If you are currently searching for a new BBQ smoker, you will come across many great options with various unique features to enhance your smoking and grilling experience.
Among these options, electric and charcoal smokers are two of the most popular choices, but choosing one between them requires deep considerations like the cooking area, temperature range, convenience, price, etc.
In this article, you will get all the necessary information regarding these two smokers, including their working techniques, features, similarities, differences, pros, and cons.
So, let me begin this comprehensive electric vs charcoal smoker comparison to help you find a suitable option to fulfill your cooking needs.
An electric smoker usually comes in a vertical shape, uses electricity to operate and cook food, is specifically built for smoking, and has a limited temp range.
In contrast, a charcoal smoker can have different shapes, uses charcoal as a fuel source, has a vast temp range, and is helpful for smoking and grilling.
Another significant difference between these two cooking appliances is that a charcoal smoker can infuse more smoke flavors into your meats than an electric one.
Electric Smokers – A Quick Overview
If I had to explain electric smokers in a few words, I would say it is an electric oven but in a relatively bigger size that is specified for food smoking purposes. Now, let’s analyze this cooking gadget more deeply.
Firstly, most of these smokers come in vertical shape and consist of multiple racks for food placement and cooking, a wood chips tray for smoke infusion into your meal, a heat source (heating element), and a window or door outside the cooking chamber.
Moreover, it uses electricity to operate and cook food through an electric heating element located at the bottom of the smoker.
Above this element, most of these smokers provide a wood chips tray, allowing you to add the required amount of your desired smoky flavor.
So, in short, the heating element provides heat to cook your foods, and the chips infuse smoke flavors into them after getting smoldered from the heat offered by the electric element below.
If I shed light on the usage of this appliance, it is a pretty straightforward product to use and is best for beginner smoking lovers.
The temperature-controlling system on any outdoor cooking appliance determines how easy this product is to use. In this scenario, an electric smoker can add maximum convenience to the user with a PID controller or dampers they have.
So, simply rotate the control knob or dampers to regulate heat and read the real-time cooking stats on an LED screen provided with this controller.
Charcoal Smokers – A Quick Overview
As the name suggests, this smoker uses charcoal as the fuel source, but you can also burn wood logs with it, ensuring that your food items get to cook evenly and with plenty of delicious smoky flavors.
Unlike an electric smoker, it comes in different shapes, such as vertical, horizontal, and bowl-shaped, but one thing is common, they all use charcoal.
The ones with the bowl and vertical shapes have a firebox at the bottom part, and the upper part is the cooking chamber to cook food. The horizontal ones have a firebox on the side of the smoking and grilling area.
I like these smokers when it comes to cooking thick meats like ribs, brisket, and turkey with exceptional smoke flavors.
But also, they can be challenging for beginners as you need to be very patient, pay a lot of attention, ignite the charcoal manually, and keep the temperature steady inside the smoker through top and bottom dampers and vents.
Electric Smoker Pros
- Easy To Use: Electric smokers are pretty easy to use because they get hot automatically to cook food, and temperature adjustment is just one simple step away, which is to rotate the knob.
- Multiple Smoking Racks: You will find multiple racks in these smokers, which is my favorite feature of this smoker as it will allow me to smoke various food items at once.
- Affordable: Electric smokers are a great outdoor cooking appliance if you are short on a budget because they don’t cost too much, and you’ll find many of them under a $500 price tag.
- Easy Cleaning: It is super easy to clean these smokers mainly because of two reasons. First, they cook food through an electric heating element, which does not create a mess, and secondly, they have a removable wood chips tray so you can empty them easily from ash.
- App Connectivity: Some famous electric smokers like Masterbuilt have smartphone apps so that you can monitor your cooking sessions through your smartphone.
Electric Smoker Cons
- Limited Temperature Range: Unlike pellet and charcoal smokers, they have a limited temperature, probably 100 to 275, which can restrict you from using them for multiple styles of cooking. So, it is mainly suitable for smoking.
- Less smoky flavors: No doubt, it allows you to add wood chips in the tray, which can then add smoky flavors to your food, but the amount of those flavors might not be as intense and authentic as you get from a reverse flow or offset smoker.
- Electricity Dependant: These smokers operate and cook your food through electricity, so if you want to use them outside while camping or on a picnic, you must have a reliable power source or access to electricity.
Charcoal Smoker Pros
- Delicious Foods & Unique Smoke Flavors: For those who prefer evenly cooked meats with a robust and unique smoky flavors profile, I endorse them to invest in a charcoal smoker.
- Charcoal Availability: More than one charcoal flavor option is available, adding plenty of versatility to your smoking experience.
- Wide Temperature Range: Unlike an electric smoker, it can reach higher temperatures of around 500 °F or even more, allowing you to smoke, grill and sear on the same outdoor cooking appliance.
- Portable: Charcoal smokers in vertical or bowl shapes are lightweight, and their wheels can make their portability a breeze. Ultimately, you can use them on a trip because you’ll need to burn charcoal and won’t be dependent on electricity.
- Pocket Friendly: Only horizontal charcoal smokers can be expensive, but the other ones are usually available at a reasonable price.
Charcoal Smoker Cons
- Unsuitable For Newbies: It may not be an ideal option for beginner smoker users as it requires skills and some time to control temperature through vents and dampers.
- Longer preheating time: Compared to electric ones, they take more time to preheat because the ignition process goes on manually, and charcoal burns slowly.
- Challenging To Clean: Charcoal and wood pieces together create a lot of mess, making cleaning the charcoal annoying, time-consuming, and challenging.
Electric Vs Charcoal Smokers – 7 Major Differences
There are plenty of features to look after, whether it is a smoker, grill, or any other cooking appliance.
Therefore, I will now take you through a detailed electric vs charcoal smoker comparison to help you differentiate these products and find a suitable one.
Easy To Use
If you have just entered the BBQ word and you want to kick it off with a charcoal smoker, you may struggle to achieve the expected results.
The reason is that I mentioned before that you need to babysit the smoker and regulate the heat manually.
But electric smokers are one of the best vertical smokers out there that are easy to use, perfect for beginners, and there are several reasons behind it.
For example, its temperature regulation is quick and simple, it shows cooking-related stats on an LED screen, and a few of them comes up with smartphone app technology as well.
So, I would confidently choose an electric smoker over a charcoal one if the debate is regarding which one is easier to use.
Electric smokers generally offer larger cooking spaces and have multiple racks inside their cooking chambers, allowing you to smoke more than one food at once.
But due to their vertical shape, they may not easily accommodate thick meats like brisket, and you need to cut it in two pieces for better results.
On the other hand, charcoal smokers usually have smaller cooking areas, but you can easily place larger cuts of meats in them, thanks to their bowl and horizontal shape.
Most importantly, not all charcoal smokers have a smaller cooking area. For example, in an offset charcoal smoker, you get plenty of space (around 500 sq in or even more) to cook whatever you want.
Recommended Post: To get more in-depth info about vertical and horizontal-shaped smokers, visit our guide on vertical vs horizontal smokers.
Temperature Range & Control
Electric smokers have a limited temperature range of 225 to 275 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn’t fixed and varies from model to model.
But controlling their temperature is pretty straightforward as they usually offer knobs that you simply rotate to control heat.
A charcoal smoker can reach and maintain both low and high heat because its fuel source is charcoal which can burn hotter and for a more extended period.
If you want to cook food low and slow, simply put burning coals on one side and food on the other side, and if you’re going to grill, place your food directly over the charcoal.
But controlling their temperature is a bit more technical, especially for beginners, as you need to be familiar with the mechanism of using top and bottom vents and dampers on these smokers.
Recommended Read: Our guide regarding controlling the temperature on a charcoal grill will minimize your learning effort, as both charcoal grills and smokers are pretty much the same.
Cooking Performance And Versatility
Electric smokers are specifically designed for smoking purposes because they have a relatively limited temperature range than charcoal, pellet, and other smokers.
They usually cook food between 225 to 275 degrees Fahrenheit, which is perfect for smoking ribs, brisket, etc. So, if you are looking for an outdoor cooking appliance that you mainly want to use to smoke foods, an electric smoker is a suitable option.
But it may not offer extraordinary smoke flavor results as its primary fuel source is electricity, and it can hold a limited amount of wood chips in the tray attached.
Conversely, a charcoal smoker can be used for both smoking and grilling because it can maintain low and higher heat inside the cooking chamber.
Also, their fuel source is charcoal, and you can burn wood along with it. Ultimately, your meats get cooked with a good amount of delightful smoky flavors.
To conclude, if I had to choose one of these two smokers in terms of cooking versatility and food outcome, I would go with a charcoal smoker.
I admire both of these outdoor cooking appliances when it comes to portability because they don’t weigh too much, and their wheels can help you move them around.
But the offset charcoal smoker may not be easy to move as they measure big, have a horizontal shape, and also are heavyweight.
So, I would say you can invest in any of these smokers (except the offset ones) if you are looking for a highly portable outdoor cooking appliance.
The thing that I like the most about electric smokers is that they are affordable, and you will find most of them within the price range of $100 to $300, which is a fair trade if you buy them.
On the other hand, charcoal smokers are also not as expensive as other smokers and grills out there in the market. You can easily find one under $300 with almost all the necessary features that I have mentioned above.
Electric-powered smokers are generally easier to clean because they use electric heating elements for cooking, and minimal residue is left behind.
Also, their grates are pretty easy to clean, and it becomes more convenient when you clean them on a regular basis.
In contrast, cleaning charcoal smokers requires more time and can be annoying because of the residue left behind by charcoal and wood.
However, grates cleaning is simple, for which you just need to clean them using a cloth and soap-water mixture.
Who Should Buy An Electric Smoker?
They have several exciting features, but the important question is who should consider buying this cooking appliance to fulfill their BBQ adventure.
For those who are looking for a smoker that does not cost too much, is easy to use, offers maximum convenience, and is designed explicitly for food-smoking purposes, I endorse you to look after the features of an electric smoker.
Who Should Buy A Charcoal Smoker?
A charcoal smoker is an ideal choice for those who prefer multiple styles of cooking (like smoking, grilling, searing), intense delightful smoky flavors, and have some experience in manually igniting charcoal pieces and controlling temperature through vents and dampers.
Also, you can consider buying it if you are short on budget and often go for holidays or camping and have a desire to cook food outside.
Who is the Winner? Head-to-head Summary
Let me share a short quick summary of the relative winners in a head-to-head comparison.
|Ease of Use and Convenience||Electric Smokers|
|Quality & Taste of Foods||Charcoal Smokers|
|Temperature Control||Electric Smokers|
|Temp Range||Charcoal Smokers|
|Cooking Capacity||Depends on model|
|Portable||Depends on device design|
In conclusion, charcoal and electric smokers have several exciting features to take your BBQ adventure to another level.
But choosing one between them entirely depends on your budget, cooking preferences, and experience with such gadgets, if any.
Regardless of the smoker you use, I hope an exciting BBQ experience awaits you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which smoker provides the better smoky flavor? Electric or Charcoal?
A charcoal smoker infuses more smoky flavor than an electric one into your meats because of the fuel source combination (charcoal and wood ) it uses to cook food.
Why do we put a water pan in an electric or charcoal smoker?
It helps in keeping the food moist, maintains a steady heat level inside the cooking chamber, and enhances the overall tenderness and juiciness of the smoked dishes.
Can you use a charcoal smoker as a grill?
Yes, you can use it as a grill by simply placing the burning charcoal pieces right beneath the food items. It will ensure that the food gets higher heat which is required for grilling.
Robert Gill, a BBQ enthusiast, and Senior Author at FaveGrills.com bring his extensive knowledge of BBQ equipment and exciting recipes to the team. With his outgoing personality and love for BBQ, Robert plays an essential role in the FaveGrills community, sharing his passion and expertise through informative articles and gear reviews.