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how much propane does a smoker use

How Much Propane Does a Smoker Use?

Have you been wondering: just how much propane does a smoker use? Before I go any further, I’ll have you know that there’s no definitive answer. How long your fuel lasts depends on multiple factors such as the kind of appliance you cook with, grill size, weather, and cooking temperature.

Here’s a rough estimation; on average, a propane smoker will typically burn approximately 1 or 2 pounds of fuel. This is provided you’re using a medium-sized grill on cooking high heat. If you want a ballpark figure, you’re roughly looking at 8 grilling sessions with one tank.

However, to get a near-accurate estimation, know that there are three key factors that influence the duration. These are:

  • the propane tank size
  • the propane smoker
  • the tank’s BTU rating.

In other words, the amount of fuel your appliance will burn depends on the size of your smoker’s tank and the amount of energy it produces.

To get to the actual estimated value of fuel your appliance will burn, there’s a little bit of math involved. You have to follow these steps:

  • Ascertain your propane smoker and tank’s BTU.
  • Divide your smoker’s BTU-rating with your tank’s rating.
  • Multiply the answer you get with the tank’s volume and you’ll arrive at the answer. Sounds simple enough, right?

By the end of this article, you should have an answer to the question: how much propane does a smoker use? After all, when smoking with propane, it’s important to know the amount of fuel you’ll need so you can plan for your BBQ accordingly.

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Are Propane Smokers Any Good?

Calculating the amount of fuel you’re likely to use seems taxing I know. You’re probably wondering if using a propane smoker is the way to go given all the calculations involved. You could argue that there are other types of smokers you can use that are more convenient such as an electric smoker or gas smoker.

Sure, electric smokers might grant you the convenience of easier smoking by simply pushing a few buttons. But there’s one important thing you’ll forfeit if you use electric smokers. And that’s the rich smoky flavor produced by a propane smoker which I’m pretty sure is the reason why most of us smoke meat in the first place! Aside from the delicious taste, using a propane smoker comes with the following benefits:

  • You don’t have to worry about power cuts while cooking which might spoil your meat By calculating the amount of fuel you need before you start cooking, you’ll eliminate the risk of running out of fuel during your cooking process.
  • Propane smokers can cook your food fast since they generate high temperatures thereby cutting down on your cooking time. This is something you’ll appreciate if time isn’t on your side and you want to feed your guests in no time.
  • If you know how tasty rare and medium-rare steak tastes, you’ll pick a propane smoker without giving it a second thought. This is because these smokers are the best at achieving this type of widely sought after level of doneness.
  • Propane smokers are generally more affordable compared to charcoal and electric smokers.
  • Smoking propane is safer than using gas. Propane smokers generally produce safer smoke which won’t negatively impact your health unlike when you use a gas smoker.
  • Propane smokers allow you to cook different kinds of foods like omelets and vegetables beautifully. And it won’t take a lot of time.

How Long Does a Tank of Propane Last on a Smoker

How long your fuel lasts in a propane smoker will be as a result of any of the following factors.

Type of Smoker

The kind of propane smoker you’re using with regards to construction, insulation, size of the grill are important considerations as I’ll explain:

  • Insulation: Is the unit insulated or non-insulated? Use an insulated appliance if you want to preserve fuel. Thankfully, there are ways you can get around a non-insulated unit. Simply cover it with either an insulating jacket or blanket.
  • Construction: Does the appliance feature a robust or flimsy construction? Smokers made of thick material are designed to retain high temperatures for longer. As such, they won’t burn up your fuel fast. The same can’t be said about smokers mad of thin material. Because more energy BTU) is required to raise the temperature in the smoker, it follows that more fuel is utilized in a short space of time.
  • Size of Grill: How long the fuel will last will also depend on the size of the grill. Using a large grill to cook food means that you’ll need more fuel. On the contrary, smoking on a smaller or medium-sized grill means that you don’t have to use up a lot of fuel.

Size of Propane Tank

The size of propane tanks will affect how long the fuel lasts in the appliance. As you can imagine, the larger your propane tank is, the longer your fuel will last. The size of the propane tank will depend on the brand of smoker you use.

Propane tanks generally range from 15lb all the way to 420lb. Normally I’d recommend a 15-20lb gallon which is designed to provide somewhere between 18 and 20 hours of fuel.

Cooking Temperature

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Also, the cooking temperature will affect how long the fuel lasts. Is it high, medium, or low temperature? Smoking food under high temperature means that more fuel is used up. If you cook your food under low temperature, then your appliance won’t use up a lot of fuel.

Environmental Temperatures

What time of the day will you be cooking? Smoking meat on a hot summer’s day is likely to preserve your smoker’s temperatures. This is mainly as a result of the warm environmental temperatures, As such, less fuel is used by your appliance. The dynamics are different at night given the lower environmental temperatures. Your smoker will have to use more energy to burn up fuel. More fuel is burned in the process.

Cooking Method Used

Your choice of cooking method and the amount of food you’re smoking at any given time also plays a role. Your fuel will last longer if you are using direct as opposed to indirect cooking methods. With direct cooking methods, you must place your food directly above the temperature source. Your food is cooked a lot faster and a lot of fuel is used up. When using the indirect cooking method, your food is cooked slowly using the temperature generated by the surrounding areas on the grill. Less fuel is used up in this case.

Apart from your method of cooking, the amount of meat you’re cooking will naturally determine how much fuel your appliance will use. Using your smoker to cook smaller individual means won’t burn up a lot of fuel. Cooking large amounts of food for a large gathering will naturally use up more fuel.

Food You’re Cooking

Along with the cooking method, certain foods will use up more fuel than others. For example, meat like chicken takes less time to cook than pork. Chicken takes anything between three and hours, while pork takes between eight and ten hours.

How Many Hours Does a 20 pound Propane Tank Last?

When using a smoker with a 20-pound propane tank, you can expect your fuel to last between 18 and 20 hours as previously highlighted. Just bear in mind that this time of cooking is mostly possible if you’re using a medium-sized grill. If you use an appliance with a larger grill, then the time is cut down to approximately 10 hours.

How Often Do You Add Wood Chips to a Propane Smoker?

Most people want to know the frequency in which you should add chips to your propane smoker. The reason for this is because it’s important to regulate the smoker’s temperature so the unit doesn’t warm up excessively and burn too much fuel. Adding chips to your propane smoker helps keep the cooking temperatures under control.

But how often should you add these chips? Whatever you do, make sure that you add them only after two-hours of starting your smoking process. Opening your appliance before then causes heat to escape which in turn affects your cooking process.

Generally, the basic rule is to add chips when you notice that your smoker has stopped smoking. In this case, a 30-45 minute time interval for the duration of the smoking time is acceptable. This will, however, depend on the kind of meat you’re smoking. Certain meat like brisket doesn’t cause smoking. in this case, you can add chips for the first few hours and then when you’re foiling the meat to prevent spoiling your food. Be sure to add soaked wood chips as mentioned in the video below.


Takeaway: How Much Propane Does a Smoker Use?

Let’s round up the article by answering the burning equation: how much propane does a smoker use? To play it safe I’d advise you to purchase a propane smoker with a medium-sized tank like between 15-20lb. Such a tank is designed to provide you with at most 20 hours of fuel. I believe that’ll be enough to get your food ready for your guests. Just keep in mind the other factors such as weather and type of smoker you use among other factors.

Hopefully, this article has answered your questions and you can’t wait to start grilling!