How Much Propane Gas Does a Smoker Use?

How Much Propane Gas Does a Smoker Use?

Averagely, when smoking on a medium-sized smoker with the heat set to high, a smoker will burn 1 – 2 pounds of fuel for a cooking session. You could love smoking your meat or fish as much as the next guy, but one thing you’ll always be conscious of is how much fuel you burn.

If you’ve been curious about how much propane gas a smoker uses, you should know that there’s no definitive answer as there are many factors that will influence how much fuel you burn when you use your smoker. This article will examine these determining factors to give you a near-accurate idea of how much propane gas is used when smoking.

Factors That Determine How Much Propane Smoker User

1. Type of Smoker

There are different ways to classify propane smokers, but when it comes to fuel consumption, there are two that are particularly important – insulation and construction.

Smoker units can either be insulated or non-insulated. All other things being equal, an insulated grill will preserve more fuel.

As regards construction, you want to pay attention to the material and quality of the build. Sturdy smokers made with thick materials can lock more heat in when smoking, thereby conserving a considerable fuel quantity, compared to smokers made from flimsy materials.

2. Size of Tank

Propane Smoker

While it can also influence the overall cooking time you get from a smoker, the size of the propane tank on a smoker will also affect the quantity of fuel you use. It goes without saying, the larger the tank, the more the fuel consumed. This also implies that the fuel will last much longer than in a smoker with a smaller tank. Propane tanks vary significantly in size, with some reaching up to 420lb and some as small as 15lb. A 20lb gallon tank can hold sufficient fuel to cook for 20 hours on average temperature settings.

3. Smoking Method

The cooking method you employ is another factor that will influence how much propane gas your smoker will use. Direct cooking methods give faster results but consume a higher quantity of fuel compared to indirect smoking. This is because the food is smoked at a comparatively high temperature directly above the heat source. With indirect cooking, the food is placed adjacent to the heat source and cooked through convection. This method uses less fuel.

4. Food

Food on smoker

The type of food and quantity of food you cook will directly affect how much fuel you use up. Certain foods take longer to cook, and as such, you’ll use up more fuel cooking them. For example, it takes longer to smoke a meatloaf than it takes to smoke rib. By this analogy, you smoker will burn more fuel cooking a meatloaf than cooking rib. In addition to the type of food, quantity is another thing to pay attention to.  Cooking large quantities of food will naturally burn more fuel.

5. Cooking Temperature

The level of heat at which your food is cooked will affect how fast propane gas burns. For instance, if you cook on two similar smokers, one set on high heat and the other on low heat. The appliance smoking at a higher temperature will burn propane gas quicker than the one cooking at low temperature.

6. Environmental Temperature

Suppose you’re cooking on a hot summer day. You can expect no heat to be lost to the environment because of the high ambient temperature. More fuel will be conserved in this scenario. On the other hand, when the environmental temperature is low, heat is dispersed from the smoker, causing more fuel to be used in the process.

How Long Will 20lb Propane Last on a Smoker?

20lb Propane

The 20lb propane tank is arguably the most commonly used with gas smokers, but only a few users can estimate how long their fuel lasts. If used continuously on a medium-size smoker, a 20lb propane tank should last for around 19 hours, all other things being equal. With the right environmental temperature, you should be able to get 10 two-hour smoking sessions with a full 20lb propane tank. However, when using a large smoker, the same quantity of propane may last for about 10 hours. A larger surface area would imply that more energy is needed, so the fuel burns faster.

Hot Smoking vs Cold Smoking

There are two different ways to smoke your food – cold smoking or hot smoking. These methods are very much like the direct and indirect grilling methods.

In hot smoking, food is exposed directly to the fire that produces smoke, such that it is both cooked and smoked simultaneously. Typically, the temperature is kept between 80 – 15͒0C for the duration of the cooking. Hot smoked foods are characteristically tender and juicy with a subtle smoky flavor. Whether it’s hot or cold smoking, the cooking duration will impact how smoky the food tastes. However, fast and direct hot smoking tends to produce smokier flavors.

In cold smoking, the food isn’t exposed directly to the heat source. Instead, it is placed in a box or chamber through which smoke is continuously passed for a duration of 12 – 24 hours or more. Usually, the temperature inside the chamber is regulated between 20 -25͒C for the cooking duration.

Historically, the cold smoking process has been used as a means of preservation by drying. Cold smoking is also more commonly used for foods that can be eaten raw, like cheese and vegetables.

However, curing before cold smoking is always recommended, as it draws moisture out from the food and allows smoke to penetrate better. It is a critical process that should not be skipped when cold smoking food like fish as it helps the food last longer without refrigeration.

How to Check the Amount of Propane Left in a Tank?

In addition to being able to estimate how much propane a smoker uses, it can be beneficial to know how to check the level of propane gas left in your tank. This can help you avoid running out of fuel while cooking. There are two common ways to go about checking your propane level – carrying out a water test or using a pressure gauge.

Pressure Gauge

This is the most reliable way to check the propane gas level in your tank. Besides, a pressure gauge is very straightforward to use. You have to disconnect the smoker from the tank and connect the pressure gauge to the tank.

Water Test

This is a quick improvisation you can employ to check propane level in a tank without any special tool. To carry out the test, pour some hot water down the side of your tank, making sure the water runs entirely from up to down, and immediately feel down the side of the tank with your hand, the point at which you feel a cold spot is the level of the propane gas.


Different factors come into play to determine how much propane gas a smoker will burn per cooking session, and we have taken a look at quite a lot of them. Generally, cooking for an average of 2 hours per cooking session, you can expect a 20lb tank filled with propane gas to last for about 10 sessions.

However, you can’t always expect this to be the case. That’s why we’ve also discussed how you can check the propane gas level in your tank. And hope you remember to bookmark our blog so you don’t miss any new discussion.

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