If you love making delicious smoked barbecue ribs, briskets and turkeys but don’t want to stay up all night checking the fire, then we have three words for you:
Vertical… Gas… Smoker.
These cookers combine upright space-saving efficiency with the ease of push button ignition and propane as the fuel. No more complicated fire setups or all night fire watches to make sure the coals don’t die.
In this article, we take a detailed look at the pros and cons of gas smokers, comparing them to other models that use different fuels.
We discuss the features to look for before you buy, and provide mini reviews of some of the best gas smokers currently available on the market today.
At a Glance: Our Choices for Best Gas Smoker in 2019:
- Smoke Hollow 44-Inch Vertical Propane Gas Smoker
- Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker
- Masterbuilt Model 20051311, 30 Inch 2-Door Propane Smoker
- Char-Broil ‘Big Easy’ TRU-Infrared Smoker & Grill
- Camp Chef Smoker 24″
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon or BBQguys.
- What Are Vertical Gas Smokers?
- The Ease of Propane Gas
- How to Use a Propane Gas Smoker
- The Advantages of a Vertical Propane Smoker
- Some Downsides to Gas Smokers
- Features to Look for in a Vertical Propane Gas Smoker
- Best Gas Smoker – A Detailed Look at our Top Recommendations
- Breaking in Your New Smoker
- Our Winner for Best Gas Smoker
What Are Vertical Gas Smokers?
A vertical smoker is a steel box with a door. Just like a big gym locker or a refrigerator without insulation. It stands vertically, has one or two access doors and wire racks to hold all the goodies.
They take up much less deck and storage space than other horizontal grills and smokers. And the vertical “box” ensures all the meat gets kissed by the smoke as it swirls up from the burner pan below.
Vertical gas smokers all have the same basic design starting with the gas burner at the bottom, then a pan above for the wood. Above that is the water pan that acts as a heat sink to stabilize the temperature and add moisture. Over the water pan are two or more racks to hold the meat.
Most units have vents / dampers to adjust the flow of air and smoke.
The Ease of Propane Gas
Vertical gas smokers use propane gas for fuel, so you don’t have to stockpile bags of briquettes or logs.
You attach the gas tank to the burner with a hose the same way as a gas grill. The burner at the bottom of the cooker heats a pan above that contains the wood for smoke. Once you get your temperature dialed in, it’s set and forget.
Unfortunately, propane and natural gas are not interchangeable. If you were looking to tap into that gas pipe sticking out of the wall on your patio, only the Camp Chef has a natural gas adapter kit. Be sure to have a professional make the switch for you or you could end up barbecuing more than ribs.
Safety Tip – After you attach the hose from the propane tank to the smoker, brush with a 50/50 mixture of dish soap and water around the joints. If you see bubbles, tighten until they stop or check to see if it’s missing an O-ring.
How to Use a Propane Gas Smoker
The layout for a vertical smoker is different than an offset or horizontal smoker. The principle is the same. You just stack things on wire racks instead of arranging them around the fire pit.
Here are the basic steps to get you smoking:
- Fill the water pan with water (or aromatic liquid like cider or beer). Place it on the shelf over the wood pan.
- Connect the propane tank to the smoker with the approved hose. Check the connections with soapy water. There should be no bubbles indicating a leak. With the door open, turn on the valve and light the burner following the manufacturer’s instructions. If the burner fails to immediately light, shut off the gas and control knob. Let the gas clear before trying again.
- Set your temperature. Some models may only have Low. Med or High so you may have to play with it to get to 225°F (107°C). This is where a quality digital thermometer comes in handy.
- Pre-heat and experiment with the dampers until you have a steady temperature.
- Add your pan filled with wood and let it start to smolder.
- Arrange your seasoned meat on the racks.
- Close the door, set your timer and pop open a cold one.
- After the cooking, be sure to unhook the gas completely and clean out the cooker for the next use.
Depending on the size of your cooker, you may have to replenish the water and wood every hour or so. Many smoking enthusiasts buy these reasonably priced models then modify them to their needs.
The Advantages of a Vertical Propane Smoker
Propane smokers offer some advantages over other types of smokers. Typically, they’re less expensive to buy and less costly to run compared to the best pellet smokers, electric smokers or charcoal smokers of the same size.
They’re usually lighter too, making them more portable. Of course, portable is a relative term because it still takes two people to haul some of them around easily.
And because these smokers use propane, you don’t have soot build up or the amount of ash as a pellet or charcoal smoker.
Most propane smokers have electronic ignition so starting the fire is push button easy. Even if the battery dies, you can still light it with one match (like a good Boy Scout fire).
They’re relatively easy to master too. Once you know your cooker, you won’t have to make as many adjustments to maintain the temperature as you would with charcoal smokers.
Another big advantage of vertical smokers is the small space for use and storage. Even the largest models take up less floor space than your refrigerator.
Some Downsides to Gas Smokers
Vertical smokers use thinner gauge steel making them lighter, but this makes them susceptible to bends and dents, especially during shipping.
Another frequent issue is the lack of air tight seals around doors allowing smoke to escape and making temperature regulation difficult. Purchasing door seals and sealing holes with high-temperature sealant usually does the trick and is an easy mod to perform.
Unless you purchase 44 inches or greater, most grills can’t hold a whole rack of ribs flat unless you cut them. However, you can get rib racks to keep them upright in a “U” shape to overcome the size issue.
Burn time is another consideration. At some point you will have to change tanks during a long low n slow cook. So always be prepared by having a full tank as a backup.
After you have done a couple of cooks, you will know how long a tank will last. You can set a timer and swap out the tank like a NASCAR pit crew, without losing any heat or cooking time.
Features to Look for in a Vertical Propane Gas Smoker
Stability – As we said before, vertical smokers are lighter and less sturdy than other smokers. Look for splayed legs that add stability.
Size – Size matters if you don’t want to cut your racks of ribs in half to make them fit. Look for a smoker with shelves wide and deep enough to accommodate the ribs.
2-Door Access – Two doors are better than one because you can access the wood and water pans with one door while leaving the upper chamber closed with the smoke and heat still inside.
Temperature ranges – Most vertical smokers tend to cook hotter than charcoal fired smokers. Check with the manufacturer to see how low and how high they can cook, especially if you want to cold smoke fish.
Front Loading – It’s always better than top loading so look for that.
Adjustable Shelves – If you cook a whole turkey and then set up for ribs, you’ll need adjustable shelves.
What you want is to buy the biggest smoker you can afford that has adjustable shelving and that holds temperatures around 225°F (107°C).
To that end, we’ve chosen five smokers that fit the bill for new and seasoned pitmasters alike.
Best Gas Smoker – A Detailed Look at our Top Recommendations
Below you can find our top 5 picks from the best propane gas smokers available on the market.
We tried very hard to only show gas smokers, as opposed to gas grills that can also smoke. Because they are very different beasts, with dedicated smokers usually doing a far better job at smoking than a grill/smoker combo. (Though if you;re interested in such products, we do have a dedicated guide to the best smoker grill combos.)
We managed to stick to this rule with 4 of our 5 top choices, but as the ‘Char-Broil Big Easy TRU-Infrared’ is such a unique concept in both grilling and smoking, and such high quality, we felt it had to be on our list.
So, let’s get to it!
Smoke Hollow 44241G2 44-Inch Vertical Propane Gas Smoker
The 44-inch model is the largest in Smoke Hollow’s line up and tops our list as editors pick for the best gas smoker.
It has excellent interior room for those who feed big families and need lots of smoked meat. The 44241G2 comes equipped with three standard cooking grates, two jerky trays, one rib rack which you can flip to use as a regular rack and sausage hooks attached to a round rack on the top. You can smoke sausage and bacon on top, let the fat baste some chickens on the next rack while you smoke a brisket below that.
This unit has dual 10,000 BTU burners and double porcelain-coated wood chip trays. It gives you the versatility to cold or hot smoke by using one or both burners at the same time. Many Smoke Hollow 44 owners use one side at a time, switching when one tray of wood gives up the last of its smoke. You can cold smoke salmon or cheese at about 125°F (51°C) using one burner set to low.
There are two dampers, one on each side and you can order a glass door to see what’s going on inside without opening it.
Requiring only a wrench and Phillips head screwdriver it takes only about 40 minutes to assemble.
This smoker gives plenty of bang for the buck. It has plenty of room, and the three types of racks give you flexibility in the types of meats you can cook simultaneously. We noticed that the water pan reduces fluctuations in the temperature by acting as a heat sink. The gas controls are well-designed and high-quality. It will keep a steady smoking temperature for over 10 hours without adjustments.
The wood pans should be made of thicker steel as they tend to warp and get stuck. This 100-pound smoker is stable, sitting on splayed legs. However, a set of wheels or casters would be a huge improvement.
- Size: 24.50″ L x 60″ H x 33″ W
- Inside Dimensions: 44” tall x 24” wide x 16” deep
- Weight: 100 pounds
- Doors: Welded 44-inch double door cabinet system
- BTU’s: Dual independently controlled 10,000 BTU inline stainless steel burners
- Accessories: Two porcelain-coated wood chip pans, water pan, one rib rack, one sausage rack with hooks, three standard cooking grates and two jerky trays.
All parts carry a 1-year limited warranty with the exception of Paint, which is guaranteed to be free of defects for 90 days except for rust, which may appear after repeated use.
- The double doors are a handy feature by allowing you to access the fire area without disturbing the cooking area
- Wide enough, so you don’t have to cut your ribs in half, the entire slab fits perfectly
- Large interior holds up to 60 lbs. of pork shoulder
- Spring handles stay cool
- Latches keep doors tight
- The thermometer is strictly decorative, and useless like most bi-metal thermometers
- Doors seem to leak a lot of smoke and heat. Latches are good, but the seal is not
- The only thing was the chip pan warped from heat
- Wheels would be nice
The Smoke Hollow 44241G2 44-Inch is a good smoker for beginners or experts. It has the internal space to smoke whole racks of ribs without touching the sides. It also has the versatility of being able to cold smoke, good for novices who are learning new smoking techniques and seasoned pros.
The double door system allows for fire and water tending while allowing the meat to stay enveloped in smoke on a windy day.
Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker
The Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker has two doors, one for the smoke chamber and a drawer to access the water and wood chips. Two doors are always better because you don’t lose heat while refilling water or wood.
It comes with four chrome plated wire racks and six insert positions. The odd design with the Char-Broil is the combination water pan and wood chip tray. It is a steel tray for the wood chips with a steel bowl in the center for the water. The problem is the water can spill into the wood chips extinguishing them. The best solution is use a separate pan of water above the wood.
It weighs only 76 pounds because it is built using thin steel. The handles fit into a bracket on the side to latch the door shut. You need to add some gasket material if you don’t want the smoke to leak from the doors.
One nice feature is the round rack above the top vent. You can keep a sauce pan warm above the vent making use of the residual heat.
- Size: 19.5 x 21.5 x 45.5 inches
- Cooking Size: 7,566 cubic inches and 595 square inches of rack space. It comes with three racks and six levels of adjustment.
- Weight: 76 pounds
- BTU’s: 16,500, plenty of heat for converting wood chips into beautiful smoke
- Accessories: Porcelain-coated wood chip and water pan combination, wire rack on top of the smoke chimney to keep sauce warm and three three chrome-plated cooking grates.
The Char broil vertical gas smoker comes with a 1-year warranty that covers the entire set of grill parts, beginning form the date of purchase.
- Smoked a 20lb top sirloin round and an 18 lb pork loin. It has plenty of room for a lot of meat.
- Two Doors for easy access
- Comes with four racks
- Top vent pot warming rack
- Not wide enough to put a full slab of spare ribs
- The combination water and wood chips tray is
- Burner susceptible to the strong wind
- The thermometer is inaccurate, get a good digital thermometer
Char-Broil Vertical Gas Smoker is best for beginning smokers because it has plenty of room inside, although you may need rib racks to cook full racks of spare ribs. The combination wood and water tray tend to create too much mess and trouble. Instead, use the tray only for wood and place a separate water pan above the wood pan to catch drips to make your gravy.
Masterbuilt GS30D 2-Door Propane Smoker
The Masterbuilt 30-inch vertical gas smoker is a great smoker for any chef. It features four chrome plated cooking racks creating 700 sq.in. of cooking space, wide enough to hold a rack of ribs. Starting the cook takes one push of the button with the electronic ignition. Masterbuilt got it right with the double doors. You access the porcelain coated water pan and wood chip pan through the bottom door, leaving the meat to bask in the glory of the smoke and heat in the chamber above.
We would like to see a bigger water pan and seals on the doors, but that’s something you can easily fix. As with other smokers in this price range, the thermometer is not very good, and it could use vents on the sides to help control the temperature. There is only one.
The burner is stainless steel for long life and puts out 15,400 BTU’s. It does a good job of smoking once you get the temperatures right. It tends to run a little hot, and the water pan dries out rather quickly, so you need to keep an eye on it. The “cool touch” wire handles really do stay cool to the touch.
Another nice feature is the inner liner and locking doors. They do help contain the heat and smoke more than other models without a lining. The smoke still leaks out the door, but you can modify it with a proper door seal.
- Dimensions (Inches) – 20.1.L x 20.5 W x 43.5 H
- Weight – 57 pounds, light enough for one person to move
- Cooking space – 717 sq.in.
- Number of Racks – 4
- Number of doors – 2
Limited 90-day warranty. Does not include paint.
- Liner and locking doors make for better temperature control
- 2-doors for easy access to the wood chips and water without cooling the cooker
- Push-button ignition – no matches required
- Stainless steel burner will not rust
- Maintaining a temp under 250 is hard
- Get some wood stove insulator tape to seal the door since it leaks
- The wind can blow out the burner
- Rusts easily especially around the burner
The Masterbuilt 30-inch vertical gas smoker is a good starting smoker for under $200. To get the most out of it, you will need to make modifications such as blocking the wind from blowing up under the burner, making better door seals and buying a quality digital thermometer. (The thermometer is something you should have no matter what smoker you buy.) It has plenty of room to try all your favorite recipes and techniques. The 30” model is Masterbuilt’s smallest but will hold eight racks of ribs.
Char-Broil The Big Easy TRU-Infrared Smoker Roaster & Grill
It’s called The Char-Broil Big Easy Infrared Smoker, Roaster, and Grill but the emphasis is on the roasting and grilling. This unit uses infrared technology to heat up to 400°F (204°C) in just a few minutes. The Big Easy works by heating the air between the outer and inner walls creating convective heat.
Infrared heat penetrates the inner wall and cooks the meat. The hot, dry air escapes out of the top before it has a chance to dry out the meat. You end up with moist and tender meat without the use of a water pan.
It will hold up to a 25-pound turkey or two chickens in the double tiered cooking basket. It comes with a 180-square inch grill for the top if you want to cook burgers or steaks.
One drawback is the top loading. If you want to check something on the lower rack of the two-tiered basket, you must open the lid and lift out all of the food losing heat and smoke in the process.
However, if you just want a nice oven roasted bird or chunk of meat with a little extra smoke, then this cooker works well. It takes up very little space standing only 36” tall and 23 inches in diameter.
- Dimensions (Inches) – 36.2 high x 23 in diameter
- Weight (lbs.) 62
- Top loading
- Double shelf chrome-plated grill basket
- Temperature control from 9,000 to 18,000 BTU’
The Char broil vertical gas smoker comes with a 1-year warranty that covers the entire set of grill parts, beginning form the date of purchase.
- Holds 25 pounds of meat or a turkey
- Can cook two chickens and a side dish on top.
- Removable grease tray catches drippings to make gravy
- Cooks like a convection oven with heat surrounding the meat from all sides
- Wood chip bin tends to warp and get stuck.
- Difficult to get it down to 225°F (107°C) too high for smoking. This unit has trouble cooking at low temps.
- Flimsy construction
The Char-Broil Big Easy is much more of a convection oven and grill than a smoker. It cooks evenly with less dehydration than other cookers. It is small enough to fit on a balcony and does a good job of roasting or grilling.
Camp Chef 24″ Smoke Vault Extra Large with Stainless Door and Adjustable Shelves
The stainless steel door on this smoker looks like an old bank vault complete with the thermometer looking like an old combination lock. The door thermometer reads from 50°F to 550°F. The smoke box sits on top of sturdy splayed legs for added stability. It has three vents for temperature control, one on top and one on each side.
The Camp Chef 24” comes with two cooking racks and one jerky rack with five adjustment levels. One thing we liked about this cooker is the five shelf adjustments. You can cook chicken on top and ribs below. The wood pan is heavy gauge steel for a long life, and the water pan is porcelain coated.
They protected the burner from the wind which is a big plus for propane smokers. It features electronic ignition for fast and safe start-up. It can maintain temperatures from 160°F to 400°F (71°C to 204°C). You have to keep an eye on it to keep +/- 25° of your target temperature. Camp Chef is the only company to offer a natural gas conversion kit on the market that we know of.
This smoker is easy to assemble in about 45 minutes or less. The Camp Chef is tight inside. If you cook two chickens on the same rack, move them around halfway through the cooking or the legs will touch and not cook properly. You should consider getting rib racks because it is not big enough to hold a whole rack.
- Body Dimensions (w/out legs): 24″ W x 16″ D x 30″ H
- Total Height (with legs): 44″
- Door Dimensions: 22 1/2″ W x 28″ H
- Cooking Racks Dimensions: 21 1/2″ W x 14″ D
- Total Output: 18,000 BTU/hr
- Maximum Temperature Reading: 400 degrees
- Shipping Dimensions: 25″ x 17.5″ x 30.5″
- Weight: 75 lbs.
- Sturdy, easy to clean and assemble.
- The stainless-steel door looks great, and even the thermometer looks like a combination lock.
- The small size makes it easy to store.
- It comes with a conversion kit to run off your home’s natural gas.
- There is considerable smoke leakage around the door, but you can fix it by adding a Nomex gasket kit which will solve that issue.
- The thermometer is way off. You need to buy a quality BBQ / meat thermometer combination.
- It could use a set of wheels for easier mobility.
The Camp Chef 24″ Smoke Vault is a good gas smoker for novices and people with minimal outdoor space for cooking. It easily fits on a balcony. The price is right for what you get and a good way to learn the basics of smoking with minimal investment. It is also the only gas smoker we know of that has a conversion kit to run using natural gas if you have an outdoor connection at your home.
Invest in a quality thermometer and a good Nomex door gasket kit to get the most out of this smoker. It does an excellent job of delivering the smoke and creating good bark and a nice smoke ring to your favorite meat.
Breaking in Your New Smoker
Once you buy and assemble your smoker, and it’s standing tall on your back deck, you need to break it in. Don’t cook in it yet! Just like with a new iron skillet or any smoker, you need to “season” it.
If they don’t tell you in the manual, all you do is wipe down all the internal parts with a good cooking oil and let it burn on high heat for 20 minutes or until the smoke stops.
This ensures that any grease or paint fumes burn off and won’t affect the food. Let the smoker cool off and wipe off any residue with a towel. Now you’re ready to start smoking.
Our Winner for Best Gas Smoker
All vertical gas smokers are easy to assemble and easy to use. But the one we think has the best features and hence wins our choice for the best propane gas smoker is the Smoke Hollow 44241G2 44-Inch. We recommend it for beginners and intermediate smokers alike, because of the large cooking area, ease of use and the fact you don’t need to trim large cuts like ribs to fit them in and smoke them.
It has a double door system with welded doors for added strength. The clamp fasteners, two on top and one below, work well. It has a basic design that lends itself to modifications for people who like that sort of thing.
The dual independently controlled 10,000 BTU inline stainless steel burners offer better control with good low and high heat cooking. It has the biggest internal area of the other models, and that’s always a plus.
At 100 pounds, it is well built but not so heavy as to be immovable. This smoker should give you many years of smoking fun.
If you have any comments about these gas smoker reviews, or have experience with any of the vertical propane smokers mentioned here, please do let us know your thoughts below.
Image credits: © Amazon.com