with wood chips or chunks. Line the water box with aluminum foil. This will be very beneficial in the cleaning process. Fill the water reservoir with approximately one-half gallon of hot water unless the instructions for your smoker specify a different amount of water.
  5. Turn the right knob to high, and turn the left knob to high a few times. This will ignite the propane, which will cause sparks to start smoking wood.
  6. Once the smoke is pouring from the smoker, it’s time to add your meats. Smoke your meats until tender. The cooking time varies depending on the kind of meat and its thickness.

Tips and Warnings

Always be cautious when using a propane tank. If you’ve never hooked one before, ask someone who has to be sure it was done correctly.

See Also: How to Get Propane Smoker Hotter

Are Propane Smokers Any Good?

Propane smokers are great for people who want fast, easy to use, and healthier smokehouses. They are perhaps the best units for smoking outdoors. 

With a propane smoker, all you need are wood chips of your choice, water in the pan, and a filled gas tank. Lighting the smoker is done with a knob, from where you can increase and decrease the temperature.


Tyler Lachance is a cookout professional. His expertise on cooking grilled food, creating marinades, formulating sauces and matching his food with the perfect drink is unrivaled.

Born and raised in a family that has a long history of cookout, he has treated this activity as a part of his culture and who he is.