If you’re in the market for a smoker, there are a few things you’ll have to decide before you make the final choice.
Before anything, you have to decide the type of smoker you want. And yes, this comes even before choosing the brand. Although you can find several different smokers, the two basic types you’ll have to pick between are electric vs pellet smokers.
However, the difference between the two isn’t really that obvious, especially to a newbie in the world of meat smoking. So if you’re trying to figure out what type of smoker you should get, you’re at just the right place.
What Is An Electric Smoker?
Visually, electric smokers look like the machine that Subway toasts their bread in. People love electric smokers because they work like an oven and keep your meat safe from the combustion chemicals that pollute your food. This smoker is shaped like a cabinet and is one that you can just turn on and forget about entirely.
Electric smokers have two main pieces of hardware that smoke your meat. The first is the electric heating element, usually present at the back of the smoker. It resembles something you’d find at your local shawarma place.
Secondly, there’s a hot plate at the bottom of the smoker. This plate contains wooden chips that provide the smoke needed to flavor the meat. The smoke from an electric smoker gives your food a woody taste, which is why many folks tend to prefer these compared to pellet smokers.
The best part about electric smokers is that they can self-regulate the temperature automatically. All you need to do is set a number on the controller, and the smoker will have your food ready within a few minutes.
What Is A Pellet Smoker?
Pellet smokers are an upgrade to old-school electric smokers. Of course, they’re also powered electrically, but the real difference between them is how they produce the smoke.
Visually, pellet smokers look like an average grill. They have a separate container to store hardwood pellets which are the main form of smoke generation. The smoker feeds the pellets into the bottom of the apparatus, where they are ignited. The smoke from the pellets isn’t allowed direct contact with your food. Instead, it passes through a filter with the help of an intake fan right to your meat.
You might think that you have to manually keep feeding pellets to the smoker for it to work correctly. However, pellet smokers provide a completely hands-free experience. You just load up the container with a bunch of pellets, and the machine automatically feeds in however many pellets it needs to maintain the temperature.
At a low temperature, the machine chews up fewer pellets. However, if you’re running at a high temperature, it’s obvious that the smoker will have to consume an ample amount of pellets to cook your food at that temperature.
Difference Between Pellet vs Electric Smoker
We’ve talked about both of these smokers and what they do. However, that doesn’t give much of an argument about which of the two you should be buying. To help you make a choice, here are some of the factors that set electric and pellet smokers apart.
Price is one of the most prominent factors that influence many people and the smoker they end up going for. Unfortunately, neither of the two options is necessarily cheap. If you’re buying a smoker, you have to be ready to allocate a budget in the hundreds or even the thousands in some cases.
But, there is a considerable difference between the two smokers. Electric smokers are more on the affordable end of things. They start at around $100, and if you spend about $300 or more, you’re able to get a premium quality electric smoker that is expected to hold up for several years.
On the other hand, pellet smokers are relatively more expensive. A basic pellet smoker starts at a price point of $700, and it’s not even that functional. Cheaper (yes, we’re calling a $700 smoker ‘cheap’) pellet smokers don’t have a sear box which is needed if you’re going to be searing burgers, steaks, etc. If you have a separate grill, though, you can probably work just well enough with this smoker.
But, if you don’t have a grill, you should think about investing $1000 or even more than that for a premium pellet smoker that comes with a sear box as well. Expensive smokers don’t have any significant difference when it comes to functionality. Still, they have a larger capacity for pellets and will be durable enough to last a decade.
If you do want to save some extra bucks on the pellet smoker, buy the cheapest one you can find and get another grill on the side. The grill will only set you back around $100 or so and save you from paying $400 – $500 extra on the pellet smoker.
2. Ease of Use
There’s not much difference between the two smokers in terms of ease of use. Both of them are made with the user’s convenience in mind. They use electricity to produce heat, although each has a different source of producing the smoky flavor.
Electric smokers have a heating element and a tray that stores the wooden chips. In this case, the chips need to be restocked from time to time. On the other hand, pellet smokers get their heat by burning wood pellets, which create both the heat and the smoke. So it uses electricity to heat the pellets, even if the electricity itself isn’t the heat source.
Both smokers are convenient and straightforward to use. You can just set a temperature, turn them on and forget about it entirely. Then, just like an oven, once your food is ready, all you need to do is take it out and dig in.
The price is just a part of the overall expense. Both of these smokers require a source of fuel that produces a smoky flavor. We’re not going to consider electricity in this even though it costs you money as well. However, since both products use electricity, we can pretty much negate this factor.
With electric smokers, you can load up any kind of wood source, and it will do the job pretty well. Wooden chips are preferred, but they don’t necessarily have to be the only thing you’re sticking in the tray. However, the real problem arises when you use a smoker like Bradley. Some top-tier manufacturers have their own brand of wood chips, and they practically bind you to use them. These can be slightly more expensive than standard wood chips.
On the other hand, pellet smokers are much more costly to run. This is because they use pellets that are naturally more expensive than wood chips, and the smoker consumes more of them as well. Generally, you’ll need around 2 pounds of pellets to run the smoker for an hour, whereas the number is 6-8 ounces for electric smokers.
The standard cost for pellets is about a dollar for a pound. This means that you’re spending $2 per hour. Since you will be burning fuel in the pellet smoker for at least 10-12 hours, one meal will set you back $15-$25, which is a pretty hefty amount.
But, running a pellet smoker instead of an electric one does have its benefits, especially in terms of flavor. So let’s talk about the flavor difference next.
4. Taste and Flavor
You might think that there wouldn’t be much difference between electric and pellet smokers in terms of flavor. They’re both just burning different types of wood. So it seems logical that they’d have the same consistent taste, right? Well, not quite.
As we’ve talked about before, electric smokers warm up wood chips with the help of an electric heating element. There’s no combustion involved. You’re not lighting the chips on fire. The machine is just producing hot air and water vapors to give a nice smoky flavor. On the other hand, pellet smokers one-up their combination by providing a smoky wooden taste like no other.
In pellet smokers, there is actual combustion taking place. The fire from the heating element in the pellet smoker ignites the wooden pellets, which are responsible for smoking the meat.
However, aside from providing smoke and heat, the pellets also give out a few gases during the combustion process. These gases are carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. From the sound of it, you’d imagine that it’s dangerous to have all these chemicals come in contact with your meat. But, as a matter of fact, they’re what make your meat taste good and create that flavor difference specific only to pellet smokers.
It’s important to note that both smokers are pretty much equal when we talk about tenderness, juiciness, etc. However, when we factor in smokiness, pellets smokers leave their electric counterparts way behind in the dust.
It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on electric smokers. Even the most premium ones won’t be able to match the flavor you get from the burning pellets.
Pros of Electric Smoker
The first benefit of electric smokers is the fact that they’re much cheaper than pellet smokers. Their price starts at $100, and even the most high-quality smokers will cost you around $500.
This is nothing compared to pellet smokers, and if you’re looking to get one on a budget, you’ll be pretty satisfied with electric smokers.
● Affordable Operating Costs
The up-front price isn’t the only thing affordable about buying an electric smoker. Running an electric smoker is pretty inexpensive in the long run as well. They require simple wood chips that you can easily find in your local Target or Walmart.
Moreover, they don’t chew through the wooden chips nearly as fast as a pellet smoker. You only need around 6 ounces of wood chips to get an hour of working out of an electric smoker.
● User-Friendly Settings
Electric smokers take almost no prior knowledge to run. So even if you’re a complete novice to smoking meat, you won’t have any issue working with an electric smoker. In addition, the controls on most of these machines are similar to a thermostat, making it more convenient for you to regulate the settings.
All you need to do is adjust the temperature, set the timer, and forget that the smoker even exists. Once the timer is up, your food is going to come out exactly how you wanted it.
● Versatile Usage
One of the reasons why we recommend electric smokers is their versatility and range of use. You can use an electric smoker to smoke not only meat but also things like cheese, nuts, fish, etc.
It’s capable of maintaining extremely low temperatures, which is a quality that pellet smokers don’t have. Since pellets have to be lit on fire, these smokers operate at high temperatures. Once they’re ignited, there’s not much you can do to control the temperature.
● Zero Combustion
Electric smokers do have wooden chips that are necessary to smoke your meat. However, the wood isn’t really ignited. Instead, it’s warmed up with the heating element, which causes smoke to rise from the chips. Still, there isn’t any fire produced inside the smoker.
This makes electric smokers compatible with most condos and apartments that forbid tenants from lighting open fires indoors. So with an electric smoker, you can smoke as much meat as you want without violating your residential agreement in any way.
Cons of Electric Smoker
The dealbreaker and the reason why there is even a need to talk about electric smokers vs. pellet smokers is the flavor. Lack of actual combustion helps make electric smokers compatible with most apartments.
However, you’re taking away a ton of flavor from your food. Even the most expensive electric smokers cannot compare to the taste of a pellet smoker.
● Lacks Grilling Capabilities
Pellet smokers are somewhat multipurpose, meaning that they can serve the function of a grill as well. However, an electric smoker can’t do the same. So if you want to grill the occasional burger, you’ll need to invest in a grill separately.
Pros of Pellet Smoker
● Amazing Flavor
One of the only drawbacks of an electric smoker is the other’s benefit. Pellet smokers produce their smoke by lighting the pellets on fire. This doesn’t just create smoke but also generates other gases, which add a woody flavor native only to pellet smokers (see the best wood for smoking turkey)
● Large Fuel Capacity
Electric smokers have a small tray at the bottom, which houses the wooden chips. Unfortunately, they run out pretty fast since the tray can’t store a lot of wood.
On the other hand, pellet smokers have an enormous container meant explicitly for the pellets. The entire bottom half is reserved for the fuel. As a result, pellet smokers can run for hours on end before you need to think about restocking the pellets.
● Works as a Grill
This benefit doesn’t apply to cheap pellet smokers since they don’t have a sear box included. However, if you’re spending over $800 on the machine, you’re probably going to get a pellet smoker with a sear box included.
This helps you grill burgers and other types of meat, saving you from the hassle of spending extra on a grill. After all, who doesn’t love some added value?
Cons of Pellet Smoker
● High Operating Costs
Pellet smokers are expensive to operate. They have a large fuel capacity to store the pellets just because they chew up a ton of them per hour. The smoker will consume at least 2 pounds of pellet just to function for a single hour.
Two pounds of pellets cost around $2, so running the smoker for 10-12 hours will rack up the wood bill quite a bit. If you can’t afford to sacrifice a ton of pellets to cook your meat, pellet smokers are probably not what you’re looking for.
● Hefty Price Tag
The second drawback of pellet smokers is also relevant to the expenditure it forces you to make. Simply put, pellet smokers cost a fortune. Even the fanciest electric smokers cost around $600. Pellet smokers, however, start at $500 and can go over a grand, depending on what company you’re buying from.
That’s an insane price tag for a machine that just cooks and smokes your meat. Besides, if you’re not a big smoking enthusiast, you probably won’t be too happy paying a $1000+ bill.
Pellet Smoker vs Electric Smoker – The Final Verdict
To conclude the discussion, we can say that pellet smokers are way better than electric smokers. The only disadvantage of pellet smokers that comes to mind is the retail and operating costs.
However, if you can afford the extra cash it takes to buy a pellet smoker, you’ll be more than happy with your purchase. The upgrade you get in the form of taste will definitely make the price worth it.