When choosing the heat source for your smoker there are a number of things to consider. The purist will always say that there’s no substitute for wood because this provides the heat and smoke in the most fundamental way but I believe that we have to be a little bit more practical that at. After all we don’t all have the ability to build a smoke pit in our back garden – and even if we did, I’m not so sure that our better halves would be that please with us either!
So if we assume that wood is out of the question, what are we left with? Well the choice is electricity, gas (propane or natural) and charcoal. Now I have to admit that electricity is super clean and easily controllable so it makes smoking for the lazy enthusiast quite simple but it does have significant disadvantages. At the other end of the spectrum is charcoal and definitely not super clean! It also can be expensive if you are planning on doing a lot of smoking (as I do) and controllability isn’t its strong point either.
For these reasons I prefer to use gas and let me explain some of the reasons why: bongs
Compared to charcoal, gas is on the pretty clean side of the spectrum and assuming that combustion is complete, the by-products of burning gas are simply carbon dioxide and water. Any odor that is present in gas is artificial in that it is inserted so that we can actually smell gas should it ever free flow without being burned but this odor is eradicated during combustion.
Gas is readily available and relatively cheap especially if using piped natural gas. Bottled gas (propane) is also readily available but not so cheap. I prefer to use propane because of its portability. You can buy propane in a tank (there’s a variety of sizes) and assuming you can carry tour tank and your smoker in your car then you can literally smoke food wherever you want.
The disadvantage of piped natural gas is exactly that. You’ll most likely need a gas engineers to safely plumb in your gas line and connect up your smoker and this means that your smoker has to be sited in a fixed position. It’s maybe not quite as limiting as electricity where you would more than likely need to build a dedicated space in your garden but certainly you would need to ensure that it was sited in shelter of the prevailing wind.
If you are thinking that you could just disconnect your smoker and connect up to a propane tank, think again. Propane tanks have a regulator that controls the flow of gas and this flow is different to natural gas so a burner designed for use with propane won’t work with natural gas and vice versa.
So propane it is. It’s clean, it’s portable and relatively speaking it’s easy to control. So are there any down sides?
I don’t want to scaremonger but the worst that could happen is an explosion. Explosions are rare but they do happen and it’s usually through lack of care and attention. The most innocent of causes is if your burner is extinguished by a strong wind however the chances of this resulting in an explosion are small because we are outdoors and so ventilation is good and the build up of gas in a confined space is unlikely. Other causes include faulty regulators and burst pipes so it’s worth double checking all you equipment periodically to ensure it is airtight.