Propane Smokers – Good or Bad?

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landmann-big-block-openPropane smokers Vs. Wood has been a source of contention for many barbecue enthusiasts as long as I can remember. Some feel you just cannot get the same flavor using gas as you can with wood.

I try to think of myself as a fairly level headed guy and with that in mind I went to the local department store and bought a Great Outdoors Smoky Mountain gas smoker nicknamed the “Big Block”. You think I am crazy? Well, I was tired of just taking everyone's word for it and had to find out for myself what the truth really was in this matter.

The propane smoker was easy to put together and it also came with a video which I watched to get the full experience. I did make a few minor modifications in that I did not use the smoker box that came with the unit. Instead I took a large coffee can and cut it down to where it would fit under the water pan.

The thin walled coffee can allowed the wood to start smoking within just a minute or so of putting it in and thus I did not lose any time waiting for the thick cast iron smoker box(which took half of forever and then some).

I have since smoked turkeys, cornish hens, pork shoulders, too many briskets to count and more than my share of spare ribs and I have to say that I have been able to accurately duplicate the wood flavor in my propane smoker. I have had seasoned experts eat my barbecue and become raving fans.

I even had some people from south Texas… barbecue connisseurs, tell me it was the best they had ever eaten. Did I tell them it was smoked in a propane smoker? No. Of course not. It would have hurt their pride but I know and that's what counts.

I know… I know… gas smokers make it too easy and the true spirit of barbecue comes from tending the fire and using real wood logs or hardwood lump charcoal but for the guy who likes to smoke a slab of ribs once in a while and he just enjoys gettin it done so the family and neighbors can rave… propane may be the way to go.

To sum it all up… I think the true spirit of barbecue is deep rooted in time spent outdoors with family and friends. Whether it is cooking over a camp fire, in a wood smoker, or in a Big Block propane smoker it is time well spent and the food will be tasty.

If you enjoyed this article consider reading my take on the wood smoker or the electric meat smoker as well.

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  1. Another tip for Propane Smokers I have found is to buy a couple pounds of volcanic rocks and spread them over the burner, this will help to further diffuse the flame and help maintain lower temperatures.


  2. I have a propane GOSM. The spousal unit gifted it to me on Father’s Day a few years back. I was on the fence about getting an electric one or a propane one. I’m glad she got me the propane one so I’m not limited to being close to an outlet (like when camping). I do wish the door was split so the chip pan could be removed without losing so much heat. I’ve been thinking about cutting the door down and making it a 2 part door or maybe putting a small access in the back of the unit.

  3. I read this article a few years ago and decided to take the plunge on a propane smoker. Picked up the Lowes brand on sale. After the first couple burns I got the hang of it and for the last 4 or 5 years Its been great. I don’t soak my chips I just use the chunks. One it’s going I just toss 2-3 chunks in every 20 minutes or so and it works great.
    Smoking butts today for Memorial weekend and thought I should thank Jeff for telling the truth.

  4. Great site with helps!! I too have a gas MB Pro (purchase at HD), had a devil of a time with problems:
    Chips catching fire, ruining meat in smoker, FIX- use a cast iron skillet and cover with foil and use a larger water pan (catches drips from meat so it doesnt ignite chips)
    Chips not providing long enough smoke, FIX – use chunks
    Cant maintain constant temp, PARTIAL FIX – built a wind break around base of smoker.
    I have a thermoworks digital thermometer oven and meat thermometer (dont have to open door) so I know the temps are spot on!!!

    PROBLEM NOW: still unable to maintain constant temp. ( will rise/fall 25+ degrees with no active flare ups or gas flame drop) I use a mirror on the bottom of the smoker to view gas flame and doesnt increase or flutter??? This change will occur while not adjusting the vents (I keep the top vent open and bottoms closed) I have ordered a gasket kit and will be arriving next week.
    There is also discussions about a needle valve (some complain about cost of valve- not an issue with me when you have $$$ of meat in the smoker and is ruined) Does anyone have any assist with this valve (where to place inline, remove regulator etc….????? pictures would be great)
    I live is So Cal so outside temperature is not an issue. Just a slight breeze every now and then.
    Thanks in advance

  5. I have had my smoker for two years now and the last 2 times I used it I get a lighterfluid fast to the food can anyone tell me why.

    1. I have the newer version of the X-Large 40″ Master Built propane smoker. Switch over to wood chunks instead of chips. I use charcoal as my base – start a couple handfuls in one of those aluminum chimneys. Once the charcoal is good to go, I layer that on the bottom of my cast iron pan (found it at Home Depot, approx. 8″w x 14″l x 3″d). On top of the hot coals I place several chunks of my favorite wood(s). Three or four nice size chunks can last 3 hours or so of smoke. Another thing I do for extra flavor is chop a large onion into 3 or 4 pieces and toss onto the wood/coals. Check your wood around the 2 hour time, and toss another piece in so you don’t run out of smoke and just keep monitoring it like that so there’s always some wood on the coal base. There’s not much meat out there that needs to go longer than about 5 hours over smoke anyway, even pork shoulders — after the initial 4 or 5 hrs of smoke they should be wrapped and finished cooking until they reach correct internal temp. So any additional “smoke time” while they are wrapped would be just wasting wood. I usually pull them off the smoker, place in those alum pans, wrap them and finish in the oven in the house rather than waste more propane. I get fantastic smoke penetration over a 5 hour smoke period.

  6. Hello guys I have had my Masterbuilt XL 40" for a wile now. I found after you re seal the door I can cook at a little lower temp for a little longer time and if works great. 

  7. Do you have to change propane tanks often? How much smoking can you do with one full propane tank with the model you use, Jeff?

    1. Ty, I tend to get about 30 hours of cooking from a single 5 gallon tank. I usually keep it on medium or a little lower at about 225 degrees most of the time with a few minutes on High at the beginning to get the chips to smoking real good.

      Word to the wise: Always have a 2nd tank, full and ready to go just in case. It will save your butt sometimes ;-)

  8. Hey Jeff,

    You have never led me wrong!

    I bought my first smoker (the red Bullet) at a yardsale for $5.00. that is when you taught me how to adjust the contraption and how to cook in it. It was love at first bite for friends and family. The problem was I am not tall enough to lift the assymbly off of the heat source to add more fuel.

    My next smoker was a Christmas Gift (the black electric bullet) there were no complaints with the outcome of that cooker either, but it frightened me when it melted the extension cord recepticle and bonded the plugs together.

    Just last night I went to Denver to get my newest find. A true deal on Craigslist, I bought a Master Forge.  I am sure I will enjoy the 2 door feature. It was well broken in but tonight I am doing a dry run to see if I need to tweak anything for when I put the roasting hens in it tomorrow.I can hardly wait.

    Thank you for all of your excellant comentaries, I have learned a lot and been entertained as well, I re watch the utube once in  a while just to watch the cat trying to be in the picture.

    Take care and Smoke On!

    Karen H

  9. Hi Jeff, I am planning to buy a smoker as well. I am just wondering what is the brand name or the company of the smoker you mentioned in your report here. If you have I wanted to know name and the model number please. Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

    Thanks a lot.

    Dirk LH Y.


    1. This is the Great Outdoors Smoky Mountain propane smoker made by Landmann. The smoker can be seen and/or purchased HERE

      I have now had this smoker for around 10 years and other than the thermometer going out and the automatic lighting mechanism no longer working, it is one of my favorite smokers and still works like a champ.

      The one that I have was made by the original company called “Great Outdoors” I think but it was sold to Landmann a few years later. I cannot speak to the quality of the newer smokers but mine is built very well and has held up to my expectations.

      I also have a page with some tips on this particular smoker at

  10. I am in the market for a propane smoker.  Been doing some research and am very interested in why you chose the Masterbuilt.  I would enjoy reading any further posts from you ( Tim & Kevin) about your smoking experiences.



    1. Hi Rob,

      I'm very happy with my MB. I started out with a Brinkmann years a go, so compared to that it's much easier to run without baby sitting it!! The main reason I choose the MB single door was because it was on closeout from Northern Tool for $89. I read throught the forums and did the following mod's, gasket around door, needle valve in gas line, sand in pan for dry smoking, Maverick ET-732 thermo, AMNPS (pellet smoker) and Q-Matz (for cold smoking). Works great for cold smoking!! load up the Q-Matz with cheeses and butter throw in whatever flavors of pellets in the AMNPS and light it and basically come back in 3 hrs. With the AMNPS I almost have down all the burn times for the different pellets, I really like this smoker! So far the only thing that is a little tricky with this smoker is when you want to smoke at 150F I have found that you barely need to open the needle valve because MB uses a large burner so with very little flame you may need to shield the bottom of the smoker if it is windy outside. I did read where some people have changed the burner to a smaller BTU. I just don't do enough low temp. smoking to change it right now. All in all I real like the propane smoker for ease of use and with the AMNPS you can't really go wrong.

  11. Jeff,

    Nice report. I just bought a Masterbuilt propane smoker because I too am curious about using propane vs. wood. As a mechanical engineer, I need to try it myself. I have a New Braunfels offset barrel smoker and its hard to maintain the temperature. This is a design flaw. The heat baffling is not optimal to allow for even heating and smoke flow over the meat. It's just too hot near the firebox and not enough by the stack. Lang Smokers have this down but don't feel like spending $2000. I also have a Bradley electric with digital control. This feeds their compressed "bisquette" every 20 minutes but it's a milder smoke flavor unlike wood logs, chunks or chips. Plus, the controls went out of control last season and when I was enjoying the luxury of not having to tend to it, the bisquettes went into auto feed and temperature shot up to 380F. So, I got the Masterbuilt. I'm excited to try and will post an update. Putting it together this weekend and will try to get it seasoned so i'm ready to go. Any tips would be great. I am thinking that the wood fire pan and water pan may need to be upgraded, but we'll see.

    Happy Smoking,



    1. I too had issues with smoke and heat distribution on my offset smoker…a couple very simple mods using disposable aluminum pans and 2 2x4s fixed it.
      First I made a vent to cover the opening between the fire box and smoke box using a disposable deep loaf pan. I cut one short end out and positioned it pointing down directing the heat and smoke to the bottom of the smoke box.
      It’ll take a little crimping and squishing of the pan to get a good fit, but…
      Next, under the grates I laid a 2×4 full length of the smoke box along the front and rear of the box…i then got several large aluminum disposable cookie sheet type pans…poked a large number of holes using a Phillips screw driver in the pans and laid them on the 2x4s creating a false bottom…now the heat and smoke are directed under these pans and is much more evenly distributed through the smoke box…a little red neck? YUP, but what part of BBQ and smoking isn’t…and it works amazingly well.