Every veteran pit master loves to brag about how they spent 16 hours in the snow slaving over the fire to produce the finest, most succulent brisket known to man.
But if you’re just getting into smoking meat but don’t want to sacrifice your entire weekend then you should think about going gas.
The same goes if you’ve been smoking awhile and getting up during the night to check the fire isn’t as much fun as you thought it would be.
We’ve reviewed the best gas smokers available under $400 (so it won’t break the bank) to help you make the right decision.
You’ll also find a lot of helpful information about how to get the most out of your new gas smoker.
Click to jump straight to each topic
- Best all around gas smoker
- Best affordable gas smoker
- Alternative cheap gas smoker
- Best large gas smoker
- Who gas smokers are best suited for
- How gas smokers work
- Pros and cons of buying a gas smoker
- Getting the most out of your gas smoker
- The rest of the competition
The best all around gas smoker – Camp Chef 24″ Smoke Vault
“Are you smoking meat or robing a bank?” Is what we thought when we first laid our eyes on this unique smoker.
With it’s eye catching design and low price point, we had to know more.
Camp Chef have been around for over 20 years and produce a massive range of outdoor cooking equipment including grills, pizza ovens and smokers. The Smoke Vault range of gas smokers comes in two sizes. While you can save a few bucks and pick up an 18″ model, we’ve never regretted the extra space offered by the 24″.
And the price difference isn’t even that much.
We recently included the Smoke Vault on our list of best beginner smokers and when you look into the details it’s easy to see why we are delighted with this smoker.
Smoking with gas is all about reliability and convenience, so we wanted to know how the Smoke Vault performed.
First off, this smoker can hold it’s temperature without fail for as long as you need.
Since this smoker doesn’t require constant babysitting, you won’t have to sit by it all day drinking beer (if you do want to sit outside all day drinking beer, then go right ahead and pick up an offset smoker)
The smoke vault has some other key benefits including:
- Straight forward setup for one person (although putting the legs on is easier if you can convince a friend / wife to lend a hand)
- Very low propane use. We’ve seen people get hours of smoking on nearly empty tanks.
- Large amount of room. Even the smaller 18″ model should fit a whole turkey or multiple racks of ribs, especially if you insert a few rib racks for some extra barbecue real estate.
- You can get several hours of smoke when you use wood chunks (we wouldn’t’ recommend wood chips here).
You can see the Camp Chef in action in this useful video below.
The main issues we’ve seen with the Smoke Vault aren’t really related to the actual smoker. Some people have complained about the unreliable built-in thermometer.
But if you’ve read any other pages on this website before, you’ll know not to trust the built-in smoker thermometer, and to always invest in a good dual probe thermometer setup.
The other main issue is that some people who have ordered this online have reported issues with packaging, but after looking into it, it seems that these have stopped.
In the event that something does go wrong Amazon are usually very good with getting a replacement sorted.
If we had to single out any other issues with the Smoke Vault it would that the racks feel cheaply made and the metal is on the thin side so smoking in extreme weather should be done with caution.
Other than those minor complaints, this is fantastic value smoker around the $200 price range. Get the latest price on the 24″ and 18″ models on Amazon.
Best affordable gas smoker for bargain hunters – Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker
If you’re just thinking about getting into smoking, some of the price tags on the most recommended smokers might put you off.
And while we always advise spending a little extra if you can, there’s nothing wrong with buying a cheaper unit.
Sure it won’t be the most solidly built and it might only last you a few years, but by that time you’ll either be ready to move on to a better smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain or you’ll have picked a new hobby and won’t have wasted a lot of money on a fancy smoker.
With any smoker at this price point you have to weigh up the pros and cons:
What we liked about the Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker:
- Obviously the price! We included it in our list of best smokers for beginners as well. It’s hard to beat at this low price point.
- It packs a lot of space into a small 2’x2’x4′ footprint. With 595 square inches of cooking surface there’s plenty of room for racks of ribs, just watch how wide your cuts of meat go and think about grabbing some rib racks to expand your capacity even more.
- It’s a heavy unit and overall construction is good for the price, although won’t compete with some other smokers in this guide.
What isn’t so good:
- The thermometer is some how even worse than normal for built-in thermometers, so definitely make sure you get a proper thermometer setup.
- We aren’t fans of the water tray design with space for wood in the middle (hello wet soggy mess!). Luckily you can fix this with some simple modifications or just add your own small pan at the bottom.
The good news is that this smoker often goes on special so you should be able to get a bargain. Check the latest price.
Another good cheap gas options to consider – Masterbuilt 30″ Propane Smoker
With a little more cooking space than the Char-Broil (717 square inches vs 595″ on the Char-Broil), the Masterbuilt is one of the best vertical propane smokers under $200. And because it often gets discounted you might be able to grab it for around the same price as the Char-Broil.
With Masterbuilt products you get a large online community so it’s easy to get tips & advice to help you get the most out of your smoker.
We definitely recommend making some of the smoker enhancements outlined below with this smoker. If you use the factory chip tray you may have some issues with the wood catching fire.
Otherwise this smoker is super easy to use, can handle all kinds of meat and is pretty straight forward to setup.
It doesn’t come with any good instructions for first time users, but if you contact Masterbuilt they will tell you to:
Apply cooking oil to the cooking grates and inside of the door only
Put 2 cups of soaked chips in the flame bowl and fire up the burner
Burn for 30 minutes at 400 degrees F
Shut down and cool off completely
Reapply oil and burn for another 20 minutes (no mention of chips or temperature)
If you follow those steps, you should be good to go with your new smoker.
Best large gas smoker for feeding a crowd – Smoke Hollow 44 Inch Vertical Gas Smoker
This dual burner from Smoke Hollow packs 7 cubic feet of cooking capacity into a 44 inch vertical propane smoker. With 5 racks you can smoke a decent quantity of food at once.
This unit does drink a fair amount of propane though, so if you are only going to be smoking the occasional pork butt and don’t need to feed a large group you should probably consider another option.
You can also just use a single burner to save propane, depending on how hot you need to smoke at. This is actually a pretty useful feature if you need to smoke at really low temperatures.
In terms of construction this is a heavy, sturdy unit. The door is on the thin side, but that’s standard for all vertical smokers like this.
Even though the window doesn’t add a lot to the price, we picked the no window model as these just end up getting dirty.
And watching meat for 16 hours isn’t super exciting (although it sure beats watching most TV shows!).
While it costs a bit extra this is a great smoker if you need to cook for large groups. It performs well and the heat is easy to control. So long as you plan on taking advantage of the extra space, the Smoke Hollow 44″ represents excellent value (just make sure you keep some spare tanks of propane on hand). Get the latest price on Amazon.
Who gas smokers are best suited for
You should seriously think about getting a gas smoker if you want to start smoking but are put off by the thought of 16 hours slaving over charcoal. Becoming a home pitmaster doesn’t require a huge amount of time or skill, thanks to the convenience of gas smokers.
Gas smokers are most similar to electric, with a few differences we’ll cover below.
If you want the set it and forget it option for a low price then gas is a good option. While you can get pretty hands off with some charcoal smokers with the right knowledge and skill, it usually requires a much more expensive smoker (like a kamado style ceramic grill) to get the same level of temperature control and stability than you get with some affordable gas smokers.
If you’ve already done some smoking but are fed up with managing a fire then a gas smoker makes a great 2nd smoker to add to your collection for those extra long smoking sessions.
Unlike electric smokers, many pro pitmasters are big fans of gas:
How gas smokers work
Like their very similar cousin the electric smoker, gas smokers use a very simple design. You will almost always see a gas burner at the bottom connected to a propane tank.
The most popular style of gas smokers are cabinet style. Racks for holding your food are stacked vertically above the water pan, wood pan and gas burner. This explains why you might also hear these described as “vertical smokers”.
Meathead goes into more detail about how a typical gas smoker is setup, and why you should always look for a smoker with two doors.
The pros and cons of buying a gas smoker
As we’ve mentioned a lot of the pros and cons of buying a gas smoker are the same as you would see with an electric smoker.
- Set it and forget it smoking – There’s no doubt that like electric, gas smokers are much less work to maintain than a charcoal or wood smoker
- Easy temperature control – Related to the ease of use, most gas smokers have a push button to ignite and simple temperature controls
There are also a few advantages unique to cooking with a gas smoker.
- More portable – Unless you have an electric generator, you’re not going to bring your electric smoker camping with you. Because gas smokers use propane tanks they are much easier to take with you camping or tailgaiting
- Better smoke flavour – While a gas smoker still won’t rival the cooking with charcoal or wood, general consensus is that gas smokers produce better flavor than electric
- More reliable – There’s less that can go wrong than with an electric smoker. And because you don’t rely on electricity they are more reliable and make a good back up in case you loose power to your house.
Gas smokers aren’t without their issues though. Some potential problems include:
- Sometimes you’ll have to switch out the propane tank during a long cook – You can minimise this by always starting with a full tank and making sure your have a few spares on hand. This isn’t really any different to having to top up the charcoal though, but it does give the edge to electric smokers for convenience.
- Some models run on the narrow side – Makes it difficult to fit in larger cuts of meat like a whole turkey or large brisket. In our reviews for the best gas smokers above we’ve commented on width for each smoker.
While this last point isn’t unique to gas smokers, there does seem to be a large number of cheaply made smokers that leak heat and smoke. Poor insulation makes it especially hard to maintain and long and stable cook. This can make it hard to produce quality barbecue.
Getting the most smoke out of your gas smoker
When you buy gas you’re getting ease of use, for a great price, at the expense of quality. Most issues people have with gas relate to cheap construction. When you look at the price tag compared to some other smokers, that is understandable.
If you want a high quality set it and forget it smoker that’s super easy to use, then we recommend saving a little more cash and investing in a pellet smoker like the the REC TEC Wood Pellet Grill
But before you think we’re gas smoker haters, let’s make one thing clear:
You absolutely don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to produce great barbecue
In fact many home barbecuers are able to produce fantastic results by making some simple modifications to their gas smokers.
Replace the shoddy stock wood pan that came with your new smoker
Unfortunately manufacturers seem to insist on providing poorly made wood boxes / pans with their smokers. So when you fire up your new gas smoker you struggle to generate enough smoke.
Luckily there are a few simple and cheap enhancements you can make.
First off the cheap chip box that came with your smoker needs to go. Instead of that you can pickup an 8-12″ cast iron skillet (the biggest that will fit in your smoker).
Watch this video to see how a skillet can replace the crappy box that comes with your smoker.
The best setup will depend on your individual smoker, and may require a bit of experimenting. You can try to place the skillet (with wood) on the tray, or if you are still not getting enough smoke then try placing it directly on the burner
These simple upgrades can make a world of difference.
We also find that big chunks of wood work best. So ditch the chips and grab a bag of wood chunks like these apple wood chunks from Weber. Add enough to cover the bottom of the cast iron pan without stacking them.
Then you’ll need to add 1 or two new chunks every 4 hours or so. While you can use chips, you’ll find yourself having to refill much more often, which defies the whole point of going for a gas smoker.
Get more smoke with a pellet box
If you can’t get your hands on a cast iron skillet, then you can also pick up something called a Amazen Pellet smoker. These work perfectly with electric and gas smokers when you need to keep generating smoke and don’t want to be feeding new wood chips in every half hour.
Think smoking pork butts for 13 hours or beef brisket for 16 hours. Not fun at all on a gas smoker without any modifications.
A fully loaded tray should burn for around five hours creating a continuous perfect amount of smoke. While it won’t last for an entire smoke, by 5 hours the meat should have absorbed an optimal amount of smoke anyway.
If you really want to keep churning out the smoke you can easily refill it as well.
Add charcoal to a gas smoker for better flavor and smoke production
We’ve seen people have success by adding a second fire box, and placing two pieces of charcoal in their gas smoker. This helps give you the best of both worlds with a little bit of charcoal flavor with the ease of gas smoking.
Just follow these simple steps next time you’re smoking and see if it improves the flavour:
- Wrap some wood chunks in foil
- Make a small charcoal pile above the heat dispersers
- Place the wood parcels over the hot charcoal and you should start to see smoke after a few minutes
Other ways to improve gas smoker performance
The above methods can all help you produce better product and none of them will cost you much money or require you to learn how to solder.
The main other ways people get more out of their gas smokers include:
- As many gas smokers run hot, it’s best to set them to the lower end of the temperature range (think 225°F – 250°F
- To ensure the temperature holds steady make sure you invest in a proper smoker thermometer setup (and ignore the in built thermometer that’s telling you lies)
- One handy suggestion we learned from amazingribs.com was to add two or more rib racks to increase the amount of meat you can fit, as many gas smokers run small.
Can I connect my gas smoker to natural gas?
Most gas smokers run by burning propane gas and cannot be connected to natural gas. If you are really keen to try this, make sure you talk to a proper gas plumber and get them to hook it up for you. You can also try searching for your smoker + gas conversion to see if it will be possible.
The rest of the competition
We considered dozens of different gas smokers that didn’t make our best of list. Here are some of the stand outs we couldn’t include in the full write up.
- Dyna-Glo Vertical LP Gas Smoker – Falling into the budget range, we would encourage you to go for either the Masterbuilt or the Char-Broil. It’s hard to generate good smoke with this unit, and we’ve found the temperature control to be tricky to get right
- Masterbuilt Portable Gas Smoker – While this smoker won’t produce the best product, if you want a really portable smoker to take camping then this is a solid choice. It uses smaller 1 lb propane cylinders (although you can buy a 20lb tank adapter for home use).
- Landmann Smoky Mountain Vertical Gas Smoker – Not to be confused with the Weber Smokey Mountain, this is a serious unit with 1576 square inches of cooking space, solid construction and 10 year warranty. Other than some issues with the door magnet (you don’t want the smoker door popping open during the cook), and ultra sensitive temperature control, this is a good choice in the larger gas smoker category.
That wraps up our guide to gas smokers. Hopefully you’ve narrowed down your options and are ready to decide on the best gas smoker for your situation. Think carefully about how many people you plan on smoking for, and if you want to stick on the budget side, or spend a little extra cash for better build quality and temperature control.
Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below, or if you think we’ve missed a smoker that should be on this list.