The stars of this post are the electric smoker and the charcoal smoker, which of them is better ? I believe that my comparison of both models will allow you to make your own decision on the matter.
As always, I try to relax the atmosphere and answer that it depends on many factors. If you’re thinking about real BBQ with the characteristic smoky flavor, though, then nothing can compare to the charcoal smoker.
The time-consuming smoking process has a deciding influence on the final result. If you are experienced, you can tell it right away by the flavor how meat was prepared and on what type of smoker.
Let’s face it, in the confrontation of electric smoker vs charcoal smoker, it is the latter that without any doubt wins when it comes to flavor. On the other hand, when it comes to convenience and simplicity, the electric smoker undoubtedly reigns supreme.
Either way, both types have their upsides and downsides, and that’s why I encourage to get familiar with them, which allows you to get to know a particular type of smoker much better and make a decision on which one you think is the winner in this battle.
Electric vs Charcoal Smoker – Summary
Let’s start by asking the question of what is actually important to you, the food’s flavor and fun or convenience and speed?
A Charcoal Smoker is a synonym of tradition, fun and intense smoky flavor of meat. One cannot just ignore the great BBQ coming from this type of smoker. All the responsibilities like getting the charcoal burning, adjusting the air vents, fuel and frequent temperature control might be an upside ( fun ) to some, while to others it is something tedious.
An Electric Smoker, on the other hand, is a synonym of speed, simplicity and convenience. A precise controller allows to smoke meat nearly maintenance-free ( set & forget style ). Of course it is all at the expense of flavor, which is still good, but never like from a charcoal smoker. Electricity doesn’t produce smoke, which is why a bowl with wood chips is used instead, although even that method won’t give the same results as smoking mostly with charcoal/wood.
Answer yourself what BBQ means to you and what type of person you are when smoking. Think about how much of your own time and effort you want to put in smoking, because the answer to this very question might actually affect what to choose in the competition of electric vs charcoal smoker.
Easy of Use
It requires your attention pretty much throughout the entire cooking process. Among the basic responsibilities are getting the charcoal burning, adjusting the air vents or temperature control.
Without a doubt, the electric smoker wins in this regard, all you have to do is start it, select the temperature and you’re done.
Nothing can compare to the characteristic intense smoky flavor that charcoal gives – number one among all types of fuel.
Definitely far from what can be achieved with a charcoal grill, but still tastes very good. Thanks to a bowl with wood chips that generates smoke, the food’s flavor is slightly enriched.
Most of all, it requires experience, it is not a complicated task, but it does require your attention. It mostly consists of adjusting the air vents and the amount of fuel.
Incredibly simple, once you set the temperature using the controller, you don’t have to worry about anything. The heating element and the thermostat will take care of stable temperature throughout the smoking process.
Convenience and Fun
Plenty of responsibilities, like getting the charcoal burning or constant temperature control, it is an upside to some and a downside to others.
From the moment you start it, you don’t have to worry about temperature control or amount of fuel ( set & forget style smoker ).
You can easily smoke in nearly any weather conditions. No rain or snow is a problem to it, but you have to remember about good insulation.
Sadly, due to the electrics it is strongly advised against using this type of smoker in places where it’s at risk of being exposed to water ( when it’s raining or snowing ).
It’s a precise method of smoking that requires very good and precise tools, which means it is possible, but very difficult.
The ability to select a low temperature and knowing it will be stable makes cold smoking possible. This fact is definitely confirmed by the information that leading manufacturers sell a dedicated cold smoking kit for this activity.
A very broad selection of different accessories and modifications.
Depending on the model, also a significant selection of modifications and accessories.
A lot depends on the type of a charcoal smoker, but for a low price you can buy a high quality model covered with whole 10 years of warranty.
You will find something decent for people with a limited budget, but when it comes to electric smokers, I would advise something better from at least the medium range.
You can expect a very good warranty with most manufacturers. Charcoal smokers aren’t very prone to malfunctions, some manufacturers even offer 10 years of warranty.
The structure of this type of smoker consists of many complicated elements that can break down much faster, which is why with most manufacturers you can only expect few months to 2-3 years of warranty.
The offer includes many different models ( big, medium-sized and small ), most of which are definitely mobile.
Due to the source of heat which is electricity, you can forget about mobility here. Wherever you’re planning to use this type of smoker, you have to make sure you can plug it in.
About Charcoal Smokers
The most popular type of smoker, which has won its position mostly thanks to the results it gives. It is very closely connected to the history of the traditional BBQ, so closely in fact that many people consider it to be the only right type of smoker, while all the others are for amateurs.
One has to admit that food from a charcoal smoker tastes the best out of all smokers. The characteristic smoky flavor of meat is something that every BBQ enthusiast loves, and it’s something you can only find in a smoker where the source of heat is charcoal or wood.
Sadly, a charcoal smoker is quite a challenge to many beginners. There is more to smoking than just getting the charcoal burning and placing the meat on the grates, it’s mostly about the ability to create and then maintain perfect conditions inside the smoker.
The smoking process requires above all the right, fixed temperature. In a charcoal smoker, temperature control combines few different activities. The temperature control requires the right adjustment of air vents and fuel amount.
You need to know that, when smoking in such smoker, nothing happens right away. Every change of settings or air vent adjustment requires time for the results to be visible. Which is exactly why this type of smoker is pretty difficult for beginners, whereas at hands of an experienced pitmaster it gives meat that plenty of people have never tasted before.
Flavor – No other type of smoker offers quite as intense and characteristic smoky flavor of meat. There is simply no point comparing it to other types of smokers where the fuel is something different from charcoal or wood.
Fun – I know that plenty of people love the entire smoking process. Starting from preparing the meat, getting the charcoal burning, adjusting the air vents, fuel and all the way to temperature control. All of that takes a lot of time and gives a sense of participating in the process of smoking from the beginning all the way to the end.
Reliability – When one of the elements gets broken then usually it isn’t really a big deal. Unless it’s something very important, you can continue smoking or take care of the issue on your own. Spare parts are cheap and easily available, and most malfunctions simple enough for most people to be able to handle them at home with only the basic tools.
Durability, Warranty and Price – A charcoal smoker doesn’t contain any electronics or complicated elements. For a decent price you can buy a high-quality durable charcoal smoker that will serve you for years to come. The best models of the leading manufacturers are covered with as many as 10 years of warranty, which only confirms my words.
Requires skills – For those who are seasoned meat smokers it might seem silly, but plenty of things might feel particularly complicated to beginners. The results of smoking only depend on yourself and if you’ve never come across this type of smoker then it will be difficult for you to achieve great BBQ without experience.
Time – Getting the charcoal burning, adjusting the air vents, controlling the temperature and fuel once in a while. All of that together takes a lot of time and requires your attention if you want to be sure that everything goes as it’s supposed to.
Temperature control – Smoking requires the right temperature, it isn’t that easy to maintain a stable temperature over many hours. If you add too much charcoal, the temperature will raise significantly, and you will have trouble getting it stabilized. Temperature adjustment utilizes air vents but manipulating them isn’t that simple, contrary to a popular belief. It takes some experience to learn how air vents work.
About Electric Smokers
A very easy to use and convenient smoker that is perfect for beginners or for those who simply don’t like all the tasks that are present with a charcoal smoker.
You don’t have to worry at all about getting the charcoal burning or temperature control. An electric smoker is equipped with a digital controller that makes it possible to select a particular temperature. All you have to do is plug it into a socket, start it and not long after that you can start smoking once the smoker reaches the right temperature.
It’s a great choice not just for beginners but also for those who don’t have much time. An electric smoker doesn’t require your attention which makes it great for smoking over many hours.
You don’t have to worry about the fuel as long as your power company doesn’t have a malfunction. On the other hand, it is a slight downside, as when you’re choosing a place for your smoker you need to take into account whether it has access to electricity.
When it comes to the most important thing on the other hand, which is the results of smoking ( flavor ), I have to admit that the meat is very tasty. The smoker runs on electricity so at the first glance it doesn’t produce smoke, but on the inside most models have a wood chips container, which is there to provide smoke.
Convenience and safety – One cannot argue about the fact that an electric smoker is very convenient. You don’t have to worry about things like getting the charcoal burning or temperature control. You plug the smoker in, refill the container with water and wood chips, select temperature, and once it’s right you start smoking. You can leave the smoker unattended for few hours without worries, the thermostat will take care of a fixed temperature without your intervention.
Speed and convenience – From the moment of starting the smoker, all it takes is literally a dozen minutes for it to reach the right temperature for smoking. You will save time by not having to do all those things like in other types of smokers. On top of convenience, another great advantage is simplicity of use of this type of smoker which is why I believe that it is a great choice for beginners who haven’t had anything to do with smoking before.
Cold Smoking – Another advantage of electric smokers is the ability to set a low temperature ( around 160 degrees F depending on the model ). Cold smoking is pretty popular which might make this information important to many people.
Electrics don’t like humidity – An electric smoker is equipped with many complicated elements tightly connected with one another. None of them likes humidity which makes it necessary to avoid smoking in the rain.
Mobility – The necessity of having it connected to a socket at all times makes it impossible to freely move around with the smoker. You need to think about where your smoker is going to be standing or else you won’t be able to use it without power.
Charcoal vs Electric Smoker – Direct Comparison
Ease of use – The winner in this regard is definitely the electric smoker, which you only need to plug in, then select the temperature using a digital controller once it’s on and you’re done. I also recommend refilling the wood chips and water container for better results.
On the other hand, when you look at the charcoal smoker, you have to remember about lots and lots of things that are important when smoking. It all starts with getting the charcoal burning and properly adjusting the air vents. The problem here is that the work doesn’t end right at the start like with the competitive type of smoker. From the start of smoking all the way to the end you need to be watchful and monitor the smoking process ( fuel adjustment/refilling, air vent adjustment etc ).
Flavor – In this regard, the uncontested winner is the charcoal smoker, which is number 1 among smokers thanks to this exact advantage. There is no argument here, the flavor of food is what matters the most, the end result is something each of us works on. You won’t get such intense and characteristic smoke flavor in any other type of smoker, the best flavor comes from smokers where the source of heat is charcoal/wood.
Of course that doesn’t mean that the food from an electric smoker is bad. It is also very tasty but if we have to compare those two situations, I’m just telling it like it is. Wood chips have a good influence on the food’s flavor but it will never be quite as intense and on the same level.
Speed and Convenience – These are the characteristics the electric smoker was based on. You just have to turn on the smoker, select the temperature and after a dozen minutes or so you can start smoking without getting your hands dirty.
The charcoal smoker was created with the best possible results of smoking in mind ( intense flavor ). It isn’t quite as convenient as the electric smoker, it requires a lot of your time from starting the smoking all the way to its end.
Temperature control – An electric smoker comes with a digital controller that allows to select temperature. The heating element responsible for the temperature is precise enough to be able to maintain a specified temperature the entire time so you don’t have to worry about controlling anything.
When it comes to the charcoal smoker, on the other hand, you’re the only one in charge of temperature. No system will take care of it, it is your task to properly adjust the amount of fuel as well as the air vents in order to maintain a fixed temperature. I won’t lie, it takes some experience and patience.
Cold Smoking – Maintaining a very low temperature is a pretty difficult task in a charcoal smoker, for example. Much better in this regard is the electric smoker, which makes it possible to select a pretty low temperature.
There’s a small problem that occurs at lower temperatures, wood chips don’t generate enough smoke. This problem can be solved with the especially designed for this purpose cold smoking kit, which is sold by the leading manufacturers ( such as Masterbuilt ) as an addition to the basic version of the electric smoker.
Starting price – Objectively speaking, both types can be bought at a similar, relatively low price. The difference lies in the quality of workmanship and durability, but the starting price is very similar.
Warranty – Certain charcoal smokers are covered with as many as 10 years of warranty, which only shows how durable they are. Electric smokers available at similar prices are only covered with few months to 2-3 years of warranty.
Cleaning – Charcoal/Wood burns down and leaves ashes behind, which means there is a lot to do regardless of whether a particular model comes with an ash removal system or not. When it comes to the competitive type of smoker, the source of heat is a heating element that runs on electricity, thus not leaving anything behind.
Out of the basic tasks, therefore, all that is left is the things that are present in both, which is cleaning the grates and the grease trays.
Malfunction risk and durability – An electric smoker, as the name indicates, includes many elements that rely on electricity. The heating element or the digital controller are things that are prone to malfunctions. All it takes is for one thing to break down and you’re in trouble. The relatively short warranty period only proves that you have to get ready for malfunctions even after few years of use.
Things are different when it comes to the charcoal smoker, which is free of complicated technologies, and even if something does break down, you can usually just carry on smoking. One has to admit that for a small amount of money you can buy a really durable model. For a price similar to that of an electric smoker you can get a model that is covered with as many as 10 years of warranty, which means that it is a reliable investment for years to come.
BBQ and grilling are my biggest passions.