Are you finding it hard to decide between buying a pellet smoker or an electric smoker?
Read on to find out what the main features, pros, and cons of each type of smoker are, and hopefully, you will be able to make an informed decision when investing in a smoker.
Here is more about pellet smokers
Pellet smokers, which are also known as pellet grills, are the newest of all smokers on the market. They appeared in the 1980s, invented by and patented by Joe Traeger. Until 2006, Traeger held the monopoly and the patent. Since then, multiple other companies have entered the pellet grill-making industry.
Pellet grills and smokers are fueled by hardwood pellets which are placed in a storage hopper and are fed into the firebox with a slowly turning auger. Thus, the fuel is fed to the grill or smoker continuously and without the need to babysit the grill all of the time.
The heat inside is created via an igniter rod which lights up the pellets, and then a combustion fan spreads the heat and the smoke throughout the cooking chamber evenly.
The temperature is set and controlled via dials and digital panels much like an oven, which makes pellet grills preferred by pitmasters who like the concept of “set it and forget it,”, especially for overnight low and slow smoking.
So, are a pellet smoker and a pellet grill the same thing?
Although it varies by model, all pellet smokers do a good job of maintaining the low, moderate temperatures needed for smoking and grilling.
In a pellet smoker, keeping temperatures as low as 180 degrees shouldn’t be an issue.
However, a pellet smoker, which can achieve temperatures of 450 to 650 degrees Fahrenheit, is the best option if you’re searching for a grill that will reach scorching temperatures. Some smokers are ideal for hot and quick grilling and searing alike because they contain searing stations or can achieve high temperatures.
What makes pellet smokers so popular?
The best part of pellet smokers is that they are very easy to set up and use even by beginners in smoking, while the other offset smokers take time to master and require constant babysitting throughout the smoking.
Pellet smokers pros
They are very easy to set and use, even by newbies
Perfect for “set and forget” low and slow cooking and smoking
They can be used for smoking in colder seasons and climates when they are insulated well
The flavor of the smoke-infused in the meat and food is of real wood
Some of these grills can be used for grilling at high temperatures
The pellets are fed automatically
It is fuel-efficient
The pellet smokers look pretty cool
They can be used in some areas where traditional barbecues are not allowed
Pellet smokers cons
While they are pellet fueled, you will still need to plug the smoker in because the auger is powered by electricity
They are more expensive than the electric-powered alternatives
Unless they are vertical style, these smokers have smaller capacities for food than the vertical electric smokers
The flavor is not as smoky as one achieved in a traditional offset smoker
And now – more about electric smokers
Electric smokers are pretty similar to pellet smokers when it comes to convenience and ease of use. They produce heat via an electrically powered heating element which is located on the bottom of the smoker.
Above it is a water pan and a wood chip pan to hold the water, beer, cider, or other liquids for moisturizing and flavoring the meat, and of course for the wood chips of your choice, which will produce the smoke.
The heat and smoke are then spread throughout the smoking chamber, infusing the food inside with a woody flavor.
These smokers as well automatically adjust their temperatures, so you can easily set the digital controller or dial to the desired temperature and simply forget about the food until it is time to take it out.
So, an electric smoker is another truly “set and forget” smoker.
Related: How To Use An Electric Smoker, And How Do They Work
The flavor of an electric smoker
Since this type of smoker relies on electric heat rather than fire, the smoke profile of the meat will not be the same as that created in a pellet smoker, and unlike that in a traditional wood or charcoal smoker.
Then again, the electric smoker is an excellent choice for homes and areas where the use of wood, charcoal, or pellet smokers is not allowed. You can even set your electric smoker on a balcony in an apartment building if the landlord or local authorities allow it.
Can an electric smoker be used for grilling?
No, since electric smokers are designed to reach and hold only low temperatures, which are required for low and slow smoking.
So, you will not be able to grill or barbecue food with a typical electric smoker. Then again, there are some exceptions to this rule, like the Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker, which comes with a broiler and a high-heat grill and station on the top rack.
Electric smokers’ pros
They are very easy to use even by new smokers
Allow for “set it and forget it’s smoking
These grills are inexpensive
You can use them in condos and places where the use of real fire is not allowed
Great for smoking bacon, fish, cheese, nuts, and other foods at low temperatures
They have small footprints and large capacities thanks to their vertical designs
Easy to clean
Electric smokers’ cons
They need to be plugged in and rely on electricity
The majority cannot be used for grilling
The wood flavor is not as intense as that produced in a pellet smoker
No smoke ring
They do require some practice to learn how to smoke the meat properly without drying it
Comparison between pellet smoker and electric smoker
- Electric – smoking
- Pellet – smoking, roasting, baking, and in some cases, grilling
- Electric – small to very large
- Pellet – small to large
- Electric – 150 to 600 USD
- Pellet – 500 to 2,000+ USD
- Electric – electricity, and wood chips
- Pellet – pellets and electricity
Power outlet required
- Electric – yes
- Pellet – yes
- Electric – most are compact and portable
- Pellet – some are portable
Head-to-head comparison of actual pellet and electric smokers
Budget-friendly smoker comparison
Char-Broil Analog Electric Smoker
Powder-coated steel construction with double-wall insulation
The door has dual latches for even better insulation and sealing
A large-sized wood chip pan
Chrome-plated cooking grates
A temperature range of 100 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
The total smoking area is 544 square inches
Backed by a 1-year warranty
Z grills 450B
Made of powder-coated steel
A temperature range of 180 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit
A total cooking area of 459 square inches
A hopper capacity of 15 lbs.
The hopper has a window and is easy to clean
An accurate PID temperature controller
A manual feed button when you want faster preheating
It comes with a cover
Backed by a 3-year warranty
Mid-range pellet vs electric smoker comparison
Masterbuilt MB20073519 Bluetooth Digital Electric Smoker with Broiler
A sturdy powder-coated build
A patent-pending top heating element for grilling and broiling
The smoking plates are chrome coated
A cooking space of 711 square inches for smoking and an added 309 square inches for grilling
Built-in Bluetooth connectivity for remote temperature control and monitoring
A built-in meat probe
Convenient side access to the wood chip tray
A temperature range of 100 to 275 degrees Fahrenheit
800 watts of power
Backed by a 1-year warranty
Traeger Pro Series 34 Pellet Grill
Powder-coated steel housing and construction
Total cooking area of 884 square inches
Temperature range of 180 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit via a digital Pro Controller, and amplitude of 15 degrees
It comes with two built-in meat probes
Hopper capacity of 18 lbs. and a nifty cleanout system
High-end pellet vs. electric smoker comparison
Traeger Timberline 850
Made of a fully insulated powder-coated steel body
The grates are made of stainless steel
A temperature range of 180 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit
SuperSmoke mode and a True convection system
TurboTemp heats up faster when the lid is opened
A total cooking space of 869 square inches and a dual-position sear and smoke bottom plate
24-pound pellet hopper with a low pellet sensor and easy cleanout
WiFire is compatible for wireless connectivity and remote control
Smokin-It Model 2 Electric Smoker
Entirely made of fiber-insulated stainless steel
A temperature range of 100 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit
A generous smoking area of 1,247 square inches
Easy to clean external drip pan
It is certified for commercial use
A double-latch door helps seal in the heat and smoke
Main things to consider when choosing your type of smoker
Since pellet smokers use combustion, which creates actual heat and smoke from the wood pellets, the flavor which gets infused into the meat has a more authentic barbecue smoky flavor than with electric smokers. They also produce gases and solids via combustion, which are responsible for the genuine smoky flavors of the meat.
There is no combustion in electric smokers. Instead, there is an electric-powered heat element that creates heat and steam in the water pan. The smoke comes from the heated wood chips you place in the pan. So, it works more like an oven with steam and some smoke.
While electric smokers are convenient, safe to use in apartments, and can produce some delicious foods, pellet smokers are capable of giving the food more of that true smoky flavor than any electric smoker.
Ease of use
Both types of smokers are very easy to use, especially when compared to the traditional offset charcoal and wood smokers.
They have easy-to-understand temperature controls, and all you need to do is set the temperature and forget about the food.
There is some cleanup required in both – the electric smoker needs to have its wood chips cleaned out and any tin foil you use for lining the grates.
The pellet smoker needs to have its pellet ash cleaned out, but usually, they come with easy-to-clean systems.
So, both pellet and electric smokers are very easy to use and maintain, especially when compared to traditional smokers.
How much does it cost to operate?
Electric smokers use some electricity and limited amounts of wood chips or chunks, so overall most of them do not require the use of special proprietary wood chunks, and chips are very inexpensive to run.
Pellet smokers use some electricity and the pellets are made of compressed sawdust. Normally, you can expect a pellet smoker to use up about 1-2 lbs. of pellets per hour. Pellets cost about $1 per pound, so you will need to buy and use pellets for about $10 for a 10-hour low and slow smoking session.
How much does it cost to buy?
While the different smokers vary in type, size, and range, you can typically expect to pay significantly less for an electric smoker as compared to a comparable pellet smoker.
Pellet smokers are, in fact pretty expensive, and can cost you more than a good quality grill does.
Neither of the two types is suitable for replacing a grill.
So, if you have decided to invest in a pellet smoker, you should plan to spend at least $700 for a decent one. Some models have sear boxes and other features which add to the price but can be worth it.
As for electric smokers, you can buy a decent one for under $100. Even the higher-end ones will rarely cost more than $500.
Electric smokers are capable of maintaining very low temperatures, which is great news if you are planning on smoking cheese, nuts, fish, and similar foods.
Pellet smokers, on the other hand, can often be used as grills and ovens as well, allowing you to smoke, grill, bake, roast, and broil foods.
So, the versatility of smokers depends on what you are planning on using them for.
Electric smokers are usually lighter and more compact, so they are more portable. Then again, both types require a power outlet, so unless you have a generator, you cannot expect to be able to take them camping off the grid with you.
As always, the result in the head-to-head comparison between electric and pellet grills depends on what you are looking for.
Electric smokers are great for people on tight budgets, those who live in places where open-flame grills are not allowed, and people who want a convenient and affordable appliance.
Pellet smokers are more versatile outdoor cookers, but you will need to spend quite a lot more for a good quality one.
Hopefully, we have helped you decide which is the better option for you, so enjoy your new smoker!
Check our Gas vs Electric Smoker comparison and find out which type of smoker is better.