Are you interested in cooking outdoors but don’t know what to choose between a smoker and a grill? No worries, we will help you find the best one by differentiating their major factors and types.
Are you looking for a quick answer?
A grill prepares food faster, probably in minutes, at a high temperature using direct heat. On the other hand, a smoker cooks your food in a few hours at a lower temperature and uses indirect heat to infuse smoke into your meal.
They come up in various types, allowing you to choose one that fits your requirement. The common thing in smokers and grills is their fuel sources.
In this article, we will explain their similarities, differences, working techniques, advantages, and possible drawbacks to let you decide which one is suitable for your needs.
Main Differences Between Smoker and Grill
A smoker has a cooking chamber with grates to place food items. It uses smoke as the primary heat source to cook your food low and slow within the temperature range of 200 °F to 250 °F with a smokey flavor.
The grill is an outdoor cooking device where you place your food directly on the grates above the heat source. It cooks your food in a shorter time at higher temperatures (300 °F to 500 °F).
One of the similarities between these two bbq devices is that they use similar fuel sources like charcoal, wood pellets, gas, and electricity for cooking your food.
You can easily differentiate a smoker and a grill by their working techniques, cooking durations, temperature ranges, ability to cook certain types of food, and the amount of smoke you get.
Smokers are capable of preparing larger cuts of meat like brisket, whole chicken, ribs, turkey, etc. On the other hand, you can use grills for grilling foods like steaks, burgers, hot dogs, vegetables, etc.
Another main difference is that smokers are famous for adding smokey flavors to your food, while you don’t get much flavor with the grill.
Types of Smokers
We differentiate multiple types of smokers by their fuel sources, shapes, working, and ability to cook certain types of food. Let’s discuss their types to help you choose the best one.
Most BBQ enthusiasts are familiar with the pellets smokers due to their multiple noticeable features.
As the name suggests, these smokers use wood pellets as their fuel source, and you place them inside a box called a hopper.
From there, an auger places the pellets from the hopper into the fire pot. An electric heating element begins the ignition of pellets to produce smoke and heat.
You can easily set the temperature and cooking time through the digital control panel. Many pellet smokers use thermostats to control the temperature.
A pellet smoker can be your perfect companion if you are looking for an easy-to-use outdoor cooking device that can bake, smoke, and roast for you.
If you are looking for a convenient cooking device to smoke your meat, consider using gas smokers. These smokers use propane or natural gas as their fuel source and have a quick igniting process.
They commonly have a vertical shape in which you get a cooking chamber above the burners. In the bottom part, burners produce heat by burning gas.
No need to worry about the smoky flavors in your food as you can add your favorite wood chips into the ash pan and place it inside.
The temperature control varies on your gas smoker’s type. Some use knobs, whereas others use air vents to set the required temperature.
Would you wait for hours to eat foods with rich smoky flavors and delicious tastes? If yes, then you should have a charcoal smoker in your home.
These smokers use charcoal as fuel and cook food at lower temperatures for hours.
They provide separate chambers for cooking and burning charcoal to pursue indirect cooking and low and slow smoking. You can use a chimney to start the ignition.
Controlling temperature through air dampers or vents to maintain and control the temperature is a bit challenging for novices.
Charcoal smokers tend to be in multiple shapes and sizes, which allows you to select the best one for your backyard.
It is another convenient type of smoker on our list that uses electricity as the primary fuel source.
You just need to turn on your electric smoker, and the heating element inside will generate enough heat to smoke your food.
There are some electric models which come with a wood chips tray. So, if you want smoky flavors in your food, you can add your favorite wood chips flavor, like hickory, apple, or cherry, into the chips tray.
Most electric smokers come up in vertical shape and have a similar interior to a fridge. They usually follow a working technique in which the smoke goes up toward the cooking racks from beneath.
One of the most exciting features of these smokers is that they don’t require constant maintenance and temperature control like charcoal ones. BBQ experts name this “heat and smoke” or “set and forget” cooking method.
We also suggest you season your electric smoker, especially the first time to remove any residues left during the manufacturing process.
If you are tight with your budget but interested in bringing an electric smoker to your home, visit our post in which we have reviewed best electric smoker under $500.
The famous saying “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet” fits nicely on offset smokers. They use charcoal and wood as fuel sources.
There are three significant parts to them. The cooking chamber, a firebox to ignite charcoal and wood, and a raised metal called a smoke stack or chimney from where the smoke and heat are exhausted.
To initialize the igniting process of charcoals, you can use fire lighters and a chimney. Once they start burning, you place them inside the firebox and can add wood for smoky flavors to your food.
Temperature control through the air vents can be challenging for beginners and require consistent maintenance throughout the smoking session.
Pros and Cons of Smokers
There are various smokers in the market, each of which has different advantages and disadvantages.
Let’s discuss some features that we like about them.
- Delicious Foods with Smoky Flavors: One of the things we like about smokers is their low and slow smoking ability and providing delicious meals with smokey flavors.
- Food Preservation: Smokers are famous for Cold smoking, especially electric ones, which is an excellent way to preserve food. You can achieve this by smoking at lower temperatures, such as 80 °F or 90 °F. You can find some valuable tips for food preservation in our post about how long smoked meat last.
- Multifunctional: A smoker is versatile enough to cook multiple types of food and large cuts of meat such as brisket, chicken, turkey, and vegetables.
Let’s mention some of the cons of smokers.
- Temperature Control: Controlling the temperature of a charcoal or offset smoker is relatively more challenging than gas and electric ones. It can be annoying for beginners.
- Cleaning: Cleaning of smokers varies from type to type. Some of them (pellet, electric, gas) are comparatively easier to clean, while charcoal and offset ones can be messy and difficult to clean.
- Time-Taking: This may not be a disadvantage if you know about smokers. They usually take a long time to smoke food properly. Therefore, you must be patient when using them.
In case you are a newbie and looking for a suitable and easy to use smoker to ignite your bbq passion. We have compiled the list of best smokers for beginners.
Types of Grills
Let’s discuss the major types of grills, their working, and what they are suitable for.
These are one of the most convenient outdoor cooking devices with natural gas or propane as their primary fuel source.
You may find them in different designs but have the same working technique. The upper part has grates for placing and grilling food. The lower part is fixed for the fuel source and heating up the cooking area.
There can be one or more burners in these grills to provide the right amount of heat for your food. Moreover, you can control them through knobs to prepare a proper piece of meat.
Although, they have a beginner-friendly ignition system, easy temperature control, and quick cleaning. Still, they are not famous for providing smoky flavors in your food. In this case, we recommend using wood pellets in gas grills to get smoked meats.
Charcoal grills are the way to go if you are interested in cooking tastier foods with smoky flavors.
They have a similar structure to gas grills in which the grilling area is above the firebox where you place and ignite the charcoal.
You require some expertise to ignite and control the temperature of charcoal grills through air vents and dampers.
Many grillers use Lump charcoals and briquettes in these grills for their bbq sessions.
They come in various shapes and sizes, allowing you to find a suitable one for your needs easily.
A pellet grill is an excellent choice if you are looking for a convenient outdoor cooking device that provides good smoky flavors in food.
They have quite similar shapes and functionalities to a pellet smoker. You can use compressed sawdust pellets or simple ones as fuel sources. Learn more about how long pellets last in a pellet grill.
It contains a box called a hopper where you place your wood pellets. Press the “Turn On” button, and the auger will take pellets from the hopper to the fire pot. It is where they burn and provide the flavor of woodsmoke.
You can grill, bake, and smoke your meat with these grills. Lastly, BBQ lovers want precise temperature control in their cooking gadgets; that’s what pellet grills provide through the digital control panel.
They are available in a variety of sizes, from small to large. It allows you to use them in your backyard or for camping and tailgating.
Living in a society where you are not allowed to use charcoal grills, or do you want to cook on the balcony? You will surely love the features of electric grills.
They use electricity as a fuel source and are easy to use. You just need to plug it into an electric outlet and turn them on.
From here, the heating element plays its role and start heating the cooking surface. Most electric grills have a temperature control dial that helps with easy temperature control.
Their smaller sizes are the primary aspect that differentiates them from gas and charcoal grills. Some of them can conveniently sit on tabletops, allowing you to take them from one place to another easily.
You can cook steaks, vegetables, seafood, and fast food items like hot dogs using electric grills.
People prefer infrared grills to save time and cook comparatively faster because they use infrared technology to generate heat for your food.
Infrared grills use radiant heat for cooking your food directly. They are also less likely to dry out your food and can be used to sear meat.
Infrared grills mainly use natural gas or propane as their fuel source, while some models use electricity instead.
Throughout the grilling session, the cooking area provides even and consistent heat to cook things faster. Moreover, they have controls to maintain the cooking temperature.
Interestingly, these grills consume comparatively less fuel than others to cook at the same temperatures. Providing seared and juicy foods is an admirable advantage of these grills.
If you have used a charcoal grill before, you will easily understand the basics of a Kamado grill and love using it because both use charcoal as a fuel source and have similar working techniques.
Kamado grills are super famous among the grillers community.
These grills come in round or egg-shaped designs with thick ceramic walls and super tight lids making them capable of retaining heat and moisture, resulting in flavorful and tender food.
You can place and burn your charcoal in its lower section, while the upper part consists of grates for putting and cooking your food. Moreover, they mostly cook through direct heat.
You can use your Kamado grill for grilling, smoking, baking, and even roasting.
As the name suggests, they are made of barrels and typically come up in horizontal shapes. They mainly use charcoal as a fuel source, also known as drum grills.
Like other traditional grills, they have two sections, the below part is for placing and igniting the charcoal, and the upper part is where you cook your food.
You can use them for direct and indirect grilling sessions. Moreover, you can smoke your food through heat retention by keeping the lid closed.
Pros and Cons of Grill
Let’s discuss some of the things we liked about grills.
- Tastier and Healthier Foods: Grills are capable of preparing not only delicious but also healthier foods. They require less oil to grill your food, and if there’s any fat left, it will drip through the grates.
- Fast Cooking: Grills use direct heat for cooking your food faster. Although several grills have different cooking durations, they still take less time to prepare than a smoker.
- Easy to Use: Gas, pellet, and electric grills are beginner-friendly. They have quick ignition and easy temperature control through knobs and digital controllers.
Let’s share some of the disadvantages of grills.
- Cleaning: A grill that uses charcoal or wood pellets as its fuel source creates more mess, so the cleaning process can be challenging. In contrast, propane, electric, or infrared grills are comparatively easier to clean.
- Temperature Management: Controlling the temperature on the charcoal grill can be more challenging for newbies. You may need to look after them constantly.
Difference Between Smoking and Grilling
Grilling and smoking are two of the famous cooking methods for preparing certain delicious foods.
Cooking different types of meat and food at higher temperatures (around 450 °F) in a short time is how we define grilling. It is excellent for serving seared, juicy, and tendered meat to your friends and family.
In grilling, you cook food directly on the grates and above the heat source, which can be charcoal, gas, or wood pellets.
With this method, you can cook meats like steak, beef, chicken, ribs, and lamb perfectly. You can also grill different vegetables, fruits, and seafood.
Grilling can be done through direct or indirect heat, depending on the type of food you are eying to prepare.
Smoking is among the widely known cooking methods for infusing smoke flavors into your food and preserving it for later use.
Compared to grilling, it commonly uses indirect heat for food preparation.
Most importantly, it is preferable when preparing large cuts of meat like brisket, steak, ribs, whole chicken, etc.
There are two primary methods of smoking. The first one is low and slow smoking, which cooks your food at a temperature somewhere between 200 °F to 250 °F, while the other is cold smoking, which requires 100 °F.
Smoker vs Grill – Key Factors to Keep in Mind
You need to answer three simple questions yourself, and you will easily select one between a smoker and a grill.
Type of Food you want to Cook:
Grills and smokers have different working techniques, which makes them suitable for cooking certain types of food.
Using any grill, you can cook smaller meat items like steak, chicken pieces, and fish. They are also capable of making grilled vegetables and fruits.
On the other hand, Smokers are known for their long smoking sessions at lower temperatures. Also, they work nicely when you need to smoke or cook large cuts of meat such as brisket, ribs, whole chicken, turkey, etc.
You can also smoke your favorite vegetable and cheeses next to your meat for a delightful taste.
Now it depends on which type of food you will make in the future.
Amount of Smoky Flavors:
Smokers are designed to serve you food with rich smoky flavors. Some grills also have this ability but don’t provide as much smoke as a smoker.
It is up to you whether you like eating food with high-smoke flavors or simple food that gets cooked directly on a grill with little flavors.
Grills typically cook food within minutes by using direct heat. For example, a 1-inch thick steak takes 10-12 minutes at about 450 – 500 ˚F to cook through a grill properly.
On the other hand, smokers require hours to cook and infuse flavors of smoke into the food. Moreover, the smoking duration varies from size to size of the meat you try to make.
It requires about 1 hour of smoking per pound of meat. For instance, you have a brisket of 5 pounds, so you will need to smoke it for about 5 hours at 250 ˚F.
Interested in a Smoker Grill Combo?
Do you want the convenience of both smoker and grill but don’t have the budget to buy two separate cooking devices?
Luckily! There are many smoker grill combos available in the market today that provide you with the privilege of smoking and grilling in the same product.
Winding It Up
Finally, our smoker vs grill debate is over, in which we explained everything regarding these two outstanding cooking devices.
There is no prominent winner because both have different specifications, working techniques, cooking durations, etc. Also, they cook different types of meat and food.
So, you can easily choose one among them depending on your preferences and needs, whether you would like to cook seared meat in minutes or smoked foods in hours.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s share some of the most common FAQs.
Can you use a smoker as a grill?
Yes, you can use your smoker as a grill. A common way is to burn charcoals and place them in the firebox. Make a slight change in the structure, add grilling grates into the firebox above the charcoals, and start grilling.
Can you use a grill as a smoker?
Yes, you can use your charcoal grill as a smoker. Put burning charcoals and soaked wood chips on one side in the below part. Now, place the food item you want to smoke on the grilling grates away from the fuel source.
What Foods Can you Smoke in 3 Hours?
You get several food options to cook in 3 hours or less. For example, small cuts of meat like chicken, beef brisket, and ribs. You can also smoke tri-tip, hot dogs, sausages, cheese, etc.
Caspian James, the Founder and Chief Editor at FaveGrills, is passionate about sharing his knowledge and expertise on the latest Smokers and Grilling Products along with mouth-watering barbecue recipes. He constantly researches new gear with a sharp eye for detail, providing the FaveGrills community with in-depth reviews.