How to Regulate Temperature in a Propane Smoker

Milton Greenaway

If the temperature in your smoker fluctuates then you run the risk of burning that brisket or ruining that family gathering with an uncooked bird. It happens more often than you may realize, so if you want to know how to regulate the temperature in a propane smoker – you’re not alone.

The answer is that there are different elements at play, and to master your temperature, it is useful to know them all. We’re going to take a look at your options to make your next smoke session a success.

What Is A Propane Smoker?

Let’s take it back to the start, as these useful outdoor devices are not as complex as they may seem. They’re not unlike the charcoal smokers and use wood to create that thick, flavorsome smoke we all want to utilize.

A propane smoker gets its heat from a canister, this is what makes it easier to use than charcoal. Most vertical propane smokers have a sturdy cast iron construction, while some are made from stainless steel. You can get them with a range of features with everything from your basic set up to those with Wifi and Bluetooth technology thermometers.

How Do They Work?

A propane smoker is made up of different racks for your meat and uses a cooking chamber to circulate air. This heats food via convection whilst smoke emanates from wood chips or wood pellets, creating a smokey flavor that surrounds the meat. This adds heat to cook the inside of the meat, and provides that smokey flavor everyone longs for from their propane smoker.

How to Regulate Temperature in a Propane Smoker

Propane smokers may work at low temperatures, but they are powerful. This means regulating the temperature can be tricky, and you may notice the temperature jumps up and down by a few degrees at a time. Here are a few tips for regulating it to safely smoke that meat.

Adjust The Gauge Carefully

If you are struggling to raise the temperature then a simple adjustment on the smoker’s temperature gauge itself can help. Word of warning though – even a slight movement of the dial can send the temperature higher than expected, so turn gradually. 

The Damper/Vents

If you wish to increase the temperature slightly, close the damper at the back to regulate the temperature, trap more heat inside, and steadily increase the temperature. This will happen as the heat builds up inside the smoker, making it easier to raise the temperature without having to touch the gauge.

Keep An Eye On The Chips

If the wood chips are flaring, it can be difficult to regulate the temperature of your propane smoker. 

This will often be the case if they are too close to the heat source, so be sure to add them gradually so as not to overfill. If you are using the chip tray that came with the smoker and is experiencing too much flaring, consider purchasing a cast iron skillet to hold your chips for that smokey flavor as it can help with regulating the temperature. 

Only Open The Smoker When Necessary

Unless you are getting close to crunch time and the meat needs to come out, you only need to check the progress of the meat intermittently.

Open the door too frequently and you will drop the temperature to the point where the smoker is continually having to spend time raising it again. 

Use A Digital Wireless Heat Probe

Another solution is to use technology to your advantage. It is much easier to regulate the temperature if you have an accurate reading. 

Hang it somewhere near the middle to get the most accurate gauge.

Does the Environment Impact The Temperature? 

Consider the time of year and indeed, the time of day before you start smoking. Regulating the temperature in your propane smoker is going to be different on a cool day from a hot day in the middle of summer. You’ll use less fuel for a start, and will need to keep a keen eye on fluctuating temperatures.

Always Cook At The Proper Temperature

Because we’re talking about food prep, it is always vital that you smoke within the rules. That means cooking at the optimal temperature for smoking and cooking. Propane smokers are designed to cook meat at a lower temperature than your standard grill, whether it is a charcoal or gas grill.

You’ll need to cook most briskets to whole turkeys for several hours, sometimes even a day depending on the size. 

Even if your propane smoker comes with a built-in temperature gauge, it can be good to invest in a digital thermometer so you can be sure that you are cooking at the optimal temperature. 

Propane Smoker Elements:

Grill Racks

Most of the time you’ll be working with stainless steel grill racks. It’s your choice whether to allow smoke to get underneath and smoke your meat directly on the rack, or use a skillet to roast on the rack.

BTU 

To fuel the smoker, you’ll need a propane attachment. The heating capacity is measured in British Thermal Units (BTU) and the price tends to go up the more BTUs you’re getting. 

Of course, the larger the tank, the longer the fuel, and you’re usually looking at propane tanks that generally range anywhere from 15 lb to a sizable 420 lb. For the most part, anything up to 20 lb/gallon is going to be enough and will provide up to 20 hours of fuel. This will vary depending on the brand and size of the smoker.

Propane Burner

Your heat source is going to come via the propane tank to a burner that produces a live flame. Anything up to 20 lb should be sufficient and provide up to 20 hours of continual propane.

Damper/Vents

These help to regulate the airflow and this is what can impact the temperature. More airflow feeds the flames, increasing the temperature.

Chip Tray

Wood chips burn the produce that desirable smoke and can burn in different flavors depending on the hardwood used. 

Water Pan

This is placed above the water pan and fill with cold water to stop the temperature from rising too fast. This produces steam as it hears which helps the convection cooking process.

Final Thoughts

Whilst they work at low temperatures, you need to keep that temperature nice and steady for consistent cooking. 

With a couple of minor adjustments, you can get that temperature to stay within the optimal temperature, and cook that meat to smokey perfection. 

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