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When you picture the ideal BBQ meal, chances are you think of you and your friends soaking up the sun with a brewski in hand while waiting for the meat and veggies to cook on the grill. Well, do you want to know a secret? Grilling that meat to perfection is not just a summer activity, not thanks to gas smokers.
These innovative devices are designed to smoke meat (beef, pork, etc.) for hours at a time to infuse it with the overpowering BBQ flavor we know and love. However, many people mistakenly believe that gas smokers are either too hard or too dangerous to use, both of which are far from the truth.
To help you get re-acquainted with the art and flavorful benefits of smoked meat, we’ve rounded up the five best gas smokers of the market today plus a whole lot of useful information on how to use your smoker correctly. So, ready to get your BBQ on?
What Is Barbecue?
To fully understand what a gas smoker is, you first need to know what barbecue is. BBQ is a term that refers to a particular method of cooking tough cuts of meat. Based on this method’s philosophy, the food is prepared slowly over a low heat with the help of smoke.
This cooking process can be quite slow, but this is the key to BBQ’s success. Due to the constant yet minimum exposure to heat, the meat doesn’t have the chance to dry. So, instead of breaking down quickly due to heat, the connective tissues of the beef or pork slowly convert into water, locking the meat’s moisture.
Meanwhile, a significant part of the fats melts away, allowing the meat to hold on to its moisture for a while longer. From then on, the remaining water and fats lock the smoke’s unique smell which is later evident to us through flavor.
What Is A Gas Smoker?
Considering all of the above, a gas smoker is an outdoor cooking device which can be used to smoke meat (usually beef and pork) at low temperatures for an extended amount of time. It consists of a vertical cooking chamber where the food is stored, and the smoke is being distributed for the meat to absorb.
It also has a burner (usually located just below the chamber) and a control unit which you can use to set the temperature, among others. Many current models are also equipped with meat hooks, racks, a water pan and a wood/charcoal box.
As the name implies, this appliance runs on gas, mainly because this type of fuel can be a consistent source of heat throughout long cooks. Plus, unlike wood fire, gas doesn’t need your constant attention, allowing you to turn on the switch and walk away from it if you want to. That’s why gas smokers are also referred to as “set-it-and-forget-it” devices.
How Do Gas Smokers Work?
To get the most out of your gas smoker in the long term, you need to be familiar with the basics. So, here’s how a gas smoker works.
- At the bottom of most gas smokers, you’ll find a gas burner. This part of the device provides heat to the rest of the vertical chamber. However, the most critical task of the gas burner is to heat the wood or charcoal that are directly above it.
- Right above the gas burner, you’ll find a steel or iron box that is used to store wood or charcoal. Once you turn on the gas burner, the contents of the box start burning and generating smoke. However, this box-shaped can has very few vent holes, starving the heated wood or charcoal and preventing it from bursting into flames. So, this way, the wood/charcoal produces a steady stream of smoke for an extended amount of time instead of burning quickly.
- Above the wood/charcoal, you’ll see the food chamber. That is where all the action takes place. This vertical cooking space is equipped with racks and meat hooks. At this point, it’s worth mentioning that the amount of shelves and hooks is determined by the size of the gas smoker itself. However, note that the larger the chamber, the more gas you need to use to heat the entire cooking area.
- Between the wood/charcoal box and the food chamber, you’ll find the water pan. This tool is designed to separate the heat and smoke from the food and also provide some humidity to the mix. The water pan also serves as a drip tray to prevent the melted fat from dripping all the way to the gas burner.
So, this is how most gas smokers work. Note, though, that there may be some slight differences between the different models.
Why Do You Need A Gas Smoker?
From giving you the chance to enjoy your favorite BBQ bites all year round to requiring minimal attention when cooking, there are many reasons you should invest in a high-quality gas smoker. So, enough talk, let’s take a closer look.
Whether summer is in full swing or the weather is getting chillier, nothing hits the spot quite like a well-cooked steak. Add some smoked flavor to the mix, and you’ve got yourself a year-round comfort food that can please even the pickiest of eaters. Accommodating your smoking needs 24/7, gas smokers can turn your cravings into a full-on BBQ feast. What’s not to like?
Unlike oven-baked steaks or meat a la crock-pot, smoked cuts taste like a million bucks, and it’s not just a flavor thing. Gas smokers take their time to cook the meat, loosening the connective tissue and making it super tender. That is not the case with slow cookers and ovens as they prepare the food at the least time possible, leaving room for some chewiness.
For centuries now, people have been smoking meat(1) as a way to preserve it. Even though there’s little research to explain why that occurs, many believe that this cooking method triggers several mechanisms inside the food after which the nutrients, flavor and molecular structure are locked.
Unlike most cooking methods out there (roasting, grilling, etc.), smoking requires minimal attention. Gas smokers, in particular, are very easy to use as they feature a control until to merely set the temperature and wait until the food is cooked. In fact, many regular users refer to gas smokers as the “set-it-and-forget-it” devices thanks to this feature.
One of the best things about gas smokers is that they tend to heat up very quickly. It usually takes them 10 or so minutes to get into “smoking” mode.
Unlike other types of smokers (wood, electric, etc.), gas smokers can maintain an even temperature for extended periods of time. To achieve that, gas smokers burn a certain amount of gas per minute which is set through a temperature control unit.
However, that isn’t the case with wood smokers which tend to cool down very quickly when the wood/charcoal is about to burn out. As a result, their temperature goes up and down quite often. That’s why it’s best to opt for a gas smoker if you don’t have the time to monitor the temperature closely.
What To Check When Shopping For A Gas Smoker
Shopping for a gas smoker can be a tricky business. Not because of the device’s design or use, but because many people don’t actually know what they should look for in a gas smoker. To avoid buying a gas smoker you will be not happy with, we’ve gathered around all the things you need to consider before going ahead with the purchase.
Before you go ahead and buy a gas smoker, you need to ask yourself: “Do I want to go big or just grill a burger here and there?” If you don’t have big plans for your future gas smoker, then the size of the food chamber is not that important. In fact, all you need is a smoker with some decent grilling racks, and that’s about it.
However, if you want to go all out and cook various types of meat, then you need to think about the smoker’s size in general. In this case, make sure the food chamber is spacious enough and equipped with adjustable racks.
Cleaning is perhaps the most tedious part of owning a gas smoker. To avoid spending hours at a time cleaning the grease of the chamber’s walls and racks, opt for a model that features removable shelves and a water pan to gather the melted fat. You can also check for other easy-to-clean features such as non-stick and dishwasher-safe grilling racks. Talk about convenience, amiright?
Burner Size and Position
The burner is the most critical part of a gas smoker, no doubt. That’s why you need to pay extra attention to its size and position. In fact, make sure that the burner’s size is proportionate to the size of the entire smoker. This way you’ll know for sure that the chamber won’t take long to heat and the heat will be distributed as evenly as possible.
Besides the size, you also need to watch out for the burner’s position. So, double-check that this part of the gas smoker is not prone to accidents, meaning it’s not too close to the ground, tilting sideways, etc.
When shopping for a gas burner, settle for one with top-notch design. What does that mean? First of all, make sure the chamber’s door is not flimsy because if it is, it’s likely that it’ll let the heat, smoke, and humidity out, compromising the device’s efficiency. Also, opt for a model made of high-quality heat-proof materials that are not likely to melt away and cause further issues.
How to Take Good Care of Your Gas Smoker
Buying a gas burner is only “Part I” of your delicious BBQ adventures. If you want to ensure that this handy device will keep cooking mouth-tender pork chops to perfection, then you need to take excellent care of it. Luckily, this task is not as difficult as it sounds. So, here are five easy ways to make the most out of your gas smoker for the years to come.
Turn Down the Heat As Low As Possible
Even though most gas smokers designate 250 to 275oF as the lowest temperature setting, it doesn’t mean that you can’t go lower than that. In fact, sometimes you should turn down the heat to reach the ideal slow cooking temperature which is at 225oF. To achieve that, leave the door slightly open or put some ice in the water pan. That may feel like a waste of fuel, but it will work wonders on the meat’s flavor and texture.
Replace With a Bigger Water Pan
Most gas smokers come with a rather small water pan. While this still does the trick, you can always switch things up for the better by replacing it with a bigger pan. This way you don’t have to refill it as often as before, plus the excess water may help stabilize the temperature even more.
Use a Cover
Gas smokers are an outdoor cooking appliance. That means that they are exposed to nature’s elements, whether that’s heavy rain or intense sunlight. Either way, the weather elements take a toll on the smoker’s color over time, causing it to rust. To prevent that, you should buy a cover as soon as you get your hands on a new gas smoker.
Switch to a Pellet Box
As mentioned above, gas smokers usually feature a wood/charcoal box which is located just beneath the water pan and the food chamber. This part is specially designed to distribute smoke all over the gas smoker. However, if you are not satisfied with the box’s efficiency and want your meat to have a more intense flavor, you can always switch to a pellet box.
Unlike regular wood and charcoal, pellet burns very slowly, generating a continuous stream of smoke for hours and hours. Keep in mind, though, that one boxful is not enough for an entire cooking session which usually lasts anywhere from 12 to 16 (or more) hours, but it’ll still do the trick.
Install a Better Digital Thermometer
Built-in thermometers aren’t always worth their price. Many times they are not that accurate, causing various trouble along the way. To avoid sabotaging your smoking efforts, install a high-quality smoker digital thermometer that can help you get the most out of every cooking session.
5 Best Gas Smokers, Reviewed
Easy to use and clean, producing kick-ass flavored meat, occupying little space… It’s evident that gas smokers have a lot going on and are an excellent investment for those die-hard fans of BBQ steaks. But, which one is best for you?
To help you make an educated and conscious decision, we’ve gathered around the top 5 gas smokers on the market today along with their best and not-so-good qualities. So, let the gas smoker hunting begin!
If you are on the market for a lightweight smoker to carry around during your camping trips, we’ve got you covered. This appliance is an excellent example of what happens when convenience meets efficiency. Smoke Vault is also very easy to use, and its compact size makes it a perfect candidate for your outdoor adventures. So, here’s everything you need to know about this portable gas smoker.
- Wide Temperature Range
Ranging from 150 to 500oF, this device can meet everyone’s needs. So, you can either slow cook your meat or have it sizzling as soon as possible.
- Adjustable Racks
Featuring two adjustable racks, this smoker is equipped to fit more food than you actually think. Just adjust the shelves in a certain way to make some more room.
- Easy Snap Ignition
Let’s be honest; Matches and gas aren’t exactly what you’d call a perfect pair. That’s why this smoker has a built-in snap ignition to make things not just convenient but also safe.
- Maintains Temperature
The Smoke Vault has a high-quality chamber door which prevents heat, humidity and smoke leakage. As a result, it manages to keep a steady temperature even in cold weather.
- Inaccurate Thermometer
This smoking appliance features a built-in thermometer which is located at the door right in front of the food chamber. Even though the location of the gadget sounds promising, the thermostat itself is very inaccurate. Sometimes it can be off up to 50oF at times. That’s why it’s a good idea to replace it with a specially designed gas smoker digital thermometer from day 1.
- Not Durable
Despite its high-end design, this gas smoker is not known for its durability. In fact, many customers report that this device is likely to rust and even burn through after a few years of use.
If you are looking for a big gas smoker to grill meat by the pounds, we’ve got a winner for you. Ready to take on any smoking challenge, this device is perfect for anyone who wants to grill foods in bulk. Let’s take a closer look at its best and could-be-better traits.
- Steady Temperature
This gas smoker has a built-in thermostat which is designed to adjust the temperature on its own. As a result, you don’t have to go back and forth waiting for the temp to stabilize.
- Big Size
Big enough to fit four turkeys, this device is for serious “players” only.
- Safety Valve
Unlike some smokers, this one is equipped with a safety valve. So, in case a fire bursts out, you can quickly turn the valve and shut off the gas supply.
- Time-Consuming Set Up
Many customers have complained about the intricate design of this device, claiming it took them hours to figure out how to set it up.
If you are a gas smoker pro and you want to take your slow grilling skills to the next level, look no further than this device. Featuring a vast food chamber and a wide range of temperatures, it’s time to master the art of smoking meat in the easiest way possible. Let’s find out this smoker’s advantages and disadvantages (if any).
- Push Button Ignition
Starting a gas smoker was never easier. With this one, all you have to do is push a button, No matches, no hassle.
- Wide Range of Temperatures
Going as low as 160oF and as high as 400oF, this appliance is everything a BBQ lover ever asked for. It’s time to grill like pros, don’t you think?
- Easy to Clean
This product is also very easy to clean thanks to the removable porcelain base tray.
- Large Food Chamber
This smoker is designed to hold massive amounts of food at a time.
Unlike most similar smokers, this one can be a little pricey. However, considering its massive size, wide temperature range, easy snap ignition and other features, the high price is actually understandable.
If you really want to go big, then this is the gas smoker of your dreams, no doubt. With a total of 784 square inches to fill, this device is the best choice to smoke your food. Plus, it’s made of sturdy materials, posing as a reliable family-friendly option. Let’s see what this smoker has in store for us.
- Double-Door Design
Equipped with two separate doors (one for the food chamber and one for the wood box), this gas smoker traps the smoke, humidity or heat stay inside the device, ensuring a higher quality in the food’s taste and color.
- Huge Food Chamber
That is perhaps the biggest gas smoker on this list. With a total cooking chamber capacity of 784 square inches, this one is an excellent option for a large family or social gatherings.
- Steady Temperature
Thanks to its double-door design, this device prevents heat from leaking and, thus, maintains the set temperature for extended periods of time.
- Small Racks
Despite its vast food chamber, this gas smoker has rather small grilling racks, restricting you from taking full advantage of the cooking area.
If your primary concern is to find a gas smoker that is all about safety, then we have the perfect match for you. This easy-to-use propane smoker is made of high-quality, sturdy materials, guaranteeing it won’t burn through anytime soon. Let’s check out some of its best and mediocre qualities.
- Steady Temperatures
Equipped with high-end settings to guarantee a standard temperature for hours and hours, this device gives you some peace of mind along with a batch of juicy smoked meat.
- Quick Assembly
It is pretty straightforward to set up thanks to its user-friendly design.
- Easy to Move Around
Weighing about 50 lbs, this gas smoker is very easy to move around, making it a perfect fit for campers and nature lovers who still want to enjoy a slice of smoked bacon.
- Low-Quality Wood Box
Many customers claim that the low quality of the smoker’s wood box is quite alarming as it looks like a fire hazard. Just to be safe, make sure to replace that as soon as possible.
Coming in all shapes, sizes, and prices, chances are you’ll find the perfect gas smoker sooner than later. You just need to ask all the right questions and make sure the winner meets the criteria you set. And remember, buying a gas smoker is not the time to go cheap. After all, safety comes first.