The Pros, the Cons, and the Facts in this Electric vs Charcoal Smokers Showdown.
But for many, this isn’t so easy. To start with, each smoker has a variation of specs and functions, prices, and sizes. That doesn’t even take into account the several different types of smokers to choose from.
Two common types of smokers are electric and charcoal smokers and today, we are going to take a look at each to cover the differences.
Electric smokers tend to be most convenient for those without much prior smoking knowledge and who want the cooking process to be simple.
However, charcoal smokers often cater more towards individuals who prefer great flavor in their meats. They are also the go-to option for “traditional” smoker fanatics.
But there are a plethora of pros, cons, and other features to weigh in before deciding if an electric or charcoal smoker is more relevant for you.
- Temperature Range
- Cooking Times
Reliant on electricity
Low temperature range
Shorter cooking times
Minimal smoky flavor
No outlet necessary
Wider temperature range
Longer cooking times
Traditional, smoky flavor
Let’s Break It Down Further
As we go through their main features, we’ll decide which smoker type “wins” in each category and add them up at the end.
Whether or not a consumer wants a portable smoker all comes down to whether or not they physically want to transfer their smoker to use elsewhere, plain and simple. Some don’t like to have their smoker “tied down.”
That said, consumers don’t typically mind if a smoker is portable unless they actually want it to be. But when presented with a smoker that just so happens to be portable, all the better.
However, within the smoker industry, while portability and lightweight are what manufacturers are proud to flaunt, not every smoker ends up having both depending on the materials used. Additionally, the type of smoker makes a difference in whether or not it’s considered portable.
Because of that, these smokers aren’t really designed to be transported around the yard very far or taken to an event.
Due to limited outlets, most will probably just keep their electric smoker in the same place.
But because several electric smoker models can be used in indoor settings, there’d be plenty of locations around the home to plug it in. But of course, there are still limitations.
These smokers do not require an outlet, or electricity at all for that matter. They use just a good ole traditional flame to operate.
That said, you can charcoal smoke wherever you please (as long as it is in a well-ventilated area and with caution, of course): in the backyard, in the front yard, at the park, at a friend’s house, on the driveway, on the roof… Okay, I think you get it.
But one disadvantage to the portability of charcoal smokers is that some can be pretty heavy to lug around given their weight.
As for smokers, the right temperature range is important to not only cook food thoroughly but also to provide a wider range of foods that can even be smoked, to begin with.
The temperature range provided by a smoker tends to indicate whether it is low and slow or quicker to cook. Most consumers prefer low and slow cooking and love to see a good smoke ring once their meats are finished.
But some meats require slightly higher temperatures while smoking like turkeys and chickens.
Due to the latter, many companies like to flaunt that their smoker is “low and slow.” At the same time, other companies like to show off the fact that their smoker has a high-temperature range.
If a smoker has both a high maximum temperature as well as the ability to cook low and slow, making it a more versatile cooker, even better!
Once you set your ideal temperature on your electric smoker, everything else is easy-peasy.
Best of all, one doesn’t really have to keep monitoring the temperature of their electric smoker. This type of smoker is generally a set and forget type of appliance.
But if you do need to adjust the temperature of your electric smoker, all one has to do is adjust the settings. Easy! Other models just have a maximum temperature that it reaches, not requiring any temperature adjustments.
With charcoal smoking, you’ll have to be mindful of the weather and any wind that may be present. These conditions can impact your charcoal, and thus, affect the temperature it can provide for the smoker.
To adjust the temperature of your smoker, you’ll have to fiddle with your airflow vents or add additional coals, which can be annoying for those new to smoking.
But overall, charcoal smokers will offer a wider range with higher temperatures making them a more versatile option if you need it. You will just have to work a little harder to achieve your temps though.
While more than anything else, it is important to have a quality smoker that produces great-tasting food, convenience is always a factor to some, as well as a bonus.
However, there tends to be not just a want but a need from consumers for a device that is as convenient as possible.
The reason this type of convenience is so important is that for some outdoor chefs, the idea of getting to smoke meats overnight while getting a full night’s rest or taking off during the smoking process is incredibly appealing.
Some smoking enthusiasts may have no problem monitoring their smoker a lot more closely and may actually be satisfied by the process. But if anything, most people have no problem setting and forgetting and may even prefer it in some situations.
On top of needing less monitoring while smoking, electric smokers are one of the safest types of smokers out there. They are also more energy efficient and will save you money because of that in the long run.
The last thing that bears mentioning is that electric smokers are also easier to clean especially because there is minimal sooty ash to worry about.
That said, electric smokers are great if you don’t want to babysit your smoker and would prefer to get on with your day.
I previously mentioned that charcoal smoking tends to be a bit finicky with wind and weather. This is one reason why checking your charcoal smokers heat every now and then is important.
Apart from adjusting and working to maintain the temperature of your charcoal smoker, you may have to add additional coals to the smoker while cooking.
But for the folks who hate to wait long periods of time, sometimes a quicker cooking is more favorable.
However, many tend to be skeptical of smokers that claim they cook quickly. After all, faster cooking does not mean better flavor or more tender meat.
Comparing electric and charcoal smokers when it comes to temperature range can help you decide what you can expect from your smoker in terms of the wait time for your food.
The quicker cooking time of electric smokers is convenient for parties or other gatherings where one wants to cook large portions of food in a shorter period of time.
To give you a general guideline, it takes approximately three to four hours to smoke ribs at 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Some smokers and smoking times may vary.
When cooking ribs at 225 degrees Fahrenheit on your charcoal smoker, your food should be finished in approximately four or six hours.
It’s pretty clear to see who the winner is here when it comes to food that is cooked quicker.
However, remember, sometimes good things happen to those who wait (even just an hour or two longer gives your meats connective tissues more time to break down).
Taste (Flavor Profile)
I do suggest a good salt brine for smoking large meats for added flavor and tenderness.
For many smokers, flavor is everything, no matter the extra effort to get it. Some would rather have better flavor, even if it means paying a lot more for their smoker, having longer cooking times, among other tradeoffs.
But think about it: if one is going to opt for a smoker of any kind, wouldn’t flavor be one of the most sought-after features?
While they’re both smokers, electric and charcoal smokers do not offer the same flavor.
But it all comes down to not just whether or not one wants their smoked food to have good flavor but also what type of flavor.
But for those who don’t want over-the-top smokiness, an electric smoker may be a better option.
Also important when it comes to flavor in your electric smoker is, of course, the wood chips you opt for.
The flavor provided by these smokers is what many crave when they think about nice, smoky meats. In fact, many don’t like to over-season meats as the charcoal and wood used in these smokers do plenty of work in providing flavor.
Plus, if you’ve done the job well, you might even get a nice smoke ring on your charcoal-smoked meats.
Charcoal Smokers: 3/5
Pros and Cons
- No need to start a fire prior to smoking
- Cheaper in the long-run (energy efficient)
- Faster learning curve
- Automatic temperature adjustment
- Push button or dial operated
- Safe to leave it unattended; set and forget
- Usually smaller in size and more lightweight
- Easy to clean
- Won’t produce a smoke ring
- Limited mobility
- Can’t use in the rain
- Not great for a large capacity of food
- More affordable to purchase upfront
- Easy to get the exact flavor you want
- Works in all types of weather, including rain
- Can add two levels of smokiness (i.e., charcoal and wood chips)
- Nutrients in meats and other foods remain more intact
- Tedious clean-up process
- Risk of fire hazards
- Hot ash can be dangerous if not properly disposed
- Takes a while to heat up and not always easy to light
- It is possible to over smoke your food
While charcoal smoking has a meticulous cooking and cleaning process when compared to electric smoking, the portability, wider temperature range, and authentic flavor can’t be beaten.
But for those who would prefer convenience for cooking and cleaning, reduced cooking times, and a more energy-efficient device – and don’t mind less smoky flavor and lack of portability, opt for an electric smoker instead.
To conclude, the debate between electric versus charcoal smokers may never truly end. There are simply too many pros and cons that make the two quite different.
Now It’s Your Turn
Which outdoor smoker have you used before?
Do you prefer an electric or charcoal smoker and have any tips to share?
What features do you typically like to see in a smoker?
Are you going to be purchasing a smoker in the future? Or do you plan on looking at a pellet grill, built-in or standalone gas grill, or charcoal model?
Let me know by leaving a quick comment below.
If you still have questions, please feel free to send me a message.
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A backyard warrior, certified carnivore, lover of good whiskey, self-proclaimed grill master and I’m Living The Grilling Life!
I have a passion for cooking with live fire and smoke, no matter the weather. I’m a real person just like you, who loves outdoor cooking and BBQ. Food, fun, and time spent with family and friends are what it’s all about! It is my mission to take my passion and knowledge for outdoor cooking and all things BBQ and share this expertise in techniques and grilling equipment with you. In other words, Living The Grilling Life!